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The ultimate guide to car camping

Written by financemounir

There are as many different ways to camp as campers – from glamping to over-the-counter travel and backpacking, you can personalize your outdoor experience. If you’re new to camping or looking for a new way to get outside, consider car camping.

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How is car camping different from tent camping? It’s simple – you sleep in your car instead of in a tent. Car camping is a convenient, low-impact way to enjoy the outdoors without buying expensive camping gear. But even when car camping, you can still choose to pull out to camp and pitch a tent.

View of red rocks and water from the back of an open hatchback
Photo: Shannon Farrell

One of the many advantages of car camping is that you get to choose how, when and where you sleep. This includes covert camping. is similar to dampingHidden car camping is free camping where you sleep in your car without drawing attention to yourself. You can hide camp in both wilderness and urban areas – but be aware of local laws and stay safe.

Are you ready to watch the sunrise over the mountains from your car window? Or stop to sleep whenever you feel like it on a long road trip?

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How to start car camping


One of the most fun parts of car camping is researching all the great ways people do it and figuring out what works best for you. YouTube is a valuable resource in learning how to set up your car with whatever space you may have available.

Visiting local equipment and support stores will help you learn about equipment you may need, such as a camp stove.

Joining Facebook groups and Reddit forums allows you to reach people within the car camping community. They also offer used equipment deals and answers to questions you didn’t know you had.

Two cars parked on a picturesque mountain view next to a pop-up tent
Photo: Shannon Farrell

Buy and equip your car

Your car is the most important part of car camping. The vehicle you already own will likely suffice for your car camping needs. Just make sure it is reliable and spacious enough to sleep and store equipment.

You’ll need proper camping gear, trail necessities, and anything else you plan to use outside, such as a hiking bag, running shoes, or hunting gear.

Explore local

Before you start planning a cross-country itinerary, consider using your first car camping trip as an opportunity to learn more about your local area. Start at a nearby park or campground. State parks are a good choice because they offer activities, facilities, and other resources to help you get into a new kind of camping.

From sledding to caving: Wild and exotic experiences await in these state parks

How to choose a camping car

What makes the perfect car for car camping? The best sleeper cars have all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive capabilities. You should look for a vehicle that has plenty of luggage space and weight capacity.

The best sleeping aids are ones that are reliable, safe, and safe on and off road. It is also worth considering cars with good gas mileage or even electric cars, which are becoming more and more popular for car camping.

Here are some popular car camping models:

  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Hyundai Kona Electric

No matter what vehicle you drive, don’t let it stop you from car camping. until a Small car Like the Toyota Prius it can be fit with the right setup.

Car camping essentials

Car camping essentials vary widely based on the person, weather, and destination, but here’s a list of essentials to get you started.


Not only are coolers essential for preserving food, but they can also be used as a camping table or chair or beer fridge. Features to look for in a cooler are ice life, insulation, durability, and size. look at me YetiAnd the swansAnd the Canyon coolerswhich offers viable options depending on your needs and budget.

The best camp coolers


You’ll quickly find that navigating around camp by phone flashlight or firelight just won’t cut it. It is worth investing in lighting for utility and ambiance purposes. Headlamps, lanterns, or even solar lights will do the trick.

The organizers

Organization is key to keeping everything organized while car camping in a small space. Invest in inexpensive bins to separate kitchen supplies, toiletries, clothes, outdoor gear, and other belongings. You can even dedicate areas of your vehicle to specific items so you can quickly find, pack, and unpack everything you need.

Green hatchback with open trunk and bed in the back
Photo: Madeline Pallister

sleeping pad

Aside from the car, your sleep regimen is crucial. There are several ways to approach how you want to set your car to sleep. Want a system that folds easily for everyday use? Are you traveling alone or with a partner? You can even build a sleeping pad to create more space and organization.

To keep things simple, start by investing in a quality sleeping pad. A sleeping pad can be anything from a self-inflating pillow to a luxurious mattress topper.

Other items to consider for your sleep regimen are pillows, sleeping bags, blankets, and duvets. You may also want to bring a tent for nights when you want to switch things up.


A variety of stoves work for car camping. A popular and affordable option is the classic fireplace Coleman stove. If you are traveling alone, the backpacking stove is like Pocket Rocket MSR Sufficient and save space. Other items to add to your camp kitchen are a cast iron skillet, a sharp knife, a camp sink and utensils, and a folding table.

Must have RV kitchen accessories


You will need water for drinking, cleaning and washing. Always keep an ample amount of water in a storage container. If you know you’ll be camping near water sources, consider investing in a water filter.

A green hatchback with open doors is parked on a scenic mountain view
Photo: Madeline Pallister

Car camping tips and tricks

  • Open opposite windows when sleeping to get a cross breeze and to avoid moisture buildup in the car.
  • buy a GPS and satellite communication device To call outside the network, let someone know your plans.
  • Boil water, pour it into a heat-safe water bottle, and put it in your sleeping bag for extra warmth on chilly nights.
  • Bring pre-packaged foods, like overnight oats or pancakes, or plan one-pot recipes when you need an easy meal with minimal cleanup.
  • Carry cash for local stores and campgrounds that may not accept credit cards.
  • Download maps, movies, music, and podcasts to make sure you can access them even without cell phone service.

How to plan a car camping trip

Traveling on a whim without a plan can be freeing, but for camp novices, plan your trip ahead of time. This will relieve stress and help avoid some unforeseen circumstances.

Here is a list of apps and websites to help plan a car camping trip:

  • Roadtrippers Featuring everything from camping to things to do, places to eat, and road services along the way.
  • campendium Helps you find places to camp, with in-depth reviews from other Campendium users. The app features cache sites, free campgrounds, RV parks, and more.
  • iOverlander It has camping sites away from the crowds. It’s useful for finding places to stow away in urban settings, like Walmart and Cracker Barrel.
  • Overnight RV parking is another resource for finding hidden camping options.
  • is a great resource for finding federal campgrounds, such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service sites. You can also make reservations through this website.
  • GasBuddy is an app to help you find the cheapest fuel for your road trip.

Other resources popular with car campers include Google Maps and AllTrails. It’s also worth checking out the hardware stores at your destination as these will often share local recommendations and current conditions.

How do I camp comfortably in my car?

To camp comfortably in your car, start by investing in a sleeping setup, check local laws if covert camping, and understand your vehicle’s safety precautions.

How can I keep my car cool while camping?

To keep your car cool while camping, you can make or buy insulating curtains, sleep with opposite windows open for a passing breeze, and use a battery-powered fan.

Where can I legally sleep in my car?

You can legally sleep in your car at campgrounds, select businesses, some rest stops, visitor centers, BLM Land, and other locations across the US For specifics for your area, use Overnight RV Parking or the other popular RV Parking apps and sites listed above .

Do I need to break a window to sleep in my car?

It’s safe to leave your car windows closed when you’re sleeping in your car as long as the engine is off, but you’ll likely be more comfortable if you leave your windows slightly open (depending on the climate).

Where is the safest place to sleep in your car?

The safest place to sleep in your car is in legal car camping areas, whether that’s a campground, BLM grounds, superstore, rest house, or visitor center.

How do you cover a window sleeping in a car?

There are several ways to cover a window while sleeping in a car. You can purchase window coverings or curtains, or purchase a roll of Reflectix (insulating) material and make your own window coverings.

It can be car camping on or near a trail before spending a few days hiking in the backcountry. It can be stepping into a new city late at night or waking up to a breathtaking view of public lands.

How to find a safe place to park your RV or truck overnight

It can also be a way to save money during a cross-country road trip. It gives you the flexibility to sleep wherever you want because you have everything you need in your car. Car camping is just another way, both literally and figuratively, to be outdoors.

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