Share:

The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping

05.23.18

Start Exploring
The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping

Share:

Advertisement
  • A primitive campsite at Sunrise Camp in Washington.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Mist in the morning at Point Reyes National Seashore.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Camp life in the middle of San Francisco Bay.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • S'mores make happy camping kids.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Kirk Creek Campground.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Sugarloaf Campground at night.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • All sites in Utah Lake State Park have great views.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Tent camping at Dead Horse Ranch.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Typical campsite at Sycamore Canyon Campground.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • A tent site at Dockery Lake Campground.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Some of the walk-in sites at Vogel State Park Campground have tent platforms.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
  • Night campfire at Jumbo Rocks Campground.- The Beginner's Guide to Car Camping
Article
Contributor

In our corner of the world, the hillsides are igniting in every shade of green under the sun, Mount Hood is starting to shed some winter layers, and the rivers are juicy with early summer runoff. We couldn’t be more excited to finally announce that car camping season is upon us!

While purists may scrutinize pack weight, freeze dry organic meals, and leave behind all but the absolute necessities, it’s hard to beat the simplicity and kid-friendliness of car camping. Plus, fresh fruits and veggies and a case of adult beverages are somehow even more enjoyable around a campfire under a blanket of stars.

Where to Go

If you’re new to camping, search for nearby state park, national forest, or national park campgrounds. By sticking to designated campgrounds, you’ll all but ensure that there will be plenty of resources and amenities like potable water, bathrooms, and other campers that—when bribed with sweets—might have some insider knowledge about swimming holes or nearby trails. And by staying close to home, you’ll allow for the chance to bail if something goes wrong. And, apart from national parks, these are all great places to bring pets along.

Before you embark, be sure to do some research. As camping grows in popularity, some campsites book far in advance. Plus, each site tends to have particular rules and regulations to ensure the experience is positive and safe for all visitors. 

If true solitude is what you seek, research nearby public lands. More often than not these areas allow dispersed camping. There’s hardly a better feeling than rolling down the windows, listening to your tires crunch on a dirt road, and finding an epic campsite off of a spur road. In alignment with good Leave No Trace practices, only pitch a tent where you’re sure someone has done it before, and never build a new fire ring. Trust us, sites like these are all too easy to come by. 

What to Bring

While there is always something to be said for minimalism, it’s fun to set up a home base in the backwoods. The most important piece of advice we can share: don’t let price be prohibitive. Some of our best memories have been made in garage sale gear (don’t believe us? Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad wrote an entire blog post about it). But, if you’re in for cold, hard gear recommendations, here’s what we suggest for a casual, fair-weather weekend outside:

Tent: Mountainsmith Bear Creek 3 Tent

  • The price is right for a roomy three-person tent. Even if it’s just you and your +1, opting for a bit more space is great for storing gear and squeezing a stinky dog bed in beside you. Or scour your local garage sales. We can nearly guarantee that there’s one out there waiting to be swooped up for a cool $20.

Rooftop Tent: Tepui Kukenam Sky Tent

  • Rooftop camping is a relative novelty in the car camping world. While some new products on the market have gotten less-than-stellar reviews and the price tag is still astronomical (compared to the $160 tent above), there’s certainly something to be said for the convenience of sleeping above ground and spending all of three minutes setting up.

Sleep Gear: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed Duo 

  • All the power to solo campers (it’s a fantastic experience, snag yourself a Nemo Disco). But if you’re making it a romantic excursion, the double sleeping bag is the way to go. Roomy, comfortable, and breathable, Sierra Designs thought of everything. 

Camp Stove: Coleman Classic Propane Stove

  • Truly, “classic” hardly does it justice. This stove is a staple of car camping setups everywhere. The canisters are cheap and can be found at just about every Walmart and outdoor stove in the country. Plus, the two-burner design ensures that you can make breakfast AND coffee at the same time. A very important consideration.

Coffee Setup: Cafellissimo Paperless Pour Over Coffee Maker

  • Picture this: the sun rises slowly over the meadow in which you’ve pitched your tent. The birds are still trying to talk themselves into getting up, alpenglow ignites the mountain range in the background, and you take a moment to sip coffee and read the guidebook before you hit the trails for the day. Make your life easier with a paperless pour over coffee maker and an insulated Stanley mug like this one.

Other gear considerations include camp chairs, a cooler, lights, a lightweight camp table if there is no picnic table nearby, games (light up bocce ball is always a hit), and BUG SPRAY. The best part of car camping, though, is that everyone has a different experience. The most important consideration of all, though, is ensuring your party practices the principles of Leave No Trace. That way, the wild places we roam stay wild for generation after generation. 

Published By

Published by

Contributor
208 Adventures Explored
183 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info