Tips and tricks for car camping

A few days ago we talked about the many different kinds of camping. We all love spending the night outside and we all love a thousand stars over our heads. However, we might love making our den in many different ways.

Today, here on Apache Pine’s Blog, it is time to talk about car camping. We are dealing with a trend that is always more popular and that always more people adopt to sleep during their outdoor endeavors. And what many adventourers consider a backup plan and a rather uncomfortable way of sleeping can actually be an incredibly comfortable way to spend the night if you know the right tricks.

But how do you sleep comfortably in your car? What's the best car to do it? What are the best tricks for car camping? To give an answer to all these questions and give you some extra ideas for your car camping time, we created a guide to car camping, including all the info you need to have the ultimate car camping experience.

Why choose car camping

Car camping is an incredibly practical and cheap way to camp and this is so for many reasons.

First of all, you don’t need to spend any extra money on camping gear, because all you need is your car and, in the absence of a sleeping bag, a classic blanket will do as well. The only piece of gear you actually need is a sleeping mat, but even the cheapest one will do.

Other than that, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a van, nor you (normally) have to spend anything for sleeping accommodations. Also, it has a lot of advantages when it comes to setting up the place to sleep, or dismantle everything before leaving from the trailhead. This is because you won’t have to do anything else other than unfolding your sleeping mat and blankets, or even simply locking your car.

Despite its practicality, always remember that cars can be very polluting and can destroy the environment, therefore always make sure to respect the Leave No Trace principles and keep into consideration the consequences of your choices.

Different ways of car camping

First things first, let’s clarify that there are many different ways to car camp.

The first and more obvious one is the one that will see you flip the backseats of your car, spread a mat on the back of your vehicle, open a sleeping bag and sleep there. This is probably the one type of car camping we all think of when we think about car camping. But it’s not the only one.

Another brilliant solution is a roof tent. A foldable tent that can be placed on the roof of your car and be opened at night allows you to have all the space you need to both sleep and storage all your gear in the car, without having to squeeze between your backpack and the rest of your camping equipment.

These foldable tents usually come with a ladder to climb on them and are perfect to sleep anywhere, anytime.

Last but not least, car expansions. These are tent-like structures created to be attached to (normally) the back or the side of your car, allowing you to expand the space of the vehicle. You can either leave the car door open, or you can create two separate sections, according to your needs. When you leave the camping spot, you can either re-pack everything and carry it around with you to your next camping site, or you can detach it from the car and leave it there.

Tips for the ultimate car camping experience

Now, let’s discover a few tricks and tips to have the best car camping experience and turn your car into the coziest shelter ever.

Plan ahead and find a good location

Don’t assume that anywhere you park your car is okay, especially if you are going to sleep in a roof tent or if you intend to set up an extension.

If possible, plan ahead where you are going to sleep and make sure you don’t need any permit for you or your car. Also, check on the internet: there’s plenty of apps that will help you to find the right parking spot, whether it’s a free location or somewhere you have to pay for. Allstays is an example, but it’s not the only one.

Also, remember that U.S. Forest Service roads are open to overnight parking and camping, so you might want to know ahead which are these roads or if there’s one nearby, so you can make sure you will be safe an un-bothered.

Last but not least, make sure you don’t block the passage of others and always keep in mind the nature of the place where you're staying during the daytime: what may seem like a useless area at night, might actually be a parking spot or a bbq area when the sun comes up.

Make sure you have all the basic gear with you

Just because you are sleeping in your car instead of a tent, it doesn't mean you don't have to make sure to have the basic camping gear with you - exception made, of course, for the tent. All the rest is absolutely necessary in order to sleep comfortably and safely.

Don’t cook inside the car

If this rule is true for a tent, let’s not mention a car, with all its gasoline and whatnot. Even if outside is pouring rain and you feel safe and stable in your vehicle, do not for any reason cook in it. Even if you are using an extension, you should never use a flame near your car.

So always make sure to have some food with you that you can prepare without the need of a camping stove: "think ahead" should be your mantra when outdoors, regardless if you are car camping, hiking or skiing.

Solar power

Many beginners at car camping make the great mistake of using their car charger to charge their electronic devices...until the moment the car battery dies. Of course charging your devices while the car is running can be a good idea, however, it’s not always enough. Gear up with a portable solar panel that will help you to charge your batteries any moment.

Choose one that has storage and doesn’t work only when the sun is up, so you can make sure to truly have power whenever you need it.

Shine a light

For the same reason (i.e. to not exhaust your car battery) always bring a light for the vehicle. Of course, don’t use lanterns that are powered by flames and gas. Even just a headlamp will do.

Also, we suggest to opt for lights that are powered by batteries (rechargeable, of course, in order to avoid useless consumerism), so you won’t need to use your power bank to make them work.

Learn how to play Tetris

We are talking about live action Tetris here, which, translated in other words, means to learn to arrange your stuff properly, using all the space you have, without overloading your car, nor wasting precious space you could use for other pieces of gear.

Practice over and over again how to set up your car for car camping and how to rearrange everything in order to sleep comfortably in it, so you won’t have bad surprises once you are outside, tired and in need of a good sleep.

Another good idea can be to pre-arrange your car before leaving. If you know you are not going to need your backseats, then don’t wait until the very last moment to prepare your sleeping asset: flip them and start with your masterpiece when you are still home. You will have all the time you need to make it nice and cozy.

Indulge in comfort

Wait, what? Indeed, my friends, this most definitely is one of the perks of sleeping in a car. Since you won’t have to carry your bed and your whole room on your shoulders, you can indulge in more comfortable and heavier pieces of gear, such as your home pillow, a proper duvet, or anything else you wouldn’t normally carry with you if you had to make it fit in your backpack. Make yourself at home!

This also means that you can take more than one book with you to read, or your tablet even (if not your portable computer). Maybe download a nice movie to watch before sleep time. If you are in good company, you might want to consider playing a game.

Some more ideas for the perfect car camping experience will be coming in the next few days, so stay tuned and keep following us for more.