December 10, 2020

Car Camping 101

Yo. We’re Going Camping!


So I’m gonna Let you Know what you need to camp….. or at least how we do it.



We’re specifically talking car camping here. Start with the basics. Overlanding and backpacking are different beasts for a different time.


Now settle in for a few minutes. This blog a sizable chunk of info, but you’re going to live outside for a little bit so you do need a sizable amount of information.



First things first –

you have to decide where the heck you wanna go!


Local State Park? That one adventure place you’ve been ogling at on Insta forever? No clue?? Check out state and national park websites to find what strikes your fancy and your time/travel commitment level. Search – it houses the National Parks Service as well as local places you may not know because they are managed by someone other than your state park service.



Once you nail your destination down, plan as early as you can. Most parks release on a 6th month rolling basis, meaning that, every morning, the date that’s exactly 6 months from the current day will open up for booking. Camp sites fill up fast! The very popular National Parks will have people jump fast on the summer dates, so you may have to camp the site like you’re trying to buy Taylor Swift tickets. Local State Parks in the summer/fall book up their weekends a couple months out.


There are usually multiple car camping options in a park, so search through the options they offer. Tent only, car camping spots are my preference, as these spots are generally more level, roomier, and grassy. You can definitely car camp in RV spots, but you’ll most likely be sleeping on a concrete pad. Also IMHO those spots are smaller, more noisy, and less akin to the camping vibe I’m after.



When booking your exact spot in the campground, open up Google maps in satellite view next to the park map to get a better idea of the features of each site. Pick your distance from the bathroom and main roads with care. Being close is nice, but that means lots of other camper traffic and noise around you. Choose carefully – then book it!!!




Now, How we gonna sleep out here???



There are three main parts to your sleep system –
tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.



Do you have a tent? Can you borrow one? We’re car camping here. It doesn’t need to be lightweight. I just needs to be able to have all the pieces and not have holes in it.


You can spend as much or as little as you want on a tent (or any gear), but I think the two big things to consider if you are going to go out and purchase one are…..
– how many people/pets need accommodation? this determines tent size
– would you ever try to backpack with it? this influences weight/material


Answering these two questions will guide every other finer detail you have to decide on.



Jason and I have been through 3 tents together in the course of seven years. He came with the Ozark Trail 4Person tent and it took us on our first few camping trips together. When we realized we were going to keep backpacking, we carefully chose a tent with room for two adults, their gear, and a 85lb pit mix (and his gear). We got the Marmot Limelight 3P and love that tent not to mention have done most of our trips in it. We recently got the Nemo Daggar 3P and are super happy with the switch! The Nemo is lighter weight, has the ability to split the tent into two bags, and is a killer green color.


Your sleeping bag and sleeping pad are going to determine your true level of comfort when you sleep.

I would ditch the rectangle shaped, polyfiber filled sleepover slumberer and hard egg crate. No one likes getting a crappy night of sleep due to being uncomfortable or cold, especially if you have a day of hiking ahead of/behind you.





Two big differences in bags are the fill type – down vs synthetic, and the shape – mummy, quilt style, and rectangle.  When it comes to car camping the fill type doesn’t matter so much as it mainly affects weights and packability. The shape of the bag is mostly personal preference. Mummy style bags are tighter fitting and have a hood. A quilt is fitted around the legs and then opens up around the torso to lay flat, like a quilt.  Rectangle bags are just that, and tent to be more geared to sleeping on a pallet in the floor in my mind. REI will have top quality (and dollar) options, while Bass Pro, Dicks Sporting Goods, and even Wal-Mart will have some quality affordable options.



These aren’t the bags we started out with, but ones we carefully chose – I have an Enlightened Equipment Quilt meanwhile Jason has a Mountain Hardware mummy bag. Very different bags but each corresponding to our personal sleep style.


The most overlooked piece of gear to beginner campers is a sleep mat.


They are imperative to a good night sleep, not only to pad you from the hard ground, but moreover to keep the ground from stealing your body heat. Sleep pads are rated using R-value, with 1 being a low and 5 being high, and the two main styes being air core and foam core. The air core is generally more comfortable, but you have to inflate and deflate. However, they can slip around and make crinkly noises in the night. The foam core mats are bulky, but very convenient as a sleep pad as well as a quick clean place on any surface you need. The foam core tend to be less comfortable, but more lightweight. They also make hybrid mats. As you can see there is a lot of personal preference here. Its something I STILL can’t decide on.




We’ve been through Big Agnes air core mat, Sea to Summit air/foam core, Nemo ultralight foam mat, and the ultra cushy Exped double sleep mat. ALL of them have their perks and we use them in different situations.  Check out the stores I mentioned earlier and make your own selection.



We are almost ready to camp! Now you know where you’re going, you know how you’re going to sleep, now the best part – Whatcha gonna eat?!


Car camping food is limitless – fill a cooler with ice and go crazy! Burgers, steaks, Hamburger Helper, or you can rehydrate a Mountain House camping meal with some boiling water and zero effort in about 10 minutes. Plenty of dehydrated camping foods are available, from the MRE’s that I grew up sometimes eating while camping with my military dad, to the vegan ones available at the high dollar outfitters.



How do I make said food? The fire is not so efficient or easy, so try these instead…….


The MSR Pocket Rocket (or two), a can of ISOPRO Fuel Canister, and some pans from home are all you need to get cookin –  Or if you’re about the gear, get a camp cook set. We have Seat to Summit’s X-Pot 5-piece set. It’s a packable silicon/aluminum cook pan with a bowl and cup set for two people. A cut in half dish sponge packs perfectly in the middle for easy clean up too!



BRING ENOUGH WATER – at least 2 liters per person per day if there is none available. Its super important to be over prepared here. Water is life.




Lets get out there!


Dress appropriately for the weather and always carry more layers than you think you may need. Jeans and other cotton items aren’t warm – I’ve seen this mistake way to many times. Cotton absorbs water, dries slowly, and can cause chafing. Wool, fleece, and other synthetic blends are great warm baselayers. Conversely, if its warm outside, loose wicking clothing is primo.


A few other things to toss in would be a head lamp, a knife, some toilet paper, a frisbee, some faerie lights, and whatever else you need to build the perfect car-side outdoor oasis.



Plan to explore around the place you’re staying and talk to the park rangers when you see them. Getting someone’s view who eats, sleeps, and breathes that specific park is always so rewarding.


Alright. Now its time to get out and go!!!!


Enjoy the outside and have fun!




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