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Your Guide to Car Camping

While some adventurers like to hit the trails with only a pack on their back, there’s nothing wrong with pulling up to a campsite in your vehicle with some homey accommodations. Car camping is just the right mix of leisure and roughing it — where you can escape to the great outdoors but still enjoy your creature comforts.

Whether you’re an experienced camper who wants to tame things down or a camping novice looking to dip their toes in first, here’s a detailed guide to must-know car camping practices.

What Is Car Camping?

Contrary to what you might believe, car camping is not literally camping inside your car (but that’s fun to do, too). And there’s no hiking or backpacking to your site needed for this type of excursion. Car camping is considered loading your gear in your vehicle, pulling right up to the campsite and pitching your tent. With car camping, you can pack as much gear in your car as you can fit without having to worry about carrying it to your final destination. Which means you don’t have to skip on the luxuries, like a sleeping pad or cooler full of food.

Where Can You Car Camp?

National, state and local parks, as well as privately owned campgrounds, are common places to car camp, since they offer sites where you can easily drive up and park your car. Many of these places even offer the option for electrical hook ups and running water. Or if you want to really “rough it,” you can opt for just a fire ring and picnic table. Oftentimes, campsites are equipped with flush toilets, shower houses and some might have laundromats if you choose to stay a longer period. To sum it up, car camping trips provide opportunities for you to interact with nature while still enjoying the conveniences of everyday life.

What to Bring When Car Camping

From backpacking to glamping, any style of camping provides a way for you to escape and enjoy a simpler kind of life. With car camping, you can retreat to the woods for a relaxing getaway but still be able to pack comforts of home since you don’t have to worry about weight.

Here are a few key items to remember when prepping for a car camping trip:

Proper tent. When camping, your tent is your home away from home, so bringing the right size will ensure comfort and adequate space. If you don’t want to spend the money on purchasing your own tent, there are many places you can rent tents for an affordable price.

Sleeping bags or blankets. No matter how warm it may be during the day, nighttime temperatures can get uncomfortably cold when camping. Having sleeping bags that are rated to handle cool temperatures will help you have a good night sleep.

Sleeping pads. Pack a foam or inflatable sleeping pad to avoid laying on the cold, hard ground. You can even bring an inflatable air mattress if you really want to guarantee comfort!

Camp kitchen. Sure, you’ve relocated your “home” to the outdoors for a while, but that doesn’t mean you have to forage for food or whittle sticks into cutlery (unless you want to). Save yourself some money and pack up some supplies from your own kitchen. Pack a clear plastic container with cooking items like pots, skillet, bowls, plates, cups, kitchen knives, spatula — whatever you think will come in handy for meal prep can go in the container.

Coolers for food and drinks. Enjoy the luxury of cold food and drinks by packing a cooler filled with ice and a menu of your choice.

Jugs of water. Though most campsites will have drinking water, having jugs of water (like milk gallons) will be handy for putting out campfires, washing dishes, drinking or wiping things down.

Toiletries. As we mentioned, many campsites have shower houses, so pack towels, washcloths, shower shoes, your personal hygiene items and extra toilet paper.

Lighting. While the light from the campfire is great, it’ll eventually have to be put out. Headlamps, flashlights and lanterns are handy for eating, playing games or simply moving around in the dark.

Day packs. If you plan on doing some hiking or other day trips, you’ll be glad to have a pack to carry around necessities.

A variety of clothing. Though you’ll probably check the weather a number of times before heading out on your trip, packing clothing for unpredictable weather is a must. For starters, make sure to bring along a rain jacket, warm clothes for night time and an extra pair of shoes.

First aid kit. Build your own kit from store-bought items and things in your home. Or a pre-assembled kit may be cheaper and have everything you need already included.

Keep in mind, these are just a few important suggestions to bring along when car camping. Your list will probably be much more extensive and unique to your own needs and destination. Take a look at a more thorough packing checklist for camping to ensure you’re prepared for your adventure.

Etiquette for Car Camping

It’s important to remember that, while you make your campsite your own home away from home, you’re a guest on the campground. To be a respectful visitor, keep these etiquette tips in mind:

Respect quiet hours. Most campgrounds have quiet hours posted, so be sure to note these upon your arrival and remind everyone in your group, especially children, to be mindful of their noise levels.

Put your fire out. This is one of the most important camping rules no matter where you go! Whether you’re heading to bed or out for a day hike, if you’re not at your site, put the fire out. A good rule of thumb is making sure the coals or ashes are cold and no embers are glowing.

Clean up after your pets. Whether at your site, hiking or walking through the campground, please clean up after your pets. And, don’t let your pet go to the bathroom in someone else’s campsite! On a similar note, keep your pets on a leash at all times.

Don’t wash dishes in the bathroom. This is a rule that many campgrounds have in place, since it’s unsanitary to wash dirty dishes where people clean their hands and face. Many campsites will have designated areas where you can wash your dishes.

Don’t cut through people’s campsites. You wouldn’t walk into someone else’s hotel room or right into someone’s home that you don’t know, right? Like you, people are paying to stay at the campsite, so be respectful of their personal space.

Clean up. Are you headed out for a day hike? Put away any food — unless you want some unwelcome visitors, such as raccoons, mice or even bears! When your stay is over and you’re packing up to leave, don’t leave trash in the fire pits or strewn about the campsite. Leave everything the way you found it.

With these car camping tips in mind, you’re all set to head out and enjoy the great outdoors. The only question left is where will you go?

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