So, you’re still pretty new to this whole outdoorsy thing and have been fixing to give camping a try now that winter is (finally) moving on and beautiful spring days are begging you to indulge in a nature-fueled retreat – but where to begin? Enter car camping. Car camping is the least intimidating way to transition into the camping scene.

When car camping, you have access to anything and everything you could ever want so long as it’s in your car. The way car camping works is you load up all you gear, head somewhere beautiful, park, set up your tent, and enjoy. Easy Peasy.

Here’s how to get started:

Pick your campsite

For first timers, I highly advise making a reservation ahead of time. You can either do a quick search for campsites in your area or use something like Hipcamp to explore your options. You’ll likely see the word primitive pop up when looking at sites – for first timers, I’d avoid these. Primitive translates to no drinking water on-site, typically a mile or two of hiking out to your spot, and possibly a pit toilet (if you’re lucky). Look for drive up campsites, basically those designed for RVs or campers. These typically have a water spout and even electric hook ups along with a picnic table and fire ring.

Your best bet is getting in touch with someone from the campground to ask about amenities – you can also ask for recommendations on a specific site since it can be tricky to tell which spots are the best when looking at a map of your site. If you’re planning your trip during a major holiday, make your reservation ahead of time – spots fill up fast!

Pack your gear…everything but the kitchen sink

A benefit of car camping is that you can take as much (or little) as you want or fit. If it’s your first time, go ahead and take it all. Eventually, you cut down on a few items streamlining your personal car camping checklist.

If you’re as forgetful as I am, a checklist makes packing so much easier! For food, plan ahead to make sure you have all your meal essentials and snacks. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time to avoid the hassle onsite. You’ll need to pack the right clothes for your area, but in terms of all the non-clothing items, this list is a solid foundation for a car camping trip:checklist

For a full printable checklist of items, click here or the icon to the right.

Kids & Pets

Chances are, if you are planning a car camping trip, you are either a beginner, enjoy some creature comforts or have a group of kids tagging along with you. The nice thing about kids is that they are pretty easy to make comfortable. Upon arrival, they will be running around the campsite with not a worry in the world. Leave the electronics at home and bring along some board games, foods that kids can help you prepare such as s’mores and dogs on stick and comfortable sleeping gear. Last thing you want is a bored kid who didn’t get a night of good rest.  

If you’re bringing your dog along, don’t forget to contact the campground to find out if it is pet friendly and prepare with some dog gear. Keep in mind that some dogs will be up all night growling and barking at every sound they hear while you are trying to sleep.

Odds and Ends

You have the best campsite waiting for you and all your gear is good to go – what’s next? This depends on where you’re going, if you’ll be close to some water definitely bring your kayak/SUP. Do a little research on what the area you’re camping in has to offer then pack accordingly. Since you’re car camping, there is the luxury of being able to bring along pretty much anything. 

Now that you have a better understanding of what to bring, what’s the wait? Like any new activity, the “newness” is the biggest intimidation factor – don’t worry about it. Get out there and you’re guaranteed a good time! 

All about those nature-fueled retreats

(Photo Credit: Kelty)



  1. I have a plastic covered bin always filled with food essentials and condiments like spices, ketchup, mustard, Bisquick, powdered milk, coffee, cocoa, spam, cornmeal, fish fry, cornbread mix, rice, instant potatoes, boxed mac and cheese, noodles, and lots more! Just put it in the car –saves a whole lot of packing each time and possible forgetting of items!

    1. Such a smart idea! Keeps things super easy for you and saves from having to think too much about meal prep when you’re planning the next trip. I keep my camping gear in the car so it’s always there should the mood for a spontaneous trip strike while I’m out and about.

  2. The best new thing that made my car camping a breeze was buying a large plastic bin and filling it full of all the essentials, dishes, silverware ( from thrift store) right down to fire starter and matches. Now when I want to car camp I just throw it in and am ready to roll.

    1. Great idea! We find GSI Outdoors products are awesome for this kind of thing, their sets like the Pinnacle Camper Cookset are ultra convenient because everything is designed to fit together and be stored in the pot. It’s kind of like the camping version of Russian nesting dolls, but with all your kitchen gear