Every camper has a “disaster story”. Whether it’s totally burning their food, forgetting to bring a fire starter, or almost freezing to death, we all wish we knew one or two car camping hacks.
Well, wish granted!
We've gathered some of the most helpful, doable, and practical camping hacks around. After reading this post, you can confidently hop into your car and start an amazing camping journey that you've always dreamed of.
Car Camping Hacks
Start with a checklist
Many people start packing without making a list. Unfortunately, this leads to either under-packing or over-packing.
As with any other trip, the key to successful car camping is planning and organization. Before you make your list, research the campsite you’re going to, including all the places you plan to visit. Listen to the weather forecast and pack accordingly.
Packing is often the trickiest part. But in time you will get better. Use a checklist to make sure you have everything you need - from your tent to your cookware. If you’re traveling with kids, encourage them to make their checklists too.
Use clear, opaque containers/bags for packing
These containers allow you to see what’s inside, which makes finding items a lot easier. If you don’t have clear storage bins, use labels. This will save you a ton of time (and sweat) unpacking at the campsite.
Color-coded containers are another option. For example, red boxes will contain food while blue boxes will contain clothes.
Maximize space with a carrier rack
If you camp regularly or if you are going out with the gang, a cargo carrier is a great investment. It allows you to bring more gear or store everything inside and free up some space for your kids or companions. It’s also very helpful when you have huge gear or equipment to bring.
Pack travel-sized toiletries
You can’t possibly empty a 12-ounce bottle of shampoo in two or three days. Pack toiletries in smaller travel-sized bottles. This will save you space and makes going to the bathroom or toilet a lot more convenient. Each person should have his or her own toiletry bag. Make sure it includes travel-size soap, tissue, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc.
Always, always bring a tarp
Tarps are one of the most underrated camping essentials. But it has so many uses. You can turn a tarp into a DIY hammock, a windbreaker, a makeshift container for emergency situations, a heat reflector or a sun shade, a rain poncho, and a ground cover! You can also use it to cover gears and equipment in your car.
Choose a lightweight, waterproof tarp. It’s cheap and handy. It’s every camper’s best friend.
Use bins to stay organized
So you’ve packed your items in smaller bags or containers. Don’t just toss them into your car. Put those smaller containers in larger bins instead. This way, you can just unpack them in your car in one go.
How you arrange your bins, it’s up to you. You can have one large bin to house all the cookware, including food and beverages. Another box could contain all the gears and stuff of your little ones, and so on.
It makes everything clean and organized.
Window screens keep bugs out and up privacy
Window screens are inexpensive but they offer lots of benefits to car campers. Apart from keeping bugs out, they’re a great way to promote air circulation inside your car especially if you plan to sleep there. Just roll down the windows and let fresh air pass through.
They also up your privacy. Instead of clipping curtains or linens, you can conveniently set up your window screens.
Additionally, you can hang a mosquito net over your open trunk to keep bugs from invading your car.
Pack a folding table and chairs too
While you can convert those large storage bins into tables, nothing is more comfortable than a real table. Luckily, you can find a lot of folding tables that are lightweight and perfect for car camping.
While you can do without a table, you can’t without a camping chair. It’s one of the most useful camping gears. Whether you’re preparing dinner, fixing something, or just enjoying the views, being able to sit properly in a comfortable chair is a camping luxury.
Consider a DIY table
What if you find yourself in a very skimpy area at lunchtime, like on the roadside as you stop to replace your tire or check your engine? Eating on the go doesn’t always have to mean grabbing fast food and eating inside your car.
You can still enjoy outdoor meals with a DIY table that you can just pull from the trunk of your car. All you need is a slab of wood which you can store beneath your luggage or camping supplies.
If you’re feeling more artsy, you can make a DIY enclosed storage unit that fits the width of your car. There you can securely store your gear and convert the lid into a sturdy, pull-out table.
Hang shoe organizers for easy access to your stuff
You’re not going to bring several pairs of kicks. But a shoe organizer is a simple hack that will incredibly change the way you camp. Just hang it somewhere - on a wall, at a tent pole, or on your car window. And you have a portable, accessible mini cabinet for smaller items.
You can use it to store your gadgets, snacks, toiletry kits, flashlights/headlamps, sunscreen, bug repellents, and all the little somethings’.
Need storage for bigger stuff? Hang a closet sweater organizer instead.
Pre-wash, dry, and slice/chop meats and veggies at home
Now onto the fun part - cooking! Cooking outdoors is one of the joys of camping. But it can get very messy. Save energy, water, and sweat by washing and drying everything at home.
Chop the veggies and place them in ziplock bags so you can just toss them into your pan right away. Do the same for meats.
Cheese for sandwiches can be sliced before you place them in containers or food-grade bags. It’s a great idea to plan your menu so you can just prepare the exact amount of ingredients (such as seasonings) and won’t have to bring bottles or jars.
Freeze food if camping for days
Like most people, you can only wish you could bring a fridge to your camping trips especially if you're embarking on a long journey.
Well, you can keep your food longer by freezing and storing them in a tightly packed cooler. Freeze as much food as you can ahead of time, at least 3-4 days before you leave. Store them right away in your cooler and place large ice blocks. Again, use large blocks because small ice cubes melt easily.
If you're bringing fresh meat, pack them at the bottom of your cooler. This well help avoid cross-contamination from the meat's juices or blood. Pack them really well too using ziplock bags.
Bring a barbecue grill grate
You absolutely need a camping stove. But what if you run out of fuel? What if it gets broken? Worry not. As long as you have a barbecue grill gate. Think of it as your backup stove. You don’t even need a stand, just a few big rocks. Just place it on top of your campfire and you can cook as you please.
With a barbecue grill gate, you can boil water, fry and cook dishes (you just need a dish pan), and of course - grill. Super handy. Life-saver.
Portable sink for effortless washing (and more)
Whoever popularized the idea of collapsible stuff is genius. Now, you can have almost everything compact and portable, including your sink!
Collapsible sinks are versatile gears that you can use not only for washing dishes but also for carrying gear, food, water, and even firewood.
Don’t forget the tin foil
Just like a grill grate, an aluminum foil has so many uses for outdoor cooking. You can literally cook anything in it. Make juicy steamed fish or stuffed baked potato with cheese by wrapping them all up in a tin foil and toss in the camp fire. Presto. You’ve got good food ready for dinner.
Use a mason jar as a matchbox holder
Keep those matches from getting ruined by placing them in a mason jar or an old baby food container. Attach a sandpaper on top of the lid so you can light the match real quick when you need it.
Belt and hooks to hang around stuff when camping
Wouldn’t it be nice if you can hang your cooking pans and pots to dry after washing them? Well, all you need is a belt (an old one, preferably) and a few hooks. Just wrap the belt around the tree and attach the hooks. And ta-da - you’ve got your DIY storage area.
Stay comfy and cozy with an inflatable car mattress
This inexpensive gear can save you from back and neck pain. Whether you prefer to sleep in the car or you just want something to lie for your afternoon nap, an inflatable car mattress will help you rest easier.
Sleeping in a tent? Go grab your car mattress. It’ll provide added cushioning especially if you have kids to please.
Alternately, you can purchase inflatable sleeping bags. These are great for both sleeping in the car or in the tent.
Yes, it’s 2021. But not all establishments will accept your card, including campgrounds. So make sure to bring cash, preferably in smaller denominations.
Before you leave, make a quick internet research about the entrance fees of local parks and campsites you plan to visit. If you can prepare the exact amount for each, much better.
The thing is you don’t need expensive gears to make your trip comfortable and enjoyable. These simple car camping hacks can make a big, big difference to the way you camp. So make sure to try a few or more of these hacks on your next trip. You will surely be amazed.