Car camping is a quick, cheap way to get away for a weekend… or longer. But sometimes just the idea of packing, organizing, and unpacking is enough to keep you on your couch instead of out under the stars.
Camping is way easier than your mind makes it out to be, and once you make it to your campsite, you’ll be extremely thankful that you didn’t stay home in front of your TV.
In order to keep car camping a low-stress, high-fun activity, you’re going to need to get organized. It might take a little forethought, but it will eliminate that late-night run into town (which could be miles away) because you forgot something. Just a few steps will get you out roasting marshmallows and enjoying the great outdoors.
Pick an Area
The first thing you want to do is pick somewhere that interests you. You’ll want to think about how much time you’re willing to commit to drive to this place. If you’re just staying out for the weekend, it might be smart to remain within a three-hour radius of home. Otherwise, most of your time will be spent getting to your destination instead of enjoying it.
You also want to keep in mind the different outdoor activities that interest you and your group. Find an area that has plenty of opportunities for you to do what you love.
Pick a Date
Your two main concerns when choosing a date to go camping should be you and your group’s availability, and weather. I can’t help you with your friend’s schedule conflicts, but I can advise you about weather. If you’re planning your trip somewhat in advance, think about the time of year that you’re going. Do you hate mosquitoes, sweating, and heat? Well, maybe mid-summer camping isn’t for you. Do you love to bundle up around the fire and breath in crisp, fresh air? It sounds like late-fall might be your deal.
Either way, you’ll want to think about what the weather is generally like when you’re planning on going camping. Understand the weather, and understand your likes and dislikes when it comes to weather, then make your decision based on those factors. Planning around the weather will make you a much happier camper.
After you’ve picked a date and your fun-filled adventure is approaching, check the weather. See what it’s supposed to be like when you’re going to be out, and make sure that you are prepared.
Choose Your Campsite and Reserve It
When choosing your campsite, the first thing you want to think about is whether you want a full-service campground or a primitive campsite. If having a pool, flush toilets, running water, showers, a camp store, and a playground are important to you, then that is what you should look for in a campground. Generally, campgrounds will list their amenities, so you won’t have to do much searching to find what you want. If you’re just looking for a site with a fire ring and maybe some drop toilets, but definitely no people, then you’ll want to look into getting a primitive site. Usually these are not located in campgrounds, but rather, they’re located within park boundaries somewhere.
For help with choosing a campground, be sure to use the Tripleblaze Campground Database, which has more than 9,000 campground listings! Just go to the campground page, type in the area that you decided on above, and start reading.
Once you decide which type of camping experience you would like, you need to actually pick your site. Campgrounds will have maps that show where campsites are located in relation to things like bathrooms, the camp store, an amphitheater, or a lake. If you have kids, you may want to be closer to the bathrooms, or if you want to fish, get a site on the lake. Primitive sites will have a smaller selection, and you may just have to choose what’s available.
Finally, reserve your site, if possible. Most campgrounds take reservations, but most parks with primitive sites do not.
Plan Your Meals
If you want, you can go crazy and cook meals like bacon-wrapped chicken or filet mignon. These camp dinners are obviously delicious, and are a lot of fun to make if you’re up for it. Some of my best camping memories involve an unexpectedly fancy camp dinner. But remember, if you choose to go fancy, there will be a lot more planning, packing, and cleaning involved.
If that sounds like too much, go simple–cook foil meals, hot dogs and hamburgers, or pre-mixed pancake batter. There will be a whole lot less planning, preparing, and cleaning involved, and it will leave more time for other activities.
Both of these are great options, but you should make a choice based on how much work you’re willing to put into meals. It’s also a really good idea to keep it simple for lunch, and snacks in between meals. Think granola bars, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, fruits, nuts, and other light foods that pack a lot of protein. That way, you can pack these foods in your bag when you head out for the day, and you won’t need to come back for lunch.
Pack it Up
Finally, you need to pack it up and head out. Make a checklist and pack things based off of that, otherwise it’s likely that you will forget something. You’ll definitely want to remember these items:
- sleeping bags
- sleeping pads
- first aid kit
- extra batteries
- matches or a lighter
- bug repellent
- camp chairs
- rain gear
- firewood (if none will be available at your campsite)
- toiletries–toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo/conditioner, body wash, toilet paper, a towel, and sandles to shower in.
- kitchen box–camp stove, 1 pot, 1 pan, plates, silverware, napkins, spatula, cutting knives, cutting board, cups/coffee mugs, garbage bags, and pot grippers.
- cooler–all cold food for your meals.
- dry food box–all dry food, like cereal, pasta, rice, etc.
- day clothes (clothes to do activities in)–1 pair of underwear for each day, 1 pair of socks for each day, outdoor shoes (hiking boots, trail shoes, chacos) and different outfits for the different activities you have planned.
- comfortable camp clothes–camp shoes, shorts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, etc.
With a list like this you can’t go wrong. Ok, maybe you can, but it’s unlikely.
When you’re heading out for your next car camping adventure, remember to run through these steps quickly beforehand. In the end, it will save you a lot of stress, time, and money.
Your Turn: What are your car camping do’s and don’ts?