Tips & Guides | February 2021

Guide to Car Camping for Beginners

Every great journey has to start somewhere! Here are some useful tips for preparing for your first car camping trip. 

Keep it local

You don’t have to go far to spend a night sleeping in your car. If you’re hesitant to dive into the world of rural, dispersed camping, exploring nearby parks or wilderness is a great way to ease into things. Car camping locally offers all of the adventure of a great trip, in familiar surroundings, while maintaining comfortable proximity to home. You can start in your driveway before working your way up to local parks, nearby campsites, and beyond. Whether your destination is just down the street or unincorporated BLM land, you can have a wild time wherever you park. There’s plenty of time to wander a little farther next weekend!

Start on site

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One of the best parts of car camping is that it allows travelers to spend the night in a wide variety of locations. State parks are a great destination for first-time car campers as they usually offer their fair share of amenities (see also: indoor plumbing) to ease the transition of spending the night outdoors. Some parks even have toilets and hot showers on-site for a more comfortable stay. Additionally, the general store at a state park has saved many a weary traveler in desperate search of a toothbrush.   

Day trips 

A day trip offers all the fun of an outdoor getaway without the commitment of an overnight stay. If a full-blown car camping expedition is not quite your fancy yet, you can always spend dawn to dusk outdoors to test the waters. Enjoy car camping’s greatest hits with a long day of hiking followed by a barbecue, sunset, and s’mores before you hop into bed at home. 

Sleeping in your car for the first time can be an intimidating foreign experience. Day trips are a great way to get used to your car as home base. Hit the road early and stay out until sunset to enjoy a full day of adventure. A daytime excursion is exceptionally liberating since you don’t need to plan your journey around where you plan on sleeping at night.

You’ll be waking up to the sunrise in no time. 

Run a dress rehearsal

So you’ve triple-checked your checklist but still can’t shake that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something. Ease your worries by doing a little practice run in the sanctuary of your own backyard. Roll out your whole set up and test your gear to ensure a smooth run for the real deal. A solid dress rehearsal will ensure that you’ve got all the parts and pieces you need for your upcoming trip. It’s also a good idea to make sure that all batteries are locked, loaded, with a replacement packed just in case!

Start your grab bag

If you’re looking into making car camping more of a full-time hobby, then a grab bag (or bin) is a great investment. Start compiling your travel essentials in a container that you won’t need to unpack once you return home. This way, you can keep some travel gear locked and loaded to cut down on packing time the next time you head out. A first aid kit, tarp, and trash bags are all great examples of grab bag gear that you’ll want to take on every trip and won’t need to unpack to use at home.  

Practice makes perfect

The best way to start car camping is by starting to car camp! It can be tempting to fall into the same old routine of laundry and Netflix every weekend, but we can assure you that the extra bit of motivation it takes to embark on that car camping trip will be well worth it. The next time you spend a whole afternoon summiting a new climb or cliff jumping, just consider it honing your craft. It won’t be long before you’re rolling out every Friday afternoon for a weekend of fun. 

Keep it short and sweet

Your first car camping trip doesn’t need to be an epic week-long journey. A four-day trip isn’t necessarily four times more fun than a single day. There’s a fine line between stepping out of your comfort zone and not enjoying yourself. If you decide that the four-day trip you planned is all done after day one, then so be it. There is absolutely no shame in heading home early! No clause in the car camping constitution forbids cutting a trip short. Plus, your whole campsite is conveniently on wheels so you can pack it all in and head home whenever you desire. 

Rugged isn’t always right

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Everyone is obsessed with getting the most lightweight and compact equipment possible these days. The stigma around “glamping” makes it seem as though only the bare essentials are permitted for spending the night outdoors. But less is not always more... Don’t buy into the idea that all camping has to be rugged. 

Sleeping in your car allows you to enjoy a good night’s rest, in the safety of your car, atop a Luno Signature Air Mattress, surrounded by all the equipment you can fit into your trunk. Unlike backpacking, there is no concern about the weight or volume of supplies so you are free to bring whatever your heart desires (and trunk can hold). If you want to bring a wool quilt or battery-powered air conditioner go right ahead. There is no shame in overpacking. 

All the power to backpackers who want to lug their gear up the side of a mountain. That’s just not everyone’s destiny. Car camping allows you to bring extra creature comforts with you on your trip. You’re not going to have to packhorse all your belongings on foot so throw all three of those coolers in the back and hit the road!

Know the rules of the road

From novice campers to expert overlanders, every outdoor explorer knows that research is a crucial step of trip prep. We strongly urge every traveler to read up on-site regulations prior to arrival, as well as look into wildlife and weather warnings to ensure a safe trip. Finally, always tell someone the specific location of your destination before you head into the wild.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The car camping community is full of passionate, adventurous explorers who are looking to share the road with fellow travelers. There are a ton of online websites, resources, and forums dedicated entirely to the art of car camping. This reading material is particularly useful for new car campers as they learn to navigate the terrain. 

Here are a few useful sites and resources to check out: 

  1. Luno Tips & Guides 
  2. Camping Tips for Everyone
  3. Indoorsy Camper
  4. The Dyrt

Just like every great trip, the journey matters more than the destination so feel free to take baby steps as you venture into the wild.


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