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What is Car Camping? (Everything You Need to Know)

What is Car Camping?

Car camping is commonly referred to when camping in a campsite which involves driving in your vehicle too. Some people also consider true car camping to be that of sleeping in your car at a campsite in comparison to a traditional tent

car camping

Car camping is easy to do and is a great way to get out and travel for both beginner and experienced campers. We’ll go through all the ins and outs of what car camping is and how to get started to help you get out on the road!

In this guide you’ll learn: 

Why is it called car camping?

Car camping is pretty self-explanatory being a term often used to describe a style of camping where you drive directly to the campsite. Car camping can also be referred to as drive-up camping or in some cases living in your car. 

What do you need for Car Camping? 

The most important thing when car camping is a car! After that car camping can be as simple and minimalistic or complicated as you like. For a comfortable car camping trip, packing the following is ideal: 

  1. Sleeping Bag and/ or Pad
  2. Pillow 
  3. Camp Stove 
  4. Eating Utensils 
  5. Adequate Food & Water supply (pack extra if in remote areas) 
  6. Cookware 
  7. Cooler/ or food storage
  8. Flashlight 
  9. Firewood & Matches/Lighter (if the site permits fires) 
  10. Insect Repellant 
  11. First Aid Kit 
  12. Spare Fuel/ gas 
  13. Extra Clothing
  14. Phone Charger

Additionally, If you’re planning on camping at a campsite that doesn’t provide toilet or shower amenities you’ll be required to bring your own. If you do not already have a toilet option for car camping make sure to see our guide on toilet options for living in your car.  

Benefits of car camping

Ability to bring more supplies

In comparison to traditional camping completed by hiking with a tent, car camping can allow you to bring more supplies and equipment. This is particularly ideal for those who love mountain biking or other outdoor activities like kayaking

Some may say this takes away from the ‘camping experience’ but having additional storage for food and equipment can allow you to camp for extended periods.  

Can explore greater distances

Having your car easily accessible allows you to explore greater distances when camping. The ability to pack up and go on day trips to nearby sites and attractions can allow you to get the most out of the camping experience and explore more of the area. 

Car camping is also great for those looking to travel cross country or longer distances as a cheap form of accommodation and travel. 

Great for camping in groups

With the ability to carry more equipment, car camping is a great way for those looking to camp with a group of people. Whether it be transporting a larger tent to your site or cooking equipment such as grills or portable kitchen setups. 

car camping

Better protection from the Elements

Car camping can offer greater protection from unexpected weather extremities, especially If you are sleeping in your car whilst doing so. The interior of your vehicle is a great escape from heavy winds, snow, and heavy rain. 

Disadvantages of Car Camping

Access to campsites

Unfortunately, not all campsites are accessible by car which can be limiting to the places you can car camp. Tight dense national parks or forests are often inaccessible by vehicle and can still require some hiking. 

Crowded Sites

With the low barrier to entry, car camping is a popular form of camping that has many people doing it regularly. Car camping sites, particularly those closest to the majority of cities, are often crowded and can feel like you have no privacy. 

Peak seasons such as holidays or summer will see popular sites often filled with little to no room left to set up camp. For best results make sure to plan your trip outside of these peak seasons or look for alternative sites off the beaten track.   

What is the difference between car camping and tent camping?

Car Camping is where you use your car to either sleep in or to carry equipment such as a tent for camping. Tent camping is when you solely rely on your tent for your camping experience and is commonly done at sites inaccessible by vehicle. 

Some car campers will sleep in a stand-alone or rooftop tent however not all tent campers will use a car. 

Is car camping safer than tents?

Sleeping in your car is often safer than sleeping in a tent. The ability to be able to lock your vehicle reduces the risks associated with tents being broken into. Cars will also protect you from wild animals and are less likely for bugs or other unwanted critters to enter.  

Cars are also a lot warmer than when sleeping in a tent, this makes them ideal in winter or periods of extreme weather. 

car camping vs tent  camping

What do you sleep on when car camping?

The best option for sleeping in your car when car camping is an air mattress. There are many custom size air mattresses made to fit a variety of car makes and models. Alternatives to air mattresses include sleeping pads or using a reclined car seat. 

Best places to car camp

National Parks are one of the best places to car camp. With over 130 National park camping grounds to choose from in the USA, there is no shortage of places to stay. The National Park Service has a great resource for finding campgrounds on their Find a Campground page.

Do campsites allow you to sleep in your car?

A majority of campsites will allow you to car camp, particularly if you are sleeping in your tent. Some privately owned campsites may not allow you to sleep in your car, however, most national parks and forests allow you to do so.

If you are unsure about a particular campsite it is best to call ahead to confirm if you are allowed to sleep in your car there. If they are against it and you still want to camp there it’s best to not let them know in advance or consider stealth camping.  

Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping, the act of camping in a national forest outside of any designated campgrounds is also suitable for car camping. Having access to limited facilities that typical campsites provide you will need to be greater prepared by bringing your own amenities. 


In conclusion, camping in your car is a fun and convenient way to enjoy the great outdoors. It allows you to bring along some of the comforts of home, while still providing the opportunity to experience nature and spend time outdoors.

With the right planning and preparation, car camping can be a truly enjoyable and rewarding experience. So pack up your car, grab your camping gear, and hit the road for an adventure you’ll never forget!


  • Augustus

    Augustus, an intrepid traveler and RV enthusiast, has journeyed across North America, Europe, and Australia, turning his passion for adventure into a life's mission. His love for exploring began in his childhood, with local hikes and camping trips igniting a deep connection with nature. This connection now shines through in his popular travel blog, where he shares not just tips but personal stories, captivating a community of fellow wanderers. His travels are further enriched by his partnership with Zaara, his wife and travel companion, together exploring remote landscapes and diverse cultures. Augustus is also a skilled photographer, capturing the beauty of nature and the essence of his nomadic lifestyle in each shot. His life story is a mosaic of breathtaking experiences, a testament to the beauty of following one’s passions and embracing the unknown, inspiring others to explore the world with the same fervor.