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Car Camping: Tips, Tricks, and Advice

When camping in your car, whether you’re trying to catch a few zzz’s during a long road trip or park in the woods, your number one priority should be safety. Even if you lock your car doors, a mysterious stranger might be the least of your problems. Hypothermia, animal attacks, and carbon monoxide poisoning are also serious considerations. Camping should be a stress-free experience. After learning tips, tricks, and advice, you’ll know there is to know about Car Camping.

Car Camping


Be Aware of Your Surroundings 

If you’re a True Crime junkie, you likely know all about car camping trips gone awry. Even though the odds of being attacked are extremely low, you should always be prepared for confrontation. This is especially true if you’re traveling alone or have little camping experience. 

You should consider purchasing: 

  • Pepper spray. Many cans of pepper spray come in small containers that attach to users’ keychains. It’s not just effective on people, either; it can temporarily stun a wild animal while you flee to safety. 
  • An air horn. An air horn alerts other campers that you’re in danger. Sometimes, the noise itself is enough to scare off an intruder or animal. 
  • A “panic button.” On today’s market, there are devices called “panic buttons.” They attach to keychains, necklaces, and belt loops. Basically, when someone’s in a dangerous situation, they press the button, which notifies law enforcement. There are also many apps online that provide “virtual panic buttons.” 

Read the Local Weather Report and Plan Accordingly 

You don’t want to waste gas sitting in an idling car. If you’re visiting a really hot (or really cold) climate, you should prepare accordingly. For instance, if you’re visiting a cold area, you should purchase a battery-operated heated blanket. This will lower your chances of developing hypothermia and eliminate the need to use your car’s heater. 

You should also consider getting: 

  • A  battery-operated fan. Many battery-operated fans can run for hours on D batteries. These are a must if you’re visiting a humid place, like Florida or Louisiana. 
  • A Yeti cup. These cups can keep beverages hot or cold for hours after filling them. Whether you want hot cocoa or cold water on end, these cups do the trick. 
  • Weather-specific clothing. This may include boots, jackets, coats, shorts–––it depends where you’re going. 

You should also know your limits if you’re camping in a place with extreme temperatures. For instance, if you know you can’t handle cold weather, maybe you should reconsider that car camping trip in Alaska. 

Test Your Car for Carbon Monoxide Leaks 

There is nothing wrong with keeping the engine on while you cool off in front of the fan or bundle up next to the heater. However, if you make a habit of this, you should do more to check your gas tank. You should also test for carbon monoxide. 

If this odorless gas leaks into your car, and you inhale it for prolonged periods, you risk dizziness, nausea, brain damage, unconsciousness, and even death. You can buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector online for about $20. You can also get a handheld carbon monoxide detector that captures many other types of noxious gas. 

Map Out the Surrounding Area 

In case of an emergency (like a snake bite or sudden illness), you should know where local emergency rooms and urgent care centers are. While many national parks have on-site first-aid centers, they’re not necessarily equipped to handle certain emergencies. 

You can map out healthcare providers in your campsite’s vicinity using Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze. For your own convenience, you should also locate any nearby grocery stores, in case you run out of something. 

Consider Your Vehicle’s Size 

If you have a standard four-door sedan, you can probably fit three campers in your car with no problem. After all, you would have to have campers asleep upright in the front seat, while a third person stretches across the back. Matters change if you’re bringing more people or have a smaller vehicle. 

In some situations, it’s cheaper to rent a car for a few hours rather than purchase a $100-plus tent. If you don’t have a big enough car to fit your campers, you should look into getting: 

  • A pick-up truck. Here, your campers can sleep in the flatbed underneath the stars. They can even extend a tarp over them to stave off bugs or other critters. 
  • A mini-van. This is ideal for car camping. Simply remove the seats, and everyone can have their blankets and pillows spread across the floor. They can even use the van’s many charging ports for their smartphones. 
  • A camper car. The descriptions in the name. These are basically like “Junior RVs.” Certain models come outfitted with beds, Wi-Fi, and cable. 

You can put as many people in your car as you can comfortably fit. However, for your comfort and safety, consider renting or upgrading to a larger vehicle. 

Make Sure That Your Campground Allows In-Car Camping 

Some campgrounds have strict rules about what vehicles are allowed on their sites. For instance, some campgrounds only allow primitive camping, meaning you can only bring tents and a certain number of items. Others offer cabins, RVs, and primitive camping, some even let you bring an electrical generator for camping, where there’s basically no limit to how you can camp.

You don’t want to get to the campsite and learn that they don’t allow vehicles on the campgrounds. This would throw a wrench in your plans and take away from your adventure. If you’re looking to compare campgrounds, visit the National Park Foundation’s website

A Final Word 

So, before you head out on your next car camping adventure, keep these things in mind: 

  • Bring protective devices in case an intruder or animal tires to get into your car. 
  • Read your destination’s weather report before packing your bags. 
  • Test your car for gas leaks. 
  • Map out resources in the surrounding area. 
  • Make sure your car meets your situation (and decide whether to rent one). 
  • Research your campground’s rules before you head out. 
  • And don’t lose your car keys! (but In case you do, I got you covered, read here)

For more information, check out these tips from the National Park Service

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