What You Should Take on a Car Camping Trip

Public Domain. Andrew Piazza

Whether you call it luxury camping or 'glamping,' the beauty of car camping is that you can travel in relative comfort.

I went on my first car-camping trip when I was seven weeks old. My parents love to recount how I screamed the whole way from Ontario to Prince Edward Island, and back again. There are humorous photos of my shrivelled red face visiting Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy. Fortunately, my attitude improved over the years, and now I love car camping, having done it in every province of Canada and parts of the U.S., too.

Car camping, however, does not have the best reputation. It is often associated with crowded campgrounds, dirty washrooms, drunken partiers, and nearby highways. This is unfortunate because car camping is an excellent way to travel with kids, to cover significant distances, to save money, and to enjoy a degree of comfort that cannot be maintained in a canoe. (I do love canoe trips, too, but they're a different beast altogether.)


© K Martinko

If you're interested in car camping but unsure of how and where to start, here are some suggestions for basic gear, inspired by this article in Outside magazine. Gather up these items, whether purchased or borrowed, and get outdoors to experience car camping for yourself. Fall is the best time to do it. It's not so hot, the bugs are gone, and those evening campfires will feel wonderfully cozy.

1. Waterproof tent

Don't scrimp when it comes to the tent. (I made this mistake once, purchasing an ancient Walmart tent at a garage sale -- a double mistake.) Buy the best tent you can afford, and make sure the fly goes all the way to the ground on all sides. This is very important and, in my opinion, marks the difference between serious campers and beginners.

2. Sleeping mat & bag

It's not a canoe trip, so you can take the biggest, thickest sleeping mat you want. Not only does it make your bed softer, but it insulates your body from the cold ground, which is especially important at this time of year. Bring a sleeping bag, a warm quilt, or a duvet -- and, of course, some cozy pyjamas.

3. Double-burner stove

Double-burner stoves make cooking almost as easy as being at home. You can have a pot of chili and a pot of rice simmering at the same time. Your coffee brews while you fry eggs for breakfast. The possibilities are endless.

cooking over a campfire

© K Martinko -- Hard to beat a fire-cooked meal

4. Cooler

A cooler stashed in the trunk allows you to eat like royalty while enjoying the outdoors. Fine cheeses, cream for your coffee, smoked salmon, salad greens, condiments, chilled beer -- all of these glorious foods can only be enjoyed when kept cold.

5. Lawn chair

I have spent many a camping trip perched on a picnic table bench, trying to read a book while my bottom grows painfully numb. Now I've realized it's worth hauling a lawn chair to a campsite because it makes a huge difference. It's comfy, relaxed, and portable around the site.

6. Storage containers

Camping with boxes is the best way to do it. Whether you buy hard plastic carrying containers, or simply use cardboard boxes, car camping enables you to store goods in a compact, easy-to-access way. I usually have a box for food and a box for cooking/eating gear.

7. Odds & ends

These aren't true necessities, but they make the car camping experience a whole lot more pleasurable:

  • A tablecloth to cover an icky-looking picnic table
  • A wash basin for doing dishes after meals
  • Rope for a clothesline to hang towels, dish rags, and to air out sleeping bags in the morning
  • Flip flops for any questionable-looking public showers
  • Ear plugs for those noisy Saturday nights when you wish your neighbors would go to sleep
  • Newspaper for starting a campfire
  • A headlamp for pretty much everything after dark