What Is Car Camping? (2022 Guide)

Be guided through the definition of car camping and how to plan for your trip.
Car Camping

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You may have heard the term car camping bouncing around when learning about different types of camping since it’s probably the most common type of camping trips you can take. But, what exactly is car camping? Is it just when you camp inside your car or does its meaning stretch beyond that?

In this detailed guide, we’ll clear up the meaning of car camping and help you understand the different types of it, its upsides and downsides compared to other types of camping, and offer a few tips for you to consider before going on your car camping trip.

Table of Contents

What Does Car Camping Mean?

Definition: Car camping is a broad term that references any camping trip where you pull your car right up to your campsite, including camping inside, next to (in a tent), and on top of your car. In other words, if you don’t need to walk or hike to your campsite and you just pull up your vehicle, unload your supplies, and set up, it’s considered car camping.

Pros of Car Camping

Here are some pros of car camping versus other types of camping, such as backpacking or dispersed camping.

Makes setting up easy with all your gear compiled in your vehicle for uploading
Provides emergency transportation if something goes wrong on your trip and you need to get to safety quickly
Allows for easy connection to electricity to charge your phone, GPS, flashlights, or other devices
Offers durable shelter if a surprise rainstorm comes out of nowhere
Great for larger families that require a lot of supplies and gear to haul to the campground

Cons of Car Camping

Although the downsides of car camping are generally subjective, here are a couple cons to consider when deciding if it’s right for you:

✘ Not ideal for those who want to be more immersed in nature, since it typically requires your campsite to be located near a road or driveable path
✘ Usually requires a reservation fee, unlike some other types of camping, such as dispersed camping

Types of Car Camping Trips

Car camping is a broad term that can represent a few different camping methods and scenarios. Below are some details on the most common types of camping that fall under the umbrella of “car camping.”

  • Trunk camping: When you hear “car camping” you might think of laying out a sheet in the back of your car and sleeping inside the vehicle. If you have a spacious truck with your back seats folded down, this can actually be a comfortable night out in nature.
  • Van camping: Similar to trunk camping, van camping is getting more and more popular, since you can build comfortable vans with mattresses and storage compartments for multiple nights out on the road or in national parks.
  • Tent camping: Car camping can—and often does—include camping in a tent at your campsite. If you reserve a spot at a car camping campsite, you can pull up your vehicle up, unload all of your supplies, set up your tent, and enjoy a night outdoors with friends or family.
  • Parking lot camping: If you need to spend the night on the road, you might do some car camping in a parking lot that allows overnight parking, such as some Walmarts or rest stops on highways.

5 Helpful Tips for Your Car Camping Trip

Tip 1: Where To Park Your Car

Finding the best spot to park your car can be a big part of your campsite’s setup. If you’re sleeping inside your car, it doesn’t matter much where you put your car as long as it’s safe and won’t roll down a hill in your sleep.

However, if you’re tent camping at your campsite, you’ll want to utilize your car’s size to help protect your tent from wind, so park it square against the way the wind is blowing. This can have a significant impact on your comfort during your night of sleep outdoors.

Car Camping Expert Tip

Tip 2: Utilize Your Trunk

Your trunk is one of the most valuable assets you have access to while car camping. You can fit way more into your car than a backpacker can fit into their hiking pack. Make sure you utilize this space for bringing all of the necessities and comfort items to get the best camping experience.

You can also utilize your trunk in a couple other ways. It can be an excellent platform for your sleeping pad if you want to sleep in your car. Plus, if you have a hatchback or an SUV, your trunk door can serve as a small shelter if it starts raining while you’re on your trip.

Tip 3: Don’t Leave Your Car On

If you don’t camp often and aren’t accustomed to spending time outside without air conditioning or electricity, it can be tempting to leave your car running all night and sleep in it. However, we recommend only turning your vehicle on occasionally, since you can burn up gas and battery power if you leave it on throughout the night.

This could be bad for the environment by emitting fumes for an extended period of time and it can potentially cause you to become stranded with low gas levels or a dead car battery.

Tip 4: Invest in a Rooftop Tent

Rooftop tents are tents that can attach to a rooftop rack on your car. They’re a great alternative to sleeping inside your car, since it can offer more space for your sleeping pad. They also allow you to keep your tent off the ground, protecting your body from cold night temperatures coming from the ground.

Tip 5: Don’t Sleep on the Seats

One of our biggest recommendations is to find sleeping arrangements that don’t include sleeping on the car seats. While car seats may seem more comfortable than laying out a sleeping pad in your trunk or setting up a tent and sleeping on the ground, it’s generally better for your body to stretch out and lay flat during the night just like you would in your own bed at home.

Before You Leave: Summary

Car camping is one of the best and easiest ways to get into camping as a beginner, so we recommend giving it a try in whichever way is most appealing to you. 

Remember, your overall comfort and safety is your most important priority when going on any type of camping trip, so be sure to thoroughly prepare, and you’ll be ready for a great experience sleeping outside.

Frequently Asked Questions About Car Camping

Does car camping usually cost money?

Yes, if you’re planning a car camping trip, you’ll likely have to pay for a reservation at a public or private campground. However, if you’re spending the night in your car at a rest stop or other parking spot that allows drivers to spend the night, you likely won’t be required to pay anything.

How much does a car camping trip cost?

Pricing per night for a reservation at a campground can vary depending on your location and the park you choose, but you generally can expect to pay somewhere between $20 and $60 per night.

Do you need a tent for car camping?

No, you don’t need a tent for car camping since you can always just spend the night inside your car. However, if you have a smaller vehicle, such as a sedan, it might be best to bring a tent along to set up at the campsite so you have plenty of space to sleep comfortably.

How do you go camping in your car?

If you have a sedan, you can camp inside your car by sleeping in a reclined front seat or laying across the back seats. In a larger vehicle, you can fold down the backseat and lay out a sleeping pad in your trunk to set up your bed for the night.

Can you go car camping alone?

While you can car camp alone, we always recommend bringing others with you when doing any type of camping, even if you’re an expert, since it can help reduce the risk of being stranded during an emergency.



If you’re looking for more camping or hiking advice, read some of the following articles and guides: