There’s two types of campers out there: those that try to bring the comforts of home into the wilderness with them, and those that camp out of practical necessity. You might recognize the former – the gigantic gas guzzling pickup trucks towing the impossibly large RV trailers precariously perched atop two or three small axels. This type is also typically passing by you in the fast lane, despite their massive payload. They rush into the campground early, unfold their Dr. Seuss-esque contraption, and proceed to do nothing resembling outdoor living.
The latter, the category in which we fall, camps with simpler implements. Ours is one of practical necessity, as camping is usually the cheapest way to travel. There’s something more in this style of camping as well, as the simple return to nature, sleeping on the ground, and cooking over an open fire can have immense restorative properties for the soul.
From our 4,000 mile African road trip, to simple getaways to Northern Michigan, we have mastered the art of car camping. The car being your means of transportation, and the vessel in which to carry your gear, yet infinitely more nimble than the caravans of excess previously mentioned.
There are a few things to keep in mind when car camping in order to set yourself up for success. Some simple planning, and logical packing can make car camping the most efficient means of overnight stay on your travels.
Packing the Car
Unless you can afford a larger car, the prospect of packing up a tiny vehicle with implements to last you for 10 days and beyond can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. I assure you, when you filter what you bring down to the bare essentials, you will enjoy your experience that much more. I have personally lived out of a VW Polo carrying 5 people and their gear through Namibia for over 8 days, so I assure you, it is possible.
The key is modular organization. When it is just Leeann and me, we bring the following:
- Camp Bag – this contains all of the tent implements, our double sleeping bag, sleeping pads, camp pillows, flashlights, headlamps, and extra batteries. At the end of the day, this is really all we need to camp.
- Clothing – we typically either share a single large duffel, or each bring our backpacking backpacks. Less is certainly more, we always end up wearing less than we bring, but be sure to prepare for the elements.
- Cooler – we like to cook all of our meals over the open fire, so we try to bring as much of the food as possible.
- Camera bag – full of our camera supplies, so we can document all of this for you!
Camping for us is a special thing, it’s where our relationship blossomed, and it’s our peaceful return to nature. The freedom of being able to live entirely out of a car brings a sense of peace and relaxation. We have developed our own system that removes roadblocks and makes for extremely efficient setup and breakdown. We want to be able to enjoy the place we are visiting, so we don’t want our meals or sleep to become a headache.
I’ve had some of my best sleep in a tent. It’s really quite amazing how quickly the body resets to the natural rhythms of nature, rising with the sun and sleeping when it sets. For us, camping started out of necessity for affordability, but it’s turned into something more. We often choose car camping over a hotel, even if we have the means to use one.
The key is to anticipate the headaches and roadblocks and do what you can to eliminate them ahead of time. Our system of organization, mastering the quick setup and breakdown, and minimizing what we bring have all made camping extremely efficient and enjoyable for both of us.
Bring less, organize for efficiency, and enjoy where you are above all else.