Car Camping Tips and Safety

Written by Carly Hallman

car in the moonlight

Car camping makes roughing it and enjoying the great outdoors easier than ever. While other forms of camping may limit how much campers can bring by how much they can carry and how far they need to go, car camping allows you to bring as much as you can fit in your vehicle. Campers can skip the long hikes carrying pounds of gear by driving their vehicle directly to their campsite. With campers able to bring more gear to make their stay outdoors more comfortable, it’s no surprise that this has quickly become the most popular type of camping in the United States. Whether you are new to camping or a longtime pro, car camping is a great way to experience nature safely and comfortably.

What Is Car Camping?

Car camping is any type of camping where you can drive directly to your campsite. While traditional campers have to carefully pack only the essentials, car camping saves you the stress of having to leave something behind. Rather than bringing only what can fit in a bag you can carry long distances, you can bring anything that fits in your vehicle. This allows campers to bring larger amenities they would never have otherwise imagined having.

  • Car camping makes camping more accessible to everyone. Cutting out the hike with heavy gear makes camping more feasible for those with health concerns or for anyone simply looking to relax in nature.
  • Driving to a campsite allows campers to bring more equipment than ever, from grills and coolers to mattresses and fishing gear, so they can make the most of their time outdoors.
  • Camp with less stress! Bring as much as you want or need to feel safe, comfortable, and ready for anything.

What to Pack

Although car camping allows you to bring as much gear as you can fit in your vehicle, there are some essentials that shouldn’t be overlooked. Before you go, knowing what the weather conditions are expected to be like during your stay can help you be more prepared. In colder climates, special temperature-rated equipment, clothing, and sleeping bags may be necessary. In areas with predators, having bear spray, horns, or flares can be a life-saver. The benefits of car camping allow you to bring plenty of equipment to ensure that you are safe and well-prepared no matter where you go.

  • Bringing your phone and a charging station ensures that you have your phone whenever you need it, so you can stay on top of weather changes and keep in contact with family and friends if there are any changes to your plans.
  • Find a tent suitable for the conditions you are camping in. Whether you need something durable to withstand wind, rain, or cold temperatures, finding the right tent can make your stay outdoors as comfortable and safe as possible.
  • Sitting by a campfire is nice, but you will eventually have to put the fire out. Bringing a portable light source, such as a battery-operated lamp or flashlight, allows you to see at night. Whether you need to find equipment, investigate a disturbance, or move around the campsite, a light source is an important piece of equipment you don’t want to leave behind. If bringing battery-operated chargers, lights, or radios, make sure you bring the right size batteries with you.
  • First-aid kits, clothing, and water are other essentials to bring with you. While you want to bring enough food and water to last you during your stay outdoors, bringing enough for a couple extra days can be important if you are ever stranded at a campsite or if you choose to stay for another day or two.
  • What you will need to bring with you can vary greatly by person, environment, and experience. Making sure you have essentials like food, water, medicine, protection, light, and shelter is a great way to start your list of things to pack.

Safety Tips

Car camping can be incredibly fun and can make camping safer than ever, but there are some dangers to be aware of. The weather and wildlife can be unpredictable. Knowing what dangers to look out for and what to do in various situations can help campers prepare for or avoid these scenarios.

  • Weather can change in an instant. Checking weather forecasts and knowing the signs of inclement weather can help campers know if it is a good time and place to camp. When forecasts change, campers can get alerts on their phones that help them either pack up and head somewhere safer or safeguard equipment and take shelter in their vehicles.
  • Keep your campsite clean of food scraps and packaging. Keeping food stored safely away in a cooler in your vehicle can help minimize the smell that attracts animals and bugs to your campsite. For larger animals, keeping protective devices on you can help you be prepared at any time. Many safety devices have hooks that allow you to keep them on a key chain or belt loop so they are accessible and easy to find at a moment’s notice.
  • Tell family and friends your plans. Telling someone where you will be and for how long makes it easy for them to help you if you become lost or injured. Many parks and campsites are monitored. Checking in with rangers can be another great way to stay safe.
  • Campfire safety is extremely important! In drier areas, campfires may not be allowed due to the risk of fast-spreading wildfires. Do your research on how to properly build, tend, and put out a campfire. If you want to cook over an open fire, make sure to check for any burn notices or warnings that may prohibit these activities during certain times of the year or in dry conditions.
  • Do your research! From where to put your tent to how to purify water, there are a lot of resources out there to teach campers the ins and outs of camp safety.

Car Camping Resources

  • Camping Safety: Knowing the weather, the terrain, your limitations, and safety tips can help you to camp safely.
  • Free Camping Trip Planner: Whether you are looking to find free camping sites near you or plan a trip across the United States, find places to camp using your smartphone’s GPS to save time and money.
  • Road Trips for Exploring Public Lands: Plan your next camping and sightseeing adventure with these tips.
  • Staying Safe: Staying safe while camping can be as easy as following a few simple safety tips.
  • Camping Safety Tips: Being prepared can help you stay safe before and during your camping trip.
  • Camping on Public Land: Camping on public land comes with its own set of rules, expectations, and tips.
  • Car Camping and Cooking: Cooking while camping can be stressful for new campers, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are a few things to know to help you prepare.
  • Tips for Fall Camping: Camping during different seasons can change a lot about how you camp. From equipment and clothing to activities and safety tips, here’s what you need to know.
  • How to Prevent a Wildfire: Take precautions when camping so you can build, tend, and extinguish a campfire or open fire safely.
  • Summer Safety: Summer marks a time for celebration. Whether that means fireworks or cooking outdoors, having fun can be dangerous during the drier months.
  • Ten Tips to Prevent Wildfires: Sitting by a campfire and camping go hand in hand. Here are ten ways to ensure that you can enjoy a campfire safely.
  • How to Stay Safe Outside: When cooking outside, it’s important to make sure that you are doing so safely and know what to do if the fire spreads.
  • Wildlife Safety: Stay safe when camping by knowing what animals and signs may mean danger and how to keep from attracting animals to your campsite.
  • Camping on Wildlife Management Areas: Camping is a popular activity year-round, but camping on wildlife management areas may require extra precautions and authorizations.
  • Severe Weather Safety for Campers: Staying alert and aware of weather changes can reduce the risk posed by severe weather.