Summer is finally—finally—close enough to touch and we can’t wait to kick off a season of fun in the sun with one of our favorite pastimes: car camping! Here at Quoted, we love a good road trip, and have shared our best tips for using your car to take summer plans to the next level. There’s nothing quite like a summer camping trip—hiking, campfires (read: s’mores), stargazing—and it’s an affordable way to vacation.
We’re especially excited about the best pairing since peanut butter met chocolate: camping with—and in—our vehicles. One part built-in sleeping quarters, one part animal-safe storage, and one part entertainment system, your car is an easy (and cheap!) way to instantly up your camping game. Here’s how it’s done:
Best Cars for Camping
With a lifetime of car camping under her belt, Becky Blanton, an associate editor for “Airstream Life” magazine, shares her advice for the right kind of vehicle to camp with: “The best cars for camping are vans, but a good sized SUV, or pickup truck can be great too.” Blanton says even sedans can work, as products like inflatable mattresses made especially for cars make them cozy and comfortable.
Other great reader-suggested vehicles for camping include those with backends that lay flat for sleeping. Jessie Galioto-Grebe loves to camp at Mather Campground, located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona using the family Subaru Forester—dogs comfortably included. You can also use online campground booking software to reserve a RV for your trip. There you can choose any of your choice.
For even more vehicle ideas, our list of excellent road trip vehicles applies for road trip-camping combinations as well. A few to take to the campground:
- The Honda Odyssey may be a minivan, which may cut down on its cool-factor, but trust us, this vehicle has the road trip goods. Not only is the Odyssey one of the safest vehicles on the road, it seats up to eight passengers quite comfortably, which makes it a must-have for summertime getaways (though you might need a rooftop carrier for your stuff if you seat the Odyssey to capacity). In includes a rear-seat DVD entertainment system for the road trip, in-cabin vacuum for easy snack clean up, and a built-in beverage cooler.
- The Ford Flex looks like it would be right at home toting surfboards in a sleepy, sunset-colored west coast memory. But unlike its vintage brothers and sisters, the Ford Flex has modern amenities and perks that’ll help make your summer trip comfortable, efficient, and action-packed. It’s got room for seven and a PowerFold Third-Row seat with a tailgate option (to be used only when parked, of course).
- The Mazda CX-5 offers Mazda’s Skyactiv technologies, which promise to combine fuel efficiency and performance and also travelling safety. In keeping with Mazda’s sporty image, the Mazda CX-5 is actually fun to drive, includes individual passenger comfort zones, and is Bluetooth equipped for easy access to your campfire playlists.
Best Gear for Camping with Your Car
Camping gear can be expensive and expansive, so don’t overpack, but make sure you bring along what you need. No sleeping bag? No problem, Blanton says. Just use sheets and blankets when you’re snoozing in your car. Two to three plastic storage boxes are a must, though, for things like paper plates, toilet paper, and camping equipment (like flashlights and other gear). These can even be stored on top of the car at night, but never leave food in them. “That will attract animals, like bears,” says Blanton.
Gear and accessory recommendations by RoverPass for high-tech gadget lovers:
- Dome Tent for Wagon or Compact Car, $299: The tent’s “adjustable sleeve” helps convert any hatchback vehicle into a car-tent combo: you can sleep in the tent, and you can sleep in the car.
- Roadie Hammock Stand, $199: Designed for travel, the hammock stand is compact and can be set up in just two steps. The stand stays secure under your vehicle’s wheels and creates an instant bed or hangout spot.
- Lightwave Amp, $199: This lithium-battery powered lantern becomes an entertainment system when synced to your phone or tablet, offering a “powerful speaker and lighting system”—for bright lighting or dance parties, according to your tastes.
- Camping Stove, $139-$229: Easy to use and stylish—what’s not to like?
- Tree Tents, $350-$650: For camping in unique and unexpected places (like between trees or even over a stream), these very cool tents look as though they’d fulfill every lingering childhood tree house fantasy.
- LED Headlamp, $20: We love this headlamp both as a camping essential and as a must-have for roadside emergencies.
Best Places to Camp with Your Car
You can camp for free in most National Forests and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), personal finance and travel expert, Pauline Paquin, tells us. Before your trip, reach out to the forest you’re planning to visit to get all the details about where to camp and what amenities are available and also give some safety tips of travelling. Free camping can be found in designated campsites or anywhere enough of a distance away from roads.
Mark Koep of Campground Views offers his top picks for inexpensive car camping across the U.S.:
- Yellowstone Area: Falls Campground is a great place located in a quiet area not far from both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Inside Grand Teton National Park is Jenny Lake, but be aware it’s only open to car camping with a tent.
- Glacier National Park: A dirt road that is car accessible takes car campers to the amazing, scenic, and less crowded area of the park called Cut Bank. And St. Mary’s offers an amazing car camping area with sites tucked in to a natural setting–just don’t confuse the campsites with the RV/Caravan parking rows, which are decidedly less glamorous.
- Big Sur and the Pacific Coast: Camp with incredible views at Kirk Creek Campground.
And finally, don’t forget: The good old KOA (Kampground of America)—inexpensive, reliable, and ubiquitous, it’s always served us well.