First things first: it’s a common misconception that car camping refers to sleeping in the back of your car. Car camping is, in fact, camping whereby you must drive to the site rather than walk there. Although it can involve sleeping in your car, it usually involves erecting a tent—or setting up your camper trailer. And if you’ve so much as glanced at our website, you’ll know that that is what Cub Campers is all about. Why else do you think we’re always talking about which cars are compatible with what camper trailer?
What is the advantage of car camping? Well, it allows you to bring the bulkier items beyond the bounds of backpacking. Tent camping, as opposed to car camping, involves ‘a-wandering…a knapsack on [your] back’. You go wherever your legs will take you, beyond the boundaries of on-road—or even off-road—adventures. And as you go a-wandering, the knapsack on your back will be your sole source of supplies. If you’re tent camping, you can kiss your mattress goodbye as you embrace the bare necessities.
Car camping, on the other hand, is far more lenient. Your whole car will be your knapsack—and this goes triple if you bring a camper trailer along. For starters: camper trailers come complete with a mattress. If you’re tent camping, you may need to forgo your pillow. Camper trailers typically have a kitchen compartment; tent camping would necessitate starting your own fire. The one advantage of tent camping? It allows you to find pockets of nature inaccessible via vehicle. (Purists will also claim that it emulates the caveman experience, allowing us to live as nature intended.) However, if you wish to bring a bit more than just the base necessities, car camping will allow this flexibility.
How to plan
How do you plan anything? By just thinking a few steps ahead of the curve, you’ll be doing wonders for your trip. We all know (and have hopefully learnt from) the feeling of missing out by a cat’s whisker due to a lack of planning. It can sting.
Get together with your campmates and research destinations.
The good news? In this case, planning is not a time-consuming task. All you have to do is:
- Collaborate with your campmates about which dates would suit you all best. Take into account work/study schedules, existing commitments, and upcoming weather conditions. (If you’re car camping alone, even better! You’ll only have one schedule to consider. That will simplify this step.)
- Lock in the total number of nights you’d like to spend camping by (or in) your car.
- Once you’ve decided on a campsite (more on that below), check out their website. Will you need to book your place, or is this place ‘walk-ins* only’? (*In the case of tent camping, you could take this literally. But this is not tent camping.)
- Book your reservation, if you’re able to. If you decide to rock up to a ‘walk-ins only’ location, be open to the chance you may be turned away…especially if you’re visiting during peak times, like the school holidays (most notably: the Easter or Christmas periods).
- Research your chosen destination and start planning your activities for your time away!
How to pick a campsite
In Australia, there are four different types of campsites to choose from:
- National park campsites, which are great for families. These are far away from the city, and any sort of electricity for that matter. You will find that few of these are powered or even have fresh drinking water. If you’re choosing a national park camping site, you may need to put a little more work into your planning stage. National parks, though, are a wonderful chance to go off the grid and immerse yourself in nature. Ensure to bring everything you’ll need and you’ll be right!
- Holiday park campsites, which won’t bring the same seclusion as national parks, but will have amenities. We’re talking showers (with hot water), laundry facilities, dump stations, and even family activities. The only drawback is that these parks can be RV-centric. If you’re car camping with just a tent in tow, you’ll want to research commercial campgrounds that will accept you and your lack of RV. (Alternatively, you could invest in a camper trailer from Cub Campers…may we suggest something from our Double Fold Series?)
- Free camping sites, which are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are common and conveniently located—often beside highways or next to popular holiday spots. On the other hand, they have zero amenities—save for one or two pit toilets, if you’re lucky. Set up camp here and you will need to bring all your base necessities (similar to national park campsites). Free camping sites can be a great option if you want to be near your chosen destination and are willing to forgo showers for a few days. They also won’t cost you a cent.
- Walk-in camping sites, which are the option you choose if you’re tent camping. So you can cross this option off right away.
The Archer River Roadhouse: rich with amenities, this falls under the category of a holiday park campsite. (This campsite is located in Queensland.).
So, which type of campsite should you choose? Consider how much you want to spend, how close you want to be to your chosen destination, and whether you would like access to electricity and plumbing. Whilst some may feel more comfortable ending the day with a warm shower, others may want to part with amenities so they can enjoy a more secluded space. Unless you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, it’s best to find a campsite that represents the preferences of all involved. Moreover, there are hundreds of Australian campsites that fall under each category, so choice will not be a limiting factor. Float these points past your campmates during the planning stage (unless you’re camping alone, in which case, choose whatever you like!).
How to pack for car camping
This will differ depending on whether you’re camping with a car and tent only, or if you’re bringing the camper trailer along for the ride. If you’re bringing the camper trailer, for example, you won’t need to bring a tent or a mattress: things that would otherwise be base essentials. Seeing as these are two very different scenarios, let’s break up this section accordingly.
Car camping with a tent in Upper Colo, New South Wales.
Car camping with a tent
If you’re car camping with a tent only, your car will be your suitcase. You won’t have a camper trailer available for extra storage, so that means you will need to compromise more than our trailer-endowed folks. That being said, a car should provide plenty of room for the car camping essentials. Here’s what to bring if you’re car camping with a tent:
- A tent, obviously. Make sure it’s large and comfortable enough to a) sleep in and b) change clothes in. Depending on how comfy you are with your campmates, you may want to bring more than one [tent]. A four-person tent can accommodate a small group (or a small family), but perhaps you’d prefer personal space. A two-person tent is ideal for a couple (or a super-close pair of besties) or a single adult.
- Camp mattress(es) in whatever size(s) you need. If you want to save on car storage space, bring an inflatable mattress.
- Sleeping bag(s), also available in two-person variants. Talk about a romantic camping getaway!
- Pillow(s). Did you know that there are variants made specifically for camping? It’s true! Alternatively, if you’re not fussed, you can always bring your pillow from home. Wanting to forgo the pillow altogether? Stuff clothes into your sleeping bag sack to make your own pillow. This nifty invention will take up zero car space.
- Car camping chairs—because sitting on the dirt is overrated.
- A camp table, which folds flat and is (ergo) easily stored in your car. Think of this as your food prep space. It also accommodates a camp stove
Car camping with a camper trailer or RV
If you’re car camping with a camper trailer or RV, much of the above will come built into whichever contraption you’re hauling along with you. Because of this, you’ll have more flexible camping options. Decide which of the below you’ll need:
- Bedclothes OR a sleeping bag, depending on your preference. Because camper trailers typically contain a mattress, you are at liberty to dress the bed as you would at home. If you can’t be bothered (or want to save storage space), you can also rest atop the bed in a sleeping bag. It’s up to you.
- Pillow(s)—and because you’re sleeping on an actual bed, you probably won’t need the camping variant(s). In this case, put them in pillowcases (which you will have, provided you’re bringing bedclothes).
- Car camping chairs—because even though trailers and RVs have space for indoor seating, you may still want to hang out outside.
Please note that, because most trailers or RVs contain a kitchenette, a camp table will be likely unnecessary.
Car camping with either setup
Whether you’re camping with a tent or with a camper trailer (or with an RV), the end goal is still the same. Ergo, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are car camping essentials to pack in either scenario. These include:
- Camp-appropriate clothing, which will vary depending on a) where you’re going, b) what you’re doing, and c) what the weather will be like. If you intend to go hiking, for example, then quick-dry clothing (including shirts and underwear) is a must. And even if you intend to camp in milder temperatures, warmer clothing (made from materials like fleece) can help you combat the colder temperatures of nightfall. Most importantly, you should pack comfortable clothing that you won’t mind getting a bit grubby.
- Toiletries, some of which will be more essential than others. Obviously, you’ll need to bring your dental hygiene tools (toothpaste, toothbrush, and dental floss), soap, and deodorant. When you’re camping, however, the toiletry bag can look a little different than it does for a standard overnight trip. If you’re bringing shampoo and conditioner, for example, you could squeeze some into refillable, travel-sized bottles—rather than bringing bulky bottles containing more than you’ll actually need. You’ll also need sunscreen and insect repellent: two camping essentials.
Car camping cooking essentials
Think we were done talking about how to pack for car camping? Think again. We haven’t yet touched on one of man’s most primal rituals: eating. If you’re bringing a camper trailer or RV, you will most likely have a kitchenette attached to your wheeled contraption, and so some of this will be redundant. As you work your way through the following list, exercise some common sense regarding what you will need and what you will not.
- An esky, which is critical for refrigeratable food. If you were wanting to crack open ‘a cold one’, an esky will also allow for this. Please note that an esky will not be essential to a caravan, which will have a built-in fridge. However, you could bring it along if you want to keep the bevs on ice—or have a picnic lunch.
- A camp stove, which will only be essential for campers without a camper trailer or RV. Place it atop a camp table, rig it up to a gas tank, and you’ll be good to go.
- Pots and pans such as saucepans and frypans. You know the drill.
- Plates, bowls, cups, and mugs (preferably insulated).
- Cooking utensils such as spatulas, large spoons, and chopping boards. If you’re feeling fancy, you could even bring a spice rack.
- Dish buckets (preferably collapsible)—for when you bring everything except the kitchen sink.
- A water jug: especially important if your campsite does not provide drinking water. Even if it does, you may prefer to consume fluoride water over ‘country’ water. If you’re lucky enough to have a caravan with a water system, this may be less essential, but it never hurts to have a backup, either.
- Rubbish bags, because campsites will often advise you to ‘take your rubbish home’. Be a responsible camper and bring ample rubbish bags to dispose of waste.
Now for the fun bit!
So you’ve finally set up camp. What are you going to do now? Well, the sky is the limit. Camping is your opportunity to immerse yourself in many outdoor activities. Here are some of your options:
- Hiking or walking. The beauty of car camping is that you can set yourself up in the centre point of many different walking trails. You may wish to choose your camping destination with this in mind. Whether you’re after a week-long trek or some half-hour bushwalks to pass the time, exploring nature is a wonderful camping activity.
- Bike riding. If you’ve got a handle on the handle-barred contraptions, you may wish to research some nearby biking trails. This is similar to hiking—only faster, and on wheels.
- Photography. Camping is one big photo op. You’re up close and personal with nature, so there will be boundless opportunities for breathtaking snaps. You can take photos on your phone, or you could bring your Nikon camera along. Whether you’re a photo-taking novice or a professional photographer, your camping trip will bring scenic photography fodder.
- ‘Indoor’ activities. Unless you have a caravan, you’ll likely be doing these ‘indoor’ activities outside. Regardless, camping can’t be a constant flurry of activity. You’ll need your downtime, too—and, with patchy WiFi, you may need to look beyond your smartphone. Bring along a sketchpad and pencils, some books (perhaps a hammock in which to read these), card or board games, or even a guitar to strum by the fire. (if you’re going to do this, also bring along some marshmallows to roast by the fire.)
Want to enhance your car camping experience?
Any sort of car camping is great, but we won’t pretend it isn’t easier with a camper trailer in tow (literally). Upon reading these car camping tips, you’re likely aware that camper trailers mean better-quality shelter, extra storage space, and a surprisingly shorter packing list. Thinking of investing in a camper trailer for your next car camping adventure? We recommend something from our Double Fold Series. Perhaps you’d fancy our take on the Drifter: the only 100 per cent Australian-manufactured, double-fold camper trailer.
Born in the ‘70s, the Drifter was a six-berth off-roader built for families. Recently, Cub Campers has breathed life back into this previously discontinued model. The newest Drifter comes complete with a queen and a double bed, and has more storage space than you could throw a stick at. It has all the bells and whistles you could imagine, and it braves offroad conditions like a champion. They say that the original is the best, but who said you can’t improve on perfection? Check out the Drifter and see why everything’s coming up Cub.