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27 Borderline Genius Ideas For Anyone Who Camps With Their Car

Where are *you* gonna go?

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Car camping! Like camping, but easier.

“Car camping" just means there are roads that let you drive your car directly up to your campsite — instead of, say, parking further away and hiking to it. Some car campers sleep in their cars, some prefer to set up tents. Some sites even have communal bathrooms with showers campers can use. Because your car's with you, it can be really easy to go to several different campsites over the course of a week or two — or try a longer, intense camping road trip.

Where should I go?

Backpacker and Blue Ridge Outdoors both have lists of great places to camp that let you drive to your site instead of hike; and Free Campsites is a map of the whole US that lets you find free campsites near you. And before you head out, remember to read the CDC's safety and health tips, and the US Forest Service's safety tips.

Want to give it a try? These tips make it easier to ~get on the road~:

1. Hang battery- or solar-powered string lights to light up your cozy car-sleeping evenings.

forrestmankins / /

No campfire, no problem: As long as the weather's nice and you have something to eat, this is all the light you need.


3. Build a simple platform for your air mattress to stash storage underneath if you car camp frequently.

avanventure /

See more pictures of this traveling Australian surfer's van on Instagram; find a tutorial for building one at home using wood here, one using PVC pipe here, and one for a compact car here.


7. Secure a tarp with bungee cords for a "porch" that will keep out the rain without having to close your car doors (so you can still ~smell the rain~).

You'd have to eventually turn on the car to keep it from getting too warm or cold if you closed the car up. Read more on Minivan Camper.

9. Keep the windows open but the bugs out: cut custom magnetic window screens to attach to the outside of your car.

Basically fail-proof, as long as you use plenty of strong magnets. Get the how-to from National Park Paws, and find a more involved make-ahead version that attaches the magnets *to* the screen at Campfire Chic.


14. Balance a foldable camping table on your bumper to create a kitchen in a small campsite.

It just needs to have legs the same height as your car's bumper. Get more tips and learn how to pack a functional car camping pantry and kitchen on Fresh Off the Grid.


20. Beat nosy bears with bear-proof canisters.

Here, don't use a hack — be safe. Bear bags have been used for years, but they don't always work. Some national parks (like Yosemite) provide bear lockers, so you don't have to worry about bringing something, so do your research before you go.

Otherwise, if you're in a bear-area (bear-ea?), bring protection. Read more about bear protection — including info on where the National Park Service provides lockers, and where they require canisters — on REI's blog.

21. If you're sleeping in a tent and not your car, clear drawers = an easy-access car pantry.

This is a great use of trunk space, especially if you're traveling with a family or group. (Skip this if you're in bear country.) From Mountain Campingz.


Love the idea of a Swedish Torch, but not the chainsaw part? Tie six pre-cut logs together with wire, and voilà.

It's the perfect long-burning campfire that you can also cook on, if you have a cast-iron pot or pan. Get the how-to on Fresh Off The Grid.


25. If you'd rather wear your headlamp on your head (or avoid headlamps, period) anchor solar-powered garden lanterns in upside-down terra cotta pots.

Wind-proof wonders that you can put anywhere, as long as they get enough light in the day to charge their batteries. (And of course stake 'em in the ground when you need 'em there.) Read more on Starling Travel.

26. Pack a grab-and-go poo kit if your campsite doesn't have bathroom facilities nearby.

My personal rule is to only go to campsites with bathrooms, but if you're roughing it, make sure you ~actually~ leave no trace. Learn everything about camp hygiene on Trail to Summit.