posted on June 4th, 2019

Start packing up for your next adventure

If you’re planning an early-morning hike the next day, or arriving at your campsite late, driving to your destination and sleeping in your car is a great alternative for overnight accommodations. 

Car camping, also referred to as base camping, used to just mean driving up to a campsite and setting up a tent outside of your car. But nowadays (and in this blog) car camping means sleeping in your car, giving you a chance to enjoy nature in a completely different way. 

Camping in your car is also a great way to try out the #vanlife you’ve been seeing all over social media, without fully committing to the lifestyle.

There are several benefits to camping in your car. It’s inexpensive and accessible because you don’t need a tent, cabin, or even a campsite, yet you still get to enjoy nature and spend some time outdoors. To camp in your car, all you need is a vehicle, a safe place to park, and a few handy items from this car camping checklist.

A different way to camp

Let’s say you’re driving a Subaru Outback for your next camping trip. Once you drive up to your campsite and unload your camp kitchen, fishing gear, and an ice chest full of drinks, you can fold down the rear seats and get your bed ready for a little car camping.

Or if you’re planning an overnight paddling excursion on the lake, you’ll want to look for a location that’ll get you as close to the water as possible. Driving up in a Dodge Caravan equipped with a rooftop tent or a Honda Element with a pop-up camper will eliminate the need to find a campsite to set up a tent. Just ensure you’re not parking on private land or anywhere parking is prohibited. And if you book your campervan on Turo, be sure to stick to paved roads as offroading or driving on gravel roads violates the Turo Terms of Service.

Car camping is also great for “glampers” or anyone who may not be ready to completely leave behind all the conveniences of home, but still want to enjoy nature and the great outdoors. 

Your car camping checklist

Getting ready for your first car camping adventure is pretty straightforward. Just load up your car with a few camping essentials and get ready to have some fun. Here’s a quick checklist to make camping in your car comfortable and enjoyable.


Depending on your destination and the time of year, you’ll want to have a couple of blankets available to keep you warm and comfortable at night. While a sleeping bag could do the same, blankets are more flexible and also don’t take up as much space in your car. 

Camping blankets come in all shapes and sizes and are also waterproof and insulated, making sleeping in your car even cozier. 

And if the blankets aren’t enough for you to get a good night’s sleep, there are also inflatable car camping mattresses and camping pillows you can add. 


If you’re camping in the winter, or somewhere where the temperature drops below freezing at night, investing in a space heater is necessary (as well as winterizing your car). There are several portable options available, some you plug into your car and others that run only on propane. If you’re at a campsite with hookups, electric portable heaters are also an alternative. To avoid issues with CO2 poisoning, fires, and other common problems with portable space heaters, review the heater’s safety features before using the heater. 

Or you can go old school and bottle up some hot water to put into your sleeping bag or blankets. That or just head south for the winter.


Because car camping involves parking your car and turning off the ignition, you won’t want to depend only on your car battery to keep your electronics charged up. Consider packing portable solar panels, wind-powered devices, battery packs, or a generator to charge the batteries for your electronics and give you power whenever you need it. 

Even with portable chargers in tow, don’t forget to charge your electronics before hitting the road so you won’t need to use up your portable chargers prematurely.


If you’re a new camper, this one is a biggie. Worrying about moisture getting inside your car, on your blankets or on any of your camping gear, can be a pain. Once moisture gets into your vehicle or your tent, your camping experience becomes less than desirable. 

There are a couple of ways to keep moisture out, including cracking or opening your windows before you sleep (use mesh to keep the bugs out) and keeping wet clothes and gear outside of the car. But an even better choice is to use a portable dehumidifier to help minimize condensation while ensuring your car or tent remains ventilated. 


Water is a necessity, especially when you’re spending a lot of time out in the sun. Luckily, car camping means you don’t have to worry about dragging gallons of water to your campsite. Just throw the water bottles into your ice chest and put the ice chest in your car. Also, consider including a water filter or purification tablets just in case you need to purify water when you’re out in remote areas.

And if hiking is part of your itinerary, you’ll want to invest in a water bladder to take with you on your hike. Just fill up before heading out on the trails.


Once the sun goes down, so does your light. So unless you plan on leaving your headlights on until you fall asleep (not recommended, by the way — you’ll drain your car battery), you’ll want to pack a lantern for your camping adventures. Outdoor Gear Lab tested a few, including several small lanterns that you can easily store in your car. 


Once you’ve packed up all the camping necessities, the next step is to find a place to park. As adventurous as it sounds, you can’t just park wherever the road takes you. So be sure to check out apps such as Allstays Camp and RV to verify which places you can park.

And while you’re getting ready to go, don’t forget to throw in a first aid kit, sunscreen, and insect repellant for your trip. 

Pack up and go

Car camping can be a great gateway to the Van Life movement or just a great weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Either way, you’re sure to end up with your own epic sunset photos to share on Instagram.

So what are you waiting for? Check out some of the #vanlife options on Turo and get ready for your next adventure.