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Best Car Camping Gear & Essentials for 2023

Jan 14, 2024Jan 14, 2024

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Camping may not be for everyone, but with a few extra gadgets to keep you comfortable and safe, you may yet find yourself in the great outdoors.

Lying on the bare earth beneath the open sky may sound idyllic, but for most of us (and our backs), it does not feel idyllic.

I, like most, crave outdoor adventure while also enjoying modern amenities, which makes car camping a more palatable option. For several years, I have spent my summers camping out of my 2001 Ford Econoline, affectionately known as Rhonda. While Rhonda may not be the pique #vanlife aesthetic, she is a testament to the accessibility of car camping.

Blending the excitement of outdoor adventuring with the familiarity of your own vehicle, car camping can be fun for everyone regardless of their age or background. So grab your keys and search for your intrepid spirit while we unlock a world of possibility with these car camping gear essentials.

Power: Will there be access to electricity where your travels take you? This is possibly one of your biggest considerations in this modern age, but it also takes into account your safety while camping. Always make sure to have some type of power source that will keep your phone charged in case you need to make an emergency call.

Vehicle Make and Product Compatibility: If you're buying something that installs onto your car, like a rooftop tent, make sure you take the correct measurements to ensure it will actually fit your vehicle. Do the research!

Road Conditions: What will the roads be like on the way to your campsite? If you plan to do a bit of overlanding to your site, consider having some emergency equipment that can help you in a pinch should you drive through a puddle that you swear didn't look that deep.

Price: If it's an item that you'll use regularly or will determine your comfort, it's not so bad to consider a splurge purchase. For standard items such as camping stoves or headlamps, however, you can probably stick with the average price points. Just remember: When it comes to gear and gadgets, you usually get what you pay for.

Storage Space: If your car is both sleeping and storage quarters, you'll have to plan storage ahead of time. Because while having a cooler pressed against your face while you sleep won't kill you, it's certainly not ideal.

Ready to hit the road and stay there? Here are our favorite car camping gear essentials.

Arguably, the biggest concern when camping is where to sleep. The Tepui Foothill Tent elevates your rest with this convenient and space-saving method. Designed to fit onto most cars with roof racks, the Foothill Tent mounts onto either side of the vehicle, leaving space for additional adventuring gear like bikes or kayaks.

Besides the obvious space-saving benefits, an elevated rooftop tent not only relieves ground-sleeping fatigue but also brings you closer to the stars, which you can gaze at through this tent's dual skylight feature. Best of all, its foam mattress stays inside when the tent is folded up.

Seasoned outdoor enthusiasts and brand-new campers alike love the Solo Stove Campfire. It utilizes a cleverly designed airflow system that burns efficiently and leaves no trace behind at your campsite. The Campfire is the smallest product in the Solo Stove line, so make sure to size up if you're driving a truck or RV!

For those on a budget or car camping for the first time, the Onirii Inflatable Car Air Mattress is a decent sleeping solution. Simply lay your back row flat, inflate the mattress, and voilà! You've just made your bedroom.Be advised, though, that you'll eventually want to level up your car-camping mattress game (see the Exped MegaMat Auto, below); inexpensive inflatable mattresses like these have an annoying way of springing a leak after even a few uses.

The Onirii is a universal fit product, with an option for an SUV or car model. Just remember to pack lightly because everything in your third row and trunk must move to the front seat while you sleep.

Sure, you may be camping to "unplug," but chances are you're still going to need power. The Jackery Solar Generator 1000 has all the benefits of a typical power bank (AC and DC charging options) but with the added benefit of solar panels. Charging this unit to full before any big trip, and topping up with the included solar panels, will more than make up for your camping power needs.

Whether you're seeking shade from the scorching sun, shelter from the rain, or you simply want a hangout place, the R oadhouse Tarp will give you just what you need. The product is designed to fit most SUVs, Jeeps, and even vans. Be sure to check vehicle compatibility when searching for any car awning.

#VanLife-rs and overlanders have been plugged into the Dometic brand for years, and for good reason. The CFX3 keeps your food and drinks anywhere from cool to frozen without pulling much of your vehicle's DC power. It comes in seven sizes, from 25 up to 100 liters, so there's one for every car, truck, and RV. As an added feature, Dometic comes equipped with a battery alert, so you can ditch the anxiety about your battery draining, and concentrate on enjoying nature instead.

Next time you're car camping with a companion, defy the laws of personal space with this double sleeping bag. The Siesta Hooded Sleeping Bag is rated to keep you warm down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit with an insulated hood and separate vents at the feet for customizable temperature regulation. Shopping for a sleeping bag is a very personal experience, so be sure to select the product that best fits your needs.

The MegaMat Auto features 4 inches of open-cell polyurethane foam for support and warmth and a brushed, stretch tricot nylon surface for cradling comfort. The open-cell foam is self-inflating, meaning that when the inflate valve is opened, the foam expands and draws air into the mat. An EXPED Mini Pump is included to top off the inflation and achieve preferred firmness.

Even though nature is decidedly dustier than your home, it doesn't mean you have to be dustier too. The Helio LX Pressure Shower gives the gift of revitalization with a pressurized shower system. The Helio is different from a typical camping shower because it does not rely on gravity to dispense or require a hose to be filled. Simply pour into the top, leave in the sun to heat up, pump, and shower away.

This ingenious ensemble is an excellent starter cooking set. The Odoland 16-piece nesting set is a great alternative to the traditional two-burner stove. The easy-to-store and carry set can fit snuggly into the carrying case and stow away in a small space. Just don't forget to buy the cooking fuel because, well, you can't cook without the fire.

Turn almost any water jug into a kitchen faucet with no external power required. Our Mack Hogan swears by the Dometic GO, saying "Having touch-activated running water in camp is invaluable. This thing is worth its weight in gold because I wear contacts and need to wash my hands to take them out."

"Storage storage storage" is the ultimate consideration of any road trip. Thule WingBar Evo Load Bars extend your packing capabilities beyond the cabin space. There are plenty of rooftop storage configurations, including storage boxes, kayaks, bikes, rooftop tents, and more. One thing to remember when shopping for rooftop racks: It is imperative you ensure the rack is the correct fit for your vehicle.

One of the greatest benefits of car camping is the clear delineation between the outdoors and the indoors. However, in summer conditions, your inside can sometimes feel like a furnace. Econour Car Window Screens are great for breezy, comfortable nighttime rest. The universal, easy-to-install screens protect you from the outside (aka constant mosquito bites) while allowing the breeze to pass through, giving you a much-needed respite from the hot summer night.

Go vertical when you want to maximize storage and save space inside the car with the clever and top-rated GearLine organization system from Nite Ize. Hang the GearLine to any hook or knob via Gear Tie reusable twist ties and attach tools, gear, gadgets, or clothing to each S-Biner. allowing items to hang horizontally to keep things easily accessible or dry out quickly.

What do 1) looking for your phone, 2) using the bathroom, and 3) investigating a creepy noise all have in common? You don't want to do any of them in the dark. Investing in several reliable light sources will prepare you for every nighttime activity car camping will throw at you. Headlamps are a favorite for car camping due to their hands-free design, but also the handy head strap means you can just hang them from garment hooks or wrap them around the headrest for easy access.

At just 19.9 x 14.1 x 12.1 inches, this tough 8-gallon cargo box is ideal for car camping. Made with a lightweight frame that's dent- and weather-resistant, lockable latches add security (lock not included), and multiple ActionPackers can nest and be stacked vertically.

Also available in 24-gallon size.

If you're planning to go off the beaten path, being prepared to pull yourself from a sticky situation is best practice. Bunker Indust Off-Road Traction Boards are first used as shovels to remove debris, then shoved beneath your tires to give you traction in mud, sand, slick surfaces, and deep puddles. Like most emergency equipment, you may not always need them—but you sure are happy you have them when you do.

I have saved my van, Rhonda, out of two very desperate situations with these boards. I would never travel without them!

Car camping refers to a style of camping that relies on the vehicle to get you to the location and as a place of rest. Some car campers opt for sleeping inside the car, others for the top of the car. Either way, car camping is a way to use your vehicle to rest your weary head after a long day of hiking.

Car camping has several advantages, but the main one is "setting camp." Imagine pulling into a campsite, pulling out some chairs, and you're done. With car camping, you don't have to commit an hour to erecting a tent or leveling the RV; just park it and concentrate on relaxing in nature.

Car camping is allowed in many locations, including national park campgrounds, state parks, private campgrounds, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management open spaces. However, it is essential to respect personal property and always follow local regulations and restrictions regarding camping. Always do your research!

Car camping is a safe experience if common sense safety is considered. Choosing well-maintained campsites, avoiding hazardous activities, and respecting the appropriate distance from wildlife can keep you safe. Additionally, it is essential to have an emergency plan. Be prepared with emergency equipment, and always tell a trusted friend or family member your itinerary and general location.

Road & Track and its sibling publications at Hearst Autos represent three of the most influential automotive publications in the world. We rely on decades of experience in the automotive and gear spaces to help readers make informed purchasing choices. Read more about our testing process here.

With the legacies of Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track behind us, the Hearst Autos Gear Team is more concerned with the trust our readers have in us than our bottom line. We won't tell you to buy something if we wouldn't buy it ourselves or recommend it to our friends, and we'll never claim to have used or tested something if we haven't.

We've evaluated dozens of products, from SIM Racing Setups to Rooftop Cargo Carriers to Car Bike Racks. Our picks and recommendations of products and gear are based on testing and knowledge, not hype.

Katherine Keeler is an Assistant Testing Editor at Hearst Autos. By day she evaluates tools for your enjoyment; by night, she Frankenstein's her ever changing fleet of rust-bucket-oddities back to repair. Her dream is to open a roadside attraction where the public can view, drive, and learn repairs at her emporium of curious cars.

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car camping gear essentials Power: Vehicle Make and Product Compatibility: Road Conditions: Price: Storage Space: Tepui Foothill Tent Solo Stove Campfire Onirii Inflatable Car Air Mattress Jackery Solar Generator 1000 R oadhouse Tarp CFX3 Siesta Hooded Sleeping Bag MegaMat Auto Helio LX Pressure Shower Odoland 16-piece Dometic GO Thule WingBar Evo Load Bars Econour Car Window Screens GearLine Headlamps Bunker Indust Off-Road Traction Boards Hearst Autos Gear Team