Curious About Car Camping?

It’s safe to say 2020 has become a year we didn’t see coming. Stress-filled months cooped up with cranky kids or spouses wasn’t something any of us imagined. Life as we knew it changed drastically. Plans for visits with family and friends, college tours, summer vacations, all went up in smoke.

As a die-hard traveler with through-the-roof anxiety levels on any given day, being quarantined, constantly digesting news updates, and worrying about Covid had me unraveling fast. So on a whim, my teenage daughter and I gathered some supplies and took an extended road trip to Colorado, where my husband and son would drive out to meet us for a time (more about the actual trip in the next post).

I had no idea how it would work out. Two fully grown humans sleeping in the back of an Outback seemed impossible, but Subaru’s website promised otherwise. I took a leap of faith (and an oversized mattress topper) and packed up the car.

Through the years, I’d spent a night or two here and there camping in different SUV’s I owned. Waking up surrounded by nature, safe in the confines of a solid sleeping compartment, has always appealed to me. In my younger years, I was occasionally brave (and limber) enough to withstand an overnight on the hard ground with nothing more than a thin layer of nylon around me. But now, I’m a lot older, a little wiser, and can say those days are probably behind me.

My daughter and I spent six glorious, socially-distanced weeks on the road. We were extremely cautious and wore masks anytime we encountered other hikers/bikers. It didn’t take us long to find our groove and once we did; it was a smooth rewarding experience. Some days were long, and the driving seemed endless. But going to sleep after a long hard day of hiking and/or biking in the mountains and waking up to do it all over again was worth it.

There were times when we missed having our own bathroom or an actual kitchen. Planning meals around a single burner (when electric was available) and whatever was in our cooler was occasionally a challenge, but we managed by eating plenty of fruit, veggies, and shelf-stable and snacks (aka carbs).

We came home leaner, tougher, and mentally recharged.
So… if you think you’d like to try car camping, here’s the basic list of essentials to get you going (and a couple of links for purchasing):

  • Bear-proof cooler
  • Bear Spray
  • Foam mattress topper, pillows, & bedding
  • Sunshade for the front window
  • Mesh screen slipcovers for the side windows (
  • Battery-operated clip-on fans
  • Powerful flashlight
  • Pop Up Privacy Tent- This trip was the 1sttime I used one and it made all the difference in the world. Set up/break down was incredibly easy and the tent was large enough to store all of our clothes and toiletries. (
  • Battery operated lantern (Kept hung in the privacy tent)
  • Five gallon HD bucket- For snacks/ laundry/ washing (It would have become an emergency bathroom bucket if necessary. Thankfully, it wasn’t).
  • Yoga Mats for stretching
  • Travel Hammocks for reading and lounging. The car bed was only used for sleeping, or bad weather.
  • Medium-sized sealing bins- These were critical to go in the floor space behind the front seats to allow for extra mattress support. One bin was filled with safety and hiking gear and one with camping supplies. (Purchased from Target)
  • A “Kitchen-” I used a bright yellow canvas suitcase and filled it with everything you’d find in a real kitchen (including shelf-stable food, seasoning, and powdered drinks).
  • Single burner Cuisinart hot plate
  • Electric kettle
  • French press & coffee
  • Saucepan, lid, and cast-iron frying pan
  • Utensils, flatware, dinnerware, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and cups
  • Ziploc bags in every size
  • Baby wipes
  • Shower shoes and flip flops
  • Eye mask and earplugs
  • Duffle bags for clothes- Easy to spread open to access clothes.
  • Bathroom Bag- for toiletries
  • REI Female Urinary director (obviously for females). Personal preference, but I would never take a road, hiking, or biking trip without one. (Store in a large Ziploc bag with a disposable bottle and wipes for emergencies)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Plenty of face masks

Necessities in the camping bin:

  • Rope
  • Large Tarp- for covering the bed to store belongings on top. Also doubles as a tablecloth.
  • Small tarp- to cover up belongings inside of the privacy tent (in the event of rain).
  • Bug spray
  • Sunblock
  • A tactical knife (and any other personal protection that makes you comfortable)
  • Towels
  • Camping stool
  • Toilet paper
  • Whistle on a lanyard (Use for emergencies and to hang car keys over the headrest).

Necessities in the hiking bin:

  • Weatherproof hiking pants
  • Hiking socks & boots
  • Rain jackets
  • Fleece & gloves (It’s cold in the mountains, even during summer)
  • Small hiking daypacks
  • Boost canned oxygen- Helped with endurance in high altitudes
  • Liquid IV Hydration packets- (I normally have a headache the entire time I’m in altitude. This was a life saver).
  • Emergency supplies-
    • Water filtration unit
    • Thermal blanket
    • Garmin InReach Satellite communication radio- Allows you send/receive texts, share your location with anyone, and call for help.

That’s all the essentials I can think of. If you have something to add, feel free.

Have a fun trip and stay safe.


Theres nothing like waking up with a little chill in the air and a killer view.


Testing out the set up before hitting the road


The “Kitchen”


The contents of the car that needed to come in and out each time we relocated.


Privacy tent we affectionately named the Pee-Pee tent (and a napping child). 🙂  


Nothing like a river view and an HD bucket.


Some sites didn’t have trees that would work for a hammock so we had to improvise.


The HD salon bucket and our makeshift cooking bin table


Hammock coffee with a view


The KOA campground in Nashville had a nice little setup for cooking. 


Hello friend


Stretchy window screens to keep the bugs out


Mountain storms are quick and mighty


Bear boxes make me happy. So much room for storage (or children) :).

Categories: Road Trips, Travel StoriesTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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