Packing Tips for Car Camping Success

Anyone can stuff gear into the trunk, backseat or camper van with reckless abandon, but only the expert car camper does it with dignity.

Below are the key things to keep in mind when loading up your rig on Friday afternoon. By staying organized for your enjoyable weekend away, you can focus on other things—like enjoying that craft beer from a stainless-steel tumbler.

Car Camping

Work Chronologically

If you’re dealing with a tight space such as a typical trunk, put the items you will need last on the bottom. That way when you pull into camp on Friday night, the tent is on top, the climbing rope on bottom. If it’s the opposite, work that way. Just remember not to put the bananas on the bottom—no matter when you’re going to need them.

Assign Spaces and Places

Even if everything is organized at the beginning of a trip, the real challenge comes after a few days on the road and in camp. To keep the order, make sure all your gear has a dedicated place. Try designating tubs for different parts of camp: Cookware, stoves, fuel canisters and utensils can all go in the “Kitchen” tub, while sleeping bags, pads and hammocks go in the “Camping” one. These tubs not only stack nicely on top of one another, but they make great impromptu tables in camp. And of course, we all know to keep items like headlamps and first aid kits easily accessible!

Car Camping

Photo credit: Bryan Rowe

Deal with Awkward Objects

Longer items like fishing rods and camp chairs don’t fit well anywhere. If available, definitely store these awkward objects in a roof-top compartment. Use durable straps if securing to a rack, and always double-check to make sure equipment is secure before takeoff. Heavy-duty duffel bags can be strapped down on the top deck too, but keep in mind that these aren’t entirely waterproof and can soak up rain via the zippers.

Car Camping

Leave Nature Where it Belongs

When headed home after a fun weekend outside, your gear is bound to be covered in dirt, sand, silt and all of the above. A camping whisk broom can help brush off excess dirt and sand. Manage any mud by folding wet tarps and tents inwards. Don’t bother stuffing them—you’ll need to dry these items out at home. And if you’d rather do the heavy camp-kitchen cleaning later, simply bring home used cookware in the cooler once all your food—and craft beer—has been devoured.