In Defense of Car Camping

Car camping gets a bad rap. It’s fluffy, too comfortable, lazy. You’re not really camping unless you suffered to get there. Until recently, I was of that snobbish mindset. My summers in Montana have made me realize the beauty of car camping—the excitement of choosing your destination, packing for your activities, arriving at the beautiful campsite, waking up each day in your tent, but making pancakes out of the bed of your truck. While I’m a big advocate for any outdoor activity, here are my reasons everyone should be psyched to get out and enjoy nature, even if you didn’t struggle immensely to get there.

1) Everybody likes to car camp

Good morning mountains. (Grand Teton National Park)

Good morning mountains. (Grand Teton National Park)

Hardcore backpackers can be challenging to pin down, and it can be tough to match mileage with your group. But who can argue with a week or weekend of car camping, especially at a destination with something for everyone? If your group isn’t down to bag that gnarly peak, they can have a picnic in the next meadow while you grind out a 20-mile day.

2) It’s the perfect base camp for adventure

Moab trip- climbing, canyoneering, hiking.

Climbing, hiking, and canyoneering. Gear toting courtesy of SUV. (Moab, Utah)

Park your car in the right spot, and you’ve got a top-notch base camp for adventure outside of your normal region, and you aren’t limited to one activity. Bring climbing gear, hiking gear, a bike, your swim suit, a tube. Depending on where you go, you can hike the local trails, float rivers, mountain bike, climb slot canyons, and then come back to bomb food and a huge pillow (See #5). I’ve even gone on a week-long car camping trip and done an overnight in the middle of it. Mix it up!

3) Throw a dart and take off

This lake was 1/4 mile from our campsite

This lake was 1/4 mile from our campsite (Jenny Lake, Wyoming)

Pick a spot on the map and you’re almost guaranteed to land near a designated wilderness area, lakes region, State Park, or National Forest. You can explore the desert, rivers, a new mountain range, that National Park you’ve always wanted to check out. Be sure to check schedules, regulations, and reservation policies.  Many campsites charge a small fee during the busy season, and pet policies vary.

4) It’s budget-friendly

Dayhike from campsite on the west end of Yellowstone National Park

Mt. Holmes day hike from campsite (Yellowstone National Park)

A crappy motel will cost you $80 a night, a sweet campsite will run $10-15. This is about the most cost-effective trip you can take, especially if you avoid nearby restaurants and stores. Research park fees and campsite costs, and make sure to look for tenting discounts as well. If you don’t feel like sharing the scene with a fleet of RVs, there are plenty of areas designated especially for tent campers. State Parks and National Forests are a great place to start. They’re inexpensive, provide plenty of information, and there are probably areas nearby you didn’t even know about. If you have the gear, it’s a great way to lower road trip costs as well. You’ll get off the main drag, and wake up to the sound of birds rather than the noises of whatever’s going on in the next motel room.

5) You can bring a huge pillow

Is this an Eddie Bauer ad? No, just some peeps who love to backpack and also car camp.

Is this an Eddie Bauer ad? No, just some peeps who love to backpack and also car camp.

On my way out the door for a recent weekend trip, I threw my 50 pounds of crap in the car and was about to drive away before remembering I could bring a pillow! A real, fluffy pillow. Hell yeah. I ran back inside, grabbed the biggest one I could find, and threw it on top of my stuff, because the farthest I would have to carry it would be five feet from car to tent.

6) Give me all the food

Fresh vegetables and happiness (Central California.)

Fresh vegetables and happiness (Central California somewhere)

Bring vegetables! That loaf of bread! A dozen donuts you snagged on the way out of town. Pack a cooler with the ingredients for an incredible meal that will taste way better in the great outdoors. Borrow the 20-pound Coleman stove from your parents. As a bonus, you can stuff the food back in your car and avoid bear hangs / bearanoia. Be sure to check regulations for your area though. Some places require campers to use a bear box or bear hang. And always thoroughly clean up after your outdoors feast.

7) Coffee (Important enough for its own paragraph.)

Even dogs need coffee

Even dogs need coffee (Helena National Forest)

Backpackers can enjoy terrific instant coffee nowadays (hallelujah), but there’s nothing like waking up on a frosty morning and brewing a killer cup of french press. French press mugs are the bomb—sturdy, tidy, and you can brew to your desired strength. I have an Espro Press (not pictured), which I highly recommend. No grit, and keeps your coffee hot for eons. It weighs half a ton, but who cares? You’re car camping!

Summer may be winding down, but your adventure doesn’t have to. If you’ve taken all of the badass backpacking trips for the season but still want to get outside, take a drive and set up your tent in a new place for the weekend. You won’t be disappointed.

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Comments 3

  • Notebook : Aug 22nd

    Fun! Yes, I don’t think you can ever appreciate car camping more than right after backpacking. All the heavy things!!!!!

  • mrfusion14 : Aug 25th

    Yes, that pillow is worth it. No shame in my game.

  • allie : Aug 30th

    Finally we understand one another


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