Tent setup in Badlands National Park/Photo by Kaci Preston

Tent & Car Camping 101

So, you want to start camping, but you aren’t sure where to begin? I can help with that! My name is Kaci Preston and I am The Car Camping Queen, and I’ll be your guide to all things camping and beyond. Let me start out by explaining that there are two forms of camping—with a tent or just your vehicle. Having a tent is when you pack it (along with as much supplies as you want) and then travel to a campsite to set up the tent to sleep in. Having just your vehicle is similar, but you sleep in the car instead of a tent. Both techniques are considered car camping because you have your vehicle, and both are excellent ways to immerse yourself in nature and explore national parks.  

Car camping at a public fishing land in Kansas/Photo by Kaci Preston

Find a Campsite
Before you go anywhere, plan ahead and prepare. To begin, decide where you want to camp and research that area. Parks with established campgrounds are excellent places to start, because they will have restrooms, hot showers, drinking water, picnic tables, fire pits, and electrical hook-ups, if needed. Unless you are disperse camping on public land (more on that later), you will most likely need to make a reservation, and when reserving a site, be sure to check for any restrictions or closures—you don’t want to show up with your dogs and find out they’re not allowed.  

Tip: I recommend you start looking at places two to three months in advance. Sometimes, the most popular national parks, like Yellowstone, require six months to one year in advance for reservations. 

Tent and camp kitchen in Yellowstone National Park/Photo by Kaci Preston

What to Bring
Alright, you’ve scored a campsite! Now what? You need to begin a checklist for all of your gear and equipment. There are several extensive car camping checklists on the web, so don’t get overwhelmed and feel like you need to break the bank for your first trip. Most items you should be able to find in your home, or borrow from a friend. However, there are a few key items you need to invest in: a good tent with a rainfly, a proper sleeping system fit for the season, and your 10 essentials. These items are extra important for your safety. Of course, if you’re planning to sleep in your car you do not need a tent. Once you have gathered all the essentials, camp in your backyard before you go. This will help you familiarize with everything and prevent mistakes on your actual trip.  

Tip: Don’t worry about over-packing! Since you’ll have your vehicle to carry all of the gear, you can bring along whatever you feel is necessary.

Have Fun
Overall, there is no need to feel intimidated about going car camping! Relax, have fun, and know that your vehicle is a safety net. If you forgot something, hop in your car and go to the nearest store. Mistakes happen, and there’s nothing to be afraid of because it’s always a learning experience. 

Header photo: Tent setup in Badlands National Park/Photo by Kaci Preston

Kaci Preston is The Car Camping Queen, and she believes in seeing the outdoor world in the most unique ways possible. She earned her “Car Camping Queen” title because she bring alongs everything you could imagine for a camping trip, and with her checklists and organizational skills, she never leaves anything behind.


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