For many peo­ple, camp­ing is a sacred retreat into nature, the uni­fi­er of all things. As our body changes in our 30s and onward, sleep­ing on the ground becomes less and less appeal­ing. Even if you’re hard as nails in your 50s, inclement weath­er and the short sea­son­al camp­ing win­dow is dras­ti­cal­ly lim­it­ing. That’s unless you find a way to cre­ate a warm dry place to find reprieve. Car camp­ing not only pro­vides this, but also deliv­ers a way to “unpack” once and trav­el to many camp­grounds and trail­heads unen­cum­bered by camp assem­bly and break­down. Here are some tips for turn­ing your once nor­mal SUV into the ulti­mate adventuremobile.

No mat­ter how beau­ti­ful your nat­ur­al set­ting is, if you can’t sleep then you’ll be mis­er­able. Air mat­tress­es are noto­ri­ous for leak­ing and caus­ing back­ach­es, but also I found that I wake up freez­ing when I sleep on one. Think about it… the air inside becomes the ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture, so when the low is in the 40s the air below your body is as well. No won­der it’s hard to sleep. If you don’t have a place to store an extra twin mat­tress then con­sid­er either a 3–4’’ thick rol­lable mem­o­ry foam cush­ion or a small cot.

Two things to keep in mind is ceil­ing clear­ance and length of your car­go area with all of your seats fold­ed down. You can trim mem­o­ry foam, so if you need to make alter­ations to your twin mat­tress in order to achieve a good fit, that’s not a prob­lem. Sim­ply use a box cut­ter and cut a few inch­es deep at a time. Also, make sure your seats fold com­plete­ly flat. If they don’t, I’d rec­om­mend bol­ster­ing the low­er sec­tion to cre­ate a flat sleep­ing surface.

I pre­fer to make my bed the same way I do in my home, by using a fit­ted sheet, flat sheet, com­forter, and addi­tion­al blan­kets as need­ed. If you pre­fer a sleep­ing bag or antic­i­pate freez­ing con­di­tions make sure to bring a bag rat­ed for low temperatures.

Win­ter car camp­ing tip: Before bed, boil some water and pour it into 1–2 Nal­gene bot­tles and store inside your sleep­ing bag. This will warm your bag and will keep the water from freez­ing so you’ll have drink­ing water come morning.

One com­mon com­plaint about car camp­ing is that if a weirdo want­ed to sit and stare at you sleep he/she could do so effort­less­ly. This sit­u­a­tion is eas­i­ly resolved at about $20 and 30 min­utes of your time. Sim­ply pur­chase a roll of Reach Bar­ri­er Air Reflec­tive Insu­la­tion Roll (or some­thing sim­i­lar). Roll out enough insu­la­tion to cov­er one win­dow, trim, and place against the win­dow. With your fin­gers, com­press the ends of the win­dow in order to make an out­line you will use to cut the insu­la­tion to shape. Err on the side of too big, that way you can push the pieces in place and they should hold with­out tape.

Once com­plet­ed for all win­dows (except the wind­shield) pop them all in and bask in your new­found pri­va­cy and black­out con­di­tions! This reflex tech­nol­o­gy not only pro­vides you with black­out pri­va­cy (no one can see if you’re in there with a light on) but it also pro­vides much-need­ed insu­la­tion from the ele­ments. For extra stealth, spray­paint the side fac­ing out black so it looks like a dark tint. For the wind­shield, you can use a sim­ple reflec­tive sun cov­er unless you’re real­ly wor­ried about insulation.

Elim­i­na­tion Plan
Where do you go when you need to go? This depends on a few things. How long are you going to be camp­ing for? What envi­ron­ment will you be in? Most peo­ple who are urban camp­ing opt to do their busi­ness while they’re still out and about in “civ­i­liza­tion” stop­ping at a gas sta­tion, Wal­mart, or anoth­er facil­i­ty before they tuck in for the night. How­ev­er, when nature calls it’s not always con­ve­nient. If you’re camp­ing in the wilder­ness you can relieve your­self in nature and dig a hole for your solids or you can pack in a camp­ing com­postable toi­let. Some folks even opt for a pop­up tent to cre­ate a mobile out­house for their elim­i­na­tion pleasure.

Urban campers may opt to eat out most meals but I believe there’s noth­ing bet­ter than a hot meal cooked over the fire after a long hike. Plus, the point of camp­ing for many is to get away from mod­ern con­ve­niences like restau­rants. A sim­ple back­pack­ing stove, cook set, and water jug or spig­ot is all you real­ly need. There are count­less camp­ing friend­ly recipes out there. You can also recon­sti­tute ready-made dehy­drat­ed meals.

It’s that time of year again, sum­mer is here. Whether you’re the ulti­mate back­pack­er or your every­day car camper, here are sev­er­al uni­ver­sal tips for sum­mer camping.

summer camping site

Make Your Camp­site Reser­va­tions in Advance

While the idea of being the spon­ta­neous camper who decides where to go every week­end might sound ide­al, that’s not the real­i­ty of today’s camp cul­ture. We’re not say­ing you should­n’t try to go camp­ing even if it’s last minute, you might even get a site, but if you want to ensure a camp­site in a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion dur­ing a pop­u­lar sum­mer week­end you’d be sil­ly not to try and book in advance.

Many pop­u­lar camp­sites have reser­va­tion sys­tems and we aren’t just talk­ing about the one camp­ground in the clos­est state park to your large metrop­o­lis, even remote back­pack­ing sites in the far cor­ners of our Nation­al Parks require reser­va­tions or per­mits. Many reser­va­tion sites fill up five to six months before, so make sure you do your plan­ning in advance.

The last thing you want is to get to Joshua Tree, on a Thurs­day night dur­ing the peak sea­son, to find out that a motel might be your best option.

Get Your Vehi­cle Tuned Up

Noth­ing can put a damper on the excite­ment of a camp­ing trip like found­ing out about car trou­ble. Yes, chances are you’ll be able to make the best of it by get­ting a rental or using a friends ride, but learn­ing about an unex­pect­ed or expen­sive repair might derail your mood for the entire trip. To avoid this from hap­pen­ing, a week or two before your camp­ing trip, be sure to have your vehi­cle looked at by your trusty mechan­ic. The peace of mind you’ll have in exchange is def­i­nite­ly worth it.

Get Your Gear Together

We’ve all been there, maybe you were out late with friends or just plain pro­cras­ti­nat­ing. But the morn­ing to hit the road has final­ly come and you have yet to even start pack­ing your camp­ing gear. Don’t wait until the last minute to get all your gear togeth­er, nobody likes unrolling their tent at the camp­site only to remem­ber that you for­got to air it out at the end of last sum­mer and now it smells like the dark­est cor­ner of your gym bag.

We rec­om­mend get­ting a des­ig­nat­ed camp­ing bin, or three. They’re a great way to keep all your camp­ing stuff togeth­er. Even if you are tout­ing around a whole apart­ments worth of stuff for your glamp­ing trip, it still stands. There’s no bet­ter way to ensure you won’t for­get some­thing than by hav­ing it all in the same place. You don’t need to wor­ry about it being fan­cy, shoot for func­tion instead.

And let’s not for­get about the won­der­ful mem­o­ries and flash­backs we have when we’re prepar­ing for anoth­er camp­ing trip. Pulling all your gear out of the clos­et and run­ning through a check­list will not only help you to make sure you have every­thing you need, but it’ll also remind you of all the great mem­o­ries you’ve already made with that handy gear.

Brush Up on The “Leave No Trace” Principles

We all know the drill, leave no trace. This rule does­n’t just mean that you clean up your trash after you’ve camped some­where. In order to fol­low this real­ly know what “Leave No Trace” means you should famil­iar­ize your­self with the sev­en prin­ci­ples of the rule:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Trav­el and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dis­pose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Min­i­mize camp­fire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be con­sid­er­ate of oth­er visitors.

These prin­ci­ples might as well be the com­mand­ments of camp­ing, so famil­iar­ize your­self with them. The biggest way to ensure that our nat­ur­al won­ders will be around for gen­er­a­tions to come is if we all take part in main­tain­ing them.