Car camping is just one version of the types of camping. This type doesn't necessarily mean actually camping in your car as you might do when Van or Truck Camping but using your car as part of your adventure.
This is the original type of camping that families did. Like Van or Truck camping you load up the back and drive to your site at the campground. One difference is that you will not so inclined to camp in remote areas.
If you are car camping at a designated campsite, you may find that the campground does not allow a vehicle near the actual campsite itself. This leaves you with few options, parking in designated area and hauling your equipment or paying for a popup camper site just so you can park at your site.
One of the first things that needs to be done is to organize all your gear into right-sized containers that maximize the available space in your vehicle. The four basic categories are cooking equipment, tent, clothing, and food. Make a list of all the items you will need, check out the Car Camping Checklist page for a list of items needed for your trip.
One item obviously will take up the most space is a cooler. Once you have your cooler picked out, all the other items can be sized around it. If your group has more than one driver, you may want to consider take two cars, splitting up the equipment. The other options, if staying for several nights is a small utility trailer.
The tent that you put up needs to be large enough for the number of
people with you. However, if most of your stays
will be single night stays, over sizing the tent as you would for an
extended stay does not apply here. If it is just yourself, then
a small 2 man domed tent fits the bill. It can be set up in 5 minutes
and has a very small footprint allowing you to camp just about anywhere
you see fit.
If you have the family along, plan the sleeping arrangements in advance. For you and the spouse, the 2 man tent mentioned above may be okay, but make sure he/she is comfortable sleeping in a tent that standing up is almost impossible. If not, opt for the next large 3 to 4 man tent. If you also have 1 to 2 children, you would want a 6 man tent. Another option is to plan to have them sleep in a 2 man tent and have a 4 man tent for yourself and spouse. Either way there would be plenty of room to sleep, dress, and storage without stepping on anyone.
In order to car camp successfully, you must become the master of efficiency when it comes to packing for the trip. This is especially true when it comes to your food and the cooking equipment you take. Most of the time this can be managed very well as long as the number of people stays at 4 or less. When the group gets above this number, then it is time to seriously look at bringing along another car or a small utility trailer to accommodate the additional equipment.
First of all, the stove you bring needs to be of a small compact variety that can be set up quickly and cook quickly. For this, the Coleman two burner gas stove does the job very well. Unless you have a trailer, any type of charcoal burning grill is out of the question because you take a chance of getting ash on everything packed around it. This is not just what might happen, it is the voice of experience talking here.
If you do want to do campfire cooking, put the charcoal in a trash bag. With charcoal, you can have Foil Packet or Dutch Oven meals and eliminate need for the stove.
The meals are another area to plan down to the last detail. Plan your menu for all the meals. Think about the size of your cooler, limiting the items that need to be kept cool will be to necessary if you only have one vehicle. Consider a collapsible cooler for your drinks, icing them down when you get to your camp sight. (drinks take 10 min. to become ice cold once covered in ice)
The alternative here is to plan to have as many meals using prepackaged, caned, dried, or powdered food items. Prepackaging your dry items will make easier to pack in smaller spaces. Another option to save space is to make a quick trip to or stop at the local store near your campground for the fresh items.
Follow this throughout your planning and the meals will become easier the more you stop and set up camp. Check out the Foil, Dutch Oven, Campfire or Camp Stove pages for more info and recipe ideas.
If you do end up using a small utility trailer simply because the trip is a long one or the group is 4 or more, then your options increase dramatically. A larger size cooler can now be used and even a charcoal grill is possible. Of course, a camping car 4x4 is much more versatile as it can get to areas otherwise, you would have to walk your equipment in.
Just make sure that as the trip progresses that as the cooler gets lighter or the charcoal gets used up, that you keep in mind that the tongue of the trailer must have at least 60% or more of the total weight. Pack most of the weight at the rear of the trailer and you may not make it down the block because of the fishtailing that will happen.