10 Seriously Useful Car Camping Tips for Beginners

Camping is what this blog is all about! Spending time in nature camping is one of my favorite activities, and in this blog post, I’m sharing all the tips I’ve learned over the years.

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10 useful tips for beginner car campers by the Amanda Outside camping blog

When camping, I can relax, breathe in the fresh air, and wake up with some incredible views that I wouldn’t get any other place. It’s also my favorite way to spend quality time with friends and family.

If you’re new to the world of car camping, today I’m sharing my top tips for beginner campers.

These are some of the things that will hopefully make your first few camping trips easier and less intimidating.

To be clear, we’re talking about car camping in this post – not backcountry camping. Car camping is when you drive your vehicle right up to a campsite.

10 Seriously Useful Car Camping Tips for Beginners

Camping Tips for Beginners

1. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is key. A lot of campgrounds require reservations, sometimes 6 months or 1 year in advance. If you arrive at a campground that requires a reservation and don’t have one, that’s a bummer.

So the first step is to figure out where you want to camp and determine if reservations are required. If there are first-come, first-served campsites available, plan to arrive early to maximize your chances of getting one.

The next thing to research is the rules and regulations for the campground and the surrounding land.

For example:

  • What are the food storage regulations?
  • Are there any fire restrictions?

Depending on where you are and the wildlife in the area, there might be specific food storage regulations that you need to follow.

Fire restrictions typically change throughout the year depending on the fire danger. It’s always a good idea to check on this beforehand.

Lastly, I also like to plan out the meals that I’m going to make while I’m camping. This can be especially helpful on long trips or on camping trips with bigger groups.

I like to write out what I’m planning to eat for each meal of the day so I can make sure I actually pack enough food and have all the ingredients I need to cook.

The more planning ahead you can do, the easier things will be when you actually arrive at camp.

Beautiful mountain views from a hike in Utah

2. Know the surrounding area

This next camping tip goes right along with number one above.

You’ll need to drive to the area where you want to camp, so when you’re planning your route, take note of where the closest gas station, grocery store, and emergency center will be to where you’re camping.

If you suddenly need any of those things, it’s nice to know which direction to drive to get there.

3. Share your itinerary

Tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected to be back.

Contact them when you return, and if they don’t hear from you, tell them to contact the local ranger station.

This is a really simple habit to get into.

Car camping in the desert in Southern Utah

4. Be Prepared to Navigate

We’ve become very dependent on our cell phones for navigation.

Type in where you want to go, and boom, you’re on your way!

But what if you don’t have cell service? What if you lose your phone?

I do prefer to use my cell phone for navigation because it’s simple and quick, but it’s always a good idea to have a backup method of navigation too.

Download any digital maps and driving directions on your cell phone. I use the Gaia GPS app for road trips, and I download maps for the area I’m going at home before the trip. That way if I lose service, I can still use the maps.

It’s also a good idea to have a map and compass as backup methods of navigation.

I live in Utah and spend most of my time camping in different places around the state. A good road atlas for your state is also a great thing to have in the car.

Preparing dinner while camping in Arches National Park in Utah

5. Stay organized

Commit to staying organized and it will make everything so much easier!

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to save money and travel by living out of my car for the Summer. I quickly realized that staying organized was super important.

Try to organize your food and correctly pack a cooler so you always know where to find things.

Bins are really helpful, and I like to have one bin for my camp kitchen gear, and one bin for my other camping food that doesn’t need to be in the cooler.

6. Plan for the unexpected

This tip is all about thinking through the possible things that could go wrong – like a flat tire – and trying to be proactive in preparing for them before the trip.

This includes things like:

  • make sure your vehicle is ready to go with a spare tire
  • make sure your med kit is up to date and packed
  • packing jumper cables in case you leave a light on in the car all night
  • packing extra food and extra water
  • packing a backup water filter in case you need more drinking water

While it’s certainly not fun to think of the things that could go wrong, it’s a good thing to do because you’ll ultimately be able to handle those ‘oh-crap’ moments a lot better if you encounter them.

>> Further Reading: 6 Things Every Car Camper (and road tripper) Should Own

Car camping in the forest

7. Be mindful of other campers around you

When you’re out camping, especially at a campground, you’ll likely be near other campers.

Just be mindful of your noise level, and make sure kids and pets are not making too much noise or running around through other people’s campsites.

I was camping in New York a few years ago, and the kids of nearby campers kept screaming and riding their bikes right through our campsite – it wasn’t exactly the peaceful escape into nature I was hoping for.

Usually, campgrounds have quiet hours, so make sure you know any campground regulations and be mindful of others around you.

Sun setting behind the mountains while camping in the forest

8. Pack those luxury items

Bring a few of the ‘luxury items’ that will help you feel more at ease!

What I mean by ‘luxury items’ is just those couple of things that aren’t necessarily essential, but they would really make things more comfortable or fun for you – I say bring them along!

This could be things like a comfy pillow, a good coffee setup, or some games.

I really like a good cup of coffee in the morning when I’m camping, so I bring along a few extra things so that I can make a pour-over coffee instead of using instant packets. That’s one of my luxury items.

One of the nice things about camping is that it’s an opportunity to simplify and appreciate the little things in life. So while I think it’s great to bring along those extra items to make things more comfortable and fun, try not to bring everything you own.

get my free

Camp Cooking Starter Kit

Printable camping recipes, a gear checklist, and a camping meal planner so you can go camping with confidence (and good food!)

9. Pack out your trash

I know that this is a pretty obvious thing to do, but it’s surprising how many times I’ve come up to a campsite with trash scattered all over.

I have seen used wipes, pads, tampons, diapers, bottle caps, cans… and sadly, the list goes on.

Don’t forget to pack trash bags, and make sure that your trash is secured so that it doesn’t blow away with a gust of wind.

Lastly, check any trash storage regulations in the area where you’re camping. You don’t want any animals getting into your trash and scattering it all over.

Sun setting behind the mountains in Utah.

10. Try to disconnect

The last camping tip I have is a really important one – try to disconnect from social media, your to-do list, and the stress of daily life.

I’m always so amazed by how relaxed I become when I go camping. It’s really easy to disconnect when you don’t have cell service!

A break from social media is very important for mental health, and it’s something that I think we all need a little more often.

Be fully present with the people you’re camping with. Notice more of the things around you. Wonder about nature and how things work. Look up at the night sky.

These moments are what keep me coming back to camping over and over.

Preparing dinner while car camping

More Tips and Hacks for Beginner Campers

One of my goals with this website is to help you feel like you can do this – that camping isn’t some big overwhelming thing, but it’s actually a really fun and affordable activity with many benefits.

I have tons of other resources on the blog to help you get out there with confidence and experience camping for yourself. Check them out below!

>> More camping tips:

>> Basic camping gear you need:

>> Camping meal ideas:

If you have any questions, chat with me in the comments below.

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