Car Camping Setup Ideas

Initial Thoughts on Car Camping

When Kate and I first met we went car camping and backpacking. We would carry our car camping equipment and our backpacking equipment as they each have their own uses and benefits.
Car Camping is a unique beast. You don’t have to get high end equipment as weight isn’t a huge deal. Also temperatures aren’t as important as you can just goto a hotel if it begins to snow. So instead of worrying about grams and insulation you should be thinking about comfort and cost.

Car Camping Shelter Options


When you think of camping the first item to consider is the tent. This is your shelter away from home. You will primarily use it to sleep in. You will also use it to change clothes in and hide from the rain.
You will not need to carry it very far so weight should not be too much of a concern. You will also not sleep in it if there is snow or the forecast is for temperatures below 20 degrees.

Basic 6 person Tent – Coleman 6 Person

We settled on a Coleman 6 person tent as it was under $100 and was plenty roomy for us and our two dogs. It is pretty simple to setup with two main rods that criss cross in the middle and lift the dome of the tent up. Be careful of the sleeves that the rods pass through; they can rip and tear if you aren’t careful. There is a rainfly which seems a bit small but does the job as intended.
If I recall the bag that comes with the tent for travel is just big enough to fit everything. This counts on your origami skills when rolling the tent up. I purchased an additional duffle bag that easily fit the tent, bedding, and air mattress. If you value your sanity I recommend this upgrade immediately.

Coleman 6 Person tent

Olympia Luggage 30 Inch Sports Duffel Bag

Savvy 6 person Tent – Coleman WeatherMaster 6-Person Screened Tent

If you want to spend more money I would look at this 6 person tent from coleman. The screened in porch will be nice if you are in an area with bugs. It also looks a bit cooler which counts for campground popularity contests.

Coleman WeatherMaster 6-Person Screened Tent


When you aren’t in your tent it can still be nice to have some shade. Cooking under a canopy can make all the difference between an enjoyable camping experience and torture.

Coleman 12 x 10 Instant Screened Canopy

We have had a couple of Coleman canopies and they have been great. This one has screens you can add on which is what you will want. There is plenty of room here to put it over a picnic table or setup your own table and cook meals or have happy hour.

Sleeping when Car Camping

Air Mattress

Whether you are car camping or backpacking you are sleeping on the ground. This means you want to have an air mattress of some kind. Once again for car camping you are not concerned with buying the lightest air mattress. Comfort is king.
One issue with a larger air mattress is that you need an electric pump if you ever want to sleep in it. Many mattresses only work with the pump they came with, that can suck when the pump breaks. Other pumps are battery powered but you need to take care of recharging them.

Coleman Queen Airbed Cot

The Coleman Queen Airbed Cot is a solid cot lifting you off the ground with a queen size air mattress. The pump is battery powered so you might want to upgrade to a better pump. I like the rechargeable option since you might not be camping next to your car.

Coleman Quickpump

Foam Mattress Topper

While an air mattress is a lot more comfortable than a foam pad it is still a firm surface compared to your home mattress. Kate got a three inch thick foam mattress topper that made camping into a luxury activity. Sure it was heavy and bulky but it was like sleeping on a cloud.

LUCID 2 Inch Foam Mattress Topper

Be sure to get a compression bag for this as the foam will compress significantly and save you a lot of space.

Kelty Compression Stuff Sack

Cooking when Car Camping

Part of camping is the enjoyment of cooking food in the woods and under the stars. From making coffee in the morning to sautéing in the evening you want a stable and consistent kitchen setup.
Cooking over a campfire is good for marshmallows and not much else. For actual cooking you want a gas two burner stove so you can make coffee and pancakes at the same time.


Some campsites don’t have tables or the ones they have may be in disrepair. Having a folding table can mean the difference between standing or squatting while making breakfast. I prefer to stand thank you very much. If you have the space in your car grabbing a dedicated cooking table helps keep things organized.

Simple Table – Stansport Folding Camp Table

Cooking Table – Camco 57293 Deluxe Grilling Table


There are a lot of options here since you are not worried about weight. At this point you may need to get worried about space in your vehicle though as stoves do not compress

Basic stove – Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove

This is your standard two burner stove that works with coleman gas bottles. It is affordable and will heat things up.

Master stove – Camp Chef Explorer 2-Burner Stove

If you have a larger vehicle and want to cook up a large pot of chili or brew beer I recommend the Camp Chef Explorer. It comes with legs so you can set it up anywhere and cook with commanding power at 33,000 BTU’s for each burner. Yehaw! (You will need to get a big bottle of propane for this so be sure to have a large vehicle.)


Camping stoves generally bear the brunt of criticism when your pancakes are overdone, but what about the pot you are cooking with? We always had the cheap camping cookware because they stacked together to save space.

Coleman 6-Piece Family Cook Set

The problem is that they are made of thin aluminum which is light but also terrible at conducting heat in a dispersed method. This Magma 10 piece set not only has MAGMA sand blasted in the side but is also triple clad ensuring your confectionary masterpiece is always the best.

Magma 10 Piece Gourmet Nesting Stainless Steel Cookware Set

The handles are removable for storage and did I mention they say MAGMA?

Knifes and cooking tools

You can get a dedicated set of cooking tools for camping or just get a good knife bag that lets you put all your existing kitchen tools in.

Winco 10 Compartment Knife Bag, Black


You can go to Goodwill and get some plates, bowls, mugs, and silverware or spend money on this stuff. Plastic is nice as it doesn’t shatter as often.

Coleman 2-Person Camping Dinnerware Set
Coleman 24-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set

By Roger

Roger lives fulltime in a 2008 Jayco Travel Trailer with his wife Kate and their dog's Dazey and Enzo. He works fulltime but is open to early retirement anytime.