Car Camping for Beginners: Crash Course | Always A Foreigner

Car Camping for Beginners: Crash Course

Car Camping for Beginners: Crash Course | Always A Foreigner

Caren and Cazzie

Hi, We're Caren and Cazzie and we're Always A Foreigner. Welcome to our travel blog! We hope you find it useful. We love waterfalls, street eats, and anything to do with travel and adventure. We met while volunteering in India, and since then have made it our goal to travel to as many places as we can. Join us on our journey!

Enter your email address to receive updates and newsletters from the blog directly to your email!

Car Camping for Beginners: Crash Course

My first camping trip, I was a mess. What if I forget the most important items? How will I cook all my food? What if I get injured? What if I get bored?

Listen. To. Me.

You will be fine. You will have a good time. You will probably forget things, but then it’s easier to remember for next time. One time, we hilariously brought 6 canned food items thinking we could make a great soup, only to realize we forgot a can opener.

But we still managed. And we still laugh about that time we had to stab open all the cans with a pocket knife in order to eat dinner. Life goes on.

car camping for beginners

Car camping is the easiest way for beginners to get started camping because you don’t really need to worry about compacting all your belongings into a backpack. It’s much easier to get your feet wet with car camping for beginners. Pack your car full of stuff, bring a cooler, and relax! Hopefully this guide will help lay down the basics of car camping for beginners.

Car Camping For Beginners: The Basics

Car camping spots, as the name implies, can be found close to roads. A quick google search of campgrounds will give you options in your area ranging from developed campgrounds to free dispersed camping.

If you’ve never been to an area before, it might be best to book a campground ahead. At the very least, look up rules and regulations involved with camping on public lands in the area you plan on camping.

When we car camp, we pack tons of heavy bulky items. We generally have a cooler full of groceries, our heavy lodge cast iron skillet and two burner Coleman grill, a bulky camp table, our camp chairs, and all sorts of fun camp games.

The basics that we pack each time include:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Sleeping Pads (the ground is hard)
  • Coleman Grill
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • Cooking Utensils: Plates, silverware, spatula, one sharp knife, and cutting board
  • Water Jug
  • Camp Chairs
  • Camp Table
  • Light Sources: Lanterns, Headlamps
  • First Aid Kit
  • Hammer
  • Trash Bags (DO NOT be the person that leaves garbage everywhere)

This list is not complete by any means though. Check out our complete car camping for beginners packing list in this blog post!

For water, we have a 7 gallon water container that we fill up. That supplies us with fresh clean water. This lasts us a whole weekend with drinking water, cooking water, and washing dishes. Plus, because it’s reusable, you’re helping cut down on waste from buying water jugs every time!

As far as storage goes, we have a giant plastic bin that we keep all of our supplies in. Pocket knives, headlamps, first aid kit, tent, tarp, lanterns, cutting board, camp bowls, Yeti mugs, and that pesky can opener we forgot once now live in the bin. Every weekend, we pull out the bin, double check to make sure everything is in there, and then throw it in the car.

Setting Up Camp

First and foremost, have your stuff organized! There’s nothing worse than getting to camp, starting to set everything up, and realizing your tent is buried under a pile of stuff. We’ve been there, and it’s not fun.

Have things that you will use first packed in easily accessible places. While this saves a lot of time at the campground, it can also be practical if it’s raining or getting dark fast and you have to set up just the basics at first.

I like to position my tent a little bit away from the fire and food items. There’s two logical reasons for this.

  1. Bears/Animals. I’m realllly not trying to have a bear come through sniffing for food and come across my tent in it’s path. So, you can find me walking that extra 20 feet to crawl into my tent at night.
  2. Flaming Ashes. Tents are made of a material that you better believe can get burnt easily. Our tent is still our starter tent ($80 knock off from Amazon) but a lot of tents are expensive as all heck. If I had my tent next to the fire, and that fire decided to spit flaming ashes and burnt holes all up in my rain fly…that would really make me mad. Again, better to walk that extra 20 feet.

And now, the part that is a little bit gross to talk about.


Alright, it’s a fact of life that humans have waste. So what do you do with said waste while out in the woods? Personally, we have a handy-dandy shovel that we bury our waste with. Is it fun? No. Is it necessary? Yes.

I’m not going to go too much into it, but Gizmodo did a nice article on How to Poop in the Woods if you’re interested.

As far as setting up camp goes, just make sure to have a designated bathroom area 200 feet from water sources, and pack out all toilet paper, wet wipes, and feminine products.

Camp Cooking and Food Storage: 101

I love to cook at camp! With a two burner stove, the possibilities are endless. You can really get creative, but with a cooler, grill, and cast iron skillet, there are tons of yummy things to cook up.

If you live in an area that has bears, PLEASE store your food properly before and after cooking.

How do you store your food properly, you ask?

Coolers shouldn’t be left unattended, and if there are bear vaults supplied at the campsites, use those.

If a bear vault isn’t available, food should be hung in a tree or put into a bear keg. I generally make Cazzie walk the cooler back to the car at night, and hang dry foods with a paracord and dry bag. Our paracord also doubles as a fire starter if we ever needed it. I take the philosophy of better safe than sorry when it comes to bears.

We’ve cooked cast iron corn bread over the fire, a 5 canned food soup with beans and veggies, chicken and pineapple kebabs, and giant breakfasts of pancakes, bacon, and eggs. I snagged this idea from a friend, but pasta salad is one of the best car camping for beginners foods. It can be made completely ahead of time, is great cold, and makes for a wonderful and easy lunch or dinner after being on the trails all day. I think a camp cooking recipe page is in the works now!

To make things easier and to cut down on work at the campsite, I prep everything beforehand. And everything is better instant.

Eggs can be cracked and put into a plastic bag for storage. Vegetables can be cut and thrown in a marinade to make them even tastier. If you’re short on time or energy, packages of oatmeal or ramen noodles make for great meals/snacks with only a little bit of boiling water. These are non-perishable too so I store a couple of packages of each in our supplies bin just in case.

And, don’t forget the s’mores!

As far as clean up goes, make sure you use biodegradable soap 200 feet away from any water source. Pack out your food waste and scatter your water that you use to wash dishes with. Just be smart about this. Follow the Leave No Trace Principles.

Camp Games: How to Have Fun

If the thought of sitting around a fire for hours with nothing else to do horrifies you, have no fear. There are tons of activities that will help you fill the time. Personal favorites of ours include slacklining, glow in the dark bocce ball, and Slam Ball.

car camping for beginners

I’m a restless person, so having games and activities to fill my time is important. If you can plan ahead, listening to a audio book around the fire is also a great way to relax and pass the time.

But, as always be respectful. Certain campgrounds will have rules about drinking alcohol, loud music, and rowdiness after a certain time. Everyone likes to enjoy nature in their own way, so don’t cramp someone else’s style for the sake of yours.

The Last Step: Getting Out There

Get out there and have fun. The most intimidating part is to actually pack the car, and head into the wilderness. Car camping for beginners will only be the start of your time spent outdoors. But I know that once we made the plunge, we never looked back.

Written by

  • Meghan says:

    Thanks for all the info! I’ve still never been camping but it’s on the to-do list this year 🙂

    • Always A Foreigner says:

      Awesome! We finally made the plunge this last summer and I think we basically lived in the wood after that first weekend. Hope you make it out there!

  • Staci says:

    Great recommendations. We forgot a ton of stuff our first time camping and the day we got home we bought it all and packed it away ready for the next trip!

    • Always A Foreigner says:

      Thanks! We did the same thing…thought we had everything we needed and then when it came down to it had almost nothing we needed. It took us about 3 or 4 times camping and saying “we should get this when we get back” before we had it all. Now we’re good though and it’s so easy!

  • Victoria B. says:

    Glow in the dark bocce ball? I didn’t even know this existed!

    • Always A Foreigner says:

      It is SO fun. My friend had a set when we went out to Colorado to visit her, and we had a blast in the dark.

Tell Us What You Think!