With warmer days ahead, many outdoor lovers are beginning to plan their spring and summer camping trips. While some may opt to backpack or pitch a tent in the woods, others are choosing to camp out in their car.
From more storage space to a raised sleeping area, living out of a car out in the backcountry is an incredibly unique and refreshing experience.
Before you set out into the wilderness with your friends and all your camping gear, you must know how to prepare your vehicle for the trip.
Pack the Essentials
Taking your vehicle camping, as opposed to backpacking, allows you to bring much more equipment, food and other gear along with you. While you certainly shouldn’t overpack, this does mean you can pack that extra case of beer and your favorite novel.
However, there are also several other essential items you should bring with you if you plan on camping out in your car overnight.
One such item is a thick sleeping pad. Make sure it fits inside your trunk or rear area of your vehicle so you can sleep comfortably at night.
It’s also a smart idea to bring some battery- or solar-powered lanterns. Sure, your car has lights, but you don’t want to keep the headlights on and risk a dead battery.
Additionally, pack everything in clear bins so you can keep everything organized and can quickly and easily locate items you need. Pack a kit with survival gear, extra food, and even a battery charger so you don’t get stranded with a dead car.
And as with any camping trip, make sure you tell somebody where you’re going, and alert them if plans change.
Modify Your Vehicle
If your car or truck was made for flat, paved roads, you’ll have to make a few modifications before taking it off-roading. To help better organize your gear, add a roof rack and secure larger items with heavy-duty cords or straps.
You might also install a light bar above your windshield to pierce the darkness when you leave the streets and their lights in the dust. This will prevent you from hitting obstacles or falling into ditches, holes and craters.
It’s also a good idea to upgrade your tires, regardless of whether you’ll be off-roading or not. A flat tire in the wilderness can leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere.
This can turn into a dangerous situation fast, so switch to tires with a deep tread to keep a grip on mud, snow, ice and other slippery surfaces. Invest in new, thick tires that can withstand long trips into the wilderness.
Know Your Ground Clearance
When traveling on uncertain terrain, like the mountains or a desert, ground clearance is crucial. You want the most space you can get between the underbelly of your car and the ground without compromising balance.
How much is enough?
For a truck, typical clearance is 20 to 22 inches. This height is quite sufficient to drive over small boulders, logs and even shallow creeks.
However, depending on your camping destination, you may not need that much clearance. In some cases, being that high off the ground may result in a tipped vehicle.
Typically, you can get away with a ground clearance of about 10 inches, especially if you’ll only be driving over medium-sized rocks and a few uneven places. If your vehicle already has good clearance, there’s no need to modify.
What If You Get Stuck?
While having proper ground clearance and taking precautionary measures may help prevent a flat tire or vehicle damage, it will never guarantee a safe drive into the wilderness. Plenty of roads lead to extremely remote areas with ever-changing terrain.
You must be ready for any situation that may arise, including getting stuck. Panicking will only ever make matters worse.
If you do find yourself in a sticky situation, refrain from spinning your wheels, as this will only dig them deeper. At the first sign of trouble, get out and assess things instead.
Place logs, sand, flat rocks or even your car’s floor mats under the tires to provide traction. You might also try digging a path through the mud or snow.
Keep a shovel in your vehicle for such an occasion. You might also pack some planks, a jack and a winch just in case.
Prepare for Long, Remote Drives
Heading out to remote campsites can be tricky at times, especially if you don’t prepare for long road trips in advance. Before setting off, be sure to fill up your gas tank.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people assume they’ll find a station out in the middle of nowhere.
Additionally, check to make sure the radiator fluid and oil are full and in good condition. When in doubt, have a mechanic fully inspect your vehicle before taking it camping.
Furthermore, practice changing your tire using a car jack. This will ensure your equipment functions properly and you are up to the task.
If you’re driving into the wilderness and camping in remote locations, odds are you won’t have cell service, and a tow truck won’t be able to save you.
Consider travel times, take all necessary precautions and plan accordingly, and you’ll have a memorable camping experience.