23 Tips to Make Car Camping More Comfortable


Camping and comfortable don’t usually reside at ease in the same sentence. There’s a reason for that, we’ve graduated from tents to houses thousands of years ago, and so getting back in touch with nature involves going back a little bit in our technology and comforts.

It’s totally worth it, though.

There are MANY things you can do to make your camping more comfortable. Some people opt to bring a small house with them (otherwise known as an RV), and others, like me and you, who don’t have the means or choose not to invest in an RV.

So what are some tips for making camping more comfortable? We’ll go over 23 tips in this post:

The Ideal Tent Size

Ever hear the term 4-man tent, or a 2-man tent? I’m not sure where these tents are being manufactured, but they seem to be okay with counting piling people vertically as well as horizontally in their tent rating.  While tent manufacturers differ in their size, in general, a 4-man tent will fit 4 adults very snugly. To be comfortable for 4 adults, you should plan on a 6-man tent.

If comfort is paramount, then go up a size from how many people you have to be safe. Know that the bigger the tent, the more effort it takes to set up. For a more in-depth guide on selecting a tent, see my post here.

That being said, I’m at around average height and my wife is petite, and we fit in our 2-man tent without issues.

Make Your Tent a Tiny Paradise

camping pillows on top of sleeping bags
Sleeping bags on top of another sleeping bag spread out, with a comforter and a foam topper

So, car camping offers you the luxury of having access to your vehicle. Your vehicle can carry lots more stuff than a backpack. One of the biggest complaints about camping is sleeping uncomfortably, and solving this can cost a lot of money. My wife took this challenge and found some ways to make sleeping in your tent very comfortable without spending a lot of money. See her post here on a DIY sleeping solution.

Obviously it’s not possible to prepare everything, but doing this work ahead of time can help your stay be more comfortable and less frantic.

Over-plan for cold

Wear lots of layers even if it’s just chilly. You aren’t hiking into the middle of nowhere so there aren’t as many consequences for packing too much. Bring a hat, bring a hoodie, and bring lots of extra bedding. An extra blanket in the tent is never a nuisance if it’s cold outside, and especially if you don’t have an expensive goose down sleeping bag.

For a more in-depth guide in how to stay warm while camping, see my post here for more details.

I Don’t Want My Mummy! Bring The Right Type of Sleeping Bag

Speaking of sleeping bags, if your goal is comfort, then opt-out of a mummy sleeping bag. Maybe you like the feeling of constriction, but me and many others deal with some of the discomfort and restriction of a mummy bag in favor of staying warm. The mummy sleeping bag works wonderfully for back-country camping where you can’t bring a lot of bedding.

If, however, you are car camping, there are many sleeping bag types that are rectangular and give you more freedom to move around. So skip the mummy!

Another option is to unzip your mummy bag and use your supplemental blankets so you can move around more freely. Camping Quilts are another blanket option that can replace your sleeping bag that offer more freedom.

Over-plan For Hot

Shade

Being too hot is one of the most uncomfortable camping experiences (especially when sleeping), since there aren’t many places to go. Therefore, finding a good campsite with shade makes a huge difference. If that’s not possible, you can try and make your own shade or use a camping canopy to make a place to hang out that’s not in the sun.

Use the Power Of Technology!

We live in Texas, and when we plan on camping in the Summer (or April…or Fall), we plan to experience high temperatures, even at night where it doesn’t cool down under 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our semi-super-secret plan for when we go camping in 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit weather is to bring our battery-operated fan. A small investment for the ability to be comfortable during hot Texas nights while camping? Totally worth it! Click here for more details on the battery-operated fan we use and why we use one.

You can make your fan energy do double duty by putting ice in front of the fan. How much ice? As much as you can fit without spilling water all over the place inside your tent.

With a little knot tying know-how and some effort, though, you can easily use a tarp to create your own canopy. Some campers will create a canopy from another tarp as a cover for their tent to keep their tent from becoming very hot.

Pillows, pillows, pillows

You can live without a pillow. It’s been done! But if you are planning on being comfortable, then you should bring a pillow.

striped small pillow in a tent

Often the next decision is what kind of pillow do I want to bring? The answer is really whatever pillow you want! But there are actually specialty camping pillows that are smaller, or inflatable, or made of special waterproof materials. Most of these camping pillows are geared towards backpackers, because they are smaller, lighter, and more compact.

I wrote a post about the different types of camping pillows and why you’d want to use one. Go check it out if you are not sure what type you need.

If you are car camping, portability and weight don’t factor in as much (but they are factors), so bringing pillows around the house is totally an option. Just know that if you are camping near where you have a campfire that that campfire smoke can infiltrate your pillows. So unless you want to be reminded of those good ol’ camping memories every time you sleep, you might need to stow your pillows until you’re ready to sleep.

Make a Campfire

Although this isn’t always possible in rainy conditions and during some burn bans, a campfire goes a long way to making a camping experience more comfortable. Even if it’s only slightly chilly, a campfire can make any camping trip cozy.

campfire closeup
Surprisingly not Mount Doom!

Starting a fire can be a bit of a chore, though. To make starting a fire easier and more convenient here are a couple tips:

Buy Campfire Wood When You Find It!

It’s good to not bring in non-native trees to burn, so as to not spread any foreign pests, but when you find local firewood, it’s a great idea to buy it and save it for when you go camping, because it’s much easier to have campfire wood before you need it.

Make Starting A Fire a Breeze

For that I’d recommend really good tinder and maybe a pocket bellows. My pocket bellows is one of my favorite tools that can turn a small spark into a roaring flame without burning your eyebrows and inhaling lots of ash from blowing on the fire. It’s part of my recommended camping gadget page here.

Hammock

I can’t explain in a couple sentences why I love hammocking so much. Something about being suspended calms me almost immediately. I feel that when I go camping, especially if we only have time to stay one night, it’s because of the hammock that I feel most refreshed. A hammock can make your campsite much more comfortable.

You don’t have to sleep in your hammock, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money on one. We’ve spent ~$35 for an off-brand, gathered-in, parachute hammock, including carabiners and rope. It’s one of my favorite things to bring camping. It’s a great place to hang out (haha) during downtime and relax.

Campsite Planning

Unfortunately, not all campsites were created equal. Your comfort while camping can be greatly affected by the campsite.

In hot summers, campsites to avoid are:

  • In the open, without any shade trees covering the campsite
  • Not near any water or anywhere to cool down
  • Surrounded by asphalt

In chilly temperatures, campsites to avoid are:

  • Too close to water. Large bodies of water can invite chilling winds making for miserable camping
  • Those not allowing campfires
  • On a hill. Sites on top of a hill offers little wind protection, which can turn an cozy camping trip into a frigid one

In rainy conditions, campsites to avoid are:

  • In a depression. If you are in any kind of shallow valley or depression, then you might be sleeping in a pond.
  • In the open without any trees to help protect you from rain

Obviously, you can’t plan everything and sometimes you don’t get to pick. But a little extra effort researching your campsite can help you have a more comfortable time.

Camping Canopy

This is bordering on glamping, but camping during the summer can be hot, and creating your own shade where shade doesn’t exist can cool you down. These are especially helpful if you are camping on the beach because there are no trees and it can get really hot without shade.

Camping canopies are your personal shade that can compact so they can be transported. The bigger the canopy, the bigger vehicle you will need to transport your canopy.

Don’t Wash Dishes

Before you get concerned about hygiene, I do have a post about about how to wash dishes while camping. There are tons of different methods for washing dishes, but I’ll share, rather vulnerably, that we don’t really wash our dishes while camping. At least not in the traditional sense.

We are often camping for one or two nights, and in that time we aren’t concerned about bacteria finding a place to grow and becoming a health hazard. We instead just wipe excess food off with a paper towel, and then wash our dishes when we get home.

There’s work involved with washing dishes while camping, but if you are only staying for a couple days, just keeping the food off makes it easy and manageable so you can stay comfortable while camping without spending a ton of effort on washing your dishes away from home when you are headed back in a few hours.

Some caveats:

  • Make sure you do not use any dishes after they have been exposed to raw meat. These are not safe until they are washed.
  • If you are camping somewhere you don’t have access to your car, then washing your dishes is much more important since critters can smell those food molecules still on your plate.
  • If you are camping in bear country, then your dishes can attract them. The best thing to do is thoroughly wash your dishes and hang up anything with food smells away from your campsite, including your garbage that could possibly attract them.

Earplugs… Yeah… Don’t Forget Earplugs

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to staying comfortable as you camp to bring earplugs. I’ll share a story.

Our last car camping experience was going great. We had a successful dinner, and it was so peaceful and lovely to watch our fire die down. When we finally decided to go to bed, at around 11PM, we put out our fire and started moving towards the tent and making final preparations to sleep.

We were also puzzled and pleased to see the campsite right next to us remained unoccupied so we felt an assurance we were in for a nice quiet night.

It was at this time when we noticed not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4… but 5 vehicles pull in right next to our campsite. The scouts… had come. I know that scouts are always supposed to be prepared, and in one sense they were. The scouts did an admirable job of trying to quietly and immediately pitch their tent in darkness.

I would have been a lot more frustrated if we had forgotten our earplugs. We hadn’t! We were able to put in our earplugs which blocked the sound of what seemed like 3 million young kids putting up their tents in the dark.  

Besides that, sleeping outside can be difficult, especially for light sleepers, since critters, distant coyote packs, and various other nightly noises can be very unnerving. All of these are taken care of with earplugs. I highly recommend the earplugs that flare out so they don’t extend past your ear. These tend to stay in your ears all night, such as these earplugs available on Amazon.

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil? You came all the way to this post to find out how to make camping more comfortable and I’m recommending cooking oil?

One time, we forgot the cooking oil, and cooking while camping without oil is hard, if not impossible. Cooking with a campfire has some extra challenges because the heat can get very intense, and your food can adhere to the pan, which is never fun. Also, because your campfire is unevenly heated, the pan heat is distributed unevenly. Cooking oil helps cover many of these challenges.

Even if you are cooking with a camp stove, cooking oil is an essential to making sure your meal is a success.

Cooking oil is a must-have item if you are doing any sort of cooking. We have a container that fits inside our camping kitchen box, and we leave it just for camping so we don’t forget it. It works great if you forget to bring butter for a particular meal.

Because of the high heat, we recommend using an oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable oil.

Bring a Cutting Board

A cutting board is an often overlooked kitchen tool for camping. For such a simple thing, you’d think it wouldn’t matter. But here’s the secret,  a cutting board is not only a good place to cut your vegetables, but it also works as a miniature table you can use for preparing your food. Remember that when you are usually preparing your food, you are surrounded by counter space where you can set things down.

While you are camping, you MIGHT have a picnic table–which is great! You can also bring a camping table as well to give you more mobile table space. A cutting board, however, is a fantastic little mini flat surface that you’ll appreciate for its mobile abilities.

Camping Table

A camping table is an unsung hero, and only missed if you need one. Many car camping sites have picnic tables, which are fantastic for preparing meals and hanging out. Many of them are chained or bolted to a specific location so they don’t wander around, so you may find it much more convenient to have a table you can move anywhere.

Additionally, for some locations, particularly the beach, and in BLM land, you won’t have the same amenities. It’s uncomfortable to have to prepare a meal entirely on your lap or in the car so as to not get your food all sandy. A camping table is a must in these situations.

Do-ahead Meal Prep

Cooking without your kitchen is not exactly comfortable. You have to reshape your expectations a bit. You don’t have to eat pork and beans out of a can (I’m not saying that’s not a fun experience!), but you are not going to be able to have all your cooking gear on hand.

What’s the solution? Prepare your food before you leave!

If you are making tinfoil dinners, assemble them at home and put the tinfoil packets in your cooler, and just throw them in your fire when you are ready to cook them.

If you are making an omelet, no need to break the eggs at the campsite, you can put all the ingredients in a mason jar and just pour them out when you are ready to cook them.

Any vegetables you need to chop? Use those nice knives on that bamboo cutting board at home!

Bug Repellent and Sunscreen

This post is all about how to stay comfortable while camping. Bug repellent and sunscreen can be some of the most important gear to bring to stay comfortable.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the most common bug repellent that actually works contains a high percentage of DEET, but the smell is not very pleasant to put on. There are many different types of bug repellent that are less fragrant, so I recommend trying a few to find out what works for your particular body and your particular bugs you are trying to avoid.

Also, don’t forget that sunscreen!

Camp Chairs

We asked random campers at our last campground, what is something you forgot that you wish you’d brought? Several people said they wished they’d brought their camp chairs. It’s true, your stay will be much more comfortable if you bring camp chairs.

Even if there’s a picnic table around at your campsite, the picnic table isn’t necessary mobile to where you can put it around the fire. Even if you aren’t going to start a fire, it’s nice to be able to sit where you want, but I will say the primary benefit of a camp chair is to be able to sit near a fire. Often, fire pits at campgrounds don’t have logs around that you can sit on, so this may be your only option for a seating arrangement.

Ditch Flashlights

I’m not advocating for not having any light, but, flashlights are totally 90s!

Okay, they aren’t… but headlamps are so much more convenient. Having both hands to do whatever you want to do is much less frustrating and more efficient. Also, new headlamps have sensors so you can wave your hand in front of your face and it will automatically shut off and on, saving your friends from being blinded!

If you are considering buying a headlamp, I talk about my favorite headlamp here and what’s different about it.

There are also some other fun, and useful lighting options you might want to explore which we talk about here.

Pee late. Pee twice.

This advice is geared towards ladies, but applies to men as well. The last time we went camping, my wife was pregnant, and so she took extra precautions which she talks about in her post, here. The advice of peeing twice before going to bed is sound, and will help you stay comfortable through the night.

I have many memories of waking up in the middle of the night when it was still dark with a certain urgency which I tried to ignore for far longer than was healthy. Finally I would clamber out of the tent in the 40 degree weather to answer nature’s call.

If you pee 30-45 minutes before you start getting ready to go to bed, and then go one more time right before you sleep, your bladder will be nice and vacant as you sleep.

Wipes

Why are wet wipes so amazing when camping? Let me count the ways:

  • More comfortable than toilet paper
  • So useful for washing messy hands where a sink isn’t nearby (such as when you’re camping)
  • Great for a “spit bath” on multi-day camping trips or when lots of hiking is involved

When you’re camping for multiple days, hygiene is important to avoiding fungi and other not fun stuff. I wish I was speaking hypothetically and not from experience. Wet wipes are a staple in our camping box.

Look for wet wipes that are biodegradable, safe for human skin, non or lightly scented, and resealable, like the wipes we usually buy.

Make a Get-away Camping Tote

Part of what can make camping frustrating and not fun at all is forgetting something important. Especially after you read this post and you think… wow, there’s a lot of stuff to remember to bring while camping! You’re right! Especially if you want to be comfortable and stress-free.

One day, I decided to walk around the campsite and ask what people forgot for camping, here’s a quick list of some of them:

Stuff People Forgot That They Wished They’d Brought Camping

  • A jacket
  • Charging adapter for phone
  • A spoon
  • Camp chairs
  • Butter
  • Good pillows
  • Camera
  • A non-empty propane tank

  • Water
  • S’more sticks
  • Portable fan
  • Neosporin
  • Fire making materials
  • Toilet paper (for an RV camper)
  • Something to drive in tent stakes

Why You Need a Camping Tote

Although you can’t put everything in a camping tote, it will make your life much simpler if you can put all the camping gear in one place, so you don’t have to hunt it down every time you want to go camping.

Trunk with all our camping gear
Get away quick kit!

Make a Get-away Camping Kitchen Box

This is related to the get-away camping box, but specific to the kitchen supplies. Kitchen supplies deserve their own organization since they need to be washed occasionally and restocked.

For the same reasons, a box for all your kitchen gear will be a lifesaver to you so you don’t forget key things like a spatula. My wife made an awesome post about what to put in a car camping kitchen box that you can find here.

Summary

Camping will never be a 5-star hotel, and it doesn’t have to be. You can have a ton of fun and still be comfortable with some know-how and preparation. Even if you don’t have everything on this list, you can still have a great time, just get out there and don’t worry about camping perfectly–you’ll learn what you need over time through experience. Just bring a hammock and learn to put one up, and you’ll be fine. 🙂

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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