Planning a One Night Car Camping Trip and Why It’s Worth It


Car camping can be a hassle. It requires preparing food, clothing, gear, and even yourself, emotionally, to get out the door. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to hurry up to have fun, which causes stress. Lastly, you often have to travel to get to your campsite, which usually you have to do after working the day before. You want to have a great time, but sometimes it’s difficult to imagine it will be fun after all the effort.

Is it worth it to go camping for just one night? Car camping, even for one day, can reduce your stress and improve your well-being. Any chance to get in touch with nature and go outside can be healing, and your chances of having an enjoyable time improve dramatically if you are adequately prepared.

I made a video on this topic here if you’d prefer to listen and watch rather than read:

That’s the trick, how can I be adequately prepared for car camping when I have so little time to work with? There are some simple things you can do to maximize your time enjoying the outdoors and making great memories.

What Can I Do to Make a One Night Campout worth it?

Always prepared

Admittingly, car camping can take a lot of effort. By far, the most important thing to do is to set aside all of the camping gear necessary for camping into a camping box. This camping box is your camping lifeline. Rather than having to scramble everything together the night before or the day of a camping trip, having all your gear in one box goes a long way to reducing stress and ensuring a successful camping trip.

Trunk with all our camping gear
Get away quick kit!

Subdivide your camping box into general camping gear (tent, tarp, hatchet, sleeping bags, etc, flashlight), and kitchen supplies (knives, cookware, spices, camping stove, etc) For more details on what to put in your camping kitchen box as well as some field-tested tips, click here.

With a camping box pre-prepared and awaiting your camping trips, you can just grab your stuff and go, rather than spending half your precious camping day at home preparing.

Preparation the Day Before

Gear is one aspect of preparation, but there are some other things to prepare that are more difficult to store permanently in a camping box.

Ensure you have the following set up and ready to go the day before to allow you to just go:

  • Food
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • The clothes you will wear camping (including jackets, hoodies, and hats)
  • Toiletries
  • Any additional gear you are going to need for extra activities (swimming gear, hiking shoes, extra cooking pans, etc)
  • If you have flashlights needing batteries, now’s a good time to make sure they’re charged up, or fresh
  • Your food cooler (if you are bringing food that needs to be kept chilled) is ready to be filled

Make Simple Meals

The complexity of your camping trip is exponentially correlated to the meals you will be attempting while camping. Many times we’ve gone camping and bit off a bit more than we could chew, and we were left hungry until 7:30 PM because we chose meals that were more work.

It’s worth it if you love to cook and experiment with new car camping meals (which we do), but if you’re limited on time and emotional capacity, here are some suggestions:

Prepare meals that only need to be cooked

Tinfoil dinners, for example, can be prepped completely at home the day before. This is a must if you have limited time in the campsite. If you’re like us, getting to the campsite at 6 PM (which is past dark if you go camping in the Winter).

If the meal is much more involved than heating, you’ll spend a bit more time cooking, so plan accordingly.

Eat meals that don’t need to be cooked at all

Ready-to-go meals such as a pasta salad work great to make your evening stress-free.

For breakfast meals, it’s relatively simple to just bring filling fruit, like bananas, or to bring a small jar of milk and a container of cereal. Hopefully you get a chance, though, to make a big breakfast in your other camping trips because it’s really fun to cobble together a fancier breakfast while you’re car camping.

Eat out

I know it sounds like heresy to eat out before you get to your campsite, but we’ve had GREAT camping experiences after visiting Taco Bell or something similar before we drive to the campsite. Dinner can be a lot of work and taking dinner out of the picture allows you to focus on relaxing and enjoying the evening. A fun compromise is to bring goods for roasting marshmallows instead for dessert.

Decide If You Need a Campfire

Starting a fire can take 5 minutes, or 30 minutes (or longer), depending on how difficult the circumstances. High winds, or damp wood, (Vader: “Nooooooooooooo!”) or not having wood accessible are all potential challenges.

One time we went camping and our dinner was dependent on us finding wood, so we ended up scrounging from other campsite’s wood and managed to find enough wood for a fire to cook our food. It wasn’t evidence of great planning. 🙂 

You don’t need to light a fire every time you go car camping.
It’s fun, but it isn’t a requirement. You can enjoy the evening if you dress warmly and maybe go explore around, walk down to the river if there is one, etc.

Bring a Hammock

It’s almost a mandatory part of our camping experience. If life is stressful, my time with the outdoors can be very limited. But, I definitely feel like I connect with the moment and enjoy my time if I get to spend at least an hour hanging in the hammock.

You don’t need to sleep in your hammock–there is extra preparation needed to do so (although it can be a lot of fun), but having a hammock for just lounging around the night or the day of your one night camping trip is really worth the extra effort of bringing it and setting it up.

Bring Friends

If you’re concerned whether it’s worth it to make the effort to go car camping for just one night–one way to make your camping trip more fun and memorable is to bring friends. Me and my wife have gone car camping many times and those times have been great. The most memorable times are still when we have gone with our friends.

Eating and talking with friends around a campfire is a great experience, and a good way to get more bang from your buck out of your camping trip.

Don’t Stress About Clothes

This is probably controversial, but I’ll say it anyway–An extra change of clothes is absolutely optional for a one-night camping trip. You are going to be home within a few hours, and although hygiene is a great concept in general, for car camping, it’s okay to slide for just that one night. Just worrying about one change of clothes simplifies things a tad.

What Can I do to Prevent a Camping Disaster?

The question of whether it’s worth it go camping for just one night is further compounded when adverse conditions arise. Cold weather and rain are big culprits. 

Yes, it is possible to set up your tent in the rain

If it’s lightly raining, then setting up your tent needs to happen quickly, but it is not a problem, and you can still have a good time if you are prepared with adequate clothing and rain gear.

If it’s a downpour, then you may need to cancel. I won’t say it’s not possible, but I can with more confidence say it may not be worth it.

Yes you can go camping in the cold

One key to having a great time car camping in the cold is clothing.
Another key to having a great time sleeping is warm bedding. If you take the time to make extra preparation, and especially if you plan on making a campfire, then you can have a great time. The most difficult time though is getting out of your warm tent. But that’s kind of a fun problem to have, anyway.

If you would like more in-depth tips on how to go car camping in 40 degree weather, see my post here.

Related Questions

Why is camping good for your health? A very in-depth study published in 2017 observed that the connectedness of individuals to nature and exposure to nature for those individuals had a significant impact on their anxiety. Additionally, the study suggests that even people who exercise indoors and outdoors experience less somatic anxiety (physical effects of anxiety such as butterflies in the stomach, etc) when exercising outdoors.

What to do when you are camping? Camping is one small part of being outdoors. Hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, photography, and general sightseeing are fantastic ways to connect and explore nature. Make sure and plan ahead and look up details online or call a park ranger to find out what there is to do.

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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