What makes a great car and tent camping setup

We can help you choose a camping setup for trailer-free camping and touring to suit your circumstances, now and into the foreseeable future, from your car right down to your kitchen utensils and everything in between.
 Camping setup

Some people camp in a tent by choice while others do so because the trailer, camper trailer and RV alternatives are for whatever reason out of their reach. While often considered the poor camping relation, we tent and car campers have many things going for us.

By comparison to a trailer or RV, a tent camping setup is much more cost effective to buy and maintain, it doesn’t need a big towing vehicle, it doesn’t restrict our movements while on the road like a trailer does and storage is much less of an issue. 

A well planned and put together tent camping setup can also minimise many of the downsides relating to comfort, longer set up and pack up times, challenges with packing the car and limits on what we can take with us.

A great camping setup can really help to inspire you to get out and enjoy the many benefits of camping. The various camping setup components are listed and summarised below, but you can click on the links in this article for more details.

Your car

Your choice of car is really the key to comfortable car and tent camping and the safe transporting of you, your family and your gear - trailer free. Choose your vehicle wisely and you can avoid the potentially costly mistake of buying an unsuitable vehicle - one that is either bigger than you really need, or worse still, not big enough. Whether you are buying or renting a car, we've got plenty of advice to help you choose the right car for camping trailer free in our cars section.

Tent and shelter

It goes without saying that a campsite should provide weatherproof shelter for privacy as well as for protection from the elements. Our personal preference is for a touring style of tent, but there are plenty of other options, from smaller dome style tents large enough for sleeping and some gear storage, to larger two and three-room tents incorporating more living space. Our tips for choosing your tent article can help you to make your own personal choice.

Every campsite should also provide adequate outdoor shelter, if only to protect the gas cooking stove and outdoor camping gear from the rain as well as the dew formed during the nighttime. This could be in the form of a tent with a larger awning, an annex attached to your tent, a separately constructed tarpaulin or, if you can transport one, a separate marquee or screen room. The larger open-air shelters will also provide a much more comfortable escape from the rain and hot sun than the shelter of an enclosed tent.

Campsite tools

A good set of camping tools can really help you to deal with the various issues and dilemmas that might arise around the campsite and on your travels, and there are plenty of compact and lightweight options that don’t take up a lot of space. Hopefully, you won’t need to use many of them, but they will be there if and when you do.

Power and fuel

Power and fuel is generally required for camp lighting, refrigeration, cooking stoves, the campfire and our seemingly ever-growing list of devices and appliances.

A simple camping setup on an unpowered site might only require ice for refrigeration, gas and/or the campfire for cooking, some batteries and smaller power banks to charge lighting and devices, and access to a power supply from time to time to recharge the power banks.

Without a powered site, a dual battery setup or a larger power bank with solar panels will be required for more power-hungry camping setups, especially when operating a compressor fridge and more devices. While technological improvements over recent years have worked in our favour in terms of pack size, these larger power banks and solar panels may still prove to be too bulky and heavy to transport together with everything and everyone else.

Lighting
Campsites don’t need to be lit up like a sports stadium, but a good lighting setup should still provide adequate lighting for the various camping related activities, including:
  • general or ambient lighting for the kitchen, tent and living areas
  • task lighting for reading / cooking / playing games
  • directional lighting for spot lighting and pathways

While some lighting products are particularly bulky for transportation, there are plenty of compact torch, headlamp and lantern options to choose from to meet your needs, and many are now rechargeable.

Camp kitchen

Camp food doesn’t need to be complicated and fancy, but with a well-equipped kitchen delicious food can still be produced with a minimum of fuss. A basic camp kitchen should include a two-burner stove and/or a campfire, dinnerware, cookware and utensils, ingredients as well as a camp fridge or icebox and an area for food preparation.

A functional camp kitchen doesn’t need to take up a lot of room if you choose neatly stackable items, although some campfire cookware can be bulky and heavy. For help in putting together a functional camp kitchen with a smaller pack size, check out our camp kitchen articles.

Refrigeration

Your refrigeration options for camping range from the relatively light weight esky / iceboxes and 3-way or absorption fridges through to the heavier and more power-hungry compressor fridges. Smaller cooler bags can also take items that benefit from a cooler environment but don’t necessarily require refrigeration. 

Larger fridges and iceboxes are not an option for car and tent campers because of our size and weight restrictions, and in any case we don't believe they are necessary if you are smart about how you manage your fridge. For help in choosing your icebox or fridge, check out our fridge size and dimensions article.

Fridge stands are also very handy as well to elevate the fridge off the ground for easier access.

Bathroom and laundry

Your bathroom and laundry related gear will depend on the types of facilities you have available to you as well as the length of your stay. With access to shower, toilet and laundry facilities, you might only need the standard items like toiletries, towels and basic laundry supplies.

Camping in areas without toilet and shower facilities becomes much more complicated for car campers, especially if you want to make room for a camp toilet and shower as well as a privacy tent. Areas requiring fully self-contained campers (who are required to carry out all of their waste, including wastewater) would be off-limits to car and tent campers.

Furniture

While some campsites provide permanently fixed picnic tables and bench seats, many don’t. At the very least, your camping setup should provide for a table or benchtop for food preparation and casual dining, as well as a table or stand on which to rest the cooking stove. You might not necessarily need a separate table for each of these functions, but the longer your camping stay the more convenient that extra bench and tabletop space will be.

It probably goes without saying that everyone should have a chair, but give preference to those with a smaller pack size. That goes for the other items as well. Other useful items include shelving or a kitchen pantry to raise items off the floor and to help organise your gear.

Sleeping and bedding

Arguably the second most important item in your camping setup after the tent is your bedding. In fact, we can’t stress enough how important it is to have good quality and reliable sleeping gear that can provide you with the best possible night of sleep.

Sleeping gear can be notoriously bulky and difficult to transport. You don't necessarily need extremely compact hiking style gear but you will most likely need to compromise. If you want to defer costs in order to invest in a better quality sleeping mat, the doona / quilt off your bed may suffice instead of a sleeping bag.

Clothing

Your outdoor and camping wardrobe will vary greatly depending on your planned activities, the expected temperature and weather conditions and your personal preferences. The important thing to remember when you have limited car space is to choose compact and lightweight but comfortable clothing that you enjoy wearing AND that serves a specific purpose. To reduce the amount you need to pack, limit everyone to a certain volume of clothing (say the size of a reusable shopping bag each) and footwear.

If you are expecting cold weather, you should also follow the three-layer rule as we describe in our clothing for the great outdoors article.

First aid kit

It goes without saying that a well-equipped first aid kit is one of the most important items to include in your camping setup. Also important is knowing in advance how to administer first aid, especially in an emergency.

Entertainment

And, last but not least, even with our limited packing space, there are plenty of entertainment options to choose from. You really just need to focus on what you can take rather than what you can’t.

You might not be able to take the basketball but there are plenty of other easier to pack possibilities - tennis racks / cricket bats and balls, cards, compact games, pencils / writing paper, small toys and inflatable items. And then of course a couple of bikes could easily go on the tow / hitch bar, weight permitting.

Other useful resources
As well as the links above, other useful website resources include: