24 space saving ideas for camping

Inflatables rProbably the biggest challenge for car campers is packing the car and safely fitting it all in, especially when children arrive on the scene. For many living in apartments and smaller properties, storage space for bulky camping gear can also be scarce.

You will find space saving ideas for your camping setup throughout this website to help you pack your car for camping as well as to organise your campsite and reduce the clutter. You might also notice some of the suggestions below are repeated in other tip related articles in this website, but they are equally relevant in terms of saving space and worth repeating.

Here are our top space saving ideas for camping:

In general

1: Settocamp.com!

logoPutting together a camping setup without a plan is like making a complicated dish without a recipe. It’s not going to turn out as you expected unless you really know what you are doing. And that’s what this website is all about and why we feel that beginner campers and those new to family camping will gain the most benefit. So, before you commit to buy a particular item in your camping setup, we encourage you to read through the relevant section in our setup. You will also find lots of tools and resources to help you in our planning tools for camping section.

2: Every bit counts

Every bit counts cropped rScrutinise everything you include in your camping setup in terms of size and packability (as well as weight and functionality). When you count individual cooking utensils, clothing, tools, toiletries and food items you could have over 200 items to pack. You might not think that buying a compact little vegie peeler, spatula or pair of mini tongs will make a difference but multiply that by 200 and there’s a massive difference right there.  It won’t be too long before you are rejoicing at the smallest of space savings.

3: Buy easily stackable and packable

Stacked bowls cropped rWhen shopping for your camping gear, always consider how an item will be packed in the car for travel. Choose space saving items, such as stackable dinnerware and cookware, and flat or cylindrical items instead of those in a cube or ball shape. If you are having trouble locating easily stackable or packable items, check out our buying guide for our notes and suggestions and any links we might have to easily sourced products online.

4: Take only what you need

Checklist crossed rYou will (or should) have a packing checklist of things you would need to take with you camping, but not everything needs to go on every camping trip. Considering such things as the weather forecast, trip length, planned activities and the available facilities, take only what you need and especially leave home any bulky but unnecessary items. For more on this, see our preparing for camping checklist.

5: Think camping before you buy

Consider whether items you are buying for your day to day life, such as rain coats, jackets, games, sporting equipment, folding chairs and tools, will have a camping use. If so, choose the compact or easily stackable / packable option to avoid the need to buy a second more compact version just for camping. You could even justify buying a better quality product knowing it will have that broader camping use.

Kitchen, bathroom and laundry

6: Plan your meals

Meal planner CustomA well thought out meal plan will help you to bring and/or buy the right quantities of food for your needs, enough to feed everyone but not so much that you will need to pack and transport the surplus food out.

7: Cook simple meals

The campsite isn’t the place to explore your inner MasterChef, unless it’s a challenge to make a delicious dish, from the ingredients at hand, at a casual pace and in a short amout of time so that the chef can re-join the camping fun ASAP. So, come up with a list of simple, healthy and delicious recipes / dishes that everyone loves and, more importantly, that are compatible with your camp kitchen.Ministrone snipped Custom

8: Cook with what you have

Especially in the lead up to departure day, being creative with your camp cooking and using what you already have in your pantry and fridge can really reduce what you will need to pack and transport out. With a little lateral thinking, you will be amazed at what you can cook up.

9: Buy what you need when you need it

We can get carried away and buy or bring enough food for the whole week without allowing for the inevitable change of plans. Excess food not only clutters up your campsite, if not consumed, it needs to be packed and transported out. If you are travelling in remote areas you might need an extra food supply in case you can't get to the store, but otherwise, buy only what you need for two to three days, or for the foreseeable timeframe.

10: Give preference to space efficient ingredients

Pasta rYou only need to compare the size of cornflakes and muesli boxes to see how much more space-efficient dense foods can be over ingredients containing a lot of air. Any food you plan to pack and transport should be in a compact form, such as muesli, dried fruit, dried legumes, nuts, flat crisp breads, Wheatbix, spaghetti or linguine pasta, rice, flour etc.

11: Give preference to space efficient packaging
Choose products with a more space efficient packaging shape and, where possible, flexible packaging that can mould in and around other items to utilise small spaces. You will not only save space but you will reduce the clutter in your camp food pantry. For example:
  • Cornflakes rProducts packaged in bags are more space efficient than those in cardboard, which can contain up to 30% fresh air and are inflexible to pack around other items.
  • A drink / wine bottle with an hour glass or teardrop shape will take up more space than one with a more cylindrical shape. Better still, try cask wine and you can even ditch the cardboard container.
  • Beer cans are much more space efficient than bottles / stubbies.
  • And so on ...
12: Decant into smaller refillable containers

Instead of packing the whole container of a product, decant or transfer the amount you will need for that particular trip into a suitably sized container or bag. That goes for items in your food pantry as well as for showering, the laundry and dishwashing.

13: Limit the size of your fridge or icebox 
Icebox measurement 2One of the largest items you will pack in your car for camping will be your icebox or fridge. It's solid, bulky, it takes prime position in the boot / trunk and it doesn't budge when space is tight. In order to fit everything else in your car boot as we describe in our loading the rear cargo area article, we GENERALLY say that your icebox / fridge should not exceed the following dimensions: Width:60 x Depth:45 x Height:50 cm.
For more details, go to our icebox / fridge dimensions article and also to our article on tips for managing your icebox / fridge too, among other things, help you get the most out of a smaller fridge.
14: Limit the size of your kitchenware container

Kitchenbox CustomSimilarly, the kitchenware container is another unavoidably bulky item to be transported in the rear cargo area. As with the icebox / fridge, the container should be no bigger than Width:60 x Depth:40 x Height:30 cm.

Those dimensions might seem tight, but not if you follow our advice for putting together your kitchenware container in our camp kitchen and cookware article.

The soft stuff

15: Consider hiking style bedding

Depositphotos 100767564 s 2015Hiking style bedding isn’t essential to our camping setup but it can really save you an enormous amount of car space if packing is a struggle. Armed with good quality hiking gear and you can also leave the wheels behind and head off overnight exploring at any time. You can read more about this in our sleeping section. Bedding should also be stuffed tightly into bags to reduce its bulk.

16: Limit clothing and shoes

Like bedding, clothing and shoes can also really make a big dint in your available space. Consequently, everyone should adhere to the three-layer rule and bring only what is comfortable, lightweight and easily packable. Everyone should also be limited to a certain volume of clothing, such as the size of your average reusable shopping bag, and three pairs of footwear. You can read more about this in our clothing section.

17: Choose compact towels and tea towels

Towels1 rWe don’t subscribe to the view that your beach and bath towels should be something akin to a microfiber hiking towel, but nor should they be big enough to wrap around your body numerous times. Keeping the size of your towels to that of a small bath towel and going for a thin option will save more space and be quicker to dry. Likewise, tea towels should also be of the smaller and thinner variety. You will find more on this in our bathroom section.

Entertainment and recreational items

18: Choose packable sporting equipment

Inflatables rSporting equipmment is another area that can really consume a huge amount of car space. Bike helmets go hand in hand if you have bikes, but other bulky items should stay at home in favour of more compact and easier to pack items, such as inflatables and cricket bat / balls etc.

19: Games and entertainment
While camping and the great outdoors offers endless entertainment options, it’s nice to be able to sit back and relax around the campsite and let everyone do their own thing, whatever that might be. Within reason, try to include something for everyone:
  • If there is a favourite board game, try to locate a compact version for camping.
  • Bring a couple of packs of cards with card game instructions for endless family fun.
  • If the kids enjoy drawing, bring along compact drawing pads and enough pens / pencils to keep them entertained, but maybe not the whole pencil case.
  • Likewise, enough Lego but not the whole tub.
  • Bring paperback instead of hardback books, or better still, go digital.
  • And so on… 
20: Lighting and devices

Modern technology really is working in our favour. If you are buying or upgrading any kind of potentially useful gadget or device for camping, go for the lighter and/or more compact version, even if it might be more expensive. 

Around the campsite

21: Furniture
FurnitureYour furniture can really take up a lot of space in the car and should be considered carefully in terms of pack shape and size before you buy. We go into detail in terms of what to look for when buying furniture for camping in the Our setup section of the website and, as with anything you purchase for your camping setup, we encourage you to read through the relevant section. In summary though:
  • Chairs that are quad folding are easier to pack than the bulkier flat folding chairs, and the more compact product the better. If you are tight for space, you will find particularly lightweight and compact hiking style chairs on the market. See our buying guide for examples and make sure you read through the relevant article in our website before you buy.
  • Tables that have a space efficient pack size tend to be quad or bi-folding. There are a couple of moulded plastic table and bench seats on the market as well but, as they don't fold, are bulky to transport and should be avoided if space is limited. Again, see our buying guide for examples and make sure you read through the relevant article in our website before you buy.   


22: Use flexible baggage

Rigid and hardcase baggage is more difficult to pack than soft baggage that can mould in and around other items to utilise small spaces. That goes for your larger clothing and bedding bags as well as smaller bags to hold tools, lighting, food and devices. Padded cooler style bags, especially those used to keep lunches cool, are especially useful for all but particularly fragile items to provide that added protection.

23: Utilise the available car storage spaces

Efficient use of all of the various car nooks and storage compartments can really help create a lot of space. For our ideas, go to our making better use of car space article.

24: Develop a car packing plan
Last but not least, if you are efficient in how you pack your car, you would be amazed at how much you can comfortably and safely carry. Check out our car packing tip articles:
Related articles

FAQ: We can't seem to fit it all into our car. What can we do?

Buying guide: For notes and suggestions on individual items