Most people build their family camping setup over a number of years - starting with still functional relics from their childhood (sleeping bags and mats, 2-3 person tent) through to items they'll pick up as young adults or young couples (iceboxes, folding chairs, rain coats) and then finally the good family tent and other creature comforts when the kids arrive and / or when roughing it is no longer all that much fun.
If you are starting from scratch and in a hurry, you could have your camping gear together in just a few weeks. To save you time, we have put together our camping setup for beginners to guide you through those purchasing decisions. You will, however, need to dedicate a reasonable amount of time to perform a stocktake of usable items you already own or can borrow and identify and source items you want to buy, either in the stores or online. Some items will be easy to locate, while others will be more difficult to track down (See also the answer to the next question on camping with short notice).
You will also need to ensure you can safely transport your camping party and your gear. If you don't have a suitable car, your options until car upgrade time include second car, a hire car, the help of co-camping friends or a borrowed / hire trailer. Our best mid-size car for camping article might just have the perfect car for you.
Alternatively, you might not be in such a hurry, and be happy to get your trailer-free camping setup together over a longer period when you are young and child-free in readiness for when you need it. You can make individual purchases now, or as you need them, knowing they are part of a long-term trailer-free camping plan and an investment in your future camping holidays.
If you are a beginner camper, you have come to the right place. One of the benefits of this website is to give you a plan for building up your trailer-free camping setup. It doesn't matter if you do this over a few weeks or a few years. To help save you time and money though, we have put together our camping setup for beginners to guide you through those purchasing decisions. It's basically the list we wish we had when we started out camping as a family.
The main thing to remember when you are adding to your camping and outdoor gear is to read that part of our website before you commit to buy. You will then understand the reasons for our recommendations, and buy your preferred products the first time round.
Assuming you have a suitable car or can otherwise transport everything and everyone to the campsite, here are our tips if you are a beginner camper and if you are in a hurry:
- Do a stocktake of your existing camping and outdoor related gear. See what you might be able to use, and, especially in relation to your cooking and gas appliances, check it is in good and safe working order.
- See if you can borrow some of the key items so you'll have more time to plan your approach in the future, and won't feel rushed when you are purchasing your gear. Enter anything you plan to add to your camping setup in the future to your spending plan.
- Go to our shopping guide to speed up the process of locating and purchasing the various items in your camping setup. This guide provides online links to many of the products that we think suit our setup, especially the more specific products that could be difficult to source, or easily confused with those that are similar but less suitable. As you won’t have a lot of time to research the products that suit you, you shouldn't stray too far from the types of products outlined in our shopping guide.
- Buy instore rather than ordering online to speed up the process of getting your gear. You will know exactly what you have purchased, and won't need to worry about any delivery errors needing to be returned or exchanged just before you are due to leave, or worse still, waiting for deliveries that don’t turn up. With such short notice, you may need to pay full price if you have missed the store sales.
- Keep your setup basic by deferring purchases of items that are not essential, such as stretcher beds, camp or Dutch ovens, some of the tent accessories, the dining table and seat set and shelving.
- Keep your menu plan fairly basic and check out the local takaway cafes and restaurants, so that you don't need to spend too much time putting together your kitchenware container, which can take some time.
- Go for the products at the lower end of the technology spectrum, which we have outlined in our suggested power options. A simple camping setup without all of the electronic 'bells and whistles' will be quicker to put together and will still last you for years.
Even if you are in a hurry, take the time to test all of the items you have purchased, including the process for pitching your tent. You don't want to get to the campsite and realise you don't know how to work that gas stove, you have left an important component or tool at home or an important item is faulty.
This website is really here to help beginner campers and families or groups of up to five to camp comfortably and safely, trailer free. It's not about encouraging you to do exactly as we do, although if you want to, that’s perfectly fine with us. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery! We know that one size doesn't fit all, and your particular family size, circumstances, preferences and personalities will influence and help shape your final camping setup.
Within the context of our trailer-free and tent style of camping, we will provide you with as much variety and choice as we can to help you put together a trailer-free camping setup that suits your circumstances. The more you understand the principles of our setup, the more you will be able to independently make your own additions as you go.
We welcome your feedback so that we can help you better, and other people too, so please feel free to send us a message.
Yes absolutely! This is the place to be if you want to camp comfortably and safely - trailer free, and you are on a tight budget. We cover many cost saving ideas in detail in our ways to reduce your camping costs article. While we encourage you to buy the best quality products you can afford, especially in relation to your tent, shelter and sleeping gear, we cover all budgets.
Our camping spending plan will also help you to create a budget for your circumstances, and a plan to accumulate your camping gear over whatever period you prefer - maybe over a few weeks or a few years - or more.
Our camping setup for beginners article outlines what we think beginner camping families should start out with in their car camping setup and where to find it online. This article is about steering you towards the type of camping setup we wish we had started with, which would have avoided a lot of time and money spent on buying products that we no longer use for camping.
Our lower, medium and higher-cost power options will also help you choose the right power setup for your circumstances.
We believe the great thing about this site is that it gives you a vision for your camping setup, and a plan for how you can get there. You can view your purchases as an investment in your future camping holidays, giving you the confidence to choose good quality and long-lasting products, rather than compromising on items that you can afford at the time.
Your family and friends will surely want to help out, and would welcome gift ideas, especially for the kids, to help you put together your ideal camping setup.
And, if you subsequently decide camping, or at least trailer-free camping, is not for you, many of your products will have a broader use around the home, and anything of good quality will generally maintain a good resale value on the second hand market.
We welcome your feedback and questions so that we can continue to update and refine our website, including these FAQ's, so please don't hesitate to contact us.
Yes, this is a very common question - and the answer is a cross between "where there's a will there's a way", and "if at first you don't succeed.......".
The solution is NOT, however, about cramming as much gear into any little space that you possibly can. You never have the same amount of time to pack up at the campsite as you did when you left home, and a tightly packed car will be a nightmare to repack in a rush, such as when you have a 10am checkout and it's raining.
Here are our tips:
Get into the right mindset
Especially if you are transporting four to five people, whether your car can safely and comfortably transport everyone and everything to and from the campsite will really depend on two things:
1. How much you want to car camp trailer free
2. The extent to which you or anyone in your family or group are prepared to compromise to achieve your end goal.
Your determination for trailer-free car camping and touring may be sharpened if the alternatives of hotel or cabin accomodation, upgrading to a camper trailer or caravan or just staying at home aren't very palatable.
Do you really NEED everything?
Have a good critical look at everything you are taking with you, and take out what you really don't need. It doesn't necessarily mean it's out of your camping setup for good, just for now.
Do you have a systematic approach to packing your car?
See our article on general car packing tips as well as our step by step approach to packing your car for camping trailer free.
Replace unnecessarily bulky and heavy items
We advocate making do with what you have, especially if the item is in good working order, rather than buying the latest and more up to date model. But if that means you are having trouble transporting your gear, then look out for more compact and lightweight versions of the bulkier items in your camping gear. You might have a use for a second item around the house or shed, or surplus items could be given to charity, sold or passed on to someone you know.
Replacing bulky and / or heavy items with compact and lightweight equivalents will cost you much less over time, compared to holiday accommodation alternatives or upgrading to a larger car.
Go for more hiking style bedding options
One of the biggest sticking points for the reluctant camper is the sleeping arrangements - in particular whether they are comfortable enough to provide a decent night sleep. Our setup caters for sleeping options in the mid-size range. The large four wheel driving mattresses and sleeping bags are not an option, but you don't necessarily need to resort to minimalist overnight hiking gear either.
BUT, if you are struggling to comfortably load your car, the best place to start, at least for the kids, is a reputable hiking and outdoors store for good quality and reliable sleeping gear suitable for overnight hiking. These items will take up less than half of the space and weight of your average camp bedding items. You might need to spend more for good quality items, but in our opinion, it's better and more cost effective than hotel and cabin accommodation, or a car upgrade, and definitely way better than staying at home.
You also then have the added benefit of good hiking sleeping gear on hand when the opportunity arises. A good hiking sleeping mat / pad will also complement a camp stretcher for added insulation and comfort if you can eventually find the space for one in your car.
Limit each person to a certain volume of clothing
Each person should have a limit to the amount of clothing they can take - say the size of a reusable shopping bag. If you are bringing along a guest, word them up about packing limitations, and give them the bag you want them to use for their clothes to avoid a surprise when they arrive with a huge duffle bag. You could even refer them to your clothing checklist so they know what, and what not, to bring.
Each person should also have no more than 3 pairs of footwear, including those they are wearing, and try to limit toiletries to one bag per family. As for hand luggage, everyone should be allowed a bag or backpack, but make sure it is on the small side and there is no sneaking of contraband (items that aren't on the packing list) into the car!
Think of air travellers - they have limited luggage space, and so do we.
Think weight, think pack size
Whenever you are shopping for camping gear, check its weight and packed up size and consider how and where it will be transported. That goes for EVERYTHING from your tent right down to your kitchen utensils. Even a small amount of unnecessary weight and / or bulk across 20 items adds a lot to your car load and limits what else you can take. Carry a little compact tape measure around with while shopping you so you can easily measure items against those we suggest on this website.
When considering toys, games, sporting gear and other forms of entertainment, think about how they will be transported, and focus on what you CAN transport rather than what you can’t. You might not be able to take the bulky basketball, but you could take smaller and / or easier to pack baseball or cricket bats or tennis rackets and the associated balls. Playing cards take up very little room, are very versatile and can provide hours of entertainment. Look for other similarly sized games as well.
Electronic gadgets are getting smaller and smaller - we have a great little blue tooth speaker that is about the size of a Rubiks Cube, and we use a couple of portable battery chargers for our smaller electronic devices that are about the size of my smart phone.
In our setup, transporting gear on the roof that the rear cargo area can't accommodate means the tow or hitch bar of the car is free for whatever we would like. In our case, it's used to transport our bikes. For others it could be dirt bikes, jet ski's, boats - the list goes on. Alternatively, if your "toy" of choice is better suited for transporting on the roof of the car, such as surf boards and canoes, a box hitched to your tow bar can take your excess camping items as long as it can hold your tent. A mixture of both your car roof and tow bar could accommodate your various camping items and toys. All of this is of course on the assumption your car has the right payload and tow ball capacity for your load.
So, you don’t need every single form of entertainment. There are plenty of options out there to keep everyone happy. And then of course you have the great outdoors - all you need is a good pair of walking shoes, a hat or raincoat and a map!
Food and drinks
You might be tempted to stock up on food and drinks for your entire trip before you leave home. This might be fine for a quick getaway if you aren't taking your entire camping setup, you only need to cater for a couple of days and you don't want to spend your limited time away at the supermarket.
During longer trips though, we suggest you take enough food for a day or so, especially in relation to bulky or perishable items, stock up on what you need as you need it and buy appropriate rather than bulk sized containers. You might pay more at the smaller local grocery stores and markets along the way, but you are contributing to those local communities, you are freeing up space, you are less weighed down and packing will be easier.
You could also transfer the quantities of food items you need into suitable containers and snap lock bags, and choose compact products, such as flat rather than spiral spaghetti, wheetbix rather than cornflakes, dried rather than tinned chickpeas, etc.
Meals on the day before and the morning of your departure should consist of left overs and other food items you have remaining in your fridge and camp pantry. There are plenty of recipes out there to use up all of your remaining vegies, such as vegie soup or pasta, and a fruit platter with yogurt and honey will be just the thing for desert or sweets to clear out the fruit bowl!
And last but not least, do you have the right car?
The right car for your circumstances is really the key to trailer free car camping and touring, and the safe transporting of you and your family, especially for families or groups of four or five. You may not necessarily go out and buy a new car for a specific camping trip, but car upgrade time is a great opportunity to find a car that better meets your camping transportation needs.
Decide exactly what you want in your camping setup, and do a test pack of the rear cargo area of any prospective cars during a test drive. Car dealers should allow you to take the car for a couple of hours, and if they don’t, find one who will.
Have a read through our cars section in this website and take along our car buying checklist to prompt you on the factors you should consider in a car for your trailer-free car camping. If you are not looking for a large car, you could also check out our best mid-size cars for camping review.
About our website
If you are a beginner camper or if you wish to camp with your family, you will receive the most immediate benefit from this website, especially if you want to car camp without a trailer or RV.
- If you have limited space at home to store your camping gear, you will be interested in our home storage solution.
- If you don't have a car, or the right car, for camping, you will be interested in our car advice, especially on sourcing the right vehicle through a borrowing, renting or hiring arrangement.
If you are a young adult or young couple, we can help you to start accumulating your camping and outdoor gear as part of a long-term trailer-free plan.
If you are experiencing other barriers to car camping, then please let us know. We'd love to see if we can help you and others with similar challenges.
While this site is intended for trailer-free car and tent campers, much of the information will still be of interest to you if you just want to simplify your camping and lighten your load.
If trailer-free camping and touring is not right for you, it might be for those around you - maybe your family, friends, children, grandchildren.... If you think this site would be of interest to them, do them a favour and send them a link! We’ll be happy to help them out.
No, we don't receive advertising or sponsorship income or commissions from product sales as a result of your visits to our site. The only income we receive is from your membership fee. Giving priority to specific products and services from which we can generate a line of income would be limiting and counter-productive.
Our objective is to help you to build an efficient and cost-effective camping setup by describing the suitable and readily available products on the market, much the same as an online recipe or DIY project. As well as camping stores, you will see in our shopping guide that many of the items in your camping setup can be found in thrift shops and department, hardware and charity stores. You will also find useful items around the home as well.
We also provide links to the products we think are best suited to our style of camping setup, and where we can, we link to the supplier’s page, which we believe will be the most accurate and informative. Of course you can go ahead and buy these products using any of the links provided, or alternatively, armed with our requirements, notes and suggestions, you can perform your own search to find the most attractive retailer.
No, we don't, and have no plans to, sell products other than our website information. We will leave that up to the retailing experts.
The only possible exception could be if there was a particular product that was difficult or more expensive to source by yourself. In that case, we may consider supplying that product, but would only consider doing so as a service to you, our members.
The fee for the Basecamp program is $395. The Bootcamp program is $1,395. See the benefits table for more details. All amounts are in US dollars.
We provide a money back guarantee to new members within 14 days of payment providing no downloads have been made of any of the documents on the site. Refunds are not provided on membership renewals, or monthly payments, unless special circumstances apply.
Welcome back! No you don't need to register as a new member. You can renew your membership by logging into your member account using your registered login details.
Do you still have a question or do you have any comments or feedback?
At Set to Camp, we are always striving to improve our website and our offering to you. We would really appreciate your questions as well as your feedback and comments.
If so, please contact us.