Want to try the popular trend of camping with your car?

The pandemic made quite a lot of changes to the way we live. We all got used to masking up, working from home, and staying a few feet or meters apart from others.

The pandemic gave rise to a few new trends too. Video calls and video conferencing became more widespread. People who worked 8-5 or 9-6 jobs started re-evaluating and many chose to start a small business. Those who missed the outdoors started caring for plants indoors.

In the automotive scene, there was one trend that became very popular in the last 2 years: camping... with your car.

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Camping is far from being a new thing. Those of us who were in the scouts as kids know that it's about pitching tents and getting to know nature; it was somewhat more like a field trip. Some of us continued that when we went to beaches that weren't popular party spots like Boracay, or those of us who enjoyed hiking.

Camping, however, is enjoying a renaissance. People want to go out and not have to worry about masks and crowds, and to do that means you go somewhere that is relatively untouched by civilization and where your kids can play and explore safely. No buildings, no paved roads, and no signal. And that's when car camping started to become a thing. Like, a big thing.

Chances are if you're reading this, you're probably looking to try it yourself with your family or friends. How do you get started? What should you buy? Where should you go?

After trying it out myself a few months ago, I thought I'd share some tips.

1. What's your car?

The first aspect is really about what car you plan on using because that will determine where you can and can't go, as well as how much you can or cannot bring.

If you're in a sedan, hatchback, or wagon, you can easily camp out, but you'll have to research the route and the location to make sure that your vehicle can make it. Use the satellite overlay on Google Maps to check out the campsite and the route there.

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If you're in a taller MPV or an SUV, then that opens up things considerably. You're not as concerned about rougher roads though ask around if a 4x2 (either rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive) can make it there especially if it's raining. In such a vehicle you can clearly bring more, and you can even configure your vehicle to act as your sleeping quarters if need be; some automakers actually sell an inflatable bed for their MPVs and SUVs that are a perfect fit.

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If you're in a 4x4 pick-up or SUV then you're really not that limited as to where you can go. Of course, you still have to be careful. Some campsites may require 4x4, all-terrain tires, and the use of a locking rear differential. Read up on how to properly drive your 4x4 before going to such locations.

2. Find a good spot

Since pandemic restrictions started to be relaxed and camping became a thing, quite a lot of landowners in the provinces have opened up their hectares to those who want to camp out and have a respite from the concrete jungle. It's actually getting to be a good business, as many sites charge an entry fee for campers and it provides jobs for the caretakers in the area.

You can browse several social media groups to look for these sites, and there are quite a few. Some offer a seaside experience where you can pitch a tent or set up your vehicle camping kit and go swimming. Some have lots in the mountains next to rivers, streams or lakes where you can actually camp and swim.

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Most sites are about roughing it; meaning if you hear the call of the wild (read: #1 or #2), you have to do it in the woods and bring your own means of sanitation. Others also have a basic setup wherein there are toilets and showers on site. Of course, the latter would charge more, but in my opinion, the convenience is worth it.

It really depends on what kind of experience you're going for on your trip. It's all up to you to browse, evaluate, and PM. It's the key, as they say.

3. Don't overdo the shopping

With the rise in popularity of car camping, so does the potential to overdo it by shopping for all kinds of gear.

There are stores dedicated or have vast selections of equipment for outdoor activities (e.g. Decathlon, HMR, Basekamp), and here you can pick up things like collapsing tables and seats, tents, sleeping bags, camping mats, cookware, portable stoves, so on and so forth. Honestly, when you first walk into such a store, it's easy to get carried away, pick up stuff and swipe for all and load into your vehicle.

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I would suggest that before going to such a place, evaluate what stuff you have at home that you already own that can be used (e.g. one of those portable butane stoves), and then make a list of stuff that you absolutely need (a tent, for instance) that you do not have. That way, you can keep avoiding impulse buys.

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But what was really noticeable was the growth of the automotive aftermarket that caters to car camping and glamping. Roof bar-mounted awnings, containers, jerry cans, portable showers, rechargeable power packs, and other related accessories are everywhere. There are even tents that can go over the roof or the bed of your pickup truck; I know because I was looking at one at the last motor show. And some are quite pricey.

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It really depends on how often you intend to camp out (e.g. once a month) and how much your budget is. I would advise that if it's just a casual thing like once every quarter, then maybe hold back on the purchases. But if you have the budget and really want to go all out, by all means. There's so much gear out there that you can shop to your heart's (and wallet's) content, which brings us to the next point.

4. Keep it simple

I've seen really elaborate car camping setups which really look fantastic, have almost all the creature comforts of home, and are really worthy of drone shots and IG.

As jealous as I am of such setups, the reason I tried camping is to get away from it all and disconnect for a bit. And even if I did have the budget for such setups (which I don't), I'd still prefer to keep it simple.

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Remember: anything you bring has an assembly time attached to it, occupies space in your vehicle, means extra weight for your engine to pull, and then has a disassembly time afterward. Any electronics or electrical devices you bring also have to be charged and then need a power source afterward. Would you rather spend your car camping trip setting up stuff or actually enjoying the place?

That isn't to criticize what others are doing; actually, I'm very envious of big and neatly thought out car camping/glamping/overlanding setups. What I don't envy is spending hours having to put it all up and then take it all back down the next day or the day after.

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Keep it simple if you can, especially if it's your first time. Bring food, bring drinks, bring clothes, paper plates and bamboo cutlery (or chopsticks), a means of cooking (a small butane stove and maybe a small grill), a few solar rechargeable lights, a power bank or two, and an iPad with some saved movies. An awning is a nice car accessory, but beyond that, I'd go for a good-quality tent that I can pitch on the ground.

5. Leave only footprints

This goes without saying: don't leave anything at the campsite apart from footprints and tire prints.

We want to preserve the view and the cleanliness for future campers, so have a couple of garbage bags handy. If possible, pick food, drinks, and supplies that have biodegradable or recyclable, or reusable packaging.

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Just before we left our last camping trip, we decided to walk the bank of the stream and pick up any debris that others may have left behind. Actually what we ended up getting was a lot of soaked clothes on the bank because of Typhoon Ulysses as well as a lot of discarded plastic bags from snacks that you'd buy from a local sari-sari store.

The idea is to enjoy nature, and it's always a good idea to practice CLAYGO: Clean As You Go.


Special thanks to Camp Well River Valley in Daraitan, Rizal