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posted on September 1st, 2017

The warm summer months are quickly coming to a close. Some students have already started the new school year, so time is running out to take advantage of the awesome summer weather for that end-of-the-year camping trip.

If you’re hesitant to drag out the tent for those late-summer, last-minute camping trips, camping with your car might be a great alternative. How can you go camping with your car, and what should you bring with you?

1. Pack strategically

Camping is an exercise in strategic packing. You need to be able to bring everything you need with you, especially if you’re going to be camping out in the wilderness. You may not have a ton of extra space for extraneous stuff, so you need to pack strategically.

Make food and everything else you’re going to need multiple times per day easily accessible. Store heavy items on the bottom of your trunk or hatch — chances are you won’t need them as often, and this will also prevent them from crushing smaller and lighter items. You don’t need to pack everything and the kitchen sink, after all. Just pack the essentials, and anything you might need in case of an emergency, like a first-aid kit or cell phone.

You’ll be surprised how much you can actually fit in your car. You can tie larger stuff, like your tent, to the roof of the car if you’re expecting good weather and your car has a luggage rack.

2. Don’t skimp on the blankets

Blankets might seem like they take up a lot of space, or you may think you don’t need them because you’re planning a summer camping trip, but you definitely don’t want to skimp on your blankets. Colder evening and nighttime weather can sneak up on you, even if you’ve paid attention to the weather forecast.

Even if you don’t get cold at night, you can use your blankets as a cushion between you and the ground while you’re sleeping. It might not be necessary if you’re bringing an air mattress along, but they’re still a good thing to have around.

3. Know where parking is allowed

Many campgrounds are set up for tent or RV camping, so chances are you’ll be able to easily park your car wherever you need to camp. You may find campsites where parking is not allowed — these are usually intended for people who are parking their cars and hiking the distance to their campsite.

There are some places along the side of the road, especially in national parks and other similar areas that allow overnight camping and parking. It’s important to check with the parks before you find a spot to leave your car. There are other places that allow overnight parking, like truck stops and some Walmart parking lots, but they don’t allow you to set up a campsite, so you should only use them as a last resort if you need to get some sleep while you’re en route to your destination.

4. Don’t forget the toilet paper

If you’re set up at a campsite that offers restroom or shower facilities, you probably won’t have any trouble finding toilet paper, but if you’re roughing it, you don’t want to be stuck without any toilet paper. Make sure you have enough for you and all your camping companions. If you’re going to be in an area where you won’t have access to a shower, consider packing some wet wipes to keep you clean and fresh until you find a shower.

5. Take tailgating to a new level

Camping with your car means getting inventive when it comes to cooking, especially if you’re camping in an area that is under a burn ban or doesn’t allow open campfires. That doesn’t mean you can’t cook some awesome meals while you’re on the road. You just need to gear up and take your tailgating skills to a whole new level.

You don’t need much more than a camp stove and fuel, a couple of pots, a good cast-iron skillet and some flatware. Add a sturdy folding table to put the camp stove on and you’re good to go — you can cook just about anything out of the back of your car.

6. Have all your supplies handy

The most important thing to remember when you’re camping — whether you’re at a campsite or out in the wilderness — is to bring all your supplies with you. Bring your food, clothes, supplies, and plenty of water with you. If you’re far from civilization and you’re worried about hauling large amounts of water, find a campsite near a natural water source and pack a water purification system or purification supplies.

Don’t drink water from natural sources without purifying it first. Even if it looks clean, it could potentially contain bacteria that could make you very sick and cut your camping trip short.

7. Pack tons of food

There’s something about camping that makes you want to eat a lot, especially the super-tasty stuff you cook on the campfire or on your camp stove, so make sure you pack tons of food. Starchy staples like pasta and rice are ideal because they keep well and they’re easy to cook.

Foil pouch meals are awesome, too, if you’ve got somewhere to keep your protein cold before it’s time to cook it — simply wrap your protein in a foil pouch with your vegetables, some butter or oil and some spices, and you’ve got a nice, clean meal ready to cook. Just toss it on the coals and wait!

Pack some snacks to feed those hungry mouths between meals — trail mix, dry snacks, and beef jerky are fantastic high-energy snacks.

8. Plan for rainy days

Even if your weather forecast shows plenty of clear weather for your camping trip, it’s not always going to be sunny skies — thunderstorms can blow up out of nowhere and leave you drenched and scrambling for higher ground.

If your tent is well-waterproofed, make sure you bring plenty of things to keep you and your camping buddies entertained. If you experience a few leaks, don’t worry! Just hang out in the car until the rain stops and you can dry everything out.

9. Four-wheel drive isn’t a bad idea

If you’re going to be driving up to your campsite, it’s not a bad idea to consider a vehicle with four-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Camping with your car is a great alternative if you want to take advantage of the warm end of summer months without hauling 50 pounds of gear on your back up to your favorite campsite. It’s not terribly different from traditional camping — you just need to pack smarter and be aware of where you’re parking.

If you keep these tips and tricks in mind, you’ll enjoy a fantastic camping trip to finish out the summer.

Kayla Matthews is a writer who enjoys playing around with the latest travel apps and gadgets. You can find more of Kayla's work on MakeUseOf, VentureBeat, VICE, and ProductivityBytes.com.