The multi-agency, collaborative website Recreation.gov offers an explanation of the term:
Car camping—or camping next to your car at a developed campground—is an easy way to enjoy the outdoors without a whole lot of pre-planning. Car camping allows you to haul your favorite creature comforts—coolers, lawn chairs, lanterns, board games, fishing poles, toys, etc., and pitch your tent right next to your car.
In our experience, and collective opinion, this definition is spot on. LowerGear.com offers an article on car camping which further clarifies that car camping does not mean pulling into a campsite and sleeping in your car. They don’t think that it sounds like much fun, nor do we. There are certainly people who have done it. There are even people who have gone through the trouble of modifying their cars to be easier to sleep in, but unless it’s a van, this seems so cramped to us. Part of the issue is that it would take at least two cars for all of us to be able to lay down comfortably – two cars other than the two that we have.
In our philosophy, one of the points of car camping is to be able to bring more comfortable gear, specifically a larger tent than you would ever consider taking backpacking. As a kid, when Mr. FamilyTrivium car camped in the Canadian Rockies with his parents he stayed in an old Wenzel cabin tent with huge aluminum poles – it probably took up a fifth of the trunk in the old family sedan. When the FamilyTrivium household camped in Colorado’s San Juans, it was in a more compact, but still heavy (11-pounds), old, 4-Person geo dome tent. It was crowded, though comfortable, and did keep us warm during the brisk mountain nights – we stayed warmer than some of our other camping companions with larger (mainly taller) cabin tents.
Another item that is mentioned on Recreation.gov is the cooler. In our opinion another advantage of car camping is the ability to go a little more gourmet with your camp cooking by including perishable ingredients such as fresh produce and meats. In addition to the cooler, car camping also facilitates bringing along gourmet camp kitchen items such as dutch ovens, other cast iron cookware, and an array of propane appliances.
Do you car camp? Do you prefer it to “primitive” camping? What do you like most about car camping? What do you dislike about car camping? Share in the comments.