A whopping 41.8 million people did a little car, RV, or backyard camping in 2017, and half of them spent the whole weekend doing it. Some of them probably had more fun than others. The folks who forgot a pillow, for instance? 97% chance they spent the night cursing the gods.
Anyway, what we’re saying is, your gear matters. If you bring the equipment and tools you need for a successful car camping trip, on the other hand, you can have a great time unplugging and making s’mores.
From installing one of the best tonneau covers on your truck to choosing a memory foam mattress pad, we know you have what it takes to pack strategically. If you need a place to start, check out these car camping essentials. The road trip playlist you’ll have to take care of yourself.
How to Create a Home Away From Home
Car camping in an SUV or large sedan gives you a certain amount of built-in protection, but if you’re camping in a truck you’re open to the elements. Unless, of course, you install a truck tent. Which we highly recommend. Truck tents can typically sleep two people comfortably and leave room for an air mattress and other comfort amenities.
Some of the most popular truck tents on AutoAnything include the Napier Backroadz Truck Tent and ProZ Premium Truck Tent. These options, and many of the other truck tents we offer, have features that simply make life easier while you’re living out of your truck for a few days.
For instance, your new truck tent can:
- Enclose the entire truck bed. This keeps moisture, bugs, and other elements out of your hair (literally and figuratively) while you’re in the tent. You can also stay warmer without wearing 17 layers.
- Allow in fresh air with the windows open. Like a traditional tent, you’ll have access to windows with a mesh screen that let you keep the tent aired out while the weather is nice.
- Give you fast access to the rest of your campsite. Truck tents have a huge entrance right at your tailgate. You can leave it open during the day to get in and out as needed.
- Provide ample headroom. Some truck tents have well over 5” of vertical space, so some campers can stand all the way up in the tent when they want to.
- Be safely secured to your truck at multiple points. You don’t have to worry about your tent blowing away when you’re not in it.
- Be installed and removed in just minutes. If you want to take your tent down while you go for a hike so you can put your hard tonneau cover back in place, it’s not a big deal.
How To Stay Warm Without Turning on the Heat
The number one rule to staying happy while you’re car camping is to remain warm and cozy. But you don’t want to run the vehicle’s heat all night and burn through your gas. And, if you’re in your truck, that would be futile anyway.
Thankfully, you can stay warm making sure you’re equipped with the right tools to maintain body heat (especially overnight).
Big blankets are a popular way to snuggle up when it gets windy or the sun goes down, and you can’t underestimate the power of a good pair of socks. Storing it all beneath a hard tonneau cover helps your sleeping materials stay dry on the way to the camping site.
Here are some of our general rules for staying warm while car camping:
- Put some reflective foam in your windows. You can pick this stuff up from your local home improvement store and it will keep your car or truck much more comfortable in the winter. Or you can take a look at some of our sun shades that you know will fit your windshield.
- Pack extra wool blankets. Or, if you want to wear your blanket around your body around your fire pit, make choose a camping blanket with water resistance so it won’t get musty from being in the morning dew.
- Make sure you use a sleeping bag and mat that are rated appropriately. A zero degree bag will have you sweating bullets in the summer heat, but a 40-degree bag just won’t cut it for 4 season camping. And remember, women sleep cold, so subtract another 10 degrees from the predicted temps for the ladies.
- Use an awning wind break to keep nighttime wind from keeping you awake. Whether you’re sleeping in the cab of your car, truck, or SUV, or you’ve got a tent in the bed of your truck, an awning is a good idea. The accessory also provides great shade during the day.
Where to Store All Your Stuff (Including Your Snack Haul)
Once you’ve figured out how to be warm, start strategizing for how you’ll bring all your camping essentials along.
Your biggest asset when it comes to car camping is a solid roof rack. Vehicle accessories like the ROLA Vortex Roof Mounted Cargo Basket and Yakima MegaWarrior Cargo Basket let you safely transport everything from your mattress to a bin of cooking supplies to your bicycles efficiently and safely. Consider a stretch cargo net to secure your bulkier items both in transit and while you’re parked and camping.
If you’ll be traveling in a truck and sleeping in the storage bed beneath the stars, consider getting one of the top folding or retractable truck tonneau covers. These covers keep your belongings covered in while you’re driving, then tuck neatly behind the truck cab.
You’ll have all the room you need to create a mini-home for the next few days in the back of your truck.
Enjoy Total Security for Peace of Mind
Using one of the best tonneau covers for your vehicle will instantly upgrade your entire car camping experience. No, really.
Not only can hard top tonneau covers haul stuff both under and on top of the cover (so you can definitely bring a few extra chairs), but they keep everything on lockdown while you’re out on a day hike. The most popular tonneau covers on AutoAnything have features like double deadbolt locks, watertight seals on all four sides, and impenetrable covers.
Having a tonneau cover when you’re camping helps you:
- Keep your essentials safe while you’re driving to your campsite. You can stop for dinner and rest assured that everything beneath the cover will be safe and sound. And you can drive through a thunderstorm without having to bust out a tarp.
- Get good gas mileage on your trip. Tonneau covers are super aerodynamic by nature. If you don’t choose to haul anything on top of the cover, you may just see an increase in your MPG this weekend.
- Have a way to lock down your campsite whenever you want. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your truck tent installed and your belongings strewn about the campsite — you can tuck everything back under your tonneau cover while you go out for a 6-hour hike. That keeps bears (though we also recommend appropriate bear canisters here), other campers, and surprise torrential downpours away from your trail mix and down puffy.
- Allow you full access to the truck bed without hassle. Your tonneau cover does double duty when you’re camping. It provides cover for your gear while you’re en route or away from your campsite, but it also gets the heck out of the way so you can turn your truck bed into an actual bed. An easily retractable or removable tonneau is ideal.
Here are some of our most popular tonneau covers for all types of trucks. These covers can be customized to fit the precise dimensions of your vehicle.
This hard top tonneau cover is paint-matched to your vehicle, so it looks OE. It has a carpet-lined underside so it never scratches your camping equipment, and the ergonomic handle makes it easy to lift the cover with one hand. Perfect for those times you’ve cracked a cold one while setting up camp.
Full perimeter seals keep rain out of the cargo area. Best of all, despite how durable it is, the tonneau cover can be removed in minutes without the use of tools.
Price: $1,729 – $2,149
This is an intense tonneau cover. While it might not be the most convenient option for car campers, we had to mention it because the security and weatherproofing is so good. You can remove the truck tonneau cover in 10 minutes, but installation takes about 45.
You may want to spring for the ground tent and sleep sound knowing everything over in the truck is safe. Because the strength and security can’t be beat. It has a load-bearing potential of 1600 pounds and is constructed from diamond-plate aluminum. The tonneau cover can be opened from either end for easy access to your camping gear, and there are two deadbolt locks.
Finally, a gutter system guides water and other moisture away from the truck bed and back to the ground where it belongs.
Price: $969.88 – $1,029.88
This cover folds up and tucks against your truck cab, so you don’t have to remove it to sleep in the truck bed during your trip, if you want. The black cover is also UV resistant, so it won’t crack or fade or burn your hand when you try to open it. You can even install this tonneau with almost any bed extender or under-the-rail bed liner.
Truck campers will be happy that the cover has premium-density foam in the center, making it 1.5x thicker than the standard BAKFlip G2 model — no one can get to your gear, and it won’t melt along the way because the summer heat penetrates the cover.
Price: $268.00 – $292.99
First things first, the price for this model is obviously right on the money. If you’d rather spend your cash on an upgraded tent or some adirondack chairs for bonfire seating, you’re in luck.
Secondly, the soft cover has tear-proof vinyl on top that is double-sided and can prevent rain from getting into the truck in most conditions. The cover closes using a snap-clip style. For campers, what’s great is that you can fold it up and rest it at the back of the bed. You’ll still have room for your truck tent or other sleep setup. You just need to make sure the measurements are compatible before you hit the trail.
Price: $1,128.95 – $1,188.59
A retractable tonneau cover can offer the best of all worlds for a car camper. It has a hard outside, yet it can fully retract to the back of your truck bed like a roll-up cover. You keep water and racoons out, and you can still fit your entire air mattress in the back without having to remove the tonneau.
This particular model is popular thanks to its built-in water channels and power springs. You can also get the cover custom-fit for your truck’s exact make and model.
Ready for your next car camping adventure? It doesn’t matter if you’re headed to Yosemite or a state park a few towns over — you’ll want to get some car camping essentials to stay safe and comfortable. The best tonneau covers for car and truck camping are a good place to start. They keep your belongings dry and secure on the road.
Stock up on cargo nets, truck tents, tonneau covers, and more today at AutoAnything! When you buy your supplies right here, you’re always protected by our Price Match Guarantee. If you find a lower price tag on the same item somewhere else within a year, we’ll beat it by $1. That’s more money for marshmallows, is what that is.