Easy Ways of Car Packing for Camping: Tips for Beginners

There are many ways to get out and enjoy nature. For many, camping is the most perfect way to spend some time away from home. Some die-hard campers only take their backpack with them when they venture into the wilderness, but most of us prefer traveling to our campsite on wheels. Taking your car and car packing on a camping trip is frequent. It not only brings you to your destination but also gives you a whole lot of space to bring supplies along. You can experience more of the comforts of home when you choose to car camp and use your vehicle for all it’s worth! 

Just like many other aspects of camping, learning how to pack your car is a skill that improves every time you do it. Several car camping tips will make life easier, so if you and your international friends are new to camping or just want to become a more efficient packer, this article could be for you.

It doesn’t matter what you drive, we’ve found the best ways to pack all types of cars. With some careful planning and knowledge of what goes where you’ll be an expert at car packing for your next trip and have ample room for all of the essentials.

Make Sure You Can See when Car Packing

Packing SUV

Do not sacrifice visibility to use up all the space in your vehicle. Do not pack your car so full of gear that you can only see out of your front windows. It is a good rule of thumb to keep all items below the headrest to keep all lines of visibility open. Blocking your visibility could mean changing lanes while there is another vehicle in your blind spot because you can’t see out your passenger window; it could mean backing up into a structure, vehicle, or a person if your rearview window is blocked; none of these options sound like a great way to start or end a camping trip. Keeping all lines of visibility open is incredibly important when embarking on any kind of road trip.

How To Car Pack Different Cars

A Woman Car Packing

The size of your car will play a large role in how much you can take, but it doesn’t mean you need something big if you want to go camping. You can find success no matter what size car you drive.

Here are some of the common types of cars people take camping and how to get the best use out of them:


SUVs are usually perfect for camping. Whether you plan to sleep inside of your SUV or just want to use it to haul your gear, knowing how to pack your vehicle is of utmost importance. Nearly all SUVs are the same, so the make and model of your ride are significantly less important than learning the right way to pack it.

SUV Car Camping

Some basic starting points include packing anything in the seats up in the front, even if they’re not in use, as you don’t want things flying around near the passengers. The tailgate is pretty much a wide-open space, or a blank canvas for you to perfect the art of packing. Finally, don’t forget to make use of any built-in roof racks or secure other things to the top, like kayaks or tents.


A pickup is ideal for camping as there’s minimal space used by seats and passengers, and lots of space in the back. But, that doesn’t mean you should just throw everything in and hope for the best. The best approach is to store everything in large plastic containers and keep a rain cover on the back, just in case of bad weather.

Two Men Sitting on Pick up

Some people take their pickups a step further by building or buying additional storage. You can invest in a utility rack, bed extender, cargo bags, nets, and/or bars to help organize your packing and potentially add space to your vehicle. Depending on the size of your cab, you can also fit a roof rack which can give you even more space.


Although they are smaller than an SUV, most sedans have plenty of boot space. After folding down the rear seats, you have a platform similar to an SUV but without clearance. To get the most use out of a Sedan’s space, you might also consider using a roof rack or safely tying something to the top of the car. This will maximize space and save anything from sticking out of the back.

packing in sedan

It’s important to note that Sedans and other smaller cars aren’t exactly designed for roughing it. Be aware of where you’re camping and the types of roads you’ll be traveling on or the weather you’ll be traveling through. Despite this, Sedans are great on gas and maneuverable, making them desirable options for a camping trip.

Small Car

A Man packs his car with his daughter

Most people hesitate to take their compact car camping, but there’s no reason to! You may need to limit what you’re carrying and probably use the back seats for storage, but it has ample space for a weekend in the woods when done right. When you’re packing a small vehicle, it’s all about using every space wisely. Something that will help you to best use your space includes learning camping gear storage ideas, like nesting items inside one another or using compression sacks. 

Car Packing Tips

Regardless of what type of car you have, some tips are always going to be useful. Keep these things in mind and adjust them to suit your vehicle. These car packing tips are sure to improve your whole camping experience.

Plan, Plan, Plan

A Man Planning a Trip

Write a list of everything you will need for your trip a few days before you go. On the morning that you leave, lay all of the items out next to your car, so you can look at them and the packing space simultaneously. This will help you pack correctly and get it in the right order the first time. 

A list can help you to lighten your load as well. Identifying exactly what you need and not throwing everything you think you need into the trunk is a game-changer. Try your best to pack light! The DOE has stated that for every 100 extra pounds of cargo in a car, the fuel efficiency can decrease by 2 percent. 

Start With A Clean Car

A Man Cleaning the Trunk of a Car

Clean out your car entirely before your trip. Regularly, junk builds up in your vehicle, but starting with a clean slate is best for packing. Remove any items that you will not be needing and give them a thorough cleanse. Throw away any trash, wipe down the dashboard and steering wheel, and vacuum up anything else. Although you will probably need to do this again upon your return, starting your car packing with a clean car will put you in the best position for success. 

Storage Containers

Using storage containers, such as totes, bins, and crates helps to organize your camping gear both at home and on your trip. We suggest having a tote for each part of camping; a camp kitchen tote and a sleep system tote are great places to start. Your sleep system tote might include a tent or hammock, sleeping pad, pillow, sleeping bag, and lantern. Having a storage container that houses all the camping gear you need makes it easy to grab and go for a spontaneous weekend.

plastic storage box

Storage containers come in many shapes, sizes, and styles. The kind that you will want to use will depend on what you are trying to store in it and the size of your vehicle. Containers range from the extra-large 55-gallon tote to the tiny 6-quart box. You may also be looking to purchase a larger container that rolls, or maybe you need a waterproof tote; maybe a tote that locks would help you feel safer when you travel. The opportunities for finding the proper storage containers are truly endless.

Heavy First

Lay the foundation of your packing with the heaviest items first, and then pack on top and around them. Large containers that can support the weight of additional items should be on the bottom, and you always want to position your heavier items to low and forward.

It’s important to consider the weight distribution of your vehicle when packing heavier items. If at all possible, place your heaviest items on the floor of your vehicle and as far forward and centered as you can. This is a crucial tip to ensure proper handling for a safe trip. 

Leave Holes

It is kind of like a game of Tetris. Do not try to fill in every single space as you pack because you will inevitably have to go back and do it again. Try to leave gaps of various sizes. As you fill them, they will wind up once you think you finished packing any items you originally forgot or decided last minute that you could not go without.

Secure Loose Items

Securing Items In a Car Trunk

As the car becomes more full, smaller items start to fill in the cracks. For your safety, it is crucial to secure all loose items before heading out on your camping trip using bags, boxes, and cargo straps when applicable. A sudden stop or swerve can send loose items flying. For your safety and the safety of other motorists, you must use this tip. 

Zippers Out

Couple Packing a Car For Camping

Packing any bags with zippers on them so that the zipper is up and easily accessible. At some point, you will wind up emptying the whole car, but until then, you might need something out of those zipper bags. If the zipper is accessible, you should not have any trouble grabbing something you need. If you are going to live out of your packed vehicle and not unpack more than what you need for sleeping, you will most definitely want bags packed strategically for easy access!

Gear Versatility

Sometimes, your gear acts as the perfect piece of storage equipment when car packing. For example, instead of storing sleeping pads and bags all rolled up, unroll them, and use them in the packing process. Sleeping pads, bags, and pillows can act as a bumper between two items or be used to store in spaces to prevent moving.

There are so many different places where you can save space. You can nest your pots and pans for your camp kitchen, or you can store other kitchen items inside of them. Have your day pack ready to go with the 10 essentials and extra layers. This not only helps you save space but allows you to jump out of the car and head out down the trail without much transition time. 

Increase Your Space

Depending on what kind of vehicle you’re driving or what you’re looking to accomplish on your trip, you might be itching for some more space. Whether you are trying to haul gear, such as bikes and kayaks, or just looking for a spot to store some baggage, roof rack accessories might be in your future.

Biking on car

There are several different attachments for all kinds of vehicles. Whether you are interested in a roof rack tent or cargo basket, these accessories can enhance your car packing experience when camping. It is important to note that using an overhead carrier reduces fuel economy by about 5 percent. 

Timing Is Everything

You will want to take your itinerary and the time of day into account. For example, if you are going to be arriving at your campsite late at night, you will want your camp kitchen readily accessible, so you can cook first and unpack later. If you are going to be pit-stopping along the way for your camp food, make sure there are open spaces and a bag or tote available to hold your goodies. 

Maybe you have a multi-day drive ahead of you, and you will be stopping for an overnight in a motel or a quick campsite. You will want to have the things you need for that quick stop altogether and in an easy-to-reach spot. Think about timing and how it relates to the order you are packing things.

Snap A Picture

Packing Car for Camping

When you’re all packed and ready to take off, take a quick picture on your phone of the finished product. Referencing this photo can help you to save time and frustration on the way home. If you liked the way your pack job worked for this trip, be sure to save that photo and use it in the future to ensure that you pack your vehicle perfectly for future trips. 

Make Returning Home Easier

After a beautiful weekend in nature, returning home can be tough. Back to reality and the reorganization and cleaning of your gear. When packing your vehicle to return home, try and organize items in a way that makes this process much more bearable. 

All clothing that you need to wash should go together. Also, you need to organize and put into one space all the kitchen camp items that you need to wash and dry before putting them away. Furthermore, before storing consider wrapping in a tarp or a similar item any gear that is dirty and should go through cleaning. This will prevent it from dirtying your vehicle and remind you that you need to clean it once you return home. By planning it all out and putting things away in their correct space, the work once you get home to unpack the car will be minimal, and it won’t feel like a chore. 

Making The Most Of Car Packing When Camping

Man in SUV

When the trip is over, and it’s time to head home, it’s important to spend just as much care and thought packing your car to leave as you did when you were leaving. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be tough to accomplish after some time in nature. It can be exceptionally more difficult if you’re leaving with souvenirs. Car packing for camping is a crucial skill to perfect if you plan on frequenting the outdoors. 

Whether you’re camping a few feet from your vehicle or parking it and hauling your gear to a backcountry spot, car packing is an important aspect of any camping trip. Take your time planning and organizing the space you have to truly get the most out of your vehicle, and later your trip.

Car Packing FAQs:

What does over-packing your car do?

Overpacking your car will cause overheating, high fuel consumption, and engine damage. Overloading your vehicle will subject it to lots of pressure which may lower its engine’s performance.

How do you pack a car for camping?

Pack oversized items first. Secure camping tents and some tent accessories on the car roof rack. It’s best practice to place heavier items on the flooring.

Sleeping pads and bags are ideally placed in the rear seat, while kitchen essentials and the rest of your camping gear may take the cargo area.

Pack items low enough to maintain good visibility when driving. For easy access, things you need first should be packed last.

Where should you put heavy objects in the vehicle?

Lay heavy objects on the floor and closer to the front if space allows. Spread the weight evenly to avoid accidents during the trip.

Should I pack the car the night before?

Packing your essentials into your car the night before your trip 

only means all you must do is get up and hit the road early the next day. Some adventurers recommend car packing weeks before the trip to check off each item in their packing list, especially for road trips that last for days or weeks.

Wondering how to fit all that gear into your small car?

If you’re wondering how to fit all your gear into a small car, don’t worry, you can achieve this through careful planning and creating a packing list. A list helps ensure you only bring indispensable items you can’t live without during your outdoor vacation.