Have you ever played ‘car tetris’? Squeezing every item of camping gear into your vehicle can take hours and be horribly stressful. But there is an easier way to go family camping, and I’m not suggesting a roof box or trailer. You can just take smaller stuff, and less of it, without compromising on warmth, comfort or convenience.
Our small car and tiny tent for two adults and two children touring in France.
Here are my top tips:
1. Don’t take piles of extra bedding
To keep warm at night each person just needs a sleeping bag, insulated self-inflating mattress, thermal underwear and a hat. If you get cold add another layer of clothes. Or put a foil emergency blanket under each mattress (they pack up really small and keep body heat in the cold out).
I used to insist on bringing two large ikea bags filled with duvets, blankets and real pillows in the desperate attempt to keep my children warm and cosy at night. In reality, these can get cold and damp with condensation and took up so much room in the car they ended up packed up around my children in the back seat. Its not safe to drive with the back seat filled with stuff and I’ve been surprised how warm my children are with just the basics on. They never wake up cold in their thermals, infact, we have found ourselves more likely to be a bit too warm.
The key is to use self-inflating mattresses which store your body heat rather than airbeds which store cold air and cool your body down.
2. Get a smaller tent
Do you really need a ten man tent for a family of four? Look at the pack size when choosing your tent, its so important. It’s easy to be seduced by a lovely tent you see in store then realise, after you’ve bought it, that it fills your car and you’ve nowhere to store it in your house. Plus it’s too heavy and large to lift on your own and will take ages to pitch. If you are buying online the pack size should be listed in the specifications so make sure you consider this when comparing tents. I have a friend who bought a lovely canvas bell tent which completely filled her estate car so her husband drove all the gear to the campsite while she and their two children had to take the train! That may be fun once or twice but not ideal for freedom and flexibility.
3. Don’t take a cool box
Choose a campsite which has a simple shop onsite or nearby and buy food as you need it. We survived two weeks camping without a cool box. For cold drinks we bought a bag of ice and chilled them in a plastic tub, and we bought a pint of fresh milk every morning for our cereal.
Cool boxes are so bulky, we just took a small lunch bag instead and stored the days meat/cheese inside.
4. Look for the smallest pack sizes
Every tiny bit of space you can save by choosing tiny packs adds up to a big space saving. Think about the size of your washing up liquid, shampoo, wipes, ketchup, gin (!) … everything in a bottle or box can usually be downsized. On a short camping trip you won’t use alot of anything so go small if you can. Or source a set of small bottles and decant your liquids into them. Old ice-cream tubs can be repurposed to store your collection of tiny but useful items.
Tiny things in little tubs. There are lots of handy items in here but mini versions which use little space.
Look at the difference in the size of these sleeping bags! Choose yours carefully, do you need a thick 4 season bag for summer camping?
5. Downsize your upgrades
Have a look at your camping kit, what takes up the most space? Can you source a smaller replacement? This year we have gradually changed our chairs, saucepans, mugs, cutlery, bbq, sleeping bags and pillows to more compact upgrades and overall its made a huge difference to the size of our gear.
My new nesting pan set takes up the same space as one regular saucepan yet includes 2 saucepans, a frying pan and a kettle. Hurray!
My aim to get everything into two tubs or bags, so we can have a grab’n’go kit, ready to be away at a moment’s notice. The smaller our gear is, the easier it is to store and pack. If we can eliminate the stress of packing and setting up we’ll be much more likely to go camping in the first place. And when we do we’ll be more relaxed, happier and have time to play.