How to Pack For a Month Long Car Camping Trip


If you are looking for advice on how to pack for a month long car camping trip, then read on.  I just completed a month long camping trip with my  family and I know we carried over 100 pounds of junk that we never used.  I used to tell myself, "If you don't have it, you don't need it.".  I am now telling my wife "If we have it, we probably don't need it."  No sense carrying all your prepping gear on a family camping trip.  Come to think about it, if I was prepping or if the SHTF, then I would not take 3/4 of what we took.  I would bug out in our van with a few 5 gallon bins of food, sleeping gear, water purifier, a full tank of fuel, and my family.

Having less items makes the trip more enjoyable because you will know where most of your gear is and you are not spending valuable time looking for misplaced items.

Pack your vehicle early in the game with less camping gear than you think you will need.  Use a packing checklist and stick to it.  Frequently used items should be packed last and be easily accessible.  I wish that I could follow my own advice when it comes to packing for a month long car camping trip.  I am a married wife and with that come a lot of give and take.  My wife enjoys camping as long as she has all her creature comforts.  Let me tell you, she needs a lot of comforts.  On the other hand, my buddy Dan who joined us later in the trip travels around the world with about 3 pounds of luggage that consists of an extra t-shirt, dress shirt, pants, tooth brush, shaving kit, and a few what not’s.  He arrived at Trout Lake, Washington with his entourage of 9 kids all stuffed into an extra-long Ford E350 van.  Granted, his van was bursting at the seams.  Given the plethora of kids, we had way more junk than he did.  It's a good thing that my wife is organized when it comes to packing a van.  She had his junk shaped up within a few days.

I was busy all month preparing the Ice Box van for our 4000 mile trip. I installed new front wheel bearings, new rotors for the brakes, flushed the transmission, changed the oil, rotated the tires, installed a new 850 cold cranking amps battery, and changed the rear differential fluid. My buddy Dan came through and installed LED lights in both the front and rear. He was able to pull dual dome lights from a wrecked vehicle for the front. Both my wife and I now have individual high output LED lights to use. In the past, the vehicle battery died because some left a door open.  Old style incandescent lights run hot and steal valuable battery life.

Store Camping Gear in See through Plastic Bins

I stored all of our gear in see through plastic bins that I purchased at Lowes. I labeled and number each of the bins.  The bins that were used most frequently were placed closest to barn doors in the rear of the van for easy accessibility.  The bins stack on top of each other and have ridges that lock into place.  You can find see through plastic bins at Walmart, Costco, Lowes, Target, etc.  It makes things so much easier when you see through the bins.

Store Your Sleeping Bags and Pads Together

Whether I am traveling in my Subaru Outback or my Ford van, I like to store the sleeping bags and pads near each other for easy deployment.  Since our van is so big, I layer the sleeping bags in the rear of the van with heavy gear on top to squish the bags.  At night when we are ready to go to sleep, the bags are already on top of the sleeping pad.

Get an Oversized Cooler For Storing Food

We found it more economical to buy a larger cooler than we needed because ice stays frozen longer when there is more ice in the cooler.  My buddy Dan packed his large 150 quart Igloo cooler with 80 pounds of block ice that did not melt below 50% in 7 days.  I used 30 pounds of block ice in our 70 quart Coleman Xtreme cooler.   The result was the same as the Igloo cooler.

Get Rid Of Clutter in the Passenger Area

This year, I stored most of our duffel bags on the folding bed to prevent clutter.  Whenever extra real estate space was available on the folding bed platform, someone would store junk in the open area.  The kids would place their toys, books, etc.  My wife started storing card board boxes from Costco full of food in this area.  I had strict rules that I enforced in what I call my "no clutter zone".  I was not popular until it came time to set up camp.

Our $1000 Ford van has really come through for us. It has 100,000 miles on it and I have spent good money performing regular scheduled maintenance. By tracking every cost on my iPhone Road Trip App, I am able to see the true cost of my vehicles. Routine maintenance cost money. However, neglecting scheduled services cost even more. When I changed the front brakes and calipers last summer, I should have installed new rotors and wheel bearings to save me the time from redoing the brakes a second time.

I spent a lot of time getting our gear in order and arranging it all to fit. I removed some of the rear interior paneling to make room for our new weed sprayer camping shower. The paneling was wasting a lot of space and was only cosmetic. I found room for the shower, 5 fishing poles, Coleman lantern, Coleman white gas stove, and a few other odds and ends.

Pack Your Camping Gear The Night Before You Leave

My wife is the proverbial procrastinator when it comes to anything that is time sensitive. She likes to cram. I brought all the camping bins into the house nearly a month before our trip and it appears that little was done to refresh them as she has been so busy with home schooling details for the next school year for our 2 boys. The night before we were leaving, she decides to drive to the Lemer’s to get some legally downloaded movies for the boys to watch and pick up other stuff. She still had not packed everything she needed or had her things ready to go into the van. She is always looking out for the comfort of everyone else.

I hit the rack at midnight and woke up at 5:30 to make my favorite chocolate chunk camping cookies. These decadent cookies are made with 72% dark chocolate, clarified butter, Redmond salt, ground almonds, ground pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, honey, and whole walnuts.

At 7 AM, I started packing the van. No matter how prepared I think I am, it always takes a few hours to load up. I do a cursory check of everything in the bins, the kids clothing and our food. My youngest son Zachary had the heaviest and bulkiest duffel bag. I discovered that he packed 3 blue jeans. We usually prohibit everyone from wearing blue jeans as they are bulky to pack and take forever to hang dry after washing them. He was being stubborn and claimed that he did not have any light weight pants to wear. My wife ordered him to remove the blue jeans and replace them with something lighter.

After removing the heavy blue jeans, he took it upon himself to change duffel bags.  He grabbed a 511 black duffel that is super heavy and placed his items in this bag. We did not discover this until we reached our camp site.

My wife always surprises me with “extra” bags that are necessities for her in the morning. Just when I thought we were all packed, out comes additional several bags for me to figure out how to fit into the van –school bags for homeschooling on the road, audio/video bag (cds, dvds, cd player, video player), tincture and first aid bag, handbags, hat bag, water bottles bag, book bag, fishing vest bag, hiking backpacks bag, toiletry bag, toy bag. She loves her bags! It’s hard to argue when she keeps us so comfortable and organized. However, I have to take leadership and not allow over packing as too much gear creates emotional turmoil. Being a minimalist who lived for 6 months traveling cross country on a bicycle, I know what is really essential and what creature comforts are. While 1 pot for everything works for me, my wife insists at least 10 more of everything that we need. We go back and forth and work on an amicable solution that satisfies both of us.

We took our time packing as there was no urgency traveling for a month in your own vehicle. We hit the road at noon and made a trip to Costco to replace a digital camera and grab a few edible items like chia seeds, jerky, and garlic.

Get Rid Of Bulky Items

Bulky items are taboo on camping trips unless you are traveling in a rv or pull a trailer.  Why bring 3 of the same item when 1 will do the job.  I don't pack blue jeans or heavy sweat shirts as they consume too much real estate space.  Diddo for bicycles, skate boards, and soccer balls.

My wife has an equity stake in thrift stores because the prices are so cheap.  She scores deals on books on tape, pots, pans, whatever else she can find at thrift stores.  The key is to not start your trip with bulky items.  Finding bargains for things that we need is a favorite past time for my wife.  She is able to buy high end merchandise for pennies on the dollar.  We most of our thrift store shopping until the final day of our camping trips.

If certain members of your family don't enjoy camping but come along because they want to spend time with the family, then cut them some slack by allowing them to take along comfort items.   Camping trips should be enjoyable.



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