CAMPING | How To Fit Lots of Camping Gear in an Average Family Car

Camping Blog Camping with Style | Travel, Outdoors & Glamping Blog

When I first started camping many years ago, it was with the bare minimum of gear. As the years have progressed (about 14 of them, give or take) my family unit has grown. I’ve developed an achy knee and a preference for not waking up with the ground pressing into my hip. I might not be a true glamper but I’ve certainly become fond of camping with style.

A little while ago I posted my ultimate weekend camping list. When we went away a few weeks ago to Little Oak in Retford, I thought I’d document how we packed our car. It might seem daunting to contemplate packing so much into one vehicle, but not only can it be done, here are the pictures to prove it.

For the record, my current vehicle is a 2014 Nissan Note. describes this as a cross between a small hatchback and an MPV; other sites err in favour of referring to it as having a “small stature” and “a little larger than a conventional supermini”. It has a 325 litre boot space which increases to 411 litres when I slide the rear bench all the way forward. It has a 60/40 split on the rear seat, however for this trip I did not drop either of the rear seat backs.

packing list for camping
Want a version you can print? Download Suse’s Ultimate Weekend Camping Packing List.

Preparing my space

I slid the rear bench all the way forward, to give myself as much space in the boot as possible. Parcel shelf came out and went safely in the garage. Then I paused to refill my screen wash and to remove the safety kit from the cubby under the boot space (warning triangle, safety vest and first aid kit). In the event that there was an emergency on the way to the camp site, I didn’t want this stuff buried under 411 litres of camping gear!

Taking stock

We then gathered together all our gear with the help of my Ultimate Weekend Camping List and a cup of tea. Camping equipment was assembled in the back garden and checked off the list as it was checked, packed and laid out. Luggage was assembled in the house and lined up in the hallway.

Camping gear on lawn

Think about unpacking before you pack

This may sound contrary to purpose, but wait. There’s method to this madness.

Consider the items that you will need to unpack first when you get on site. For this trip we were arriving between breakfast and lunch. We took snack food for lunch. So we wouldn’t need the kitchen until the evening, or until the first round of hot drinks. We were taking our bell tent and we knew from the weather forecast that we would arrive on site a few hours before rain was forecast. We wanted to get our tents up as soon as possible in case of rain.

Therefore, we packed the bell tent and components (groundsheet, peg bag, mallet, poles) as close to last as we reasonably could.

Last in, first out.

Camping gear

Layers, methodical.

We started with flat and sturdy items that would fit well together. Camping kitchen, folded down chairs, rolled up tables. A sturdy Trofast container with loose items and to the side flat things. Pop up tent, beach shelter, groundsheet bag, deflated air mattresses, the poles for the bell tent.

car camping tips

The boot was finished off with a thick duvet. This provided a layer of padding to protect my boot inside door should anything slip or slide during travel and also provided a final layer to wedge everything in securely.

Throughout this packing I made sure I maintained rear view mirror visibility.

Car camping packing tips


The back seats

The bell tent canvas bag went in the footwell of the unused rear seat, along with the cooking stove. Duvets and blankets were laid out flat on the rear seat. The luggage went onto the seat itself along with our bag of cooking equipment. Sleeping bags in stuff sacks wedged everything in safely together, and finally pillows went in with our accompanying child to make it more comfortable.

Although packing the back seat did provide more of a vision impediment than having a passenger in the rear would have, I made sure that this obstruction happened behind my driver’s seat. This meant that I could still maintain good rear view mirror visibility.

Car camping packing tips

Oh darn it, the groceries

We did slightly run out of room at this stage because without thinking I had done the grocery shop for the trip before we left. With a massive supermarket only 10 minutes drive from our campsite, it would have been much easier to go after we had arrived and pitched up. We ended up packing the groceries in the front passenger side footwell and my husband held a bag on his lap.

Car camping tips from Camping With Style

Refinements for next time

  • We overpacked on luggage slightly. It had been so long since our last relaxing camp that I had forgotten how nice it is to just sit with my Kindle and read books in between staring at nature and going for walks. Next time, a bag or two less and we won’t miss it.
  • Grocery shop happens after we arrive on site.
  • Medium term we would like to claim back the rear seat rather than solidly packing one side of it. A bigger car isn’t yet an option, nor is a small trailer as I don’t have a tow bar. So we are going to start looking for a roof box to fit our square Thule roof bars – readers, find me on social media and let me know if you know of a good choice!