07/07/2021
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How to pack all your camping gear into your car

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  Camping skills: More great camping advice and tips

With the amount of equipment most people take on family camping holidays these days, packing can be a major issue.

With a large tent taking up much of your boot, you have to find other ways to fit all that equipment into the car and get it safely to the campsite.

The reality is that most car boots simply aren’t big enough for amount of kit you would take on a two week holiday.

Cramming luggage in around the kids in the back seat is not recommended), so you then need to think about investing in a roof box or a trailer.

Remember, it’s illegal, dangerous and can invalidate your insurance if you are found to be driving an overloaded vehicle.

Make sure you don’t exceed your car’s payload by checking the VIN plate for the maximum permitted weight (or maximum train weight if towing) – if you’re unsure go to a weighbridge.

Our guide will tell you how to fit all the gear you need for a camping holiday into your family car


# Packing your car for a camping trip

1. Tempting though it is to just throw all the kit in the boot and hit the road, packing the car properly will save time – not to mention quite a lot of stress.

2. Have a think and make a plan before you start packing.

3. Avoid all the “Who forgot the tin opener/bottle opener/airbed pump?” arguments with a handy checklist.

4. Think about which bits of kit you are going to need first at the other end and pack these last. Ideally, the tent wants to be nearest the boot entrance so you can reach it without unpacking everything else.

5. Try to secure heavier items such as stoves and barbecues with cargo nets and make sure that any gas cylinders are switched to the ‘off’ position in transit.

6. Tough collapsible storage options for packing mean that your tent won’t be permanently cluttered – or your car for that matter. Cardboard boxes fall apart, get in the way and lack durability.

7. Don’t be tempted to squeeze gear in around passengers. All that kit could be converted into missiles in the event of an accident.

8. Drinks and snacks for the journey should ideally be packed separately and easily accessible in the front of the car.

9. Pack a coolbox with everything you need for a decent first meal on site. Being self-sufficient saves time, money and aggravation.

10. Think about where the car’s spare wheel and jack are stowed and try not to cover them with mountains of gear, which then needs to be decanted onto the hard shoulder in the event of a puncture.

11. Try not to pack your car to the limit. You probably won’t use much of the stuff you carry and it just creates more work and hassle.


# Roof boxes and trailers for camping

If you find you need extra load space in the car for your camping trips, a roof box or a trailer (or both) will provide you with more storage.

We've looked at both to help you decide the best option for you.

# Using a car roof box for camping trips

Roof boxes are fitted to roof bars going across the car and the model you buy will be determined by the shape and size you need, as well as the cost.

• Prices range from £70 to more than £1,000 plus the cost of the bars and fitting – but they should last for many years.

• A narrow box is better if you want to leave roof bar space for bike racks, and a longer box is necessary to carry longer items (obviously!).

• Knowing the exact make, model, trim level and year of your car is essential to make sure you get exactly the right fit.

• Any brand of roof box can be fitted to any brand of roof bars. All makers give a volume figure for their roof boxes/bags, in litres. However, take this as nothing more than an indication of overall capacity – with some being a little more generous in their assessments than others.

• As with most things in life, you get what you pay for with roof boxes. The cheaper the box, the thinner the material will be, and therefore the less robust and secure it will be.

• No one wants to be heading down the motorway at 70mph and suddenly noticing in the rear view mirror that their camping gear is bouncing down the fast lane after the roof box broke loose. Retailers like Halfords will fit it for you – at a price, of course.

• Central locking on a roof box sounds like a good idea but can actually make them more difficult to close. You need to make sure the front and the rear of the box are properly closed and at the same time turn the key. This is trickier than it sounds and might need two pairs of hands.

• Don’t overload your roof box. Use it for soft, light-ish things, like sleeping bags and air beds, rather than trying to jam in larger heavy items.

• Fuel economy suffers when you carry loads, but there may be an adverse affect on ride and handling, too. Braking distances could be longer, also.

• Lining a roof box with plenty of polythene allows the contents to be well wrapped up and protected if it rains.

• Do think about where you’re going to stow potentially bulky items like roof boxes and bike racks when you’re not using them, at home and on the campsite. They can take up more space than you bargained for.

• Know the combined overall height of your car and roof box; this is particularly important when you’re entering multi-storey car parks or travelling by ferry.

# Using a trailer for camping trips

A small camping trailer is another option if you have lots of gear to take. Remember, it makes driving more awkward – you won’t be able to just park anywhere you like, for instance – and there are speed restrictions.

• Check your car’s engine is large enough to tow the trailer and load.

• Check the brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely.

• Check the Trailer Gross Weight does not exceed your vehicle’s towing capacity. This should be in your vehicle’s handbook and on the VIN plate on the chassis.

• The addition of a loaded trailer to a vehicle will impact on your car’s performance. Starting, especially on hills, can be much more laboured; stopping can take longer and cornering and negotiating sharp bends requires extra care.

• Most comprehensive car insurance policies cover trailers, but usually only for third party liability when towed by an insured car.

• Pack the heaviest items, like tents, over the wheels and make sure everything is well secured. A soft or hard cover will keep everything dry.


Finished reading?

Want more great advice and helpful hints to improve your camping skills?

Our guide to becoming a camping expert is full of great tips and help.

  Camping skills: How to become an expert camper


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