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Guide to touring with your tent and car


Planning a touring holiday means you have to take a step back and think about how to reduce hassles and increase the fun – especially if you are used to pitching up at a campsite for an annual holiday of a week or two. Touring is not necessarily about driving all day taking in the scenery through the windscreen. Instead, the changes in location enable you to increase the scope of your holiday by engaging in walks, activities and visits to attractions in different areas – perhaps off the cuff or planned as a theme and sorted in detail.

touring with backpacking tentsYou will have to think about your kit and plan packing. Nobody in their right mind wants to spend loads of time pitching a tent, sorting the camp and generally getting organised only to then take it all apart in the morning, move on and repeat the process. With loads of gear, it must seem rather like Groundhog Day. Instead, join the many campers who are now packing a smaller tent that can be whipped up and down quickly and easily.

Your tent does not have to be ultralight, of course. In fact, use your car’s carrying capacity to take one of the many weekend family tents that take the space and bedrooms available to new heights above and beyond those experienced with simple domes and tunnels. While the latter benefit from a porch of sorts for cooking and eating (bolster with a windbreak for extra privacy as well as fulfilling its main role) you can pick up something that is larger and almost as easy to pitch without incurring too much of a weight and space penalty. And they allow you to stand in comfort. You can often use them for the longer family holiday just by adding an option porch awning.

However, you might want to reconsider usual camping practice and forgo such space and kit. For instance, if you eat out in cafés and pubs you will only need a small stove for brews and basic kitchen gear to make sandwiches and snacks. Coupled with being out all day and you have to ask: do I need a big tent? It takes a different mind-set to enjoy a busy day, find a site, pitch your tent, have a shower and head off out again but it is hardly revolutionary. In fact, by reducing the amount and size of gear used will often make life a lot less demanding than camping with bulkier gear. And time saved pitching means you have more to spend on enjoying the holiday.


Tough boxes are great for camping hardware such as cooking and eating gear, preferably packed in the back with table, chairs, airbeds and tent. Soft luggage, like grips, totes and dry bags, is fine for things like clothes and toys that can be squeezed to fill gaps or transported in a roof box. Sleeping bags make for great comfort cushions for passengers but aim not to have seats and floor space jammed up with gear. Tactical packing means ensuring that last in is first needed on site.

ROOF STORAGEroof storage

Easy to access, roof storage is growing in popularity, as cars get smaller. Avoid the temptation to overload it and pack a few soft bags into it rather than trying to jam in one or two large heavy bags. Lining with plenty of polythene allows the contents to be well wrapped up and protected when it rains. Dry bags are a particular boon. Soft roof storage takes up little space at home.


Forward planning loads the dice in favour of fun rather than foul days. Sort out the route finding, keep all your important papers together, safe and handy and make sure everybody is comfortable. Everybody has their own way of making the most of car journeys but here a few tried and tested ways for adults and children to enjoy the time.

  • Allow ample time rather than set an unrealistic or demanding schedule.
  • Have plenty of favourite music – plug in the iPod or make up your own ‘car mix’ compilation CDs.
  • Talking books always seem to make journey times fly by.
  • Regular breaks ease in-car tensions and help to keep drivers alert.
  • When you pitch up on site, make a fresh brew and unwind before making camp.
  • Electronic games and portable DVD players are a matter of personal choice – I would rather stick needles in my eyes.

Be prepared for roadside car problems with an emergency pack. You can avoid the expense of a pre-packed kit by pulling together your own.

  • Warning triangle Needs to be sturdy enough not to blow over when heavy wagons roar past; a weighted sock helps.
  • Fluorescent reflective vest Makes excellent sense, especially if you are changing an offside tyre at the roadside.
  • Fire extinguisher Every home/car/tent should have one.
  • Spare fuses Sometimes simply changing a blown fuse can have you on your way in minutes.
  • Spare light bulbs Another easy way to sort a potential problem
  • First aid kit Make it fairly comprehensive, resisting the tropical medicine and covering the everyday problems.
  • Jump leads Useful when the coolbox is left plugged in and drains the battery.
  • Torch One with a long lead that draws power from a car accessory socket means there is no need to worry about dead batteries when you really need it.
  • Spare tyre Do you have to unpack the car to reach it? Consider packing the spare somewhere accessible rather than have to unload your camping kit by the roadside.

Some things do not change…

‘Remember that every item used for camping has to be packed, unpacked and repacked again for each trip, therefore be ruthless and weed out every unnecessary item. And remember, also, that every ounce has to be moved by expensive petrol.’ Caravanning & Camping for Motorists by John Yoxall, 1957

  • Tough collapsible storage options mean that is easier to avoid clutter and confusion in your tent and reduces the possibility of leaving something behind.
  • Pack a coolbox and flasks with everything you need for something to eat and drink en route; being self-contained saves time, money and aggravation.
  • Take the stress out of in-car route finding with satellite navigation. Plan, plot, relax is the order of day rather than mutual recriminations.
  • Instead of a bulky washbag, use a lightweight travellers’ washkit. They take up little space and are far handier to carry, hang up and use when you head off to the shower block.
  • The easiest way to keep track of key paperwork, tickets, credit cards and money on holiday is to use a neat document wallet. Keeping it all together focuses the mind on not losing it.
  • Suitcases can be a nightmare when you are packing the car for a family camping holiday. Soft luggage is much easier to pack away and takes up little space on site.
  • Tempting though it is to squeeze in gear around passengers, do not do it. All that kit will be converted into missiles in the event of an accident or sharp braking.
  • Avoid forgetting to pack key or useful items with handy checklists. Once made, they can be adapted to suit specific changes; checklists really do reduce stress and frustration.
  • When you need some form of breakdown assistance, you really need it. That annual charge always seems like a bargain if you give it a miss and the car breaks down loaded with family and gear at the start of a holiday. Bite the bullet and get the cover before you need it.
  • If your tent poles are not colour-coded, then sort it with insulating tape on the poles and matching colour fabric sewn to the pole tunnels – simples.
Share your experiences of touring with your tent and car - have you got any top tips to add? Visit our forum to share with our campers by clicking here.

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29/09/2012 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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