Car Camping on Vancouver Island

When some people say "car camping", what they really mean is a campsite that is accessible by vehicle. When I think of car camping, I think of actually sleeping in a car/vehicle. This post will give you ideas and suggestions of what you'll need for camping in your vehicle on Vancouver Island.

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Camping fire pit

I'll start by letting you know there are lots of places where you can car camp for free or very cheap here on the island but don't abuse it. Sleeping in your vehicle or dumping your trash where it is prohibited (most city streets and urban parks) ruins it for everyone. Are you ready for summer fun?

1. Backroads mapbook

A backroads book is your friend. If you've never learned to read a map, now's the time! There are several spots on the island with limited or no cellular service so you can't rely on Google for everything. And many of the best free and cheap camping spots are found off logging roads that are not well identified on most road maps. In my opinion, this is one of the best backroads mapbooks for Vancouver Island.

2. A tent that fits your vehicle

Even though you plan to sleep in your vehicle, having a small tent attached to your vehicle will give you room to stand up, stretch and get dressed. It also doubles as a space to move all the stuff that you brought with you in your car so you have room to sleep! Shop vehicle tents now

3. Window screen

Being able to sleep with the car window open is imperative on hot summer nights but who wants all the bugs! These clever window screens are ideal. They snugly fit around your window opening giving you circulation and privacy. 

And if you don't want a full tent attached to your vehicle, these rear screens with awning enable you to keep the hatch open but still protect you from bugs and rain. 

4. Cargo net

If you're a parent, chances are you already know just how handy a cargo net is (in our house it is full of sports balls!). Just think how useful one could be hanging from the ceiling of your vehicle. You could store  bedding up there, maybe some clothing or even just your flashlight and books. Shop cargo nets now

5. Solar charger

Have you heard about the Vancouver Island woman who scared a cougar away by blasting Metallica on her phone? Well it wouldn't have been possible if her phone was dead. Having the ability to charge your devices while out in the wild is highly recommended and I especially like these solar chargers.  

6. Back seat gap mattress

Are you looking at that gap between your back seats and front seats wondering how to make the most of your potential sleeping space? If you're like me, you've tried stuffing it with pillows and clothing and really whatever you can find. Fortunately air mattress companies have given it some thought too and invented this clever gap mattress. It is ideal for extending your car bed for a more comfortable rest.

7. Sleeping gear

One thing that can make or break your car camping experience is the quality of sleep. Car camping can be awesome when you get a great sleep and pure misery if you don't. Invest in the most comfortable gear you can. Think thick mattress, warm blankets and fluffy pillows. I love my thermarest with built in foam topper and a down duvet instead of a sleeping bag. 

8. Camp stove

Vancouver Island is frequently under a fire ban during the summer season so you may not be able to rely on building a campfire to cook food. I love my good ole classic Coleman camping stove for multi-day trips but when I'm just planning to go car camping for a night or two, nothing beats these little butane stoves. They are compact but still big enough to hold a frypan or pot. Don't forget the fuel!

9. Dining table

If a picnic table is not available at your site, you'll want to be prepared with a small folding table like this one. It is perfect for preparing food or eating at. But sometimes camping isn't perfect - and it's pouring rain and you are still trying to stay dry while you eat. Check out these handy little tables that fit over the steering wheel. And for the passenger, this style would work.

10. Cooler

You'll need a basic cooler when you go car camping and the size will depend on the length of your trip, how many travellers and whether or not you will be replenishing supplies while you're gone. With coolers, you get what you pay for. I personally prefer a cooler that is well insulated and is rated for about 72 hours (3 days). If you pay more, you can get an electric one that plugs into your car's outlet.

11. Lantern and flashlights

A small battery operated or solar-powered lantern will be useful to illuminate your camping site but you will also need a bright headlamp for walking around. 

12. First aid kit

Cuts and scrapes and sometimes broken bones happen. Plan ahead with a basic first aid kit, suitable to your planned activities. Review this list for all your emergency preparedness items

Other things to remember when car camping on Van Isle

  • Vast areas of Vancouver Island are remote with limited resources. Be sure to fill up your gas tank before you begin your getaway and fill again when you see signs warning of long stretches before the next gas station.
  • Leave your trip plan with a trusted friend or relative.
  • Many of the island's camping spots have no potable water. Be sure to bring lots of cooking and drinking water with you and top up when you can.
  • To prevent your battery from draining, be sure to turn your vehicle's interior lights to "off". Bring jumper cables with you just in case. 
  • Keep your car keys handy. In the event critters visit your site while sleeping and decide they want inside, giving your car alarm a quick hit - it could be just enough noise to startle the wildlife and leave you alone. 
  • Usually it is recommended that you store food inside your vehicle but if you're sleeping inside, then a safer option is to use a bear box if one is provided nearby or hang your food from a tree about 150 feet away. This food bag hanging system would do the trick. Another handy trick is to keep critters away is packing food in these odour-eliminating bags by Smellyproof. 
  • Be sure to keep your site clean and follow the principles of "leave no trace". Pack out everything you pack in.
  • Be aware of the wildlife in the area you are camping and the recommended ways to stay safe.

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