Top Tips for Vehicle Based Camping by Robert Pepper

Guest blog and images by Robert Pepper

We welcome freelance motoring journalist, author, photographer and driver trainer Robert Pepper. Based in Melbourne, Robert specialises in offroad vehicles and navigation. His books include: GPS Vehicle Navigation in Australia, The 4WD Handbook and 4WD Treks Close to Melbourne.  Robert has had over 400 articles and twice judged Overlander 4WD magazine’s 4WDOTY annual awards and is the Australian correspondent for Land Rover World and 4X4 Magazine. We look forward to more form Robert in the future. We look forward to more blogs from Robert in the future.

Here are some top tips for vehicle based camping:

1. Buy hiker’s gear.

The best camping gear is to be found at speciality shops catering to walkers.  It is light, strong, versatile and expensive.  The kit you find at the bulk camping shops is, in comparison, shoddy, heavy and specialised.  Especially avoid anything that has the word “4WD” in the product name, for example a “4WD camping mattress”.

2. Use decent pegs, guyropes and tensioner springs

A sure sign of a cheap tent is the pegs and ropes.  Very few come with quality pegs, so buy an assortment of much larger and stronger metal ones, plus a decent rubber mallet like the 4lb jobbie in the photo, which can also be used for tyre repair.  While you’re at it, larger tents need good guyropes and tensioner springs.  When the tent is shifted slightly by the wind it will pull on its guyropes.  If a spring is used there will be a little give, and the peg will stay in the ground.  If there’s no spring the peg will be slowly worked loose from the ground.










3. Two butane gas stoves are enough.

The humble butane gas stove is a classic bit of camping gear.  It is small, light, easy to stow and the canisters are readily available and equally easy to pack. Having two means easier cooking and if one fails there’s the other.  Less weight and bulk, plus more flexibility than carting a barbie around.

4.  LED lights are great for camping.

There’s no need to rely on 12v lighting, or big, bulky lanterns.  We now carry an assortment of small LED lights powered by 2 or 3 AA batteries.   Two of these hang from inside the tent, and others are magnetically attached to poles.  This, and headlights, provides all the camp light we need.  Easier than running 12v leads everywhere, and the LEDs last for ages.









5. Buy the lightest and smallest kit.

Do you really need that Commander chair, or the big pantry setup?  That’s why you’re running out of room.  Whenever you buy camping gear think about size and weight.

6.  Use inflatable mattresses and down sleeping bags

Self-inflaters are easier to set up, but far bulkier than manually-inflated mattresses.   The self-inflator is nowhere near as comfortable either – it rivals a full airbed, and folds up much smaller saving valuable space.  However, they can be punctured.  Down bags are not only much warmer, but pack down much smaller too.








7. How to stay warm at night

Nobody gets colder than I do at night, so here’s how I survive.  Firstly, get a good sleeping mat as lots of heat is lost through the ground.   Then get a down-filled sleeping bag, one in a V shape with a partial-length zip rated for below zero.  Make sure your bag has an enclosure for your head.  Wear thermals to bed, and use a sleeping bag liner. If you want to avoid the problem of getting into a cold bed then set the bag out, but not the liner.  Leave that warm in the car till the last minute, or take it to the campfire, or wrap a hot water bottle around it.  Then insert warm liner into bag, self into warm liner and listen to the others sacrificing valuable body heat to heat up their synthetic bags.  8.

8.  Avoid dome tents

The dome tent is cheap and packs up small

Putting one up takes a lot of time relative to other options, and if it’s windy or wet the flysheet can be a real pain.   Have a look and see how many long-experienced campers are using domes of any description, especially cheap ones to see how well they last.  Better options are myriad – quick-setup tents like the BlackWolf or OzTent range, or any of the canvas tourer tents which is what we have used for many years.  Canvas tents are spacious, tough, quick to set up, quick to dry and take very few pegs to secure.  There’s just the one skin, no flysheet, and minimal poles.  However, they are heavy and bulky so are best carried on roofracks.  All up, we find them the tent of choice for family touring and I’ve timed myself at less than ten minutes from switching the car’s engine off to having the tent erect and the family inside setting up the bedding.  That’s almost camper-trailer quick.









11.  An awning with just two poles

Want an awning, but don’t want the hassle of multiple poles and guy ropes?  Our awning extends out two metres from the base of our tent, providing sufficient room for tables and chairs underneath without obstructing the tent entrance.  There’s sufficient space to shelter the family of our, and to cook.  It’s pretty simple – a big tarp, secured on the centre pole at one end, with two poles at the other, each with two strong guy ropes and tensioners.  The sides of the tarp are pegged down with tensioners.   Ten pegs, four ropes, two poles and it’s survived many a windy night.

9. Boxes, not shelves

Every layer of shelving you build, or every drawer takes up valuable space.  Compare the exterior dimensions of the average drawer system with the interior dimensions of the drawers to see how much space you lose.  We have just the one shelf, with boxes underneath and on top.  The least-used stuff is at the back, and even if we do need to get to it then it’s not that difficult to pull out a few bags and boxes.  But because there’s no extra shelf or drawer system little space is wasted, and we have none to waste.

10. Cargo bay room is precious

The back of the wagon is premium cargo room – accessible, secure, dust-proof, protected.  Anything which can be moved elsewhere should be, for example compressors under the bonnet, shovels and axes on spare-wheel carriers, fuel in long-range tanks, water in all sorts of spaces and so on.  You can often store smaller items in other little spaces – our air compressor hose lives under a front seat, the water hose behind the second row, pegs and guy ropes under other seats, a tarp behind the second row.






















12. Decent bags

A good bag protects its contents, is robust, easy to pack, stays shut and just lasts like this canvas peg bag.  Without a good bag your kit is more difficult to pack.








13. There’s always a better way

Show me a touring 4WD that’s full and I’ll show you a better way to pack it and find some more room.  Of course, it’s a law of dimishing returns but many newcomers consider a vehicle “full” when in fact there’s much more space to be used if things are packed in different boxes, or in different orders.   This is a matter of trial, error, patience and experimentation but once you have a good system it’ll pay off time and time again.  Make sure whatever packing system you use leaves a little leeway – it may be possible to pack everything in your driveway using the whole evening, but consider how it’ll go in pouring rain and time pressure.  You want the system to work then too.


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