The 13 best vehicles for car camping

Our new world of remote working and social distancing has afforded many more people the opportunity to pursue work and life while RVing. But RVing when you’ve never done it before can be a large and expensive leap to take. 

That’s why many people are opting for car camping. But — before you conjure up images in your head of living in a van down by the river — let’s chat about how comfortable and cutting-edge car camping can be. 

There are cars camping with lux roof tents on top, vehicles camping with roof tents andlittle towable campers behind them, and even SUVs decked out inside for comfortable car camping in almost any environment. 

All of these new trends beg the question: what is the best car for camping?

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We wrote this article to help you break that all down — your options for car camping, the best cars to camp in, the best SUVs to camp in, and even the best trucks for camping. 

We’ve summed it all up with our list of the 13 best vehicles for car camping. Let’s start by defining modern car camping —  What is car camping and why do it?

What is car camping and why do it? 

best car for camping

Car camping ranges from simply sleeping in your car on a road trip to traveling in vehicles decked out with roof tents, outdoor showers, and even little kitchenettes. 

By building the best camping vehicle for you, you’ll create a traveling experience that has all the freedom of RVing without the accompanying hassles of driving/towing a large rig. 

People car camp for a variety of reasons, but the most popular reasons are ease of travel and ease of getting started. For example, a car camper can usually get into hard-to-reach places in national forests and public lands that are inaccessible for most RVs. 

Car camping is also much easier to get into than RVing because you can sometimes even use a car you already have! 

What types of cars can be a car camper?

Before we share our list of the 13 best cars for camping, let’s chat about the features of the best cars for car camping. 

Generally speaking, car camping works best when you have a vehicle with a good weight capacity on its roof and ample storage space. These two requirements rule out some compact vehicles.

Vehicles with AWD or 4WD are also great fits for car camping because they’ll help you get into the backroad lands you’ll probably want to explore. 

Another consideration is if you might want a car camper that can also tow something behind it.

What is a roof tent? 

One of the best ways to go car camping is in a vehicle with a fold-out tent attached to the roof.

Roof tents turn cars into the ultimate camper

Roof tents are super comfortable to sleep in, range in price from $1,000 to $4,000, and are generally very easy to set up/takedown. 

The other advantage of a roof tent is that you’ll sleep above ground — meaning you won’t have to worry about setting up a tent on rocky terrain or getting woken up by critters trying to crawl into your tent.  

Generally speaking, roof tents require upgraded cargo rails on your roof rack to more easily support the weight of the tent — which can range from 100-350 pounds. 

13 best vehicles for car camping

1. Honda CRV

best car for campingImage source: automobiles.honda.com

The CRV is an ever-popular and super-nimble SUV that has been a car camper’s dream for decades. Here’s the skinny:

  • Roof weight capacity: 125-150 pounds
  • Cargo area: The CRV offers ample storage space behind the seats and — if there are only two of you — you can fold down the back seats to create a cavernous storage area or even additional sleeping space.
  • Drivetrain: FWD and AWD options available
  • Towing: The CRV has a limited towing capacity of ~1,500 pounds meaning it’s not a great option if you plan to tow a small camper. 

2. Honda Pilot

camping carsImage source: automobiles.honda.com

The Pilot is a rockstar of reliability, space, and comfort. Featuring three rows of seating, it’s one of the best SUVs for camping trips with larger groups.

  • Roof weight capacity: Up to 165 pounds with the proper crossbars. This puts some of the largest roof tents on the market in range of the Honda Pilot.
  • Cargo area: Substantial. The beauty of having a third row is that you can easily fold it down to create a huge cargo area in the Pilot.
  • Drivetrain: FWD or AWD
  • Towing: When properly equipped, the Pilot can tow up to 5,000 pounds. This means that — in addition to a roof tent — you could even tow a small/medium-sized camper behind you

3. Honda Ridgeline

best trucks for campingImage source: automobiles.honda.com

This is one of the best trucks for camping because of its tremendous cargo room, extreme versatility, and camping accessories designed specifically for the Ridgeline.

The latest Ridgeline models look like pickup trucks but are built on a crossover SUV frame — meaning they drive like a car. This setup also means that the Ridgeline comes standard with a spacious four-door setup and a locking, waterproof bed cover that can effectively turn the truck bed into a large trunk.

And if that weren’t enough, Honda even offers a custom tent for the Ridgeline that’ll transform the truck bed into one of the best car campers you’ve ever seen.  

  • Roof weight capacity: 110 pounds — meaning this isn’t the best fit for a roof tent. However, you can increase your roof tent capacity substantially if you use a rack system over the truck bed.
  • Cargo area: The sealable truck bed creates a massive trunk space for gear, tents, and other camping necessities.
  • Drivetrain: The Honda Ridgeline was redesigned starting with the 2016 model year to feature either FWD or AWD. In model years prior to 2016, you could also find the Ridgeline in 4×4 models.
  • Towing: When properly equipped, the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, putting some highly versatile campers in your range.

4. Toyota 4 Runner

best camping SUVImage source: toyota.com

This long-running rig has been one of the best camping vehicles since the early days of car camping.

Its tremendous off-road capabilities coupled with cavernous cargo room make it a favorite of outdoorsy types the world over.

  • Roof weight capacity: Up to 300 pounds with the proper after-market roof rack
  • Cargo area: Enough to fit a large air mattress with the seats folded down
  • Drivetrain: Rear Wheel Drive (RWD), AWD, or 4×4 are all options depending on year and configuration.
  • Towing: When properly equipped, the 4 Runner can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

5. Toyota Tacoma

best trucks for campingImage source: toyota.com

This is one of the best cars for camping because of its nimble size, off-road capabilities, and substantial weight capacities. 

  • Roof weight capacity: Much like the Honda Ridgeline, the Tacoma’s roof tenting abilities lie not over the cab, but rather over the truck bed, giving you hundreds of pounds of capacity for a roof tent.
  • Cargo area: Like the Ridgeline, the Tacoma has bed cover and tent accessories that turn the truck bed into ample storage. 
  • Drivetrain: RWD or 4×4
  • Towing: 6,800 pound max tow when properly equipped

6.  1500/150 Size Trucks (e.g. Ford F-150, Silverado/Ram 1500)

best trucks for campingImage source: ford.com

Full-size trucks can be some of the best trucks for camping if you happen to have easy access to one.

We don’t recommend going this route if you’re looking for a new camping car. But if you already have a truck like this hanging around, it can be a great start to car camping.

  • Roof weight capacity: As with all the pickups on our list, you’d actually want to put the rack over the bed to give yourself a weight capacity for any size roof tent you want.
  • Cargo area: A plethora of bed cover accessories are available to create multiple storage options.
  • Drivetrain: RWD or 4×4.
  • Towing: Up to 12,000 pounds when properly equipped. But the weight of a roof tent and your gear can reduce towing capacity. Always check your owner’s manual to ensure you’re in the proper weight range.

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7. Nissan Xterra

best suv for car campingImage source: motortrend.com

This much-loved and — in this author’s opinion — highly underrated camping vehicle has long been a favorite of light off-road enthusiasts.

Nissan stopped making the Xterra in 2015, but there is a rumor it might be coming back again as popularity for off-road vehicles increases.

Nonetheless, a used Xterra is still one of the best and most affordable cars for camping that you can find. 

  • Roof weight capacity: 150 pounds when properly equipped
  • Cargo area: Similar to a 4 Runner
  • Drivetrain: RWD or 4×4
  • Towing: Up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped

8. Nissan Pathfinder

best camping suv crossoverImage source: nissanusa.com

Much like the Honda Pilot, The Pathfinder offers equal helpings of reliability, space, and comfort.

  • Roof weight capacity: 150 pounds when properly equipped
  • Cargo area: Similar to the Honda Pilot
  • Drivetrain: FWD or 4×4
  • Towing: Up to 6,000 pounds when properly equipped

9. Jeep Wrangler

jeep campingImage source: jeep.com

There’s no way we could make a list like this without including one of the best camping vehicles of all time. The Wrangler is probably the longest-running car camper on the market today.

And that’s not surprising. With an array of off-road capabilities, towing capacity, and a plethora of custom car camping accessories, the Wrangler is in a league all its own. 

  • Hardtop roof weight capacity: 150 pounds when properly equipped
  • Cargo area: The Wrangler is known to lack slightly in this arena, but newer models have improved on available cargo space. 
  • Drivetrain: RWD or 4×4
  • Towing: Up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped

10. Jeep Gladiator

jeep gladiatorImage source: jeep.com

A new entry to the market, the Gladiator basically supersizes everything the Wrangler has to offer. With a beefed-up suspension, engine, and a large truck-bed-style storage area, The Gladiator is a worthy contender for the best car and truck for camping that we’ve ever seen.

  • Hardtop roof weight capacity: 165 pounds
  • Cargo area: The Gladiator’s truck bed can hold a tremendous amount of cargo.
  • Drivetrain: RWD or 4×4
  • Towing: Up to 4,500 pounds when properly equipped

11. Subaru Outback

camping in a subaruImage source: subaru.com

The Outback has been on the best car for camping lists for decades now due to its ample cargo area, AWD performance, and impressive weight capacities. 

  • Roof weight capacity: 165 pounds
  • Cargo area: Outbacks offer some of the most cargo space for any vehicle in this class. There is plenty of room behind the seats and you can even fold down the seats to create enough space for a large air mattress.
  • Drivetrain: AWD
  • Towing? 3,500 pounds when properly equipped

12. Subaru Crosstrek

Image source: subaru.com

While less spacious than the Outback, the Crosstrek can be one of the best cars for camping if you need maximum nimbleness.

That’s because the Crosstrek can scoot around tight urban environments just as easily as it can national forest backroads — making this the best vehicle for camping and city living.

  • Roof weight capacity:  150 pounds with proper roof rails installed.
  • Cargo area: Not as spacious as the Outback, but excellent for a smaller vehicle.
  • Drivetrain: AWD
  • Towing: 1,500 pounds — meaning you really shouldn’t tow much more than a bike rack or small cargo trailer. 

13. Chevy Blazer

Image source: chevrolet.com

Chevy recently redesigned and re-released this old classic as a modern crossover SUV.

The Blazer offers a cavernous cargo area, sporty handling and design, and ample weight capacities — making the Blazer one of the best SUVs for camping.

  • Roof weight capacity: 220 pounds with proper roof rails
  • Cargo area: Good for a 2 row SUV, but some camping folk might find it lacking compared to a Pathfinder or 4 Runner.
  • Towing: 1,500-4,500 pounds, depending on equipment

Get car camping

When it comes to the best car for camping, there are many variables to consider. We created our 13 Best Vehicles For Car Camping list to help you figure out a camping mobile that’ll help you get on the road more quickly and nimbly than in a full-size RV. 

Don’t have a car camper, but want to see what it’s all about? You can rent all sorts of camping vehicles here at Outdoorsy. Or, if you have a car camper and would like to share the love, see how you can make extra money by listing your car camper with us

Happy car camping!

Try Car Camping With These Campervans For Rent Near You

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