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Andrew is a freelance writer and mental health professional based in Chicago who is clinically obsessed with anything that has wheels.
There is no “best” way to camp. The best way is whatever way gets you engaged in the outdoors. That said, it's hard to argue with car camping, which offers something of a middle ground between a minimalist backpacking expedition and a full-on glamping experience. Bringing a car into the fold not only allows you to bring more gear—mountain bikes and cooking equipment, for instance—but gives you additional sleeping accommodations, as well.
Just as there is no One True Way to camp, there is no best car for camping, either. Everyone’s needs, circumstances, and interests range. Our recommendation for single car-owning city dwellers is going to be different from what we'd advise camping enthusiasts with a range of vehicles at their disposal take off in. Similarly, the overlanding enthusiasts are going to want something different than the families that do a camping trip once a year.
Still, we’d like to think we have some good ideas about what constitutes a good camping car: something that is dependable, adept at crawling over rocks and through mud, and, if we’re honest, has just a hint of steez to it. You’ll find that in all of the vehicles on this list of the best cars for camping, which range from cheap used church vans to elaborate, tech-filled trucks.
The 10 Best Cars for Camping
The Serious Off Roader: Ford Bronco (2021-Present)
When most people think of off-roading adventures they think of the Jeep Wrangler. So why is the new Bronco on this list instead? Consensus among reviewers is that it’s the better-looking and better-refined of the two while still being one of the most capable off-roaders you can buy off the shelf (also, you won’t have to endure a sea of Jeep Waves). The Bronco, then, is for the car camper who believes the journey is every bit as good if not better than the destination, and loves some challenging rock crawling and overlanding. The Bronco is well suited for off-roading in stock form but there is a healthy cottage industry of manufacturers that exists to offer beefed up suspensions, skid plates, roof-tents, and other overlanding swag.
The Urbanite: Ford Bronco Sport (2021-Present)
Not everyone needs the biggest and baddest for their car camping excursions, and if you live in a city, the bigger your car is, the harder it is to live. That is the raison d’etre of the Bronco Sport, which despite the shared name is a completely different animal from the “standard” Bronco. This compact, unibody SUV is powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder engine good for a combined 26 MPG and comes packed with trick differentials that make it surprisingly competent off-road. On top of that, it comes standard with a bottle opener built into the tailgate because Ford knows exactly what shenanigans you’re up to when you’re out in the wilderness.
The Technophile: Rivian R1T (2022-Present)
It used to be that a rig with a full galley kitchen was limited to the world of home-built overlanders created by dyed-in-the-wool outdoors folk. Rivian’s RT1 changed that with its “camp kitchen” (designed with the help of Snow Peak), a $5,000 option from the factory. Rivian has since halted the production of the option, but the fact it existed in the first place is telling of Rivian’s intentions with its first-ever vehicle. It’s also the only full electric option on this list, not just for its impressive off-road performance, but also the fact that Rivian is supporting electric off-roading with the Rivian Adventure Network of DC fast chargers in the U.S. and Canada—many of them placed near popular off-roading routes—for adventurers to stay juiced up while off the grid.
The Pragmatist: Subaru Outback Wilderness (2022-Present)
There is a world of people on YouTube who have modified Outbacks, lifting them and taking them off-road. Subaru took notes and used them to create the Wilderness edition of its popular hatchback, which gives the Outback 9.5 inches of ground clearance (roughly an inch more than standard) improving approach, departure, and breakover angles. Like the Ford Bronco Sport, the Outback Wilderness is one of the most daily driveable options on this list, providing a refined ride, a smaller footprint, and great MPG—the kind of thing you’d want in a daily driver, let alone an adventure vehicle. This being a wagon, there is a great amount of space for sleeping in the back, though there are a good number of rooftop tent options available as well.
The All-Rounder: Dodge Ram 1500 (2019-Present)
The unstoppable popularity of the half-ton truck in the U.S. means there is no shortage of great options. Why a Ram 1500 instead of, say, the Ford F-150? For starters you have not one but two hybrid options that will get you some of the best MPG in the class. What’s more, the RAM is touted as having one of the best interiors among half-ton trucks. Available air ride suspension is helpful both in increasing highway fuel economy and increasing ground clearance for wheeling, too. Half-ton trucks like the Ram make great campers both for their off-road capability as well as their huge payloads: deck out the back with a bed camper, pop-up tent, galley kitchen, or whatever else you want to make the perfect modern camping rig.
The Stalwart: Toyota Tacoma (1995-Present)
For as long as there has been the Tacoma there have been people taking it off-road. It is famously hard to kill, and though the rising prices of old Tacomas with six-figure mileage has become something of a meme, the fact that they retain their value so well speaks to their staying power. Additionally, the Tacoma is so heavily supported by the aftermarket community that you can build virtually whatever kind of rig you want with different sleeping and gear arrangements, and tough-as-hell off-road equipment. Even with their relatively high prices, Tacomas have great resale value, making them a relatively financially sound purchase.
The It-Kid: Mitsubishi Delica (1986-1998)
The Mitsubishi Delica is so hot right now, and for good reason: How many high-riding diesel-powered vans with a solid rear axle and two-speed transfer case do you know of? Because the Delica is widely known as an incredibly capable off-roader, and because it has such a spacious cabin (with curtains, no less), it's perfect for car camping—basically a living room on wheels. The rear seats fold flat into a full-size bed or can be arranged into a lounge-like setup for you and your friends or family. Or, if you’re crafty, they can be ditched altogether in favor of a custom setup. Either way, the Delica’s space, capability, and cult status make it arguably one of the best camping cars you can buy.
The Glamper: Toyota Townace “European Camper” (1989-1994)
“But I want running water,” we hear you cry. You won’t find any judgment from us here, which is where the Toyota Townace “European Camper” comes in. Like the Delica, this JDM import is based on a rugged van platform but ditches the standard van interior for a camper shell complete with a full galley kitchen and an indoor shower (there is no toilet, however, so you’re still gonna have to do your dirty work the old-fashioned way). This being a Class B motorhome, it’s still relatively compact enough to bring on off-road trails, a fact stemmed by its available 4WD system. If you want to get one, you'll have to look through auction sites and importers.
The DIYer: Ford Econoline (1991-2014)
You’re no doubt familiar with the swarms of vanlifers on Instagram and Tick Tok with six-figure Sprinter Van builds. Consider the fourth generation Econoline as the less obnoxious, and more affordable, alternative. There are swarms of Econolines on Facebook Marketplace that lived as former church vans and trades people's runabouts, and they can be purchased cheaply. From there you have a blank canvas to build out an interior to your specifications. Since Econolines are stupidly simple trucks underneath, they can be built out into formidable offroaders with plenty of options for aftermarket suspensions, differentials, and skid plates available. If you want to get a taste of what is possible, see what Hoonigan did with theirs.
The Minimalist: Jeep Wrangler TJ (1997-2006)
Despite the snub of the modern Wrangler at the top of this list, we’d never leave the venerable Jeep hanging. Instead of opting for a new one, we recommend the turn-of-the-millenium TJ generation which was one of the last Wranglers to be solely offered as a tiny two-door. Given its diminutive size, the TJ can finagle its way through tight spaces and particularly tricky off-road trails that larger, more cumbersome trucks can’t swing. There’s very little space for gear but that’s fine: with the right campsite a tent, sleeping bag, and campfire is more than enough. It’ll have you saying, “It’s a Jeep Thing, you wouldn’t understand!” in no time.