Guide: Camping for Families Living in Apartments and Smaller Properties

Apartment living is commonplace in many parts of the world, and while not traditionally the domain of families here in Australia, it is becoming much more prevalent – out of necessity as well as by choice.

Living in an apartment or smaller property poses a number of challenges for families and others wanting to enjoy the great outdoors and go camping:

  • Apartments typically have a very limited amount of storage space for camping gear, and no space for a trailer or RV
  • Many people living in apartments don't even own a vehicle let alone one suitable for camping
  • Carrying heavy camping gear over long distances via lifts and stairs to the vehicle and back can be difficult and physically demanding
  • Drying out wet camping gear in small internal spaces can be problematic

Here's a news flash though! Families living in apartments and smaller properties are just as likely to appreciate the benefits of camping as anyone else, if not more so given their limited living and outdoor spaces.

If this all sounds familiar to you, then our Roadmap will be an ideal solution for families living in apartments.  This guide is based on our Roadmap, it particularly focuses on the above challenges and barriers to car camping, not only for families but for any other eager campers living in higher density properties.

1: What to bring camping – your camping setup

You might not be a beginner camper, but for a functional and cost effective family camping setup that you can transport by car and doesn't take much room to store at home, go to our camping setup for beginners article.

Here you will find a detailed list of items to include in your initial camping setup, together with advice and tips to help keep your gear volumes down. It's basically the list we wish we had when we first started camping as a family.

You will also find links to our buying guide to help you source many of the products listed, which by the way are NOT subject to any kind of reward, affiliate marketing or sales commission arrangement.

Our beginners camping setup is still functional and comfortable and will be compatible with most of the advice and tools available on this website. Many of the items listed will also be equally useful around the home as well if, in the end, they don't get a lot of camping use.

For ideas to help keep your gear volumes down, go to our space saving ideas for camping article. This article focuses on minimising the amount of gear you need to pack for camping, but it is equally relevant for storing your gear at home. In particular though, if you live in an apartment or smaller property:

  • Choose a smaller tent - or two smaller tents rather than one large one: Living in an apartment, the biggest consideration when choosing your tent will be the practicalities of how to dry your wet tent when you return home, which is inevitable if you camp often enough.

    If you have limited space at home to actually erect your tent to dry, smaller tents with separate annex panel accessories will be easier to dry than the larger two and three-room tents. Tents that allow you to remove the frames, such as your typical dome tent, will be even easier, allowing you to hang the tent fabric on the clotheslines and drape over balconies, doors and furniture.

    You will also need to choose a tent with a pack size that is compatible with the internal dimensions of your boot / trunk, if that is where it will be transported.
  • Buy easily stackable and packable gear - When shopping for your camping gear, choose space saving items that stack and pack efficiently, such as stackable dinnerware and cookware, stackable plastic storage containers, and collapsible items such as for your bucket.
  • Limit the volume of your kitchenware - Your camp kitchenware is also notoriously bulky and difficult to store. Follow our advice and your kitchen and cookware, excluding the camp / dutch oven and related bulky campfire cooking accessories, will comfortably fit into a container measuring W:60 x D:40 x H:30 cm (W:24 x D:16 x H:12 in) (note the container in the image below is smaller at 25 cm high).
    Those dimensions might seem tight, but not if you follow our advice for putting together your kitchenware container in our camp kitchen and cookware article. As well as that, all you need for your cutlery and cooking utensils is a medium size insulated lunch box (the Star Wars theme is a bonus).
  • Limit the size of your icebox or fridge: Similarly, the size of your icebox or fridge needs to be big enough to service your family or group, but no bigger in our opinion than W:60 x D:50 x H:45 cm (W:24 x D:20 x H:18 in). That generally equates to a 35-40 litre fridge or a 45-55 litre icebox.
    If you are going for a fridge rather than an icebox, you will find the three-way absorption fridges are much lighter in weight and easier to transport than a similarly sized compressor fridge.

    For more on camp refrigeration, click here.
  • Consider hiking style bedding: More compact hiking style bedding options will be much easier to store at home as well as pack in the car. Acquaint yourself with your local hiking store for sleeping bags and mats and you will also be equipped (at least in the sleeping department) for an overnight hike when the opportunity arises.
    Just remember though, buy the best quality products you can afford, and don't try to save space at home by storing sleeping bags and self inflating mats / pads packed tightly in their stuff sacks. Keep them loose to maintain their loftiness and they will last you for years to come.
  • Layer your clothing: When you have limited car space as well as home storage space, choose compact and lightweight clothing, and especially in cold wether, follow the three-layer rule with sythetic and wool-based clothing.
    More compact but good quality outer, middle and base layers will be as efficient in terms of warmth, if not more so, than a heavy and bulky overcoat, but it will be much more space efficient. Keep this in mind whenever you are buying clothing that might come in handy for camping, even if it might cost a little more.
  • Focus on items with a smaller pack size: When buying your camping gear, such as chairs, furniture, lighting, devices, games and entertaiment, be selective and choose good quality but more compact items when packed up. You don't necessarily need the smallest item on the shelf, but don't go for the biggest one either.
  • Every bit counts: Scrutinise everything you include in your camping setup in terms of size, including the small stuff. A small saving on one item might not sound much, but multiplying that saving across everything in your camping setup will make a big difference to your packing and storage requirements.

2: Storing your camping gear

One of the major issues facing those living in apartments and smaller properties is the limited amount of available storage space, both inside the home as well as in any storage cages or units provided in your apartment building.

Whether you store your camping gear in a spare room, your storage unit, garage or shed, your parents garage or an external storage facility, check out our home storage solution article for our tried and tested way to store your camping gear.

All you need is a stretch of wall measuring 1.6 metres wide by 1 metre deep (64 x 40 in). This area should provide you with some room to store other items as well.

3: Finding the right car

A common feature of apartment living is accessibility to schools, work, public transport, the local amenities and access to share vehicles, taxis and ride share services. With all of this so easily at hand, and more apartments not even providing car parking, hiring or renting a vehicle for your camping getaways can be a really practical and cost effective option.

If you are interested in buying a car, then by all means read our cars section and check out our car buying checklist.

As hire cars usually lack the useful roof rails and cross bars, your car hire options for a family or group of up to five will be limited to vehicles with an adequate payload or weight carrying capacity, as well as a sufficiently large internal cargo space to comfortably and safely hold all of your gear, such as:

  • 8-seater "people movers": These vehicles are commonly available for hire and are an excellent choice for a camping holiday for up to 4-5 people if a dual cab ute with a canopy (see below) was difficult to secure. They provide the two main elements we look for in a car - good cargo space with the third row of seats folded down, and a high payload intended for transporting a lot of people.
    As with most hire cars, they won't typically come with a cargo barrier if that safety feature is important to you.
  • A dual cab ute with a canopy: Being a "work horse", these vehicles also have a high payload for carrying heavy work / trade materials, and a very large cargo area which also has the added safety feature of being completely separate from the passenger cabin.
    These vehicles would hands down be your best option for camping. In our experience though, many available for hire are not fitted with the necessary rear canopy.
  • Campervans and motorhomes: If you are going to hire a car, consider whether going a step further and hiring a campervan or motorhome would be a better option, especially if you are new to camping and are still building up your camping setup. They are, however, not as readily available as hire cars and need to be booked fairly well in advance.
    Before booking your car, you will need to satisfy yourself that you can comfortably pack the car for camping (see point 8 below), and most importantly, travel safely to your destination.

5: Everything else

You've got your camping setup organised and decided on a camping getaway. Now it's time to decide on where you want to go, actually find that ideal campsite, and if necessary, book it. Like anything new and unfamiliar though, finding a great camping location to suit your circumstances can be at best hit and miss.

If you are new to camping, we suggest you err on the side of caution and start out at an established campground with toilet and shower facilities, drinking water and within easy access to fuel and a grocery store. Check out our article listing popular online resources to help you find a great campsite to suit your camping "skill level".

6: Packing checklist

Now that you've worked through the elements of your camping setup and decided what goes in it, you need to develop a packing checklist to make sure that you pack everything you need (and nothing you don't) for any given camping trip.

Our packing checklist for beginners is based on the items we have included in the above camping setup for beginners. The idea is to start with this basic checklist and personalise it as you go.

To print the document, go to the packing checklist article for a PDF copy or to download an editable Word version if you wish to customise the document to suit your circumstances.

The first "packing summary" section of the checklist summarises how a family would pack a standard car for camping. It suggests that some of the gear is transported on the roof of the car, which you would ignore if you will be hiring a car that does not have roof rails and cross bars fitted.

7: Preparing for camping checklist

Getting ready for a camping trip isn't just about your camping setup and gathering that all together. Although important, you also need to prepare for the trip, including attending to all of the housekeeping tasks that can often get overlooked in the 101 things you feel you need to do before you head off.

An organised and step by step approach to preparing for a camping trip can really save you time and stress, and you will be reassured that you are prepared for anything forseeable, and nothing important is left behind.

To print the document, go to the preparing for a camping trip article for a PDF copy or to download an editable Word version if you wish to customise the document to suit your circumstances.

8: Packing your car for camping

You've got your camping setup together, a suitable car with adequate payload and cargo space, a plan in place and now you're ready to head off camping. All you need now is to decide how you will pack your car for camping. Whether you are using your own car or hiring one, the principles are pretty much the same.

If your car is fitted with roof racks and doesn't have an enormous rear cargo area, check out our packing a car for camping article. You will see in this article that, for a family or group of 4-5 people, we suggest the car is packed and loaded as follows:

  • The tent and bedding is transported on the roof racks of the car
  • The clothing can either be transported on the roof, in any available space in the rear passenger cabin, or in the rear cargo area
  • Everything else is loaded in the rear cargo area, including chairs, furniture, tent accessories, kitchenware, fridge / icebox, food, lighting, tools, gas stove, gas and incidentals

Cars without fitted roof racks suitable for a family or group of 4-5 include vehicles with a particularly large rear cargo area, such as an 8-seater people mover or a dual cab ute with a canopy. These are also good options to consider if you were hiring or renting a car (see point 4 above).

Check out our article on packing an 8-seater people mover (which are readily available for hire). The same principles would apply if you were packing the tray of a (not so readily available for hire) ute fitted with a canopy, as they have similar cargo space dimensions.

To help transfer heavy camping gear over long distances between your storage area and your vehicle, use a trolley. They are readily available at hardware stores at around $50-$60 and are definately worth the investment. They will also help speed up the packing and unpacking process by allowing you to transport multiple items at once. They will also come in useful for other purposes around the home and when moving.

9: Pitching and packing up

Once at the campsite, you'll be pleased to know that you're no different to everyone else! Other really useful articles in our toolkit relate to the whole camping process once you arrive at camp. No matter the conditions or your length of stay, a well-planned approach to setting up your campsite can get you into holiday and relax mode as soon as possible.

10: Arriving home

There are numerous tasks we all need to attend to on our arrival home before we crash on the couch for a well earned rest. If you live in an apartment or smaller property, these challenges can be exacerbated when you need to dry out wet or even damp camping gear in your limited indoor or outdoor space.

The biggest challenge will be drying out your tent, and doing as much as possible at the campsite can really save you a great deal of hassle when you arrive home. Obviously, attempting to do so in the rain might prove fruitless, but if the weather is clear, as early in the day as possible:

  • shake the water off the tent as much as possible
  • wipe down the tent with a towel or cloth
  • scrape off any dirt from the pegs and under the floor
  • and finally, move it and any additional panels to a sunny area to dry, making sure of course it can't blow away in the wind

Packing up your tent into it's bag should be the last thing you do before you leave to maximise drying time.

As we mentioned earlier and in our tips for choosing your tent article, if you have limited space at home to actually erect your tent to dry, then the smaller single-room tents with separate annex panels will be easier to dry than the larger two and three-room tents. Tents that allow you to remove the frames, such as your typical dome tent, will be even easier, allowing you to hang the tent fabric on the clotheslines and drape over balconies (if permitted), doors and furniture. A blow dryer comes in handy as well.

Other options for drying out your tent include common areas, taking it to someone's place who does have the required outdoor space (together with their beverage or chocolate of choice) or taking it to a local park if permitted.