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The 10 Best Cars, Trucks And SUVs For Camping

David Collins9-minute read
April 23, 2022

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When trying to determine the best cars for camping, we can cast a wide net. Basically any vehicle can get you, your family, and your gear to your campsite. Sure, some cars and trucks are very well equipped to handle the challenges a camping trip can present, but part of the fun of setting up a camp in the outdoors is adapting with what you have on hand. That said, most campers like to be prepared and have the best equipment available to make their trip enjoyable and safe.

We’ll look at vehicles that are among the best in several different classes, trying to find those with lots of seating and adaptive cargo space, excellent mileage, and top-rated off-road and towing capability. Another plus is a fortified roof that can support a rooftop pop-up tent, or enough interior space for two or more people to sleep inside the vehicle if the weather is bad. Today’s car designers have gotten very good at making modern adventure vehicles extremely adaptable and versatile for whatever the road has in store.

10. Chevrolet Colorado

Best for: Midsize pickup truck camping

MPG: 16-19 city | 18-25 highway

Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Room for an air mattress in the bed

Starting with the 2016 model year, Chevy began offering an optional diesel engine on its popular Colorado midsize pickup — the only vehicle in its class with diesel. The following year they introduced the Colorado ZR2 package which greatly enhanced the truck’s off-road capability. If you like to travel distances over heavy terrain to get to remote campsites, this truck is a solid choice to get you there.

This is also a solid truck for towing. The 2.6-liter Duramax turbocharged diesel engine delivers 369 lb-ft of torque and 7,700 pounds of towing capacity, enough to pull a large boat. A diesel engine also offers tremendous fuel efficiency, in this case an EPA-estimated 30 mpg on the highway. Overall, the Chevy Colorado has become a solid player in the used midsize pickup market, and in fact the 2020 model won Midsize Pickup Truck Best Buy from Kelley Blue Book.

Search for the Chevrolet Colorado that’s right for you in the Rocket AutoSM inventory.

9. Subaru Outback

Best for: Versatility in a smaller vehicle

MPG: 26 city | 33 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Up to four: two inside, two if equipped with a rooftop tent

There’s a reason you’ll often see a Subaru Outback fitted with a rooftop luggage carrier or a ski rack and sporting bumper stickers showing off all the places it’s been — because this vehicle is built for adventurous people on the go. With a lower profile than the Honda Element or Toyota 4Runner, the Outback still has more than 70 cubic feet of storage space, and with the back seats folded down it can fit two people in sleeping bags if the outdoors gets wet or cold.

For a non-SUV, the Outback has excellent off-road capabilities, including a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance and capable off-road tires to support its all-wheel drive system. Most Outbacks have an X-Mode transmission setting if you wander into snow or mud. The roof rack is among the best, supporting up to 700 pounds, which can accommodate a rooftop tent for two people.

Search for the Subaru Outback that’s right for you in the Rocket Auto inventory.

8. Chrysler Pacifica

Best for: Minivan camping

MPG: 17 city | 23 highway

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Up to four with Stow ‘n Go seating

The minivan takes a lot of grief for being clunky and uninspired and perhaps rightfully so, but for sheer utility at a campsite it’s hard to beat, and Chrysler seems to have had this in mind when designing the Pacifica. The ingenious Stow ‘n Go seating allows you to fold the seats and stow them below the floor, creating an ideal flat surface for sleeping bags or an air mattress in case weather or bugs or creepy noises drive some of the crew inside for the night. Not all minivans offer an all-wheel-drive option, but Pacifica’s AWD will allow some capability if your ideal spot is down a bumpy trail. Add all the other advantages of a van for camping like multiple easy entry points and plenty of room for cargo, and the Pacifica is a solid choice for your next trip.

Search for the Chrysler Pacifica that’s right for you in the Rocket Auto inventory.

7. Ford F-150

Best for: High-capacity towing

MPG: 18 city | 23 highway

Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: 2 in the bed

For some, camping never involves the indignity of sleeping in a tent on the ground — they pull a camper or RV to the campsite and live in a style closer to what they have at home. There are many vehicles that can pull a lightweight pop-up camper, but hauling a large travel trailer or massive fifth-wheel RV requires a truck with heavy-duty towing capacity. The same applies to large boats, as well.

The Ford F-150 has long been one of the most reliable pickup trucks on the road, and it's been the bestselling truck in the United States for the past few decades. When equipped with the 3.5L twin turbo V6 and max trailer tow package, it’s capable of pulling up to 14,000 pounds. The tow package comes with a class IV hitch, integrated trailer brake controlling technology, and a locking rear axle for load stability. The F-150 comes in rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations. Once the trailer has been unhitched at the campsite, the F-150 is a comfortable truck for daytripping and also extremely capable off-road in four-wheel drive.

Search for the Ford F-150 that’s right for you in the Rocket Auto inventory.

 

6. Ford Bronco Sport

Best for: High-utility SUVMPG: 25 city | 28 highwayDrivetrain: All-wheel driveSleeping capacity: Only in case of emergencyWe’ll focus on the Ford Bronco Sport, as opposed to its bigger brother Ford Bronco, since it debuted more than a year earlier and therefore there are many more available in the used car market. The Sport is essentially a compact SUV that was designed to be fully capable as an urban daily driver while also having tremendous appeal as a weekend adventure vehicle. For the most durable Sport check out the Badlands version, which has a 245-hp turbo engine, a lifted suspension, and upgraded shocks, along with rubberized flooring and upholstery that is easy to clean. The interior space is fitted with several clever features such as a built-in bottle opener, a slide-out table, and a 400-watt power inverter. Ample headroom adds more cargo space and enough clearance to fit a bicycle.Search for the Ford Bronco Sport that’s right for you in the Rocket Auto inventory.

5. Honda Ridgeline

Best For: SUV that functions like a pickup

MPG: 18 city | 24 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Two in the bed with the gate down

One thing that can certainly be said about the Honda Ridgeline: it’s different. In a world that’s dominated by SUVs and trucks, the Ridgeline manages to be a little bit of both. What separates Ridgeline from true pickup trucks is its unibody construction. Some people like this because it gives a smoother ride, more like a car, and every 2021 Honda Ridgeline comes standard with all-wheel drive. These qualities brought some reviewers to call the Ridgeline an SUV with a bed.

While towing capacity and payload are less than traditional trucks, they are still adequate for most people’s camping needs. The 5’3”-long bed is 50 inches wide, enough to carry a couple of dirt bikes. Honda also markets a tent that is fitted to the bed, so you can sleep outside yet not have to deal with nighttime critters or wet ground. The bed also has a 7.3 cubic foot lockable compartment underneath, where you can keep valuables secure and dry. It also has a drain hole so you can use it as a cooler. With an excellent engine, as well as Honda’s renowned touch for overall quality, the Ridgeline can be an excellent truck for someone who occasionally needs the practicality of a truck but favors the ride and handling of an SUV.

Your search for a Honda Ridgeline begins at the Rocket Auto inventory.

4. Volkswagen Vanagon (Westfalia) Camper

Best for: Hippie road trip

MPG: 15 city | 16 highway

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Two-person pop-up tent (or just crash anywhere, man)

 

The original VW Kombi or Type 2 vehicle (Type 1 was the legendary Beetle) began production in 1950 and later became the Transporter and eventually Westfalia and Vanagon, which was continued until 2003. There are nearly as many variations of this “microbus” as there are actual vehicles because several coachbuilders built campers from the base vehicle and every individual owner had their own particular input and customization. Options included a rooftop pop-up tent, chemical toilet, camp stove, water storage and sink, and of course curtains for privacy, so depending on how much the owner wanted to put into it, the Vanagon was essentially a very small RV. It’s a cliché to call it a hippie van, but you could find dozens of these vehicles parked outside a Grateful Dead concert as late as the 1990s. But all types of people enjoyed the VW bus lifestyle, and the fact that so many have been carefully maintained to this day is a testament to Americans’ need to light out for new territory.  For longer camping trips that include a lot of driving between campgrounds or state parks, the microbus is a solid option, especially since it has the option for cooking and sleeping built in.

3. Toyota 4Runner

Best For: Large, versatile interior

MPG: 18 city | 23 highway

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Two when rear seats are removed

No list of great vehicles for camping can exclude the Toyota 4Runner, one of Toyota’s oldest-running vehicle lines. 4Runner’s body-on-frame construction gives it the rugged ride of a truck and excellent capability off-road. The interior is very big — nearly 90 cubic feet of cargo area exists when the second row of seats are folded down. All that space makes this a family vehicle without looking like one (ahem, minivan). The 4Runner has always had excellent styling — unique but distinctly mercenary. The Trail Special Edition is a good choice for camping with its Yakima roof rack and built-in cooler.

Check out available used Toyota 4Runners on Rocket Auto.

2. Honda Element

Best For: Large, versatile interior

MPG: 18 city | 23 highway

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Two when rear seats are removed

Although it was discontinued at the end of its model run in 2011 (it debuted in ’03), Honda’s unique, boxy Element developed a cult following for its funky looks and innovative versatility. The trouble is that after a decade out of production there are fewer Elements out there to pick up used, especially since owners don’t like to give them up.

The Element’s interior versatility is what makes it special. With a high clearance it can fit lots of large pieces of gear that might not fit in other vehicles, such as lawn chairs, hand-tools, temporary awning, or even a grill. At the time Honda marketed an optional six-person tent that fit off the back of the vehicle, so if you can find one of those all the better. Or, you can sleep inside because the rear seats are removable, which also frees up space for even more and larger items to bring into and out of camp. The floors and upholstery were designed for easy cleaning, and access is great through barn-style doors on either side.

1. Jeep Wrangler

Best For: Remote landscape camping

MPG: 17 city | 25 highway

Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive/four-wheel drive

Sleeping capacity: Two if equipped with an aftermarket rooftop tent

While it is now getting worthy competition from the new Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler has established itself as an iconic American brand and the most capable American-made off-road vehicle today. To get to your campsite in the most remote country over the most difficult terrain, the Wrangler is the best choice to get you there. The modern Jeep Wrangler goes back to 1986, but its ancestors stretch back to World War II. The current model JL Wrangler (2018 to present) and the recent JK Wrangler (2007 – 2017) constitute the most available used vehicles today, but previous versions are still highly prized by enthusiasts. An entire culture has grown up around the Wrangler, making it one of the most customized vehicles in the world.

While the best-equipped Wranglers right out of the factory are more than a match for most off-road driving, you can always make them more durable by adding aftermarket wheels and tires, skid plates, brush guards, and lifted suspensions. Once you’ve conquered a rocky trail and reached your camp, the Wrangler is well-equipped with practical features to meet most challenges in the bush. The roof is fortified to support a rooftop tent, as well, and if you haven’t taken the doors and roof off and flipped the windshield down, you’re doing it wrong.

Shop the Rocket Auto inventory to find a used Jeep Wrangler that meets your needs.

The Bottom Line: The Right Vehicle Makes Camping More Fun

Part of the fun of camping is adapting to events and your surroundings. At home, where we stick to a routine, we are seemingly ready for everything. But in the woods, or at the beach, or at a lakeside campsite at the far end of a long, mountainous trail, we get to break out of our routines and adapt to a new, temporary home. The best cars and trucks are equipped to help us handle the challenges — and there are always challenges — that come up at a secluded campsite, sometimes at night or in inclement weather. The best and most enjoyable camping requires preparation. Depending on where you like to camp and what you enjoy doing once you get there, having the right vehicle is a large part of the plan that makes everything else go a little smoother.

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David Collins

David Collins is a staff writer for Rocket Auto with experience in publishing as well as communications, public relations, and web content creation for automotive manufacturing. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan.