Whether you plan to rough it in Ontario’s remote camping parks or stay in the more developed campgrounds near Toronto, camping is a great way to connect with nature and get a little taste of living in the wild. Plus, camping can make a long road trip a little less expensive when compared to hotel hopping.
When planning a camping trip, you need a vehicle that’s up to the task of doubling as a camping car. No, not a car you can necessarily sleep in, but one that can handle hauling your gear and off-the-beaten-path driving.
Camping is a personal thing, and everyone does it a little differently. Some prefer the roughing-it style of a tent, a few sleeping bags, and other basic necessities. Others prefer the glamping life, including a loaded-up camper with a full bathroom, kitchenette, fridge, television, and other home-like niceties.
Choosing the right camping car depends on the type of camper you are. Below, we'll explore the most common types of campers and the suitable camping cars for each one.
As an off-the-grid camper, you’re all about backpacking through backcountry areas. You keep your equipment to a minimum and rely on your skills to gather and prepare food rather than bring food along with you. You also take a minimalist approach to living quarters. You’re perfectly fine with a DIY campsite and a small tent that’s just large enough to sleep in.
Because you’ll need to focus on getting to these remote campsites instead of hauling gear to them, you want to focus on off-road prowess. You need a legit off-road SUV or pickup with four-wheel drive and plenty of ground clearance to tackle deep ruts, sticky mud, and maybe even some mild water fording.
Here are three vehicles perfect for backcountry camping:
The first model that comes to mind when considering off-roading is the Jeep Wrangler. With tried-and-tested trail-busting capabilities, the ability to handle some water fording (driving through shallow water), and enough cargo room to handle a tent and basic supplies, the Jeep Wrangler will tick most off-the-grid camper’s boxes.
Plus, with its in-floor removable drain plugs and water-safe carpeting, the Wrangler’s interior fears no mud.
Jeep is a brand built for the outdoors, and the family-friendly Cherokee lets you get in on the fun. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is not only quite comfortable on long road trips, but its upgraded suspension and four-wheel drive are plenty competent off the beaten path. It can even handle up to 50 cm of water fording.
On top of its off-road capabilities and comfortable ride, the Cherokee Trailhawk also offers enough cargo room for a medium-size tent and all your gear. Plus, there's no shortage of cargo-hauling accessories, like roof-top haulers.
With the Cherokee Trailhawk’s 115-volt power outlet, you can power small items right at your campsite, and its standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offer smartphone-based navigation so you won’t get lost.
The Toyota 4Runner has remained mostly unchanged for well over a decade. While this means it may look a little dated, it also means it’s well-tested off the beaten path. It boasts a 270-horsepower 4.0-litre engine, giving you plenty of power to tackle the toughest of trails, and its available full-time four-wheel drive ensures mud is no match for you. You also get up to 2,540 litres of cargo room, so you can bring all your camping gear.
If you plan to head deep into the woods and encounter really rough terrain, you can opt for the TRD Off-Road Package, which adds upgraded suspension, crawl control, Multi-Terrain Select, a locking rear differential, and more. You can go a step further with the TRD Pro Package, which adds Fox shocks and even more off-road-friendly equipment.
Similar to off-the-grid campers, frontcountry campers only need a few supplies to get by. However, a frontcountry camper prefers a slightly more developed campsite that doesn’t require going over the river and through the woods to get to it.
Because you’re good with a smaller tent — unless you have a large family or group that requires a large tent — you won’t need a big vehicle. A sedan with a roomy trunk or hatchback with a spacy cargo area and all-wheel drive to tackle any unpaved road will be plenty.
A sedan with at least 395 litres of trunk space or a hatchback with at least the same space should be more than enough. If you have a larger family or simply prefer a larger tent, you may need to look at larger hatchbacks or small SUVs with at least 700 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats.
These specs should give you more than enough room to haul all the campers in your group, your equipment, and your sleeping bags.
You can also use this extra cargo room as your tent. Just fold the rear seats, roll out your sleeping bag, and you’ve got your sleeping space.
As a frontcountry camper, you're likely spending time at rural national parks and campgrounds with relatively clear pathways, so an off-road rig isn't necessary. However, you'll still want the extra traction of four- or all-wheel drive in a pinch.
Consider these options when you’re ready to rough it:
Subaru is the master of the outdoors after Jeep, and virtually any Scoobie hatchback, wagon, or crossover can handle trekking through muddy or snowy national park trails. One model that’s particularly well-tuned for this task is the Subaru Outback.
Essentially a lifted station wagon, the Subaru Outback, like virtually every Scoobie model, features standard symmetrical all-wheel drive (AWD) and plenty of ground clearance to tackle most groomed trails. As a station wagon, the Outback also has loads of cargo room — up to 2,141 litres — for your tent and other gear.
Want something a bit more unique for your camping adventure? You likely won't see very many VW Golf SportWagens at the campgrounds. With its available all-wheel drive, 860-1,883 litres of cargo room, and comfortable ride, there's not much this small wagon can't do. Like the Subaru models, the SportWagen has a large, flat cargo area with the rear seats folded, making it a great spot to sleep for roughing-it campers.
The Renegade is one of the few Jeeps not to have great capabilities, but its Trailhawk model is more than capable for frontcountry campers. It features Jeep’s Trail Rated Active Drive Lock four-wheel-drive system, a slightly higher ride height, and Selec-Terrain with Rock Mode for when the trail gets a little hairy.
You also get plenty of cargo room and a small platform that’s easy to navigate through tight trails and traffic.
As a middle-of-the-road camper, you prefer an air mattress or cot to snoozing on the ground in just a sleeping bag. You also need a bigger tent, and like to bring along some of your household conveniences, like a small cooking stove, decent pots and pans, and food. You're not quite roughing it, but you're not glamping either.
For this type of camping, you'll need a vehicle with plenty of room for that large tent or maybe a high enough towing capacity for a small pop-up camper.
Most small to midsize crossovers have plenty of cargo room to fit this equipment or have the towing capacity to pull a sub-1,360-kilogram pop-up camper with ease.
Here are two options for your next camping excursion:
Sensing a trend here? Jeep returns to the list with its compact Cherokee that can tow up to 2,041 kilograms when equipped with the 3.2-litre V6 and the proper towing gear. As a middle-of-the-road camper, you’re likely not planning any off-roading, so you can skip the Cherokee Trailhawk and stick with any V6-powered model.
Keep in mind, though, the Cherokee comes standard with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, and it only offers up to a 907-kilogram towing capacity. So pay close attention to the powertrain when shopping.
The Chevy Equinox is another option for those who need to tow a small pop-up camper, as it can tug up to 1,585 kilograms with the optional 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Like the Cherokee, a few engines are available, but only one is up to the towing task.
Plus, the Equinox offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone-based navigation, and OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi to keep any gadgets connected.
The Toyota RAV4 is one of the best-selling crossovers in North America for good reason. It’s capable, spacious, and offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid models for enhanced fuel economy. But it is also a great frontcountry camping car.
It’s not going to blow anyone away with its off-road prowess, but the RAV4 has plenty of ground clearance and a capable AWD system to handle mud and snow with ease. It also has the Trail model that added dynamic torque vectoring, rear driveline disconnect, and Multi-Terrain Select for when the trail gets a little rougher than expected. And with a 1,588-kg towing capacity, it can even haul a small camper if needed.
If you enjoy outdoor adventures but like to keep the niceties of home with you, you’re in the glamper (glamorous camper) category.
There are a few ways to define glamping. The most familiar is heading to a destination where the accommodations are all set up, much like a hotel. This type of glamping requires no special car since you’re simply parking your car and enjoying the rustic-yet-swanky lodgings.
The other type of glamping refers to those who take their accommodations with them on the road so they can glamp wherever, whenever. These glampers need a much larger and costlier travel option— possibly an RV such as a camper van, fifth-wheel camper, or motorhome.
Living the van life with a luxurious camper van or Class A or Class B motorhome is nice because there's no attaching and detaching a trailer involved. However, they're tricky to navigate, so you often need to tow a car behind it for local trips. Opting for a travel trailer and pickup truck requires tedious connecting and disconnecting, but your tow vehicle can also act as your daily vehicle around the local area.
Consider these options if you’re ready to go all-in with a mobile glamping experience:
The GMC Sierra 1500 and Chevy Silverado 1500 are closely related General Motors pickups and go-to rigs to tow smaller-size glamping travel trailers. They can each tow just over 5,443 kilograms when properly equipped and easily navigate around town once you disconnect the trailer.
If you plan on towing a larger travel trailer, you must move into the heavy-duty pickup segment and opt for a fifth-wheel setup — a towing package that places the travel trailer's tongue in the truck's bed.
The GM siblings fit this bill too with their respective 2500 and 3500 models. In their 2500 guise, these pickups can pull upward of 8,165 kilograms. If only the biggest and most luxurious travel trailer will work for you, the 3500 models are the better options, as they can handle just over 10,433 kilograms.
Wherever the Silverado goes, the F-Series pickups from Ford aren’t far behind. The same goes in the world of glamping. The Ford F-150 and F-250 are excellent options because they are heavy-duty enough to handle a large trailer but also relatively easy to drive.
The F-150 can tow 2,268 to 6,350 kg depending on the wheelbase and powertrain setup. Moving up to the F-250 increases the conventional towing capacity to 7,031 to 9,979 kg. If you opt for a fifth-wheel setup, the F-250 can tow 5,488 to 10,433 kg.
In 2019, following much clamour from owners, Tesla released its over-the-air “Camp Mode” update that turned any Tesla model into a rolling, climate-controlled tent.
You can access “Camp Mode” by pressing the fan icon while the vehicle is in “Parking” mode. Once you press the fan icon, you’ll see the “Camp” icon.
The activated “Camp Mode” keeps the Tesla’s cabin at an optimal temperature, which you can adjust to suit your preferences. It also maintains airflow into the vehicle to keep it from getting too stuffy. And, this being Tesla, you can also have music playing to set a cozy ambiance.
Combine this with the flat-folding rear seats of all Tesla models and you can slide in a small mattress and have a climate-controlled tent at all times. Of course, roominess matters, so taller folks will prefer the extra space of the Model X or Model S, but owners note that anyone under 1.8 metres tall can fit comfortably in the Model 3 and Model Y.
Range anxiety is still a big issue for potential EV buyers, and leaving your Tesla on all night may increase that stress. Fortunately, “Camp Mode” will only use about 7-8 kWh of battery power over an 8-hour night. Even on frigid Canadian nights, you’ll only use about 15% of the battery.
Tesla has a failsafe built in that prevents drivers from activating “Camp Mode” with less than 15% of the battery remaining. After all, the last thing you want to do is get stuck in the wilderness with a dead battery.
As long as you’re not an off-the-grid camper who needs a rugged off-road vehicle or a glamper who needs a fancy travel trailer, a used Tesla may be a great camping vehicle for you.
Just getting into camping and aren't quite ready to commit to buying a camping vehicle? There are some solutions for you. Testing the waters as an off-the-grid or roughing-it camper is relatively simple. Set up a tent in the woods for a few days and see if it feels right.
However, to test the waters as a middle-of-the-road camper or glamper, you need to test travel trailers to see if it’s the right camping style for you. Instead of running out and buying a travel trailer, you can rent a wide range of travel trailers in varying sizes and luxury levels from places like Canadream.
Whether you're a backcountry camper or a glamper, you can get a reliable, quality camping car at Clutch, Canada's first fully online car-shopping experience. Simply log on, find the vehicle you like, and we'll deliver it to you.
We also list all the specs and features for every vehicle we sell, so finding one that’s roomy enough and has the features you need to meet your camping goals is simple.
All our vehicles come with a 10-day risk-free, money-back guarantee. If you don't love your new camping vehicle from Clutch, we'll take it back for a refund or exchange it for another.
You can also rest assured you're getting a quality camping car, as all Clutch vehicles go through a rigorous 210-point inspection process before going on sale. We back this up with a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty on all vehicles purchased through our online system.
We take trade-ins too. Head to our online appraisal tool, enter a few details about your vehicle and we'll give you an instant offer. We'll pick up your trade-in when we drop off your new Clutch vehicle and handle all the trade-in paperwork. Check out our wide range of quality used cars in Ontario and Nova Scotia today.