Introduction: The Ultimate Car Camping Setup

Picture of The Ultimate Car Camping Setup

I’ve been camping my entire life, mostly with my family in our RV. Now that’s fun and a great way to travel but about two years ago I really began camping with my friends. You know, straight up camping in a tent outside with a campfire. “Real” camping as some people like to call it. I freaking fell in love with car camping! Setting up the tent, sleeping on the floor, not showering, it’s awesome! For real, tent camping just has an element that RVing can’t capture. Now don’t get me wrong, an RV is great for longer road trips but I love a good ol’ fashioned tent when I can.

With my new love for camping I needed a vehicle that could accommodate me on my trips. So I traded in my hot rod Dodge Challenger for a Jeep Patriot. It’s not quite as fast but it’s just as cool and it looks good dirty. I’ve always loved building things so my mind quickly began thinking of ways to equip the Jeep better for camping. After a lot of thought I decided on a few elements that I had to have when car camping:

  1. I needed a kitchen that was easy to access. I hated digging through all my equipment to get the stove and the serving utensils and everything needed just to make some pasta. Everything had to be organized and easy to access.
  2. Storage for food had to be right next to the kitchen so I could stand in the back and have everything I needed.
  3. I didn’t want to bring the huge plastic camping bucket that everybody has. Instead, I needed something more organized that was easier to access.It all had to be quickly removable. Sometimes you don’t get a campsite with a convenient parking spot. For those occasions I wanted to be able to move my equipment to the campsite.
  4. There had to be little to no setup or breakdown time. I wanted it always available whenever I needed it.

After drawing up a few different plans I settled on a design and got to work. This is what the finished product consists of:

  • A fridge (really just an iceless cooler plugged into a cigarette lighter)
  • Two drawers for storage
  • A sink with running water (really just a salad bowl and water jugs)
  • Counter space
  • Storage for my stove
  • Storage for a pot and pan

I can take everything out in less than a minute and have my trunk completely cleared. It’s all super secure and doesn’t shift around while driving. I’ve even done a bit of off-roading and had no problems. It doesn’t even rattle or squeak which I’m amazed by. I’ve taken it on a few trips already and it works great!

I just bought the two drawers and fridge but I built the entire unit on the right side. So I’ll be showing you how to build that. I probably should’ve been documenting with photos as I went along but it’s a pretty simple build so I’ll walk you through it. I had never really built any drawers or cabinets before this and I had no problems so you can do it too.

Let’s go!

If you like this and want to learn more or see what other things I'm up to check out my website at

Check out my video of this thing:

Step 1: Parts List

Some of the Supplies I Use:

Step 2: Building the Base

Picture of Building the Base

Begin by cutting a piece of plywood into the shape of the floor of your trunk.

Next we’re going to secure the plywood to the floor but also make it easily removable. To do this, begin by drilling through 3 or 4 spots in your floor. Place a bolt through each hole and secure it with 2 nuts facing up.

Next drill holes that are slightly bigger than your nuts (HA) on the underside of the piece of plywood. Make sure that they line up with the nuts in the floor of your car.

If you like this and want to learn more or see what other things I'm up to check out my website at

Step 3: Secure the Fridge and Drawers

Picture of Secure the Fridge and Drawers

Screw in a block of wood in front of and behind your fridge and drawers. This will prevent them from moving around while you’re driving.

Step 4: Build the Frame

Picture of Build the Frame

Now you can begin building the frame to hold the drawer that you’re going to build. It’s pretty straightforward; just refer to the photos below. Also, make sure to measure for everything very carefully to figure out your dimensions. The width of your frame should fit exactly into the hole between your drawers and the side of your car. And the height should leave you enough room to put the water jugs on top.

If you like this and want to learn more or see what other things I'm up to check out my website at

Step 5: Build the Drawer and Sink

Picture of Build the Drawer and Sink

Building the drawer is also pretty straightforward. Just

refer to the photos below and use your best judgment. This was my first time building any sort of drawer and I didn’t take any classes or anything.

Cut a hole for the size of the salad bowl to fit in in the back top of the drawer. Don’t glue the bowl down or anything because when it fills up with water you can just pick it up and chuck the water to the side.

I also cut a space to slide my stove in and out for storage.

I installed a slide out piece for extra counter space. It works well and is very sturdy but if I did it again I would do a counter that flips out instead of slides. This would give you even more counter space. Let me know if you try this instead!

Install the drawer slides and put it all together.

Step 6: Secure It

Picture of Secure It

Secure the big cabinet by using latches on the

back. This keeps it from moving around and also ensures it won’t flip up on you if you have a lot of weight on the counter top. I had to attach an extra piece of plywood to the base so it would all line up.

If you like this and want to learn more or see what other things I'm up to check out my website at

Step 7: Final Touches

Picture of Final Touches

Use vinyl to cover the plywood for your counter tops.

Attach handles to the drawer and slide out counter top.

Install attachment points for a bungee to hold your water jugs in place.

Install various hooks to hang rags for drying or cooking utensils while using.

Stain the thing if you want (I didn’t take the time to) and paint some cool stuff on it (I did trees but I think a buffalo would be cool!)

Step 8: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

Make sure you actually use this thing! Take it camping for a

weekend, a week, or a month.

Please let me know if you end up creating something like this; I’d love to see it! Get creative and change it up; there are a million different things you could do! Have fun!


If you like this and want to learn more or see what other things I'm up to check out my website at

Check out my video of this thing:


allent4 (author)2016-07-14

the ultimate camping fridge /freezer is made by whynter ..30 quart fridge can run all weekend from cig lighter without running car battery dead and can cool down to -20 F

travderose (author)allent42016-07-15

Like this one?

I could only find it in 45 quart or larger but it looks pretty good! Not crazy expensive either like most other portable fridges. I might invest in this in the future

Yonatan24 (author)travderose2016-08-05

$500? I think you could fill a whole truck with ice! Still cheaper!

Congrats on winning!

travderose (author)allent42016-08-08

Good for you...

travderose (author)allent42016-08-11

I'm very happy for you

stevemoseley (author)2016-08-02

Great job thinking through the details and making it easy to use inside or outside the vehicle.

travderose (author)stevemoseley2016-08-08

thank you!

Luigi Basiletti (author)2016-07-07

This is really cool. I love things that make trips easy to do without lots of prior arranging and panic.

I agree!

TygerCub (author)2016-07-01

Great project! Love the convenience and utility of your setup. I see you have a roof rack too... one thing I find that helps keep the interior of the car from baking right away is to bungee a reflective tarp over the hood and side-windows. These aren't the flimsy emergency mylar 'blankets', but durable double-sided material that can double as general sun shades, ground cover, or rain catcher if needed.

travderose (author)TygerCub2016-07-02

That's a cool idea. Thanks!

andrea biffi (author)2016-07-01

awesome! ?

Pumuggel (author)2016-06-28

A really practical and nice setup for a camping kitchen. I would just be afraid that the two water tanks on the top might fly right through your car and hit the drivers back/head in case of a car crash.

travderose (author)Pumuggel2016-06-28

You know I didn't even think about that. But thanks for planting that fear inside my head haha

tomaltman (author)travderose2016-06-30

See if they have one of those dog gates for the Jeep. It attaches on the backside of the rear seat. You could secure it enough to stop the water from getting into the passenger compartment.

Nice write-up. :)

travderose (author)tomaltman2016-06-30

Good idea!

ElijahH3 (author)2016-06-30

Amazing, I need to do this next time I go camping. Voting for you!

travderose (author)ElijahH32016-06-30

Thank you!

NikkColespo (author)2016-06-27

What kind of fridge is that? Cool proyect!

travderose (author)NikkColespo2016-06-28

It's really just an Igloo Iceless cooler that plugs into a cigarette lighter:

WilliamB92 (author)travderose2016-06-30

I have tried to use a cooler like this when it is around 100°F. It does not work so well at that temp. I believe it cools to about 40°F below the current ambient temperature. So, if it is 100°F it will cool to about 60°F. Cool enough for beverages, but not perishables.

Herbie (author)WilliamB922016-06-30

A good alternative if you want a real refrigerator (instead of the peltier-based "cooler") would be one of the DC or AC/DC compressor fridges from TruckFridge, Vitrifrigo, Dometic, etc. These are very efficient and some can even make ice.

Probably will want a 2nd (isolated) battery if you'll be running long-term, though. I have a TF49 fridge with a 100AH deep cycle battery and a 60watt solar panel, so I can run the fridge basically indefinitely.

travderose (author)Herbie2016-06-30

Yeah I was thinking about that. It's a big and expensive project to do that but hopefully in the future!

WilliamB92 (author)Herbie2016-06-30

Thank you, I will look up those Fridges. I know the Ice-less or Coleman cooler will drain the battery overnight. For camping purposes I would pack a 100w or more solar panel to assist with recharging the battery during the day.

travderose (author)WilliamB922016-06-30

That's true, I've only used it in colder temps so far. I might have to figure something else out if it gets hotter

hbannink (author)2016-06-30

Very nice setup you have there, the fridge cools to 15deg C below ambient.

Down here on the southern tip of Africa that kind of arrangement is often used and we tend to go for a 12V fridge freezer as our trips are more often than not in to the bundu where there is nothing and the temps are much higher.

hflorman (author)2016-06-28


travderose (author)hflorman2016-06-28


gm280 (author)2016-06-27

In my hunting and fishing days (a few decades ago now) I use to camp in a multitude of different camping setups from tents to pop up campers to even a Blazer SUV. And all of them did the job nicely. I have to say anything that can make those camping experiences better is always welcomed. I also have to say it is amazing how well food tastes when camping. So thumbs up on your project.

travderose (author)gm2802016-06-27

thank you!

About This Instructable




Bio: I build cool stuff & travel
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