Camping without a car: Transport, gear, food and cooking

Many people will assume that a camping holiday is impossible without transport or arranging for somebody to take you to your campsite.

That’s not true. You can have a fun-packed holiday using public transport, But you must carefully consider travel arrangements, campsite location and the gear you will need.

Travel light, using a comfortable backpack, carry essentials items only. Good quality sleeping bag, light tent, inflatable mattress, clothes for layers and waterproofs. Before booking a campsite, check for local shops, rail and bus connections. Buy food and BBQ when you arrive.

Camping using public transport is a great way to return to nature and travel light. Not worrying about the gear you need to take, as you do when travelling by car.

It gives you a chance to think seriously about where you are going. Not only are you relying on public transport, but you also need to carry everything on your back.

Essentials you will need when camping without a car

Camping using public transport

Before you book your campsite, research the area for transport connections. If you are camping with children, search for a campsite with frequent local buses from the train station. Ideally not more than a 10-minute walk from your camp. If you’re not sure, contact the campsite and ask them.

Travelling light using public transport you will need to take with you:

  • Backpacks for all of the family
  • Lightweight tent (no inflatable as these are heavy)
  • Sleeping bags – and liners to add additional warmth
  • Foam mat with a foil backing to decrease dampness from the ground
  • Self-inflating roll mat for a comfortable night’s sleep
  • Clothing – layers that you can add and a lightweight waterproof jacket
  • The lightweight cooking system if you want hot drinks and cups
  • Snacks for journey
  • Personal hygiene
  • Micro towel – Compact, lightweight and drys quickly
  • BBQ Utensils and a sharp knife
  • Tarp and poles for additional cover

Check that your campsite has a local shop for basic food nearby. If the local store is expensive or unsuitable, arrange for a supermarket delivery to the camp. Confirm with the campsite owner first if they will accept delivery.

For your first night, treat yourselves to a takeaway, as nobody wants to cook after a day of travelling.

Buy disposable BBQs for cooking, paper plates, plastic cups, bowls, knives and forks. These are not environmentally friendly, but you don’t want to carry cutlery and utensil on public transport. It will just be too much, and the idea is to travel as light as possible.

Camp near your home if you are camping for the first time. Especially when camping with a backpack, using public transport. Once you have tested and like camping and living out of a backpack, go further afield.

Having space and shelter is essential because if you travel using public transport, you do not want to carry a tent extension. Using a tarp or a Colemans Classic Awning is an ideal alternative. Our article explains the difference between the two types of shelter, ideal for travelling light and keeping costs low.

What size backpack to use for camping

Backpacks are available in different sizes suitable for different types of usage. Test how comfortable your backpack is by placing a weight of approximately 10-15 lbs inside and walking for 20 minutes. Adjust if required.

CapacitySuitable for
Under 10LChildren
Days Out
10L – 30LCommuting
Day Hikes
30L – 50LOvernight Stay
Gym Bag
Longer Hikes
50L PlusWild Camping
Standard backpack size and ideal usage

50L Plus backpack is suitable for camping and has additional features.

  • ABS – Adjustable back system that allows you to increase and decrease the length of your backpack to suit your torso length. This will allow you to distribute the weight, increasing comfort.
  • Hip belt – Padded strap that lays on your hip, with straps to fasten in the front of your body. Providing additional support for the weight of your backpack. Hip belts should support up to 80% of backpack weight and be designed so your legs carry the weight.
  • Chest strap – Add stability to your backpack to reduce movement. The chest strap should not be tight.
  • Load lifter – Adjustable strap located at the top of your backpack to your shoulder strap. It helps to pull the weight of your backpack forward to avoid toppling backwards. This needs to be secured at a 45-degree angle.
  • Ventilation / Air Flow – Allows airflow between your back and the backpack.

Cooking facilities

Small BBQ, no lighting fluids or blocks needed

Travelling to a campsite using public transport will restrict how you cook during your trip. You will not be able to carry a BBQ, a portable gas cooker, or an EHU connector as they are heavy.

Most family-owned campsites will hire BBQ; you can easily buy charcoal from them or a local shop. If you prefer not to do this, buy a disposable BBQ. They stay alight for approximately an hour, and you do not need to worry about having lighter blocks, only matches.

Disposable BBQ will need to be placed on a slab or fireproof protection to avoid damage to the grass. Campsites will often lend these to you for free during your stay.

Lightweight stoves are ideal as they are compact and easy to use. A complete cooking system is expensive, and you do not need it. You only need a folding gas stove, a container to heat water and a gas cartridge. It will cost you about £40.

Ideal tent to carry using public transport

Due to weight and limited space, the tent will need to be lightweight, restricting your living area and head height. When selecting your tent, deciding on the space and considering the weight you can carry is essential. Plus, HH level, which is the waterproof factor of a tent.

HH Levels are shown from 1500mm plus; the lower, the least waterproof a tent will be. You must consider how waterproof the tent is, primarily due to the size and living area restrictions. Our article explains the HH levels to help you buy a tent that will not disappoint you. Leave you with a soaking wet tent.

Inflatable tents are heavy, bulky, and you will need to carry the pump. They are easy to pitch, but you cannot distribute the weight between backpacks. Poled tents can be distributed easily between backpacks.

There are two types of poled tents available double and single-walled tents. If you are unsure which is suitable, our article will explain the difference between the two tent styles.

A double-walled tent will be lighter to carry as you can divide the sections between backpacks. There are three sections, inner body, flysheet and poles. You will also need a groundsheet to protect underneath your tent.

Purchasing a tarp can be used as additional cover if the weather turns wet. Plus, if your tent is not waterproof, you can place this over your tent for extra protection.

Related questions

How to measure for a backpack

Selecting the correct backpack is essential, and you need to buy the right size backpack for your torso. Measuring for a backpack is the length between the top of your hip bone to the C7 Vertebrae. This measurement needs to be taken from the back, not the front.

Ask somebody to measure for you. It won’t be easy to get the correct measurement.

  • Draw a line across your back to the middle from the top of your hip.
  • If you cannot locate the C7 vertebrae, lean your chin onto your cheek.
  • The C7 vertebrae are the protruding bone on the back of your neck.
  • Place your finger on this bone and lift your head, standing straight.
  • Measure between both points.

Can bikes be taken for free on trains?

Anybody can take bikes free of charge on trains, but you will need to reserve space on certain rail lines in advance if you have a full-sized bike. It is generally limited to the number of bikes allowed on a train of 3 – 6.

There will generally be a reservation booking for a bike if you reserve your seat, which is typical for the long-haul journey and intercity.

Foldable bikes are allowed on trains, but there are restrictions. You must be able to carry your bike onto the train and store it in the luggage compartment.

  • Wheels up to 85cm
  • Carried onto the train.
  • Stansted and C2C – Bikes must be folded and in a protective case
  • London Underground – 1 foldable bike per carriage
  • East Midlands, LNER, South Western Railway – Foldable bikes must be stored in the luggage compartment.
  • Commuter lines time restrictions during peak – Monday – Friday up to 10 am and 4 pm to 6 pm
Reservation RequiredNo ReservationsRecommended but not compulsory
East Midland Railway NorthernTransport for Wales
Greater AngliaSouthernCross Country
ScotRailSoutheasternGrand Central Railey – Adelante Trains – 3 bikes (2 Reserved – 1 first-come, first-served)
London North Eastern RailwayChilternCaledonian Sleeper
East Midlands Railway (to/from London/Liverpool/Norwich)Gatwick Express
Great Western Railway (to/from London)Great Northern
TransPennine ExpressHeathrow Express
South Western Railway (to/from London)Stansted Express
Avanti West CoastThameslink
Hull TrainsWest Midlands Trains
Caledonian SleeperMerseyrail
Island Line
London Northwestern Railway
Railway listing – Are reservations required for full-size bikes?


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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