A Thorough Guide of Car Camping Necessities (+ Printable Checklist)

Table of Contents

Last updated on July 14th, 2024 at 08:54 pm

Cindy Scott
Disclaimer

Hello! You must be preparing for a car camping trip. That’s very exciting!

My name is Cindy. I grew up car-camping and have continued doing so my entire life. I’m also an avid backpacker and was a full-time RVer for three years!

However, car camping remains my favorite way to enjoy the great outdoors!

If you’re now in the research phase, you likely want to know how to make the most of your camping trip. There are TONS of camping gadgets. It can be overwhelming to figure out what you need and which items will work without costing an arm and a leg.

Well, I have spent years researching and using outdoor gear.

This exhaustive list of car camping essentials covers everything worth considering bringing along to get a jump start on enjoying the great outdoors while car camping!

Throughout this article, I’ll explain why listed items are worth taking up space in your car, options for consolidating the item so your vehicle isn’t bursting at the seams with camping gear, what to consider when purchasing the item, and when applicable, a note on my experience with the product.

Read on to learn more about what items you should bring on your next camping trip!

What is Car Camping?

car camping necessities: Barrett in a tent

Car camping is defined by what it is not—backpacking or RVing. In terms of amenities, it’s the camping option between those two.

When car camping, you won’t have the luxuries of RVing and bringing a mini home with you. But on the plus side, weight also won’t be a huge factor, like when backpacking, so you can still bring many of the creature comforts from home that your heart desires, such as comfortable chairs, a thick mattress, or even a deluxe kitchen setup.

And even though not every car camping trip will be a glamping experience, it can come pretty darn close these days if you’re properly prepared! You have the freedom to bring whatever you want on this adventure.

So what should you do with all that freedom? How do you plan a trip where weight isn’t the most crucial consideration, but you can still only bring what can fit into your car? Let’s discuss further!

How to Start Car Camping

Car camping encompasses a wide array of experiences – from amenity-heavy KOA parks to pulling off the road in the middle of nowhere to pitch a tent. Start your journey with careful consideration of the type of adventure you want to have. With that starting point in mind, you’ll have a much easier time planning the rest of the details. 

Where to Car Camp

For those who’ve never gone on a car camping trip before, the options for where to pitch a tent can be overwhelming. To keep things simple, let’s start on the more luxurious end and work toward the “backcountry” type experiences.

Private Campgrounds

If you’ve never car camped or even set up a tent, you can start with a private campground. These sites are almost always reservable and offer potable water, flush toilets, a campground host, and maybe even WiFi. They’re more expensive but a worry-free option if you’re feeling apprehensive.

Public Campgrounds

Then there’s the public option. State parks, state forests, and fishing accesses can be found nationwide, and many have developed campsites that are considerably less expensive than their private counterparts.

Out west, national parks, national forests, and BLM land are some of the more popular options. National parks typically require that you stay in developed campsites. Plenty of those are in the national forests and BLM areas, too, but most also permit boondocking anywhere there’s space to pull off the road and pitch a tent. (Click here to learn more about boondocking.)

In any case, public campgrounds may or may not have campground hosts, and amenities vary considerably. Some lack potable water, while others feature a rarely serviced outhouse. Camping at public campsites necessitates a little more preparation and an expectation that things may not go as smoothly. 

Car Camping Necessities: The 5 Most Important Things to Bring Camping

Whether you’re car camping or hiking deep into the backcountry, the ten essentials never change. However, what does change is the type of items you carry to complete that checklist. With car camping, you can trade in the basic and lightweight gear of backpacking trips for more luxurious and convenient options.

These are some of the most important things to bring on your next car camping trip:

Tent (or Hammock)

car camping necessities: A car camping tent setup at a campsite in Texas

For backpackers, a tent is usually the heaviest item in their pack. As such, they rarely carry anything larger than a three-person tent, and their tents often have minimal storage space and no headroom.

Car campers, on the other hand, have the luxury of choosing a tent with plenty of room to move around and a model tall enough to stand up in. Just be aware that the larger the size you go for, the more cumbersome they can be for a single person to set up.

You can’t go wrong with any of these three tents:

Budget Option
Middle Option
Splurge Option
Coleman Skydome Camping Tent with Dark Room Technology, 6 Person
The North Face Wawona 6 Tent Agave Green/Asphalt Grey
Nemo Aurora Highrise, 3 Season, Family, Car Camping Tent, Atoll/Oasis, 6P
Coleman Skydome Camping Tent with Dark Room Technology, 6 Person
The North Face Wawona 6 Tent Agave Green/Asphalt Grey
Nemo Aurora Highrise, 3 Season, Family, Car Camping Tent, Atoll/Oasis, 6P
$129.99
$420.00
$499.95
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Budget Option
Coleman Skydome Camping Tent with Dark Room Technology, 6 Person
Coleman Skydome Camping Tent with Dark Room Technology, 6 Person
$129.99
Amazon Prime
Middle Option
The North Face Wawona 6 Tent Agave Green/Asphalt Grey
The North Face Wawona 6 Tent Agave Green/Asphalt Grey
$420.00
Splurge Option
Nemo Aurora Highrise, 3 Season, Family, Car Camping Tent, Atoll/Oasis, 6P
Nemo Aurora Highrise, 3 Season, Family, Car Camping Tent, Atoll/Oasis, 6P
$499.95
Amazon Prime

As the price goes up, you’ll obtain more features. That said, the Coleman Skydome will get the job done at an excellent price and can be purchased in 4, 6, 8, or 10-person sizes.

If you want to purchase from REI (so you can test the product before committing to the purchase), check out the Skyward 4 or the Base Camp 6 tent.

As for hammocks, they are great for car campers preferring to sleep off the ground.

Budget Option
Middle Option
Splurge Option
Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammock – Camping Essentials, Portable Hammock w/Tree Straps, Single or Double Hammock for Outside, Hiking, and Travel
Hennessy Hammock – Expedition Zip
ENO OneLink Hammock System – Includes DoubleNest Hammock, Atlas Suspension System, Guardian Bug Net, and ProFly Rain Tarp – Set of Hammock Essentials for Camping, Hiking, or a Festival – Navy/Olive
Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammock - Camping Essentials, Portable Hammock w/Tree Straps, Single or Double Hammock for Outside, Hiking, and Travel
Hennessy Hammock - Expedition Zip
ENO OneLink Hammock System - Includes DoubleNest Hammock, Atlas Suspension System, Guardian Bug Net, and ProFly Rain Tarp - Set of Hammock Essentials for Camping, Hiking, or a Festival - Navy/Olive
$34.99
$169.95
$234.95
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Budget Option
Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammock – Camping Essentials, Portable Hammock w/Tree Straps, Single or Double Hammock for Outside, Hiking, and Travel
Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammock - Camping Essentials, Portable Hammock w/Tree Straps, Single or Double Hammock for Outside, Hiking, and Travel
$34.99
Amazon Prime
Middle Option
Hennessy Hammock – Expedition Zip
Hennessy Hammock - Expedition Zip
$169.95
Amazon Prime
Splurge Option
ENO OneLink Hammock System – Includes DoubleNest Hammock, Atlas Suspension System, Guardian Bug Net, and ProFly Rain Tarp – Set of Hammock Essentials for Camping, Hiking, or a Festival – Navy/Olive
ENO OneLink Hammock System - Includes DoubleNest Hammock, Atlas Suspension System, Guardian Bug Net, and ProFly Rain Tarp - Set of Hammock Essentials for Camping, Hiking, or a Festival - Navy/Olive
$234.95
Amazon Prime

Here are links to the Hennessy & ENO DoubleNest Hammocks on REI.

Bear in mind that if the hammock doesn’t come with a rain tarp and bug net, you’ll want to consider purchasing those for maximum enjoyment. Otherwise, you may spend your car camping trip sleeping inside your car.

Lastly, consider bringing a tent AND a hammock. Hammocks are fantastic for daytime lounging with a good book.

Sleeping Bag, Blankets, or Backpacking Quilt

Down sleeping bags and backpacking quilts have an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, making them popular for backpackers. However, down sleeping bags are expensive. Also, car campers don’t need to pay out the nose for goose feathers since synthetic options will only add a little more weight, be hypoallergenic, keep you warm, and dry faster if it gets wet. Fleece options like the middle option below will work fine if you don’t expect to get wet.

Budget Option
Middle Option
Splurge Option
Amazon Basics 3-Season 20 Degree F Mummy Sleeping Bag for Camping and Hiking, Olive Green
Coleman Camping Sleeping Bags: Big & Tall 0°F Bag, Heritage Cold-Weather Sleeping Bags for Adults Cold Weather and Basic Sleeping Bags for Adults
Big Agnes Echo Park (FireLine Max) Sleeping Bag, 20 Degree
Amazon Basics 3-Season 20 Degree F Mummy Sleeping Bag for Camping and Hiking, Olive Green
Coleman Camping Sleeping Bags: Big & Tall 0°F Bag, Heritage Cold-Weather Sleeping Bags for Adults Cold Weather and Basic Sleeping Bags for Adults
Big Agnes Echo Park (FireLine Max) Sleeping Bag, 20 Degree
$52.79
$73.15
$149.96
Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime
Budget Option
Amazon Basics 3-Season 20 Degree F Mummy Sleeping Bag for Camping and Hiking, Olive Green
Amazon Basics 3-Season 20 Degree F Mummy Sleeping Bag for Camping and Hiking, Olive Green
$52.79
Amazon Prime
Middle Option
Coleman Camping Sleeping Bags: Big & Tall 0°F Bag, Heritage Cold-Weather Sleeping Bags for Adults Cold Weather and Basic Sleeping Bags for Adults
Coleman Camping Sleeping Bags: Big & Tall 0°F Bag, Heritage Cold-Weather Sleeping Bags for Adults Cold Weather and Basic Sleeping Bags for Adults
$73.15
Amazon Prime
Splurge Option
Big Agnes Echo Park (FireLine Max) Sleeping Bag, 20 Degree
Big Agnes Echo Park (FireLine Max) Sleeping Bag, 20 Degree
$149.96

When looking into sleeping bags, you’ll notice a temperature rating on each bag. Know that the rating on sleeping bags informs you of the coldest temperature the manufacturer believes you can stay warm while sleeping in their bag. When making this rating, they assume you’re sleeping in long underwear and socks and using a sleeping pad with a 5.5 R-value. (More on sleeping pads and R-value in a bit.)

So, when deciding what temperature to pick for your bag, consider what time of year you’re taking your trip, look at the historical temperatures for the area you’re heading to, and make sure you’re equipping yourself with a bag that will keep you warm enough on the coldest nights you may encounter.

It’s common to see both “comfort” and “limit” ratings on bags. Use the “comfort” rating if you run cold and the “limit” rating if you run warm.

Additionally, if nighttime temperatures at your campsite don’t drop below 55 degrees and you’re not expecting rain on your trip, a blanket from home could be sufficient. This can be a more comfortable option for anyone not in love with the idea of sleeping in a claustrophobic sleeping bag.

First Aid Kit

First aid kits are important because having one can reduce the harshness of injuries. Plus, cuts and scrapes are inevitable on any camping trip, so you’ll want a fully stocked first aid kit to deal with whatever injuries pop up. Since weight isn’t a factor, there’s plenty of space for a beefier kit with a few extras, such as the light stick and hand warmers included in this kit:

American Red Cross Officially Licensed Product, Large Deluxe Auto First Aid Kit with Soft Case, Emergency Supplies to Clean & Treat Minor Injuries, Keep Hydrated & Warm
  • FIRST AID SUPPLIES This deluxe, well-organized auto first aid kit is full of essentials to keep you warm, hydrated, treat minor injuries, and signal for help.

Click here for a list of all the items the American Red Cross recommends to be in a first aid kit for a family of four. When purchasing, it’s ideal to ensure the kit you buy includes everything on their list.

Lastly, knowing how to use all the items in your kit is crucial. Consider taking a first-aid course to level up your camping skill set.

Emergency Vehicle Kit

Car trouble is also unavoidable if you spend enough time on the road. Furthermore, there are still parts of the United States where you can break down and not have cell service. (It has happened to us more than a few times…)

If you break down, you’ll first and foremost want to ensure you have food and water. Always have at least a jug of water and something to eat in your vehicle. Next, a fully-charged phone (along with the necessary charging cables) doesn’t hurt either; however, as I mentioned above, sometimes it won’t matter due to lack of service. 

Next, you’ll want to have a roadside emergency kit. A suitable kit will contain items like jumper cables or a jump-starter pack (to revive a dead battery), kitty litter (for getting traction in icy situations), and flares or reflective triangles (to notify other drivers of your disabled vehicle). Also, a mylar blanket, gloves, and a hat don’t hurt if you’re traveling in a colder climate.

Sale
Everlit Survival Car Emergency Kit, Roadside Safety Tool Kit with Gloves,Digital Auto Air Compressor Tire Inflator, First Aid Kit, 12 Feet Jumper Cable, Tow Strap, Flashlight for Women, Men, Teenagers
  • The Road Guardian- The portable roadside assistance kit is designed and hand picked by a group of experienced veterans and experts to provide every essential tools you need in roadside emergencies. The automotive safety bag contains accessories such as repair cable ties, bungee cords, electrical tape, space blanket, rain poncho, reflective warning triangle, glass breaker, seatbelt cutter, safety gloves, tow rope and more to get your vehicle back on the road and continue your travel.

Spare Tire

Punctures will happen; it’s not a question of if but when. They’re even more likely if your adventures take you to remote campsites on questionable roads – vehicle issues always seem to crop up when you’re far from help. A spare will ensure you make it to the next town for a repair.

When purchasing a spare tire, you have two main options to consider.

🛞 A donut spare lets you mope into the tire shop and doesn’t take up too much space.
🛞 A full-size tire and rim spare will allow you to drive at highway speeds and make a 100+ mile journey if you’re in a more remote locale. 

Along with the spare, carry a decent jack and know how to use it to change a tire.

Car Jack Kit Scissor Jack for Car 2 Ton (4409 lbs) Tire Jack Tool Kit Universal Car Emergency Kit with Lug Wrench Tire Changing Kit for Car SUV MPV
  • 【Car Jack Capacity】Maximum lifting weight 2 Ton (4409 lbs),This Jack for Car Lifting Range from 4.33″ (11cm) to 15.75″(40cm). The scissor lift jack provides a wider range to reach under low chassis sedans or elevate high-body SUVs effortlessly.

Car Camping Sleep Necessities

When you’re backpacking, every ounce counts. However, with car camping, you can splurge on weight and bring a few of the comforts of home into your tent. 

Self-Inflatable Mattress Sleeping Pad

Due to their low weight, most backpackers choose inflatable air pads or closed-cell foam mats as their sleep padding option. But, those products frequently lack comfort, insulation, and durability and often don’t even extend to your feet because less material equals less weight.

When car camping, you can opt for a self-inflating pad since weight and packdown size are less of an issue. They can also be the same size as your bed at home! The only limitation is the space in your tent.

When purchasing an air mattress, pay attention to its thickness. While thicker mattresses can keep you comfortable, sleeping several inches off the ground isn’t always warm. Be sure to choose an insulated version for three-season car camping. 

Also, pay attention to its R-value. A sleeping pad’s R-value measures its resistance to heat loss. The higher the R-value, the more insulation you’re being provided. Remember that the temperature rating on your sleeping bag assumes you’re sleeping in long underwear with a 5.5 R-value sleeping pad.

These Exped Mats are the best self-inflating air mattresses I’ve ever slept on! They are pricier, but I’ve NEVER had to rebuy one! The same cannot be said for their cheaper counterparts. So eventually, after you’ve bought a few from their competitors, you might as well have just bought one of these to start with!

Exped MegaMat 10 - Self Inflating Foam Sleeping Pad, 4' Thickness Camping Bed, Compact and Lightweight, Mini Pump Included, Green, Medium Wide
682 Reviews
Exped MegaMat 10 – Self Inflating Foam Sleeping Pad, 4″ Thickness Camping Bed, Compact and Lightweight, Mini Pump Included, Green, Medium Wide
  • Premier Camping Bed for Adults: The Exped MegaMat 10 stands out as a top choice for camping beds for adults, offering unparalleled comfort and support for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages
Exped MegaMat 10 Duo – Self Inflating Foam Sleeping Pad, 4″ Thickness Camping Bed, Compact and Lightweight, Mini Pump Included, Green, Queen
  • Unrivaled Comfort and Durability: The MegaMat Duo 10 stands as the pinnacle of comfort among foam camping pads, providing unmatched luxury for car campers and overland enthusiasts worldwide since 2011

Pro tip: When temperatures drop, even an insulated inflatable mattress may not be enough to keep you warm. A trick we use is adding Reflectix below our sleeping mats. It will keep your tent warmer and provide extra protection from ground wetness.

Camping Pillow

Getting good sleep on a camping trip is pretty darn important!

And when car camping, there is no need to do the backpacker trick of filling a stuff sack with your clothes or puffy or turning blue in the face, blowing up an inflatable backpacking pillow nightly. You can bring your full-sized pillow from home! This is especially nice if you’re accustomed to a comfy memory foam pillow or a specially shaped one for side-sleeping. 

Pillows from home can take up quite a bit of room in a car, though, so if you’re running out of space, why not consider a travel/camping pillow such as this one:

Coop Home Goods Adjustable Travel Pillow – 1 Camping Pillow and 1 Grey Pillowcase Bundle w/Compressible Stuff Sack – Memory Foam Fill w/Lulltra Cover – CertiPUR-US/GREENGUARD Gold Certified (19×13)
  • FEEL AT HOME – Take the comfort and luxury of our bestselling pillows anywhere you go. This small travel pillow for sleeping is made to keep you cozy through all of life’s adventures, so you won’t ever want to leave it behind.

This little luxury is for anyone looking for that middle pillow option—a comfy, fluffy, but still compact choice! When shopping for a pillow, remember your sleep style and head size. The more active you are as a sleeper and the larger your head size, the more likely you will want a larger pillow.

Sleeping Liner

A sleeping bag liner is a must for anyone camping during the shoulder season. A high-quality liner can easily raise your bag’s rating by 14 to 32 degrees, and as a bonus, it’ll also help your sleeping bag stay clean longer!

Sea to Summit Reactor Insulated Sleeping Bag Liner, Extreme (83 x 35)
2,142 Reviews
Sea to Summit Reactor Insulated Sleeping Bag Liner, Extreme (83 x 35)
  • Insulated sleeping bag liner adds extra warmth and personal hygiene to any sleeping bag

Sea to Summit offers a few options available. In my opinion, only the “extreme” and “fleece” liners are worth your hard-earned money. The “regular” one claims to add 14 degrees of warmth, but neither my husband nor I noticed an increase in warmth with that one.

Car Camping Necessities: Camp Clothing

The clothing you bring on a car camping trip largely depends on the activities of your itinerary. A good rule of thumb is to bring layers, as the weather could turn at any moment, and your activity level could necessitate a few changes to keep you from sweating or freezing.

A plus of car camping is that you can bring more since weight isn’t a factor. No need to wear the same shirt for several days or jump in a lake to “wash” them off. However, your car probably isn’t equipped with a dryer, so quick-drying clothing is just as important as ever.

Here are some basic outfits to consider packing for your next trip:

Adventuring Top & Bottom

Your choice of adventuring tops and bottoms is defined by the adventure. Paddling in the summer might involve a tank top and shorts, while hiking up a fourteener in Colorado can get very chilly, and a wool base layer and puffy mid-layer could be needed. Having a range of options in your pack is important because your warmth needs can vary drastically throughout the day.

Here’s a link to some of my and my husband’s favorite adventuring clothing picks.

Camp Top & Bottom

More likely than not, the clothes you’ve worn throughout the day have become sweaty. Having extra clothes to lounge around will undoubtedly increase your comfort level during your car camping trip.

Cotton is perfectly acceptable for tops and bottoms at camp since you’ll likely only wear them when relaxing and don’t need to worry about how quickly they will dry out.

Sleep Top & Bottom

While your camp top and bottom could double as sleepwear, it’s a good idea to swap into something that doesn’t smell like your last meal when going to bed, especially if you’re camping in bear country.

If you’re camping in a colder climate, you might also need something warmer to compensate for your lower body temperature while sleeping.

Wool or synthetic base layers are the two classic sleepwear options, as they’ll keep you warm. A quality set will feel fantastic against your skin as you drift off to sleep. See my comparison of both options here.

Puffy (An Insulating Jacket)

If you’re going camping during the popular season, you might think, “It’s the middle of summer; why would I need a puffy”? But in many places, once the sun dips below the horizon, especially out west where there’s next to no humidity, it can get mighty chilly, and you’ll be thanking yourself for packing an insulating jacket. 

A well-made down or synthetic jacket packs down to the size of a water bottle, making it easy to throw one in your bag and forget about it until you get a chill. 

Read next: Click here to learn how to pick the best puffy.

Underwear

This is no time to forget the adage that “cotton kills.” Your car camping underwear should be sewn from the same quick-drying material as your tops and pants. Pick a pair made from synthetic materials to prevent moisture creation and chafing when choosing camping undies.

ExOfficio is a very popular outdoorsy underwear choice for ladies and men. I personally love these from Soma.

Sports Bra

If you’re a lady out on a camping trip, it often involves activities like hiking and kayaking. You’ll want to bring a sports bra for comfort and support.

A-C cups have many available options. For anyone in D cup and up, I recommend going with one with a wide band and separate cups, such as this one that I love:

Freya Women's Epic Underwire Crop Top Sports Bra with Molded Inner
560 Reviews
Freya Women’s Epic Underwire Crop Top Sports Bra with Molded Inner
  • Shapes and supports by encapsulating the breast rather than traditional compression wide curved wire, oval shape for reduced pressure and puncture resistant wire casing

I’ve been wearing this sports bra for years of adventuring now, including during my entire thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have yet to find another that can compare.

As an added benefit, sports bras are almost always made from quick-drying materials. Ensure the one you’re thinking of bringing is moisture-wicking to prevent chafing.

Rain Jacket (and Pants)

A waterproof jacket and pants will prevent a rainy day from becoming wasted. Many rain outfits are also made from highly breathable fabrics, which is far preferable to the black plastic garbage bags campers sometimes use as emergency ponchos.

Read next: Click here to learn more about rain gear.

Hats & Headwear

While campers often put much thought into their outfits, headwear can sometimes be neglected. This is unfortunate because your head deserves protection, too – from rain, snow, sleet, hail, or the sun.

Beanie

Camping in temperate climates is a bit of a guessing game when it comes to clothing. During the day, you might be sweating out on a hike. And then, when you aren’t moving around at night, it can be downright chilly. Insulating your head is one of the best ways to bring your body temperature up; a wool beanie takes up very little space. I recommend packing one in the car, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

100% Merino Wool Ridge Cuff Beanie – Unisex Warm Winter Hat
  • QUALITY LIGHTWEIGHT PACKABLE BEANIE: 100% Merino Wool is super soft and extremely comfortable. The best in easy care technology means your merino wool is machine washable and dryable. Comfort, warmth, and breathability make this hat an essential part of your outdoor gear. One-Size fits most. Double fabric for warmth. Simple yet stylish.

Sun Hat

A wide-brimmed sun hat, certified UPF 50+, will block a tremendous amount of cancer-causing UV radiation. Plus, that shady brim will keep the glare out of your eyes, and having one with a neck flap will ensure your neck won’t get sunburned.

Home Prefer Outdoor UPF50+ Mesh Sun Hat Wide Brim Fishing Hat with Neck Flap
  • Premium Polyester/Nylon,breathable,quick-drying,lightweight and soft comfortable wear

For the ladies with long hair, I love this one with a ponytail hole!

Camptrace Wide Brim UPF 50+ UV Protection Sun Hats Hiking Fishing Gardening Hats with Large Neck Flap for Womens Mens Nylon
  • Womens&Mens Sun Hat made of 100% water and stain resistant nylon; Lightweight(weighs only 3.2oz); Quick Dry

Buff

You wouldn’t think a little circular piece of fabric could be so versatile, but these stretchy accessories can provide sun protection and warmth or cool you off after being dipped in a creek.

BUFF CoolNet UV Neck Gaiter, UPF 50 Sun Protection, Breathable, Cooling Bandana, Versatile, Quick Dry Face Mask, Barriers Fog Grey, Adult Size
614 Reviews
BUFF CoolNet UV Neck Gaiter, UPF 50 Sun Protection, Breathable, Cooling Bandana, Versatile, Quick Dry Face Mask, Barriers Fog Grey, Adult Size
  • MULTI-FUNCTIONAL: Wear 12 different ways, made of 95% recycled polyester, one size fits most adults

Visor

For those of us with a lot of hair, even the most breathable hats can feel too warm on a hot day—compromise by wearing a visor to let your head breathe while giving you some shade across your eyes.

Just remember visors lack top-of-the-head sun protection. So you can still get a sunburn on your scalp through your hair.

Buff Pack Run Visor R-Solid – AW22
  • Ultra 4-Way Stretch Fabric- Optimum fit that stretches in all directions.

Footwear

Shoes are debatably the most important clothing item for any hiking trip, and when car camping, you need not limit yourself to the number of pairs you pack. 

Hiking Boots (or Trail Runners)

First and foremost, you’ll need your adventuring shoes. A pair of hiking boots or trail runners is your go-to option for land-based expeditions. Consider choosing boots if you have injury-prone ankles, will be walking long distances, or carry a heavy pack. Trail runners are much more comfortable for shorter trips and big ascents.

Socks

You can see my breakdown of outdoor socks here.

Camp Shoes

After a long day out exploring, nothing feels better than pulling those ghastly-smelling boots off and sliding on a comfy pair of camp shoes. It’s something to look forward to throughout the day!

A pair of sturdy sandals like Chacos or Tevas is a popular option for camp shoes. Crocs are also a terrific choice. In this category, you want something comfortable with breathability, toe cover, and traction. Traction may seem insignificant, but there will be times at your campsite when you’ll be happy to have that in the unstable wooded ground.

However, many choose flip-flops or slides if they’re not moving around too much and don’t need the stability of a beefier sandal. 

Shower Sandals

Campground showers are usually cleaned regularly, but do you really want to go barefoot after seeing how many of your fellow campers use them? 

Your camp shoes can also serve double duty as shower shoes. But if you don’t feel like walking around in wet sandals afterward, you can always pack a dedicated pair of cheap flip-flops

Car Camping Hygiene Necessities

Staying clean on a backpacking trip is almost impossible, but car camping affords you a few luxuries unavailable to the average dirtbagger. Your campsite may even have running water and the option of taking a hot shower. You’ll want to pack a few essentials to capitalize on this magnificent opportunity.

Biodegradable Soap for Body & Laundry

You’ll inevitably run into a moment where you or an article of clothing must be cleaned.

The hand, body, and laundry soaps you use at home likely contain chemicals that are harmful to plants and animals. Biodegradable soaps such as Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap only have ingredients that break down naturally. (That said, it’s still best not to use it close to a water source.)

Dr. Bronner’s – Pure-Castile Liquid Soap (Peppermint, 8 ounce) – Made with Organic Oils, 18-in-1 Uses: Face, Body, Hair, Laundry, Pets and Dishes, Concentrated, Vegan, Non-GMO
  • MADE WITH ORGANIC OILS & CERTIFIED FAIR TRADE INGREDIENTS: Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soaps are made with over 70% certified organic & fair trade ingredients, promoting healthy communities, ethical working conditions & fair prices.

While camping, I’ve used this stuff when cleaning almost anything, from showering to clothing to the occasional pot.

Toothpaste & Toothbrush

Bring along whatever toothbrush and toothpaste you enjoy using, and be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles when using toothpaste. This means that if you brush your teeth at the campsite, spit the toothpaste into your garbage and take it away from the site with the rest of your trash so it doesn’t attract animals.

Toiletry Tote

Trying to juggle a bundle of travel-sized bottles, brushes, and a towel all the way to the bathroom is a recipe for disaster. Package it up in a handy tote to give yourself the air of an experienced car camper.

In my experience, an option that is clear and wipable with a handle, like these totes, makes life easier:

HAOGUAGUA 2 Pieces Large Clear Makeup Cosmetic Toiletry Organizer Bag, Clear Plastic Tote Bags, Waterproof Transparent Small Clear Handbag Purse
2,288 Reviews
HAOGUAGUA 2 Pieces Large Clear Makeup Cosmetic Toiletry Organizer Bag, Clear Plastic Tote Bags, Waterproof Transparent Small Clear Handbag Purse
  • 2 PIECES CLEAR TOTE BAG – An ideal transparent cosmetic bag in travel or daily use. This clear tote bag can be used as work lunch bag, stadium bag, makeup bag, cosmetics bag, gym bag, swim bag, storage bag, waterproof bag, gift bag, jewelry bag, general packaging, daily necessities packaging bag, travel bag, even stationery bag

Quick Dry Towel

Depending on the weather and humidity at your campsite, a cotton towel from your bathroom might take a day or more to dry out. However, quick-dry towels can be bone dry in a matter of hours, which will keep them from getting smelly.

Check out this uber-popular quick-dry towel that comes in many different sizes and colors:

Sale
Rainleaf Microfiber Towel,Army Green,16 X 32 Inches
24,191 Reviews
Rainleaf Microfiber Towel,Army Green,16 X 32 Inches
  • SUPER ABSORBENT – Absorbs water 5 times of its own weight. FAST DRYING – Dry in no time by hanging it with the snap loop.

Wet Wipes

A pack of wet wipes can be a godsend when you’re covered in tree sap and cannot quickly wash yourself off at the campsite. Bring a few packages and put them in your car, cook kit, and daypack to be ready wherever dirtiness strikes.

They are also an excellent cleanup option for wiping the grime off after a long hiking day if your camping location doesn’t have showers. In that situation, they help me fall asleep feeling “clean.”

After testing many outdoor wipes over the years, I’ve become partial to Huggies Baby Wipes and Hello Bello.

Huggies seem to be the least sticky of the options you can pick up just about anywhere.

Sale
Huggies Natural Care Sensitive Baby Wipes, Unscented, Hypoallergenic, 6 Flip-Top Packs (288 Wipes Total)
  • 6 flip-top packs of 48 Huggies Natural Care Sensitive Baby Wipes, Unscented (288 wipes total)

Hello Bello is a more difficult find but also a great wipe for anyone who’s a bit more ingredient-conscious.

Hand Sanitizer

Not every campground has running water or a convenient place to wash your hands. Also, many campground bathrooms lack soap. In that case, a bottle of hand sanitizer can save you from ingesting all sorts of bacteria alongside your tasty sandwich.

Plus, even if the campground you’re at is hygienically stocked, it’s smart to have a way to keep clean directly at your campsite or while you’re out on the trail so you don’t have to keep going back and forth between the bathhouse all day.

I recommend purchasing a few small 2-ounce refillable containers with a clip, such as these on Amazon, and then hooking sanitizer in a few frequently used areas, such as your pack or cook kit.

Sale
VHOPMORE 8 Pcs Travel Size Bottles with Keychain Hand Sanitizer Holder, 2 oz Portable Plastic Small Empty Bottles Leakproof Refillable Squeeze Containers for Backpack
  • Capacity: 2oz/50ml empty bottles, set of 8 travel size empty bottles with keychain, they’re durable, reusable and environmentally friendly

Sunscreen

“Fun in the sun” is only possible if you’ve got a healthy layer of protection between you and those harmful UV rays. Bring a tube of SPF 30+ to ensure you don’t bring back a peeling sunburn as a reminder of your camping trip. And don’t forget, even if it’s overcast, the sun can still cause skin damage.

If your camping trip involves water sports, look for a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. It doesn’t contain chemicals that are damaging to aquatic life.

Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion | Vegan and Hawaii 104 Reef Act Compliant (Octinoxate & Oxybenzone Free) Broad Spectrum Moisturizing UVA/UVB Sunscreen with Vitamin E | 8 oz
  • ORIGINAL SPF 30 SUNSCREEN LOTION . This is the stuff we use every day. It’s the formula that started it all. People say it smells like summer. We like that. Whether we’re spending a lazy day at the beach or just hangin’ out, our Original formula is definitely our fav.

Deodorant

Smelling a bit funky is a normal part of camping. Nevertheless, your tent mate will surely appreciate you tamping down the funk to a more reasonable level. 😹

Natural deodorant is a great choice when camping to ensure harmful chemicals do not wash off you when swimming in the lake.

If you’re looking to save some room in your toiletry kit, why not get a mini one such as the travel-sized ones Schmidt’s makes that only weigh 0.7 of an ounce.

Schmidt’s Jasmine Tea Deodorant Sensitive Skin Formula, 0.7 oz / 19.8 g, Travel-Sized
  • Jasmine Tea Scent: Features a refreshing jasmine tea fragrance

Hair Brush

Wild hair is the norm in the backcountry. Still, developed campsites are more civilized territory, and you might appreciate a hair brush to tame that mane before approaching your fellow campers.

You can, of course, bring your favorite full-sized hair brush along for the ride. But, if you’re looking to once again save space, there are a few travel-sized ones worth considering. I recommend looking for one that scrunches into itself. After testing out quite a few over the years, I’ve found those are the ones most likely to stay clean and in one piece longer. This one came along with me on my thru-hike (sans mirror) and is my favorite:

However, I have also used these ones on past car camping trips as well:

Sale
4 Pieces Travel Hair Brush Portable Folding Hair Brush with Mirror Mini Compact Hair Comb Collapsible Colorful Pocket Square Massage Brush for Family
  • ABS material is eco-friendly and safe, each piece is only 1.7 oz (about 48.2 g), size: Foldable: about 4×2 inches (about 10.2 x 5.0 cm) Opening size: 8 inches (Approx. 20.3), Package is available in four metallic blue, green, silver and purple colors
Wet Brush Mini Shine Enhancer Hair Brush, Black – Exclusive Ultra-soft IntelliFlex Bristles – Natural Boar Bristles Leave Hair Shiny And Smooth For All Hair Types – For Women, Men, Wet And Dry Hair
  • Mini Shine Enhancer: The Shine Enhancer is a shine-boosting brush that helps hair stay strong and healthy! Gently loosens knots, while spreading hairs natural oils for shiny strands, without pulling or snagging. Mini for on-the-go styling!

Clothing Line

Having a place to hang damp clothing and towels will serve you well while car camping.

If there’s no rain in the forecast and low humidity, you can hang your clothes up on a clothing line such as this one so everything can dry in the sun.

Retractable Portable Clothesline for Travel,Clothing line with 12 Clothes Clips, for Indoor Laundry Drying line,Outdoor Camping Accessories
5,813 Reviews
Retractable Portable Clothesline for Travel,Clothing line with 12 Clothes Clips, for Indoor Laundry Drying line,Outdoor Camping Accessories
  • [Creative Design]Portable Clothesline with 12 Colorful Clothespins,13 Anti-Skid Clips can windproof,Design with Positioning Bead,Can move smoothly from left to right,the black rope is stretchy can be stretch up to 10 ~ 12 feet,no need to worry that clothes bunching up together due to weight or wind and improves drying effect.

Bathroom Kit

While a well-maintained bathroom is often one of the best things about car camping, not every campsite includes one. Sometimes, you must draw on your backcountry skills, which means packing your own TP, digging a cathole, and following the Leave No Trace rules.

If you’re unsure what will be available, bring a stocked bathroom kit, which includes toilet paper, a trowel, Ziploc bags, Wag Bags, and, for the ladies, feminine hygiene products and a pStyle.

Car Camping Cooking Kitchen Necessities

Stove/Grill

As at home, the stove is the centerpiece of your camp kitchen, and finding one that’s easy and enjoyable to use is critical to a positive camping experience. And there are a lot of options out there!

The simplest stoves are the basic Coleman two-burner setups, which can run on either propane or white gas. (The latter has a learning curve when it comes to lighting it, but fuel is less expensive over the long run.)

We’ve enjoyed using this 2-in-1 Coleman Tabletop Propane Camping Grill and Stove. It’s straightforward to use — an excellent option for car camping for a single person, couple, or small family.

If you want to kick the culinary experience up a notch, there are plenty of niche cooking appliances to choose from, like camping pizza ovens and portable smokers. The only limitation is your imagination (and desire to cook when you could be lounging in a chair with a cold beverage).

Fuel

Know your stove and the fuel it uses. Carrying an extra canister or bottle is always a good idea—no one wants to run out midway through cooking a meal. 

Most car camping stoves run on propane or white gas, both of which are relatively inexpensive.

Lighter/Matches

Cindy and Barrett starting a fire with long handled lighter

Unlike your grill at home, camping stoves usually don’t come with their own ignition source. Grab a pack of lighters or a box of matches to get yours going. These BIC lighters are a fan favorite due to their child-resistant mechanism and a long handle that helps you keep your fingers away from the flame.

Beyond the grill, you’ll also want a light to get the fire going at your campsite!

Cookware (Pots & Pans)

For the ultimate car camping setup, pack a well-seasoned cast iron pan and dutch oven. That kind of hearty cookware can be used over your campfire, and the thick material will distribute heat better than lightweight stainless steel pans. 

Sale
Lodge 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned Skillet – Signature Teardrop Handle – Use in the Oven, on the Stove, on the Grill, or Over a Campfire, Black
  • YOUR NEW GO-TO PAN: Lodge cast iron cookware is the perfect kitchen tool for beginners, home cooks and chefs. Cast iron can handle any kitchen cooktop, oven, grill and open flame. Crafted in America with iron and oil, its naturally seasoned cooking surface creates an easy-release and improves with use.

Folding Campfire Grill

Depending on how fancy your campground is, sometimes campgrounds have these grills at the campsite’s firepits. Here’s an example of a campsite with one:

Two car camping tents set up out west

However, if you’re unsure whether one will be there and want to leave the fueled grill behind and opt for the cook-over-the-fire experience, you can pack one of these simple folding camp grill grates just to be safe.

Amazon Basics Medium Portable Folding Camping Grill Grate - 18 x 12 x 7 Inches, Black Steel
5,076 Reviews

Dishware & Utensils

Your biggest concerns with dishware and utensils will be cleanup and durability. Not every campsite has a dishwashing station, so your best bet is to find a set of dishes and utensils that food won’t stick to. Lightweight plastic, wheat straw, or enameled steel options are all unbreakable and easy to scrub clean.

An enamel camping tableware set such as this one is a classic choice:

Sale
Stansport Deluxe 24-Piece Enamel Tableware Set - Blue (11220)
6,391 Reviews
Stansport Deluxe 24-Piece Enamel Tableware Set – Blue (11220)
  • High quality durable 24-piece steel tableware set with blue enamel finish

Or get each person their own mess kit to be responsible for:

UCO Camping Mess Kit, 4-Piece
  • 4-Piece Camping Cookware Set: Made for backpacking, scouting, and on-the-go meals, this camping cooking set includes a plate, bowl, 3-in-1 spork, and tether

Cup/Mug

A cup of coffee or tea is critical to many people’s morning routine, myself included! An insulated camp mug will ensure your caffeinated beverage stays hot no matter how long you stare at the beautiful scenery.

Stanley Stay Hot Camp Mug – Durable 18/8 Stainless Steel Insulated Mug – Splash-Free Tritan™ Drink-Thru Lid – 12 OZ – Hammertone Green
  • OPTIMAL SIZE, MAXIMUM COMFORT: Enjoy leisurely mornings on your patio with the Stay Hot Camp Mug. Designed to provide legendary Stanley performance, it’s just the right fit for cozy moments. Whether it’s at home, the office, or a weekend in the great outdoors, this mug delivers

Water Bottle

Hydration is crucial to any camping trip, and you’ll remember to stay hydrated if there’s a handy water bottle within arm’s reach. Go with an insulated version that will keep your drinks cold even when you forget it out in the sun.

Sale
Hydro Flask Wide Flex Straw Cap Black 24 Oz
4,933 Reviews
Hydro Flask Wide Flex Straw Cap Black 24 Oz
  • THE BEST BOTTLE: A 24 oz Wide Mouth water bottle with Hydro Flask’s leakproof Flex Straw Cap—easy to fill, easy to drink. Open it up, add your ice, and flip to sip. The insulated stainless steel keeps it cold for up to 24 hours.

Knife

A quality knife is the workhorse of your camping kit. It can chop vegetables, whittle a hot dog skewer, or chop firewood in a pinch. Folding knives are a pain to clean, and you’re not exactly short on space when car camping, so go with a quality fixed-blade knife

Sale
Eafengrow EF122 Fixed Blade Knife D2 Steel Blade G10 Handle Pocket Knives Fixed Knife, Survival, Outdoor Camping Survival Tool Knives, Kydex Sheaths (Green)
  • Eafengrow Fixed Blade Knife: Total length: 9.96 inch.Blade length: 4.68 inch.Handle length: 5.27 inch.Blade width:1.46 inch.Blade thickness:0.14 inch.Knives net weight:12.8 oz.

Cutting Board

Having a clean place for cutting things while camp cooking is great. This cutting board from MSR has a hinge, so it folds in half and packs down small.

MSR Alpine Deluxe Camping Cutting Board, One Size, Red
  • The BPA-free Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board features two rigid halves connected with a folding hinge for the best combination of durability and portability.

Strainer

A collapsible silicone strainer takes up very little room and comes in handy while car camping when needed to rinse or drain food during preparation.

Ultimate Kitchen Strainers Set of 2 – Collapsible Silicone Colanders For Easy Storage by Comfify – Use with Pasta & Veggies or as a Fruit or Berry Bowl with Strainer – Irreplaceable for Campers – Gray
  • 🍝 Pasta Perfection: Our collapsible colander makes draining pasta easier than ever. Say goodbye to overcooked noodles and hello to perfect al dente every time!

Coffee Making Device

Caffeine addiction doesn’t take a day off just because you’re sleeping in the great outdoors. However, you likely won’t be lugging a coffee maker to the campsite, so you’ll need alternative options for preparing it.

French Presses and Aeropresses let you make coffee sans electricity with ease; all you need is a cup or two of boiling water, a little time, and a quick press on the plunger. 

AeroPress Original Coffee and Espresso-style Maker, Barista Level Portable Coffee Maker with Chamber, Plunger, & Filters, Quick Coffee and Espresso Maker, Made in USA
  • UNIQUELY DELICIOUS: No more average joe from fancy, expensive machines. By combining the best of several brew methods into one patented device, you get smooth, rich, grit-free coffee with a delicious, full-bodied finish that lingers well after your last sip. No bitterness. No cream needed.​

If you opt for a French Press, I recommend a stainless steel one instead of glass because, in my experience, glass eventually breaks and makes a big camping mess.

Secura French Press Coffee Maker, 304 Grade Stainless Steel Insulated Coffee Press with 2 Extra Screens, 34oz (1 Litre), Silver
33,172 Reviews
Secura French Press Coffee Maker, 304 Grade Stainless Steel Insulated Coffee Press with 2 Extra Screens, 34oz (1 Litre), Silver
  • Secura stainless steel French Press coffee maker is made from top quality 18/10 stainless steel, both the interior and exterior. It is made to outlast other coffee makers.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack out your grounds. While they are biodegradable, it isn’t great Leave No Trace protocol to dump them at your site because they will attract wildlife to the campground and harm their digestive systems.

Kettle

You could boil water in a pot, but a kettle will get hot faster and not take up too much additional packing room in your car. Having one you can simply pop over the campfire will save you time and fuel.

Look for an entirely silicone or steel one, such as this one, without any plastic pieces that could melt while sitting above the fire.

Granite Ware 3 Qt Coffee Boiler. Enameled Steel 12 cups capacity. Perfect for camping, Heat Coffee, Tea and Water directly on stove or fire.
2,225 Reviews
Granite Ware 3 Qt Coffee Boiler. Enameled Steel 12 cups capacity. Perfect for camping, Heat Coffee, Tea and Water directly on stove or fire.
  • Capacity: Accommodates up to 12 cups, making it ideal for brewing coffee in large quantities to serve a group.

Tablecloth

A tablecloth might seem like an unnecessary nicety for camping, but while it provides you with a clean table to function at since the picnic tables at campsites are often not in terrific shape, it also goes a long way in keeping with Leave No Trace principles. Any spills and crumbs can be easily wiped off a dirty tablecloth instead of falling to the ground and attracting critters. Plus, it adds a touch of class to your campsite.

When shopping, look for wipable waterproof ones such as this one. Elastic grip edges are also helpful, ensuring the tablecloth doesn’t take flight one day!

Paper Towels

Campsite messes are inevitable, and paper towels are burnable. Keep a roll in your kit, and you’ll always have a use for it.

Biodegradable Dish Soap

Standard dish soaps contain harsh chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Using a biodegradable dish soap will help minimize your impact.

Sale
Sierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor Soap Biodegradable Environmentally Safe All Purpose Cleaner, Camping Hiking Backpacking Travel Camp (8oz)
176 Reviews
Sierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor Soap Biodegradable Environmentally Safe All Purpose Cleaner, Camping Hiking Backpacking Travel Camp (8oz)
  • THE LEADING OUTDOOR SOAP BRAND: The best pocket soap kit for campers, backpackers, and wilderness travelers! Trusted by campers for over 50 years, Concentrated Campsuds is the original all purpose outdoor cleaner. For use with or without wipes. Pack it and take it with you when you travel – by land, sea, or air! Made in the USA!

Always wash your dishes at least 200 feet from a water source, preferably at the campground’s dishwashing station if it has one. 

Collapsible Dishwashing Tub

If your site doesn’t have a dishwashing station, a collapsible dishwashing tub can easily function as a suds-filled sink. Fill it up, put a few drops of biodegradable soap in, swish it around, and let your dirty dishes soak for half an hour. Food particles will slide right off, and you can dispose of the waste in the grey water system if your campground has one or filter out the bits and scatter the water away from any lakes or streams.

Sale
MontNorth Dishpan For Washing Dishes,9L Collapsible Dish Tub Portable Sink,Wash Dish Basin,Foldable Laundry Tub,Washing Basin with Drain Plug,Dishpan for Kitchen Sink,Camping Dish Washing Tub,Gray
3,957 Reviews
MontNorth Dishpan For Washing Dishes,9L Collapsible Dish Tub Portable Sink,Wash Dish Basin,Foldable Laundry Tub,Washing Basin with Drain Plug,Dishpan for Kitchen Sink,Camping Dish Washing Tub,Gray
  • 【Plug & Drainer】: Camping sink, kitchen sink basin is great for washing dishes, food, bucket with drain, beverage tub, bbq prep tub, laundry soaking. The collapsible dish drainer is good for basin kitchen, wash bin laundry.

Trash Bags & Ziploc Bags

You’ll likely need to pack out your campsite’s waste to the nearest trash can. I always bring a handful of trash bags and Ziploc bags of varying sizes along on a camping trip because I often find multiple uses for them beyond waste management, such as a trash bag becoming a spur-of-the-moment cover for me or my daypack.

Cooler

Every car camper needs a way to keep their food and drinks cold, but how you use your cooler will determine how expensive of one is required. (This is another one of those items that there are loads on the market to choose from!)

A budget cooler will keep your drinks cold for a day or so, but if you’re serious about multi-day trips, you may want to invest in a higher-end hard-sided cooler model that’ll be the most durable and keep your food and drinks cold a few days before all the ice melts.

Ultimately, the more insulated a cooler is, the more it will cost. A quality cooler such as this YETI will really pay off, though, on longer camping trips, keeping your food and drinks colder longer with less ice refilling needed.

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler, White
  • The YETI Tundra 65 is just as adept at keeping your catches cold in the field as it is storing the drinks and food for your backyard barbecue, this ice chest is plenty roomy, holding a limit of redfish or your prized brisket

Cooler Insert

Maintaining ice can be a pain. Since ice packs warm up slower than cubes, having ice packs (or this cooler insertis an excellent way to extend the time everything stays cool in your cooler.

These items also make it easier to see all the food you’ve brought and prevent your cooler from developing that bottom layer of water that eventually makes all your food soggy. No more digging around in ice or a watery mess.

Roasting Sticks

Roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over a campfire is a car camping “must do.” Extendable ones with blunted ends like these are a fantastic choice for everyone’s safety. The fact that they are stainless steel and rust-proof will also help ensure easy cleanup.

MalloMe Smores Sticks for Fire Pit Long - Marshmallow Roasting Sticks Smores Kit - Smore Skewers Hot Dog Fork Campfire Cooking Equipment, Camping Essentials S'mores Gear Outdoor Accessories 32' 5 Pack
16,197 Reviews
MalloMe Smores Sticks for Fire Pit Long – Marshmallow Roasting Sticks Smores Kit – Smore Skewers Hot Dog Fork Campfire Cooking Equipment, Camping Essentials S’mores Gear Outdoor Accessories 32″ 5 Pack
  • ✅ BUILT TO LAST! Highest quality power welded forks use non-toxic 18/8 304 stainless steel to ensure easy cleaning, no rusting and safe roasting. Smooth finished wooden handles ensure a steady grip and no more hot handles.

Car Camping Necessities: Food

Meals

With a full kitchen in tow and plenty of room for fresh ingredients, car camping meals can be as lavish as you desire!

Look through Pinterest before heading out. There are tons of camping recipes that can be made with an outdoor kitchen. Many meals can also be made ahead of time and brought with you on your adventure. If something’s too complicated to make on a two-burner stove, consider prepping it at home and reheating it at your site.

Snacks

There is no need to limit yourself to beef jerky and M&Ms. Car camping is the perfect time to splurge on healthy or elaborate snacks. Fresh fruit and greek yogurt can be terrific post-hike desserts.

As for when you’re out adventuring, being properly fueled really does help everyone get the best possible experience out of the day. You’ll want to pick food for activities that energize you. Here’s our guide on how to best fuel up for fun!

Coffee or Tea

Remember to bring your favorite coffee grounds or tea bags to use with one of the previously mentioned coffee makers and a kettle. If you’re looking for an even simpler coffee option, you could also bring instant coffee to avoid the mess of grounds.

Water

If you’re camping at a developed site, there’ll probably be a spigot for potable water, but these can’t always be counted on. Bring at least a few gallons in a collapsible water container or a water filter to be safe.

These collapsable jugs are awesome because they become quite small when they’re not in use:

Sale
WaterStorageCube BPA-Free Collapsible Water Container with Spigot, Food-Grade Camping Water Storage Carrier Jug for Outdoors Hiking Hurricane Emergency, Foldable Portable Water Canteen (5.3 Gallon)
  • FOOD-GRADE ODORLESS GREAT TASTE: PE plastic made with highest quality USA raw material. Environmentally friendly non-toxic, No BPA PVC or DEHP, No plastic PVC odor and water taste will not be affected, Transparent.

While the often-stated budget for drinking water is two liters per person per day (or whatever half of your body weight is, in ounces instead of pounds), this doesn’t account for cooking and cleaning water. So, it’s best to double that to a gallon per day.

Car Camping Tools, Repair, & Safety Necessities

Rope

Rope is one of those items you’re never sure you have a use for but that you always find a use for. Maybe you need a few dozen feet to hang your food away from hungry bears or a length to tie down some baggage on your roof rack.

Likely, you’ll need a few different sizes of rope for your various tasks, and it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few of the more common knot-tying techniques to ensure everything’s lashed down well. One of the more popular ropes to carry is 550 paracord because it has a very high strength/weight ratio and doesn’t take up much space.

TECEUM Paracord Type III 550 Apricot – 50 ft – 4mm – Tactical Rope MIL-SPEC – Outdoor Para Cord –Camping Hiking Fishing Gear and Equipment – EDC Parachute Cord – Strong Survival Rope 085
  • PARACORD 550: Paracord Type III (550 lb) has a 100% nylon core. Color: Apricot. Length – 50 feet (15.2 m). Made in accordance with MIL-SPEC. Available in 40 colors options. Packaged according to length: 50, 100, 200 or 1000 feet. Scan QR code to get Paracord E-Book. *Please note that colors may vary due to different monitor settings.

Duct Tape

No, you can’t fix everything with it, but a roll of duct tape can get you out of a few sticky situations. Patch a hole in your tent or daypack or prevent a pesky blister from getting any bigger; having duct tape can be handy. If you’re planning a hike, wrap a few yards of it around your trekking pools so it’s always ready to use. 

Sale
3M Multi-Use Colored Duct Tape, Black with Strong Adhesive and Water-Resistant Backing, Multi-Surface 3M Duct Tape for Indoor and Outdoor Use, 1.88 Inches x 20 Yards, 1 Roll
  • BOLD COLOR: 1 roll of 1.88 inches x 20 yards 3M Black Colored Duct Tape, with multiple purposes and a bold hue that matches your project’s color scheme

Axe

You may need to split a log or two into kindling to get a roaring fire going. An axe can make quick work of that wood, especially if you’ve had a little practice with it. 

Sale
ESTWING Fireside Friend Axe – 14″ Wood Splitting Maul with Forged Steel Construction & Shock Reduction Grip – E3-FF4, Blue
  • WOOD SPLITTING MADE EASY – Weighted wedge design makes chopping logs and firewood a breeze with this one handed maul.

Don’t feel comfortable swinging an axe? A splitting wedge and a small sledgehammer work just as well without the risk of chopping your toes off.

Remember to always use fallen wood instead of cutting down a live tree, and check the firewood rules at your specific camping spot before chopping. Even picking up fallen wood is sometimes prohibited.

Multi-Tool

A Swiss Army Knife is an incredibly helpful tool to have on hand while camping. A multi-tool packs a punch, providing many valuable items in a small compact package, such as a knife, tweezers, file, scissors, bottle opener, screwdriver, and more.

Sale
Victorinox Swiss Army Multi-Tool, SwissChamp Pocket Knife, Red, 91 mm (1.6795)
  • Features 33 functions to equip you for everyday adventures – including 2.45″ large blade, scissors, bottle opener with large screwdriver, pliers, and corkscrew (See product description for full list of features)

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is a lightweight defensive protection option that you can legally use to protect yourself from animals and humans while camping in all 50 US states.

Sale
SABRE Pepper Spray, Quick Release Keychain for Easy Carry and Fast Access, Finger Grip for More Accurate and Faster Aim, Maximum Police Strength OC Spray, 0.54 oz, Secure and Easy to Use Safety
  • TRUST THE PROFESSIONALS: SABRE is the #1 Pepper Spray brand trusted by police and consumers worldwide, including New York PD, Chicago PD, and U.S. Marshals; Made in the USA

Car Camping Necessities: Campsite Gear

A Few Sources of Light

Having a lit-up campsite is about more than ambiance; it also helps you see, which makes the site safer. Due to this, it’s smart to pack not only one but a few different illumination methods. An extra flashlight only takes up a little space.

Also, you don’t want to be hunting around for light after the sun goes down, so be sure to keep a light source somewhere easily accessible.

Headlamp

Headlamps are fantastic for when you need light but also need to use your hands, such as when prepping a meal or hiking a trail in the pre-dawn hours. They brighten up your surroundings while always pointing wherever you’re looking.

Also, gone are the days when you had to bring a small arsenal of AAA batteries to keep your headlamp running. Now, there are fantastic lightweight headlamps that charge by USB and can still last all night. This headlamp is my absolute favorite and lasts up to 16 hours on the lowest setting!

Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output – White, Red, High CRI – Lightweight USB Rechargeable Headlamp (Black)
  • 360 LUMEN WIDE BEAM – Featuring a CREE XP-G2 S3 LED for a primary output, the NU25 is capable of 360 lumen max output and 88 yards of throw, perfect for biking, jogging and trekking.

When gearing up, look for one with a red light so you can mingle in camp without blinding your friends. It should also have an option to get up to 300 lumens bright, for moments when you really need an area lit up well.

Flashlight

Headlamps are awesome for tasks where you need your hands free, but it can be annoying to bobble your head around to get light where you need it. A flashlight lets you decide where the light goes and is a handy backup if your headlamp battery dies.

When organizing group camping trips, I put together goodie bags for my friends with a few helpful items, including a mini first aid kit, firestarters, and a cheap mini flashlight such as these, so I know everyone has the basics on them.

Sale
FASTPRO 20-Pack Aluminum 6-LED Flashlights Set with Lanyard and AAA Batteries Included and Pre-Installed
2,825 Reviews
FASTPRO 20-Pack Aluminum 6-LED Flashlights Set with Lanyard and AAA Batteries Included and Pre-Installed
  • SUPER BRIGHT: Each mini flashlight is equipped with 6-piece Bright LED, provides with 20 lumens of light output. Suitable for night walk, bedroom reading, camping, hiking, fishing, nursing, BBQ.

Lantern

Lanterns, on the other hand, help illuminate the entire campsite. Hang a couple near its corners, and you’ll have as much light as you would on your back deck or patio. 

Just be sure to be neighbor-aware when using them.

String Lights/Rope Light

This isn’t the backcountry, and everything in your kit doesn’t have to be so utilitarian. A few sets of decorative string lights can really liven up the campsite and make for a more fun ambiance. They’re probably not bright enough for detailed tasks like preparing a meal, but they’ll make everything a bit easier on your eyes while relaxing around the fire. 

Look for a waterproof string light option since you’ll be using it outdoors and one with a solar charging option like this one so it can boot up naturally from the sun during the day at your campsite.

Anpro 2 in 1 Solar Camping String Lights, 39.4Ft Ultra Long String with 150LEDs, Solar Powered and USB Rechargeable Light with Remote Control,Portable Camping Light for Hiking, Decorations
  • All-In-One Camping String Lights: Our 2-in-1 camping string light combines a camping lantern and string lights in a compact unit. The 39.4 ft ultra-long string light with 150 warm white LEDs, is perfect for illuminating tents, creating a cozy atmosphere, and lighting up outdoor adventures.

Camp Chairs

You might find some errant logs lying around your camp, but most sites are relatively barren. Often, the only places to sit are at the site’s picnic table (if there is one) or on the chairs you bring along. 

There are so many options in this category! You really can’t go wrong; just think about what you’d be most comfortable hanging around the fire in. Look for a chair that folds up tight and will take up minimal space in your car, has the back height and armrest you want, will support your weight, and has any added features you’d enjoy, like a footrest or cup holder. Some of those features might seem silly, but be honest with yourself; wouldn’t your camping experience be improved if you had those things?

This camp chair style is my favorite because I love rocking around the campfire.

PORTAL Outdoor Rocking Chair Camping Folding Portable Rocker with Cup Holder Side Pocket Carry Bag, Support 300LBS (Midnight Blue)
  • Standard Size: Seat height 18inch, back height 24inch, net weight 14.5lbs. This folding rocking chair is different to our oversized type, it’s lighter and better to be taken out camping, watching sports and other outdoor activities. And it will also make more people feel comfortable!

However, it is true that the more bare-bones you go with your chair, the more compact it’ll break down, leaving you more room for other items in your car.

Camp Table

A camp table can serve as an extra place to play cards, prepare your dinner, or organize your gear for a day hike. If you’re staying at a developed campsite, there’s a good chance it comes with a picnic table. Still, often, one isn’t enough for campsite storage and organizational needs. A simple, lightweight folding table can be a game-changer for the car camping experience. 

Pop Up Canopy

Shade is one of the most overlooked aspects of camping. It can make or break the trip. While many campsites are nestled amongst a stand of shade-giving trees, many others are not, or they only provide shade at a certain time of day.

A pop up canopy provides adequate shade regardless of the sun’s position, and many have zippered mosquito nets attached to them so you can keep those bloodsuckers at arm’s length.

Look for one with an easy setup process like this one from Coleman:

Sale
Coleman Skylodge Screened Canopy Tent with Instant Setup, 10×10/15x13ft Portable Screen Shelter with 1-Minute Setup for Bug-Free Lounging, Great for Picnic, Yard, Beach, Park, Camping, & More
  • SUN PROTECTION: UVGuard material offers UPF 50 sun protection.DIMENSIONS: 15 x 13 ft. canopy for 41.6 sq. ft. of shade; 7 ft. center heightCARRY BAG: Included for easy storage1-YEAR LIMITED WARRANTY

Speaker

Music is a surefire way to liven up any camping experience, and with how inexpensive Bluetooth speakers have become in the past several years, there’s just no reason not to have one on your car camping checklist. 

This one, being waterproof and having excellent audio quality, is perfect for car camping!

JBL Charge 4 – Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker – Black
  • WIRELESS BLUETOOTH STREAMING: Wirelessly connect up to 2 smartphones or tablets to the speaker and take turns enjoying powerful sound.

That being said, not everyone will enjoy your taste in music. It’s advised to keep the volume respectable and abide by quiet hours if you’re camping in a crowded campground.

Battery Bank

If your phone is used regularly, its battery will probably last only a day or so. A battery bank can keep it charged up on multi-day trips, along with all your other electronic devices.

When looking for a power bank, consider the number of items you’ll want to charge with it and compare the time it will take to recharge both the power bank itself and all the devices you’ll be plugging into it. Some battery banks only provide a single charge, but others can power up several devices a few times, so you’ll want to do your homework.

The Anker brand is known for making fantastic power banks, and its products generally have an 18-month warranty.

We used this 20000mAh 525 Power Bank Portable Charger for our entire Appalachian Trail thru-hike and have since used it on many other shorter adventures! It’s a fantastic choice.

Portable Power Station

That said, since you’re in a car for this adventure, you’re not restricted to a small charger. Sure, it’s awesome to have one you can tote around in your pocket or take on a hike, but it’s also great to know you’ll have an abundance of juice if needed!

A portable power station is handy if you need to charge a lot of items or run some high-draw appliances.

Jackery Explorer 1000 v2 Portable Power Station(2024 New),1070Wh LiFePO4 Battery,1500W AC/100W USB-C Output, 1 Hr Fast Charge, Solar Generator for Outdoor Camping,Off-grid Living,RV,Emergency
  • Next-gen Sustainable Power: Built with industry-leading features, including 7.5 times faster charging than its previous Explorer 1000 model, a 50% increase in power output and robust 1,500W AC output, the Explorer 1000 v2 is the pinnacle of portable power, ensuring power wherever adventures take you. With 4 times longer lifespan, and impressive 4,000 cycle battery-life, remaining at 70% original capacity, next-gen sustainable power is here.

While we were full-time RVers, we fell in love with Jackery’s portable power stations, which can charge devices via AC, USB, and DC. When the power station is out of juice, it can be recharged from a car, wall outlet, or solar panels in 1.7-2.5 hours (depending on the model).

Jackery Solar Generator 1000 v2 with 200W Solar Panel(2024 New),1070Wh Portable Power Station LiFePO4 Battery,1500W AC/100W USB-C Output,1Hr Fast Charge for Outdoor,Off-Grid Living,RV,Emergency
  • Next-gen Sustainable Power: Built with industry-leading features, including 7.5 times faster charging than the previous Solar Generator 1000 model, a 50% increase in power output and robust 1,500W AC output, the Solar Generator 1000 v2 is the pinnacle of portable power. With 4 times longer lifespan, and impressive 4,000 cycle life, remaining at 70% original capacity, next-gen sustainable power is here.

Jackery has a wide range of power stations. When assessing whether it can charge or run certain appliances, consider the differences between the different models.

Camping & Campsite Luxuries

Generator

For those wanting a steady source of electricity similar to what you’re used to at home, a generator can provide all of those creature comforts—a TV, air conditioning, and a place to plug in all your devices. The downside is that they’re loud, heavy, and take up a fair amount of space. Consider your electricity demands and whether a generator is necessary for your car camping trip.

Also, be mindful of the rules about generators at your campsite. Many developed campgrounds ban them or restrict their use to certain hours.

Rooftop Cargo Carrier

Will your vehicle be full of people? Then, you’ll likely need an additional spot to store everyone’s things. A waterproof, softshell rooftop cargo carrier will be tremendously helpful for anyone in this situation. Softshell carriers can also be folded up when unused, which is fantastic for storing.

We used one like this with an anti-slip mat for years with my Toyota Matrix. When picking one, make sure it is compatible with the vehicle you’ll be taking to the campground.

FIVKLEMNZ Car Rooftop Cargo Carrier Roof Bag Waterproof for All Top of Vehicle with/without Rack includes Topper Anti-Slip Mat + Reinforced Straps + 6 Door Hooks + Luggage Lock
  • 【Most Safe Design】: For security reasons, we use 8 reinforced adjustable straps to keep the cargo carrier in place. In addition, equipped with free anti-slip mat to keep the cargo bag stay in place even in high speed road or bump road, no slip, no scratch to your car.

Travel Toilet

Does traveling with your own toilet setup sound like the height of luxury or the most desperate of measures? Really, it can be both. With a travel bathroom, you’re not tied down by the presence (or lack of) vault toilets. You can pull over on any Forest Service road, make camp, and rest easy knowing you won’t suffer the indignity of digging a cat hole. 

FUN ESSENTIALS Portable Toilet Kit For Adults, Pop Up Privacy Tent, X Large Camping Folding Toilet, 12 Toilet bags, 12 pack Liquid Waste Gel, Washable Foldable For Travel,RV,Outdoor
  • ✅ FUN ESSENTIALS All In 1 Portable Toilet kit for Adults- A Large portable folding toilet, privacy pop up tent, 12 trash bags, 12 liquid waste gel chemicals. Foldable design and set-up quickly. The all in one kit folds down to just 22″ storage bag which you carry in your back. It little space while transporting or storing it. Designed for field use and emergencies.

However, that toilet will need to be cleaned or the waste disposed of, so consider whether you’re up to the task. 

Car Camping Adventuring Essentials

Kayaks

car camping necessities: Cindy, Barrett, and Marty enjoying inflatable kayaks

How often have you camped at a lake and thought, “I really wish I could get out on the water”? Or, “Man, I really don’t want to spend 1/3 the cost of a kayak renting one for just one day.”

Pack a couple of kayaks from the get-go, and you can spend the whole day fishing, lounging, or just puttering around that beautiful lake.

Also, if your car isn’t up for the 50+ lbs on your car’s rooftop carry, inflatable kayaks are lightweight and take up comparatively minimal space in your car’s trunk or truck bed. After paying for tons of kayak rentals wherever I would go, I eventually switched to using these ones for water-based activities for years now with no future plans of stopping! They are abrasion-resistant, durable, and have a limited warranty.

INTEX 68305EP Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak Set: includes Deluxe 86in Kayak Paddles and High-Output Pump – Adjustable Seat with Backrest – Removable Skeg – 1-Person – 220lb Weight Capacity
  • SUPER-STRONG – SuperStrong enhanced molecular formulation PVC provides superior strength and durability, ensuring high impact and abrasion resistance
INTEX 68306EP Challenger K2 Inflatable Kayak Set: Includes Deluxe 86in Kayak Paddles and High-Output Pump – Adjustable Seat with Backrest – Removable Skeg – 2-Person – 400lb Weight Capacity
  • SUPER-STRONG – SuperStrong enhanced molecular formulation PVC provides superior strength and durability, ensuring high impact and abrasion resistance

Bikes (& Bike Repair Kit)

Cindy on Bike in Smoky Mountains

Whether they’re for riding around camp or hitting the trail, a few bikes will always make the trip a little more fun. Just be sure they’re suited for the task – road bikes aren’t going to do too well on rutted-out Forest Service roads.

Also, perhaps your bikes aren’t always getting used. A common scenario when camping is that we bring the bikes and then quickly figure out they have a problem once someone attempts to use one. Consider bringing along a bicycle repair kit so you’re ready for any little thing you may figure out is wrong with your bike while camping.

Sale
Bicycle Repair Bag With Tire Pump, Portable Tool Kit for Camping Travel – Patches, Inflator, Maintenance Essentials All in One Safety Kit
  • Limited product inventory, bike tool kit, bike repair kit, bike kit, bike tire repair kit, bicycle tool kit, bicycle repair kit, bike tire patch kit, mountain bike tool kit, bike patch kit, bike tools kit set, bike repair multitool, Experience The Best Bicycle Repair In New Mountain Bike Tires Repair Tools.

Daypack

Cindy wearing her daypack at Zion National Park

If hiking is on the agenda, you’ll need a place to store your lunch, water, sunscreen, and the rest of your supplies. A solid daypack with plenty of pockets and comfortable straps ensures you have the capacity for serious adventuring.

There are many daypack options on the market. When thinking about which daypack is best for you, consider everything you’d like to take with you on a day’s journey.

For day hiking, most people get a pack with a capacity between 10 and 35 liters, depending on how much room they want for their things. When picking one for yourself, consider how many extra pieces of clothing, snacks, and other items you’ll want to bring along on your adventures.

You can’t go wrong with any of these popular daypacks:

Budget Option
Middle Option
Splurge Option
Gregory NANO 20
deuter Speed Lite 25, jade-citrus, 25L
Osprey Tempest 20L Women’s Hiking Backpack with Hipbelt, Stealth Black, WM/L
Gregory NANO 20
deuter Speed Lite 25, jade-citrus, 25L
Osprey Tempest 20L Women's Hiking Backpack with Hipbelt, Stealth Black, WM/L
$79.95
$103.53
$155.95
Amazon Prime
Budget Option
Gregory NANO 20
Gregory NANO 20
$79.95
Middle Option
deuter Speed Lite 25, jade-citrus, 25L
deuter Speed Lite 25, jade-citrus, 25L
$103.53
Splurge Option
Osprey Tempest 20L Women’s Hiking Backpack with Hipbelt, Stealth Black, WM/L
Osprey Tempest 20L Women's Hiking Backpack with Hipbelt, Stealth Black, WM/L
$155.95
Amazon Prime

I’m a big fan of REI Co-op daypacks. They have two that compete with the above packs: the Flash 22 Pack ($60) and the Trail 25 Pack ($100).

Fanny Pack

Sometimes, you’ll want quick access to items during your adventures, like when you just need a fast bite or fast access to your phone to snap that perfect shot. Fanny packs are awesome for those moments! (They’re also excellent for amusement parks!)

Cindy wearing her fanny pack at Universal Studios

After testing out a few fanny pack options over the years, I have become a fan of CTUG’s fanny packs due to their durability, strength, size options, and fun look.

They are mostly waterproof (the zipper is water-resistant) and abrasion-resistant. I have never had a problem with anything getting ruined inside mine. In fact, mine has held up like a champ after being dragged along the entire Appalachian Trail. (I wore my rain jacket over it in the rain.)

The 2.5L size worked well for me, but CTUG also sells a smaller 1L and a larger 4L one recommended for parents who need to hold more items for their little ones.

Hydration Reservoir

Plenty of campers and hikers get by using water bottles, and if you never plan on leaving camp, you probably don’t need a hydration reservoir.

However, if you intend to go out for day hikes, some hikers enjoy hydration reservoirs because the easy-to-use bite valve keeps water at the ready while you’re on the move, so there’s no need to break your stride or contort your arm just to get a sip of water. They also hold much more water than your average water bottle.

Osprey Hydraulics 2L Backpack Water Reservoir with Bite Valve
  • An all-new comfortable handle allows for true one-handed filling. This easier-to-fill design is also easier to carry and pour.

Sunglasses

Like your skin, your eyes need protection from harmful UV rays. There is no need to buy expensive sunglasses—we tend to lose those. Just a pair with basic protection and polarization to reduce glare will do.

MEETSUN Polarized Sunglasses for Women Men Trendy Classic Retro Designer Style
  • Get 99% UV protection with lenses blocking UVA, UVB, and UVC rays.

Trekking Poles

If you’ve never tried trekking poles, these are a game changer for your hiking experience. Not only do they help to maintain your balance on precarious trails and stream crossing, but you can also cover a lot more ground using the strength of your arms to push off with every step.

As a bonus, they can push aside overgrowth and scare off black bears by banging them together.

When shopping for trekking poles, know that aluminum will be the most durable and that cork handles are popular because they resist moisture. You’ll see “male” and “female” poles being sold; this is silly. Just hold an assortment of them, see what feels best, and make sure they can be adjusted for your height. Also, if you are a burlier hiker who puts a lot of weight and stress on their poles, don’t go for the less robust composite and “lite” options. 

Selfie Stick

Cindy and Barrett taking a photo on the roof of their RV with their selfie stick

I know there’s a weird stigma around selfie sticks. I hope that’s changing because, really, who cares!? They’re a fantastic little lightweight tool perfect for capturing a family or group photo with a beautiful background when no one else is around. (See the moment above for the perfect example!)

This one is my absolute favorite, coming in at only 5 ounces. However, despite being so lightweight, it is still sturdy enough to be used in your hand as a stick and on the ground as a tripod with its wireless pop-out remote.

ATUMTEK Selfie Stick Tripod, Extendable 3 in 1 Aluminum Bluetooth Selfie Stick with Wireless Remote and Tripod Stand for iPhone 15/14/13/12/11/11 Pro/XS Max/XS/XR/X/8/7, Samsung Smartphones, Blue
  • ⭐ [Integrated Innovation Design] – The ATUMTEK Selfie Stick and tripod stand integrating together, combined with premium aluminium extendable stick, the selfie stick is extremely stable. The extendable pole is constructed with aviation-grade aluminum alloy with surface anodic oxidation process for which it will be sturdy and durable.

After testing out A LOT of selfie sticks, I’ve become a big fan of this one’s ability to firmly hold up my phone, a quality that seems to diminish as they get lighter and flimsier.

Just use one. I promise you won’t regret having it. You may feel silly in the moment, but you’ll never regret always having a tool that’ll let you snap that photo you’ll cherish for years to come. I can’t tell you how many of my favorite pictures have been possible due to a selfie stick. I keep one in my fanny pack, truck, and now, even the diaper bag!

Car Camping: Extra Gear

Depending on your specific needs and where you’re camping, your checklist should perhaps include the following items.

Medications

Your medications are critical for any trip, not just camping, so they should always be at the top of your travel checklist. Forget something like ibuprofen, and maybe you’ll only need to take a short trip into town for a stop at a drugstore, but prescription meds are considerably more complicated.

I’ve taken a trip where I forgot a necessary medication, was hundreds of miles from my doctor’s office, and was also nowhere near a drugstore. These kinds of accidents are, of course, fixable, but they can also quickly steal a whole day from your vacation, and no one wants that!

If you take multiple medications, buy a pill case and pack it with your toiletries so they don’t get lost.

Insect Repellent

Repellants come in many options, but anything is better than nothing when the sun is setting and the mosquitos start swarming. Some campers swear by the benefits of citronella or peppermint oil. Still, the only scientifically proven way to keep the bugs away is DEET or picaridin.

This picaridin repellent is designed to be applied directly to clothing or skin, preventing the offending insects from locating you and your tasty flesh.

Sale
Sawyer Products SP5442 Picaridin Insect Repellent, 4 Fl Oz (Pack of 2) – Packaging May Vary
  • Non-greasy, fragrance free, odorless; dries quickly and won’t damage plastics or synthetic coatings — safe for use on clothing, backpacks, watches, sunglasses, fishing line, firearm finishes, and more

Insect Head Net

Often, you won’t need a head net. Yet, there will be times when you want to go somewhere epically beautiful, but visiting comes with one tiny caveat: flying bugs. I have camped in spots on the Appalachian Trail and in Alaska where having a head net was pretty necessary and helpful, especially during day hikes.

If you’re at your campsite, you can escape into your tent when the bugs are buzzing. But if you must be outside and hate having bugs near your face, you’ll appreciate the protection a head net provides to the skin on your head despite the side effects of added warmth and looking goofy.

You’ll see cheap versions and more expensive versions. Know that, ultimately, the more you spend, the more protected and comfortable you’ll be.

If you’re going to an area where you may experience swarms of no-see-ums, mosquitoes, or giant summer flies, they’re often worth the expense.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Mesh Mosquito Head Net for Midges, No See-ums and Small Insects
227 Reviews
Sea to Summit Ultra-Mesh Mosquito Head Net for Midges, No See-ums and Small Insects
  • Ultra-fine monofilament Nylon mesh with 2,000 holes per square inch

Pro tip: Wear a wide-brimmed hat with it. It will keep the netting from clinging to your face and give you much more breathing room.

Bug Bite Thing

Insect saliva contains a complex mixture of irritants that your body isn’t a huge fan of, hence the redness, swelling, and itchiness that comes from their bites.

The Bug Bite Thing is a suction device that pulls out insect venom and saliva before your body can react to them. As long as you’re vigilant and use plenty of repellant, you can go to work the following week without looking like you have a case of chickenpox.

BUG BITE THING Suction Tool – Bug Bites and Bee/Wasp Stings, Natural Insect Bite Relief, Chemical Free – White/Single
  • Removes insect venom, saliva, and other irritants left under the skin using suction

Wagon

Having a wagon to move items around can make your camping experience much more pleasant.

There may be a common area at your campground, such as a beach, where you’d like to spend the day. A wagon will help you transport your chair, cooler, and whatever else you’d like to bring to that spot in one go.

For the best wagon experience, look for one that folds up small when not in use and has all-terrain wheels like this one:

Sale
Navatiee Collapsible Folding Wagon, Wagon Cart Heavy Duty Foldable with Two Drink Holders, Utility Grocery Wagon for Camping Shopping Sports, S2, Black
2,113 Reviews
Navatiee Collapsible Folding Wagon, Wagon Cart Heavy Duty Foldable with Two Drink Holders, Utility Grocery Wagon for Camping Shopping Sports, S2, Black
  • Navatiee Wagon S2 is roundly upgraded with a more stylish appearance, less effort to operate, and achieves a perfect balance between large capacity and small folding storage space. The wagon S2 will make your eyes shine, because we pay attention to every detail and only want to bring buyers the best shopping experience.

Mini Broom & Dustpan

The inside of tents become dirty very quickly. You’ll promptly find that you love having a broom and dustpan on hand to get all the loose dirt out of your sleeping area at the end of the day.

This Coleman kit includes a broom, dustpan, and some camping-friendly extras for your tent that you may not mind having on hand, including a few extra tent stakes, a rubber mallet, and a stake puller.

Sale
Coleman Premium Camping Tent Kit: Steel Tent Pegs, Rubber Mallet, Broom and Dustpan, Stake Puller, Includes Carry Bag
  • Inclusive Kit: Features four steel tent pegs, a rubber mallet, broom and dustpan, a stake puller, and a carry bag

Car Camping: Fun Gear

Card Games

Card games are always a fantastic evening entertainment option. I love camping with a waterproof deck of cards and waterproof Uno.

Sale
Hoyle Waterproof Playing Cards, Clear, 1 Deck
  • WATERPROOF PLAYING CARDS: Elevate your game night with our Hoyle Waterproof Playing Cards. Our waterproof cards are designed to keep the fun rolling, regardless of the weather or location. Prepare to game on in style, come rain or shine, or accidental spill

Yard Games

Yard games are a fantastic thing to bring along for a car camping trip. Inevitably, there will be times when everyone will be sitting around looking for something to do.

Opting for lightweight options such as this cornhole set or this ladder toss set, make sure you still have plenty of room in your car for everything and everyone else.

GoSports Portable PVC Framed Cornhole Toss Game Set with 8 Bean Bags and Travel Carrying Case – Choose Your Style, 3 ft x 2 ft
  • ULTRA PORTABLE CORNHOLE: All the fun of traditional cornhole in an ultra compact size; The 3 ft x 2 ft game boards fold smaller than traditional wood sets so you can play anywhere: at the beach, tailgating, camping, the park, backyards, and more
GoSports Ladder Toss Indoor & Outdoor Game Set with 6 Soft Rubber Bolo Balls and Travel Carrying Case – Choose Pro or Classic
  • PRO GRADE LADDER TOSS: Enjoy a brand new modern look made with durability and style in mind; Featuring ultra sturdy reinforced PVC to withstand all the fun of ladder toss

Activities & Crafts

For kids (and adults), crafts or activities, such as coloring, are a terrific way to fill some downtime!

Crayola Twistables Colored Pencil Set (50ct), No Sharpen Colored Pencils For Kids, Kids Art Supplies for Back to School, 4+ [Amazon Exclusive]
  • CRAYOLA TWISTABLES COLORED PENCILS: Includes 50 Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils. Only available on Amazon!

Books or Kindle

A Kindle or old-fashioned book is smart to bring along on a camping trip for moments when you want to relax in the great outdoors.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (16 GB) – Now with a larger display, adjustable warm light, increased battery life, and faster page turns – Agave Green
  • Kindle Paperwhite – Now with a 6.8” display and thinner borders, adjustable warm light, up to 10 weeks of battery life, and 20% faster page turns.

But books don’t have to be just for reading pleasure. A gamebook such as this can be fun for the whole group to play at night around the campfire!

Notepad & Pen/Pencil

While I generally do most of my journaling digitally, I still always carry a tiny notebook and a pen or pencil as well, just in case I need to jot down something and I can’t use my phone.

Car Camping: First Timer Tips

A fundamental checklist should cover all your bases, such as food, shelter, and warmth, but sometimes first-time campers overlook these three things:

Cash

Most of us don’t carry a lot of cash these days. Regardless, it’s a good idea to have some cash in your wallet in various denominations because there are a few things you’ll still sometimes struggle to pay for with a credit card – firewood being the classic example. It can often be sitting in bundles on the side of the road near your campsite, and if you stick a few dollars in a box on the honor system, a bundle can be yours.

Also, buying local firewood is important as it prevents bugs and diseases from spreading between different regions.

Fire Starters

A lighter, matches, toilet paper tubes filled with dryer lint, Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, Duraflame Firestart cubes, a little block of magnesium, or even a ferro rod are all some of the many ways and helpful tools for starting a fire and keeping it going.

Sale
duraflame Firestart CUBES Firelighters, 18 pack
255 Reviews
duraflame Firestart CUBES Firelighters, 18 pack
  • Extra fire power to start charcoal or wood fires at home or on the go

However, it’s also super important to make sure you have multiple firestarter methods. That way, if one fails, you don’t freeze or go hungry.

Paper Map

Many people also don’t carry maps anymore, but batteries do die. It’s wise to obtain a paper map of the area you’re camping in, just in case. Often, they are available for free at rest stops, visitor centers, and campground check-in stands.

Also, it’s a great idea to download the offline map of the area you’re headed before leaving home. That way, if there’s no service at the campground, you can still get around with Google Maps as long as your phone is charged.

Planning a car camping trip? Pin this to come back to as you pack!

View Everything on Amazon

Amazon is a fantastic place to start when researching car camping necessities! Click to see everything mentioned in this post on our Amazon storefront.

FAQs: Car Camping Necessities

Here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions about car camping:

What do you need to camp in your car?

The essentials for car camping aren’t all that different from any other trip; in fact, you could car camp with your backpacking gear, but it probably wouldn’t be as comfortable of an experience. Car camping is about figuring out where you’d like to splurge – space and weight-wise. 

With a thick mattress, the makings of a gourmet meal, and some lights, you can really add some ambiance to your trip! You can ultimately decide how much you’d like to make the camping trip a glamping trip.

How to pack car camping gear?

Packing the car is an art, but I have a system to ensure camp setup and takedown are as pain-free as possible. For most car campers, setting up your shelter is the top priority when arriving at your site. So pack that last to ensure it’s the first thing that comes out. 

Follow through with that line of thinking by first packing the things that are set up last. Ironically, this means the first things to go into your car are the least important: decorative lighting, drinks, frisbees, and other frivolities.

How do I organize my car camping?

All the “extras” of car camping can quickly devolve into an unruly mess. The tricked-out “van life” rigs usually feature many drawers to keep everything in place. However, the weekend car camping warriors often have to settle for bins, packing cubes, ziplocs, and duffel bags. 

These don’t have to be fancy; something you pick up for cheap at the hardware stores or thrift shops will work just fine. Whatever packing system you use, it’s best to have one bin or bag for each campsite category—cookware, lighting, etc.

How do you pack water for car camping?

While you may be staying at a developed campground, not all of them have drinking water available—or water you’d want to drink. Some sort of collapsible container is best; that way, it won’t take up much space if you don’t need it. Plan on bringing a minimum of two liters of water per person per day of camping.

What are the most forgotten camping items?

You’re most likely to forget additional or luxury accessories that may not be on your car camping checklist. This can include items like a hand or electric pump for inflating your mattress, cords for charging your phone, or the plastic hammer you picked up for nailing in tent stakes (though a nice rock can remedy that little oversight).

To ensure you bring all those little extras, download my car camping-specific checklist and add any extra items you think of along the way in the blank spaces provided.

Conclusion: Car Camping Essentials

If you love the outdoors but aren’t comfortable with the physical and logistical challenges of backpacking, car camping is a fantastic way to spend time in nature. This post was intended to help you get stocked up with the proper gear so you can head out on your next car camping adventure and have the best time ever! Be sure to download the car camping checklist below to help you make sure nothing is left behind!

Related Guides and Articles:
👉 What is Boondocking? A Thorough Guide.
👉 Hiking for Beginners 101: A Clear-Cut Guide for Newbies
👉 How to Plan a Backpacking Trip in 16 Easy Steps
👉
The Definitive List of RV Must-Haves for 2024 (From a Full-Time RVer)
👉
A Complete Appalachian Trail Gear List: Realistic Packing for an AT Thru-Hike in 2024

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