Going on a camping trip with your car? Here is the complete list of all the car camping essentials you’ll need for a perfect time in the outdoors.
Car camping is truly the best way to go camping as you don’t have to worry about fitting all your camping essentials in just a backpack.
With a car, you can take all the necessary things for camping without worrying about space, or carrying everything on your back. You can actually even bring some of the usual fancy home supplies with you, yes car camping is that flexible.
Also, camping mistakes are likely to be minimal when you go car camping especially if you’re camping for the first time.
But you might be wondering, what exactly is car camping?
What is car camping
There are 2 forms of car camping:
- One is where you have your tent attached to the roof of the car, and you literally sleep on top of your car. Commonly referred to as rooftop tended car camping.
- And another form is where you have everything else in your car but just pitch your tent to the ground on a campsite you might have booked.
I’ve done both kinds of car camping and these car camping essentials listed below apply to both.
Aside from the packing related advantages, car camping will help you stay flexible when it comes to where you can stay and the stops you can make.
Car camping is also perfect if you don’t want the hustles of wild camping but rather something that even those camping for the first time can handle.
And a huge plus is that you can just find a campsite, pack your car there and make it the base for all your activities. Whether it’s hiking some of the popular trails in the region or exploring the major attractions, you just have to put a few things you’ll need for the day in your daypack and you’re good to go.
Sounds easy and fun, right? Yes, it is actually easy if you know and pack all the things needed for camping. But sometimes it’s inevitable to forget some crucial camping gear.
So to make sure that you don’t forget anything as you embark on what is likely to be your best outdoor adventure, I’ve compiled a complete car camping checklist with everything you’ll need to make your camping trip fun.
This car camping packing list is broken down into camping necessities, camping items to keep you safe, toiletries, and all camping gear essentials for easy navigation. Literally everything you need for camping.
So without any further ado, let’s look at all the car camping essentials you’ll need for a perfect camping adventure.
Car camping essentials you’ll need
Best camping gear: The car essentials
As you go for a car camping trip, it’s important to take some car essentials that will keep you safe on the road.
With cars, you can never know when you’ll get a flat tire (I hope you never do though). So to make sure that you don’t get stranded even before your camping adventure starts, take a spare tire.
And do not just have it, learn how to change it yourself should you get a flat tire in a remote place with no one to help.
Car Road side emergency kit
One of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make on a car camping trip is to leave a Car Road side emergency kit behind. Road accidents and emergencies are some times inevitable but you have to be prepared when that happens.
I have to say that a Car Roadside emergency kit is one of the most useful car camping gear essentials that should go in your car first.
It should have a triangle warning DOT, jump starters, Portable Air compressor, Tow strap, Tire Pressure Gauge, all-weather tools, and supplies plus other items. This is the car roadside emergency kit that I recommend as it has all those items mentioned above.
Empty fuel jerrycan
If you’re going camping in remote areas, finding a fuel station is not always guaranteed and that’s why an empty fuel jerry can like this is one of the camping trip essentials you must have.
So before you leave home, don’t just fill up your car tank but also that fuel jerrycan so that you always have fuel with you should you run out before reaching a fuel station.
Related post: The complete packing list for a road trip
Car camping packing list: The sleeping essentials
If you don’t have a rooftop tented car, the first thing you need to get before going camping is obviously a tent. This is literally the number one thing that should be on your camping essentials list.
The camping tent you choose should be sturdy, wind and waterproof, and also big enough to accommodate the number of people that will occupy it. It should also be easy to set up and pack light at the same time.
Since you honestly don’t want to be buying a tent every other year, I recommend buying this Coleman camping tent as it is strong, packs light, and it’s made for even the harshest of conditions.
And if you’re traveling with a family, this camping tent can accommodate over 4 people.
Camping Sleeping bag
Even when you’re camping in warm places, I can guarantee you that it will get cold in the night and that’s why you need to add a sleeping bag to your car camping packing list.
Ideally, you should buy the warmest sleeping bag you land on so that you can use it even in cold regions without freezing to death.
For couples who don’t want to stay far from each other, you could get yourself this double sleeping bag that easily accommodates two people.
And if that’s not enough, you can add this large camping blanket to your camping packing list especially if you’re camping in really cold destinations.
Sleeping pad /Air mattress
Having a sleeping bag is not enough, you’ll need to carry a sleeping pad like this one to add some bit of comfort as you sleep.
A sleeping pad will not only improve the sleeping conditions but also add some warmth to you. And a huge plus of this sleeping pad is that it’s inflatable and lightweight which helps you to pack light even when car camping.
Other than the sleeping pad, you could opt for an air mattress if you want to take comfort to the next level.
You don’t have to worry about its packing as you can just throw it in your camping car and done. You’ll absolutely love this Coleman air mattress – it’s the true meaning of comfort while camping.
With car camping, there is no reason as to why you shouldn’t pack a pillow. I am a sucker for a pillow and I would be extremely uncomfortable without one.
If you don’t want to spend on a new one, you could even take your normal home pillow but if you travel a lot, then I recommend buying this inflatable travel pillow.
It is comfortable and packs light which means that you can use it even when you go on your usual backpacking trips.
Things to take camping: Campsite essentials
Camping foldable table
A camping foldable table is one of the must-have camping gear. It is such a pain to eat or even make your meals without a table – everything will be all over the place and that can make you even dread camping.
The best part about having a foldable camping table like this is gathering around with your mates during meal times.
If you’ve not been taking a camping car with you, I have to tell you that you’re missing out on the comfort it comes with.
Whether it is to just relax from it as you enjoy the quietness of nature, immerse yourself into a book, or just to tell stories as you sit around the campfire (this is the best part), you’ll be happy you took one. This one is my favorite camping chair.
If you’re lucky to camp in an area with grass- then kudos to you. But I’ve been quite “unlucky” with this. Most of the campsites I’ve been too were extremely sandy and dusty.
And the first time I went camping, I didn’t take a camping mat. To be honest, I didn’t even know that it was a thing until I saw it with other campers.
I remember how jealous I was seeing other campers enjoying it while I was suffering with dust. But now that I know better, I never go camping without this camping mat.
It keeps away all the dust and dirt from your tent. Since it’s so easy forget it, make sure that you add it to your car camping checklist right now.
Foldable clothes drying rack or a clothes line
Unless you’re going for just a weekend camping trip, you’re likely to find yourself doing laundry and that means having somewhere to hang your clothes to dry.
Though most campers overlook it, a drying line will be helpful. Honestly, you don’t need to take a foldable drying rack unless you have lots of space in your car. A simple clothesline like this one will get the job done.
You could aswell use of your old ropes in your garage as your clothes line if you have one.
I know there are some people that substitute a hammock for a tent, I wouldn’t advise this unless you’ve been doing it for a while.
A hammock is cool to chill in but not to sleep in at night as it will be extremely cold and a bit uncomfortable.
However, if you’re someone who wants to take your comfort level to the next level, then you should add a hammock to your camping list of essentials on top of the camping tent.
It’s perfect to chill in after a long hike to just relax and unwind as you pass time or even while reading a good book. I personally love this camping hammock as it’s sturdy, and it comes with straps that you can tie to the nearby trees.
Is it even camping if you don’t make a campfire? Certainly not!! Camping is all about winding your night at a campfire with the people you’re traveling with as you cozy out or tell stories. So to make sure that you don’t forget the wood, add it to your car camping checklist.
You may not need to pack it right from home as a number of campsites sell it. However, if they don’t sell it, don’t be tempted to break tree branches to make one – be a responsible traveler. But if you don’t want to take any chances, you can buy it before you go.
In the same regard, always carry fire starters to be able to make a fire easily. For my very first time to go car camping, I forgot to pack fire starters and you have no idea how long it took me to make a fire!
Now if you’re wondering if I was successful after that long – unfortunately not! I am terrible at making fires, so I had to give up.
So to make sure that I don’t forget it anymore, I always add it to my packing list for camping. I like this fire starter as it comes with a whistle you can blow should you be in danger and need to call for help and it can make a fire easily in all weather conditions.
Essentials for car camping: Gadgets
One of the essential items to pack for camping is a headlamp. There is not any one point that I’ve gone on a camping trip and not use a headlamp.
Even when you get a campsite with electricity, it might not cover all the corners you might need to access in the dark and that’s why you need to take one. This headlamp has a very strong light and it keeps battery for longer.
A huge plus is that you won’t have your hands restricted like with a normal flash light as you’ll have it around your head.
A battery-powered lantern is super useful especially if the campsite has no electricity or if you just want to add some extra light to your camping grounds.
All you have to do is to take enough batteries for it and you’ll be one step closer to having a perfect camping trip. You can buy one from here.
There is no way I can travel anywhere without a power bank and camping is no exception. It’s even much more needed in the wild because it’s very likely that you’ll run out of battery.
This power bank is small, powerful and is guaranteed to charge your phone for a number of times before it runs dry itself.
From listening to music to playing games on your phone, it’s not surprising that your battery will run dry.
And if you’re not traveling alone, the inbuilt car charger will not be enough for the group. So it’s better to buy this kind of car charger. However, if you’re planning on using your laptop, then you should take this kind of car charger instead.
Noise canceling earphones
For those days you want to listen to something or block away all the noise from noisy camping neighbors that are enjoying some drinks at the campfire, these noise-canceling earphones will come in handy.
What to take for camping: Kitchen essentials
A cooler is one of the essential items needed for camping to make sure that you store your food and drinks safely. For my car camping trip, I was lucky to have an actual camper which means that it had a small refrigerator fixed in it.
But if yours is not a real camper, then I recommend taking this Coleman camping cooler. It is small, light and the rollings on it make it easy to move easily.
Relying on grill stoves at campsites would be one of the biggest camping mistakes you’ll ever make (as some campsites don’t even have them actually ) and that’s why it’s important to take your own camping stove.
If you plan on cooking which you’ll obviously do, then you need to add a kitchen knife to your camping packing list.
But since knives can be ”dangerous”, you’re better off taking a packable knife like this one that comes with a protector.
When you go camping, you should make sure that you don’t leave behind you trash.
Be a responsible traveler that leaves the campsite even better than you found it.
I like this Coghlan’s travel Pop up trash can as it’s small and light which means that it won’t take up a lot of space in your camping car.
To be able to prepare your meals with ease and still not carry all your pans at home, just pack 2 saucepans.
I am all for stainless steel pans but granite saucepans seem to be the in thing when it comes to camping.
When it comes to easy meals like eggs or sausages, it’s so much better to use a frying pan. I like this one and you don’t have to worry about taking a lot, just one will be enough even if your camping trip is a month-long.
Honestly grills are some of the easiest meals to make while camping and thats why you need to have a grill.
Don’t carry your normal huge one, this Iron grill pan is the answered prayer for all campers. You can even use it on a campfire which is pretty cool.
This GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug is perfect for a cup of coffee either in the morning or on chilly nights at the campfire.
The advantage of this camping mug is that there are zero chances of breaking it even with the ”chaos” that comes with camping.
Though at some well-developed campsites, you’re likely to find water, it’s not always the same at all campsites.
So what I always do is to carry like a jerrycan of 20 L (or more depending on how long the camping trip will be) to be on a safe side in case there is no water at some campsites.
You can always use that water to cook meals, do dishes, or even take a quick shower.
This Jerrycan packs really well and it has a tap which makes drawing water from it much easy. Make sure to fill it up before you leave your home.
Who doesn’t want to enjoy a nice warm cup of coffee in the chilly mornings while camping?
Normally I take a camping kettle to boil water, and make my cup of coffee! Even hot chocolate is absolutely possible with this camping kettle.
Since most campers usually forget it, add it to your list of things to bring camping.
Other kitchen essentials to take camping include;
- Tupperware: These are perfect to store in your leftovers. This set of food storage containers will be perfect for any car camping adventure.
- Plates: There is no way you should leave plates behind. I prefer melamıne plates for camping as they pack easily and don’t break easily.
- Cutlery: As you pack for camping, don’t forget the spoons, knives, table knife. You can buy this set of cutlery or even just a spork.
- Washbasin: This is where you’ll be able to do all your dishes from. Buy it from here.
- Soap and soap dish: Take them for cleaning your utensils.
- Paper towels/ Paper napkins: It’s so easy to make a mess while camping but these paper towels will help you clean it up.
- Dishtowel: You’ll need some to dry your utensils.
- Ziplocks: These zip locks are perfect for storing your food well or even pack a sandwich for lunch as you enjoy the outdoors.
- Camping cookware set: Instead of collecting each cooking item from a different place, you could just buy this camping cookware set.
Camping needs: Food
The major thing you should consider when packing food for camping is the number of days you’ll be in the outdoors.
It will be very painful to run out of food yet you’re in an isolated place with nowhere to buy it from.
What I normally do is to plan out all my meals day by day, from breakfast, lunch, dinner to snacks.
And on top of that, I add meals for another full day just to be sure that I won’t run out of food.
Also bear in mind that the foods you take are easy to cook and don’t take long. Some of the camping food ideas include;
- Instant noodles
- pork chops
- Cooking ingredients
- Any tinned foods
- Cooking oil
- Long-lasting Bread
- Chocolate Bar
- Peanut butter
More packing lists on the blog that you might find useful
The complete beach packing list
Carry on essentials for a long flight
Hostel packing list
Weekend trip packing list
Packing list for Europe in summer
Best Camping gear: Safety and survival essentials
First aid kit
Before going for any camping trip, make sure that you have a first aid kit.
Accidents and small injuries can happen and that’s why you need to have one with you at all times.
Take a first aid kit like this one that has everything you’d need for the first medication attention but also small enough not to take up a lot of space.
Whether it is camping, backpacking, or any other kind of trip, you need to have travel insurance.
A lot can happen while on the road and instead of being sorry, it’s better to be prepared.
Most travelers love World Nomads travel insurance as it covers a number of activities but Safety wings is also a great option especially if you’re on the road for a long time.
Personal water filter
Some times camping might mean not having enough drinking water, so to make sure that you prepare for those times, carry a personal water filter like this.
Swiss army knife
If you need a multiple purpose tool to add to your camping gear list, then this swiss army knife is the perfect candidate.
The swiss army knife has a number of tools like scissors, corkscrew, sharp blade, etc, which makes it handy when it comes to opening a can, a cork, cutting stuff and yes its can also work as a defense tool.
It’s truly one of the small but useful things to take camping.
If your camping trip is going to be in a place which is off the grid with limited or completely no phone service, then you’ll need to take a satellite phone.
Yes, a satellite phone/radio is quite expensive but it can save your life in case of an emergency. Buy it from here before you go.
Whether it is to locate your campsite or go for a hike, maps are essential to have on any car camping trip.
Though it’s these days easy to have maps app on the phone (like google maps, maps. me, etc), it’s not enough to just have electronic devices as they can run out of battery any time.
So carry the good old paper map as well especially on a back country camping trip.
One of the most useful car camping essentials on this list is the insect repellent.
Bugs and insects can be super annoying whether you’re just hiking during the day or enjoying a campfire.
This REPEL insect repellent is the most effective when it comes to keeping away those little monsters that can ruin your time in the outdoors.
Duck tape is one of the most useful small things to bring on a camping trip. It will come in handy to fix a few patches here and there.
Whether it’s a tent with a little hole or a sleeping bag, just put duck tape around those areas to take you through that camping trip – and then later after, you can perhaps buy a new one. This is the duck tape I always take on all my camping trips.
A few other survival gear you can add to your car camping checklist include;
Related post: How to stay safe while traveling
Don’t have time to read this complete car camping packing list now? Grab you self a free checklist below to read it later. Sssshh…. it’s printable!
What to pack for camping: The must-haves essentials
A day pack is very important to take camping. Whether it is going for a day’s hike or participating in the various activities, you’ll need it to carry the travel essentials needed for the day.
I like this Osprey day pack as it is light, size-able to fit in all your day’s essentials and above all, it’s durable which means that you won’t keep buying a new day pack for every trip you go on.
Collapsible water bottle
You’ll need to stay hydrated while camping and that’s why a water bottle is one of the must have camper accessories.
All you have to do is to keep refilling it every time it runs dry. Any water bottle can work but I personally prefer this collapsible one as it doesn’t take a lot of space when not in use.
Micro fiber travel towel
You’ll definitely need a towel while on a camping trip and not just any towel but a lightweight microfiber one.
I love my Rain Leaf travel towel as it is lightweight, very absorbent, and dries fast if I decide to wash it during the trip which makes it perfect for any camping trip.
Camping supplies list: Toiletries and Personal care items
To make sure that all your toiletries are organised and in one place, get yourself a toilet bag where you’ll put them.
I prefer this transparent toilet bag as you can easily see wherever each item is instead of having to remove everything every time you need something. It’s also TSA approved which is a huge plus.
It’s hard not to get burned while camping especially in hot places. So protect yourself by adding sunscreen to your car camping list.
The sunscreen you buy should have an SPF of 30+ or even 50+ for people with sensitive skin. This Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch sunscreen works great for almost all skin types.
Whether it is in the hot or cold temperatures, your lips will dry up – well at least mine did while camping through Botswana. The good thing is that I had lip balm which didn’t work really well though as it didn’t have an SPF.
But since then, I’ve found this amazing chapstick that keeps my lips moisturized regardless of where I travel to as it has SPF.
All seasoned campers know that taking a shower every day is not guaranteed. But for first- time campers, they might find it weird. But as you going camping, plan to take ”wipes baths” if you camp in a place with no water.
I found that non-scented baby wipes like these ones are much better than the usual facial wipes as they tend to have no effect even on sensitive skin.
Not all campsites will have toilet paper, so to prepare for your trip well, throw in some few rolls of toilet paper in your car before you hit the road.
Now more than ever, sanitizers are some of the most important car camping essentials you should never leave behind. This hand sanitizer in particular kills almost 99% of the bacteria and viruses.
During all my camping trips, I never found shower gel or soap in the ablutions at the various campsites. So I make sure to add shower gel to my camping packing list.
You can pick up any kind of shower gel you like but I personally use this one.
Other toiletries that should be in your toilet bag include;
- Body cream
- Dry shampoo
- Feminine products
- Razors etc
What to bring on a camping trip: Camping clothes list
A large scarf
It gets really chilly while camping especially in the night and that’s why you should carry a scarf.
I like this big one as it can also work as a blanket should I need some extra warmth or even to just wrap up while chilling in a hammock or at the campfire.
Lightweight rain coat
I like to be prepared for a downpour every time I go camping. Yes, even when camping in summer, carry a raincoat for days it might rain.
However you don’t need a heavy one, this lightweight and breathable raincoat will be perfect.
A fleece is your best bet at staying warm in the chilly mornings and evenings. The advantage of a fleece is that it’s warm, and pack lights. I always go with this Columbia fleece for all my camping trips.
With the full day being in your canvas or hiking boots, you’d not want to stay in them for another second when you reach the campsites.
So what you should do is to pack a good pair of flip flops that you can chill in at the campsite for your feet to get a ”break”.
I’ve camped in a number of places that are not considered really cold but for some reason, my hands always freeze in the night. So I’ve learnt to always pack a pair of gloves on any camping trip.
I prefer these touch screen gloves as I don’t have to take them off every time I need to use my phone – and they’re also very warm.
You should never go for any car camping trip without leggings. Other than them being super comfortable and warm, they can be worn with a number of things making them a perfect camping attire.
I love these pair of leggings as they’re soft on the skin and super warm.
Convertible hiking pants
These are the go-to pants for all kinds of outdoor adventures. They will keep you dry even when you sweat. A huge plus is that you can convert them into shorts when it gets hots and full pants when it’s cold. Buy this pair of convertible pants or this one for the guys.
Related post: Hiking tips for new hikers
These merino wool t-shirts are truly a dream for campers and backpackers. They stay dry even when you sweat, they don’t smell easily which means that you can wear them for a number of times (backpackers will understand this), and they are easy to wash and dry if you choose to do laundry.
Socks are a great camping accessory that you shouldn’t skimp on. Good quality socks will keep your feet warm and dry even when you spend the whole day in them.
However, bad socks can even cause you blisters which is not really fun while on the trail. These merino woolen socks are perfect for any outdoor activity.
Comfortable running shoes
The shoes you choose to take for camping will make or break your camping trip. I know some people prefer the “real hiking boots” but I always carry my running shoes and they work perfectly fine.
I can wear them when just walking around the area or even when I go hiking, I’ve never had any issues with my Nikes. But if you’re all about hiking boots, then these ones are the most rated on the market.
For some reason, ears get really cold fast, so for those chilly mornings and evenings, I always carry this beanie to keep my ears warm at all times.
However, if you don’t want to forget any single camping items then you can grab this car camping checklist below so that you use it every time you need it.
It’s free and printable – or you can just save it on your phone until your next camping adventure comes up.
There you have it campers, those were the best car camping essentials you should have before you hit the outdoors. If you have all these camping needs, you’re bound to have an amazing time in the wild even if you’re camping for the first time.
Are there any car camping essentials you take but are not included here? Please share them with me in the comment section and I will add them to the main list.
More travel tips to hep you plan your trip
- 25 Things to do before any trip
- 16 Things not to do while traveling
- Important travel tips you need to know
- How to plan a trip in 12 simple steps
- Fun games to play on a road trip
- Funny travel memes that will crack your ribs
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