Camping is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature. However, if you’re not prepared it can also be a frustrating experience. That’s why we’ve put together this car camping checklist. This guide will outline all the essentials you need for a successful camping trip in or next to your car. By following our tips, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way!
It’s been a long week, and you can’t wait for your weekend camping trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
You drive out to your favorite camping area and park at your spot. A few hours later it’s dinner time, and you realize you forgot your camping stove. And plates. And a pan to cook all of it on.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?
Fear not, because you can use this checklist as a reference for everything you need for hiking, camping, or climbing out of your car.
Tent or Hammock
- Tents are rated based on how many people can fit inside, so make sure you get one that’ll fit your party. If you’re camping in the colder months, make sure it’s a three-season tent. If you plan on sleeping inside of your vehicle, then a tent isn’t needed. Hammocks are also great options.
- Find a sleeping bag rated for colder temperatures to stay cozy all night. You can even find a couple sleeping bags if you don’t want to miss out on cuddles. If you aren’t in a cold environment, car camping allows for extra blankets as a replacement for a sleeping bag.
- A sleeping pad will provide extra cushion between the ground and you. More importantly, they help keep you warm. Sleeping pads are essential to a good night’s sleep when camping.
- There are pillows on the market designed to handle the outdoors, but your pillow from home will work great too. Backpacking pillows are awesome, but if you are car camping, use the extra space to bring a pillow from your bed.
Extra Pillows and Blankets
- When car camping, it becomes easy to bring extra comfort items. Always bring extra pillows and blankets. Blankets can be used for warmth, or for additional cushioning, making your experience far more enjoyable. We always bring a large bed comforter just for helping us sleep better.
- It is always a good idea to bring clothes specifically for sleeping. It allows you to change before going to bed no matter what you did prior and will help your other clothes dry out, but also help you keep more comfortable at night.
- For consistent and simple cooking, you can’t forget a camp stove. They don’t take up much space but will make dinner so much easier, and safer than trying to cook over a fire directly. Some areas may also have fire restrictions where only a camper stove can be used. Backpacking stoves will also work.
Pot and Pan
- The benefit of car camping is you don’t need to worry about packing light, so bring a pot and pan to make dinner. Clean them before you pack them so they’re ready to go when it’s time to cook.
- Whether you choose to buy the spork with a knife built in, or just bring normal food, you’re gonna need a way to eat your campfire meal.
- Bowls are a good idea as well for breakfasts like cereal or soups.
- Great to cover your pot, or use it for a campfire cooking tool.
- Many recipes, including camping ones, require temperature-sensitive ingredients. Keep your drinks cold and your ingredients fresh with an insulated cooler.
- This should be your best friend and constantly full. Stay hydrated, especially in the summer!
- This is mainly for you car campers who don’t want to pack a ton of bottled water. If you want to gather water from nearby rivers or lakes, a water filter is crucial. Many with car camping will just bring a large cooler or reservoir for water.
- More developed campsites may have trash cans on site, but if not you’ll want to bring some along. Keep your campsite clean for everyone’s enjoyment.
First Aid Kit
- From bug bites to scrapes or bruises, it is important to have one in your car in case of emergency.
- A good multitool will help you out in many situations. From a bottle opener to a wood saw, you’ll be glad to have it on you at some point.
- Great for both your campfire and your stove, especially on windy days when they don’t want to stay lit.
- When the sun sets and the fire is low or gone, this will make navigating the dark a breeze. Headlamps are essential.
- Things are bound to break, and as everyone knows, duct tape fixes everything.
- Bears sometimes like to sniff around campsites for any leftover food. If you’re in a more popular campground, there is usually secure storage for your trash and bears shouldn’t bother you. But if not it’ll be helpful to have some mace to chase them away.
Bear Canister or Rope
- When camping in bear country, you should be placing your fragrant items in a bear canister outside of the car, or hanging your items up. Bears have been known to scrape up or break into cars.
- This may be redundant if you’re multitool knife is sharp, but it’s always wise to have a dedicated knife for cutting rope or slicing up meat.
- Paracord has an immeasurable amount of use to the right person. It’s great if you’ve got a working knowledge of knots. Otherwise, you can leave this at home.
- Some campgrounds will have on-site bathrooms. For those that don’t, you’ll want to pack some toilet paper. You can bring wet wipes as well if you so choose. Make sure you can either dig a hole for your waste or have a WAG bag ready.
- This is a given if you don’t want to scare away your fellow campers with your morning breath.
- Sunburns can ruin a good camping trip, so stay protected and apply sunscreen often.
- Bugs aren’t just annoying, they can carry diseases. This is optional dependant upon location, time of year, and personal preference.
- Nature will tangle up your hair faster than you imagine. To save yourself the pain of pulling at your knotted hair at home, bring your hairbrush with you.
- Instead of your everyday kitchen or bathroom towel, pack a quick-dry towel. They will dry faster and not get smelly like your normal ones and are great for cleaning up after dinner or any messes.
- Washing your hands after touching raw meat or using the restroom out in the wild is important to keep yourself from getting sick. Foodborne diseases are still a problem, even when camping.
- Deodorant will keep you feeling fresh whether you stay by the fire all day or decide to go on a hike with steep climbs.
- Sometimes washing your hands with soap and water may not be practical, or you just need quick sanitation after picking up a cool rock. These come in travel sizes that are perfect for car camping.
- Camping is a time to disconnect from electronics and clear your mind. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring some reading material to enjoy in your downtime.
Deck of Cards/Board Games
- These are great for rainy days or if you just want to spend some time with your fellow campers without staring at a screen.
- This is more for those who are musically inclined, but camping is the perfect place to sit around a fire and strum a guitar or play some tunes on your harmonica.
- Whether you’re birdwatching or trying to get a better view of the stars, binoculars are always handy to have around.
For Your Car
- If your car battery dies, you’ll be thankful you brought jumper cables. If you don’t know how to use them, make sure to learn before your trip. Plus, you may just be able to help someone else out in need.
Tire Jack/Tire Iron
- If you get a flat tire, you’ll want to know how to change it. This is especially important if you’re camping in a remote area where help may not be readily available.
- If you lose your car keys while camping, it’ll be a long walk back home. Keep a spare set with you just in case.
For Your Dog (If Applicable)
- Your dog will need to eat and drink just like you, so make sure to pack their food and water bowls.
- You should always keep your dog on a leash while camping, both for their safety and the safety of other campers.
- No one wants to step in dog poop, so make sure to clean up after your furry friend. Most campgrounds will have designated areas for pet waste, so be sure to find out where those are before you go.
- Just because you’re camping, doesn’t mean your dog can’t have fun too. Bring along their favorite toy to keep them entertained.
This list is a great launching point for your next car camping trip. The beauty of having your car so close is that you can bring whatever fits in it.
So if you want to pack your favorite cast iron, go for it! Do you want to bring a fold-out table to eat on? Sure, not a problem. As long as you’re out in nature, it’s the same great fun.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about