Car camping is a great way to get outside while still having some of the comforts of home along

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Things like a spacious tent, a cushy sleeping pad, a cooler full of food and drinks, and a nice camp kitchen set-up can make camping outside just as comfortable as being at home except you get to enjoy the great outdoors. This list of car camping essentials includes everything you need for your next camping trip for a good time and more. Be sure to download our car camping packing checklist as well so you can keep tabs as you pack and make sure not to forget anything.

If you want to be able to backpack and car camp with one set of gear, check out our 3-day backpacking checklist for lightweight tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags that will work across the board. But for those of you who want a more comfortable car camping setup and don’t want to shell out the cash for super lightweight gear meant for backpacking, this car camping packing list is for you.
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Ready to get outside? Here is our complete car camping essential packing checklist to help you get packed and ready to camp! Camping Furniture Essentials
These are the big car camping essential gear pieces including your sleeping setup that you don’t want to leave home without.
Car Camping Tent
A camping tent is first on the list for good reason – it’s your shelter from the elements. For car camping, get a spacious tent with enough room to sleep comfortably and get changed. The REI Co-op Grand Hut 4 Tent is a great 4-person tent with room to stand up and stretch in. My friends take this tent car camping with their two young kids – it comfortably fits two pack-and-play beds for the kiddos and still has plenty of sleeping space for the adults.

Check price: REI

Budget Camping Tent Option: If you just want to get out there and need something more budget-friendly, the REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2 Tent will do the trick. While it’s a two-person tent, it’s better suited for one person unless you don’t mind snuggling up close to your camping partner.

>> Check out our roundup of the Best Tents for Backpacking if you want one for both car camping and backpacking.
Car Camping Sleeping Pad
Sleeping pads can make or break your camping trip by helping you get a good night’s sleep, so it’s one of the most important car camping essentials you’ll invest in. The Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad is extremely comfortable, self-inflating, and extra-wide. The foam layer will keep you warm and cozy and provides a high level of insulation from the ground. This mat comes in a similar double version as well. And if you have an air mattress at home that will fit in your tent, that works too!

Check price: REI

Budget Sleeping Pad Option: A great budget-friendly sleeping pad that’s still comfortable is the Therm-a-Rest BaseCamp Sleeping Pad. With 2 inches of thickness and an R-Value of 6, this self-inflating sleeping pad will provide cushion and insulation from the ground so you can get a good night’s sleep.

>> Check out our roundup of the Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking if you want one for both car camping and backpacking.
Car Camping Sleeping Bag
One of the best parts of car camping is snuggling up in a super cozy and warm sleeping bag. The North Face Eco Trail Bed Sleeping Bag provides maximum comfort and warmth and is affordable compared to many ultra-lightweight backpacking sleeping bags. It’s rated for 20F and we also love that it’s made from 100% recycled synthetic fabrics! If you want to cozy up with your partner, check out the best two-person sleeping bags for camping.

Check price: REI

>> Check out our roundup of the Best Sleeping Bags for Backpacking if you want one for both car camping and backpacking.
Camp Pillow
Of course, you can bring your pillow from home. You can even shove extra clothes in your sleeping bag stuff sack to make a pillow. But if you want a pillow specific for camping, this NEMO Fillo Pillow is compressible, lightweight, and awesome for camping, backpacking, and napping in the passenger seat.

Check price: REI
Car Camping Chairs
Whether you’re sitting around the fire or watching the sunset from your campsite, collapsable chairs are a car camping must. We really like the Helinox Sunset Chairs because they’re lightweight, pack down small, and they have a high back that is comfortable and supportive.

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Budget Camp Chair Option: If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly the REI Co-op Camp X Chair is also a great option. It’s sturdy, comfortable, and perfect for lounging around the campfire.

>> Check out our roundup of the Best Camping Chairs for more.

Camp Table
A good camp kitchen table, like this Mountain Summit Gear Roll Top Kitchen, will make cooking at camp a breeze. It fits a camp stove and has plenty of space for prep work and more. This table folds down and packs up flat so it doesn’t take up much room in your car and is easy to set up and pack away.

Check price: REI
Camping Kitchen Essentials
Making delicious meals al-fresco is one of our favorite parts of car camping. To get your car camping cooking essentials organized, I recommend you start an outdoor cooking bin. This is where you’ll keep everything you need to cook with. Some things I like to keep in my cooking bin include cutting boards, knives, silverware, paper towels, Tupperware, tongs, a spatula, pots, pans, olive oil, salt, pepper, and basic seasonings. By keeping everything together in a bin, it will make it really easy when it’s time to hit the road. Just grab the bin and go!

Here’s what to bring car camping so you can cook delicious meals al fresco.
A cooler is a car camping must and will help you step your menu up a notch and eat fresh. Whether you need to keep groceries chilled or you’re more concerned about having a cold beverage at the end of the day, a cooler is definitely a car camping essential. YETI’s coolers are top-notch and while they’re a little pricey, they’ll last you a lifetime.

Check price: REI
Camp Stove
A decent camp stove is a game-changer for making quality meals while road tripping. I use the Eureka Ignite Plus stove when I want to cook outside when camping in my van. It’s fuel-efficient and easy to fine-tune the flame so you don’t scorch your dinner. It runs off propane fuel, and for those who want to score some sustainability points, you can get an adapter at Home Depot that will allow you to hook up this stove to a 10-gallon refillable propane tank.

Check price: REI
Cook Set
This complete cookset from GSI Outdoors can feed four hungry campers. It’s a sturdy, packable, and lightweight kit that’s also nonstick and easy to clean. Inside, it contains four plates, bowls, cups, and insulated mugs. It also comes with one frying pan, two pots with lids, and its own welded sink for camp cleaning. Plus, the dishware is plastic (BPA-free) so they won’t chip or break.

Check price: REI
Cooking Utensils
This cooking utensil set has everything you need to whip up delicious meals including a spatula, large spoon, tongs, a spice holder, small cutting board, and bottle for cooking oil and dish soap. It’s also lightweight and all packs together in a small case making it easy to keep everything together.

Check Price: REI
Dish Buckets
Bring a bucket or two to make doing dishes easy (collapsible preferred if you’re looking to save space). We like to bring one for wash water and one for rinse water. Just be sure to dispose of dirty water properly, either by pouring down the dish sink at camp if there is one or by scattering on barren dirt.
Coffee Mug
An insulated coffee mug is a car camping essential, and an anytime essential really. You can keep your coffee or tea hot on the drive and during mornings at camp. We love the 20oz YETI Rambler Tumbler because it keeps drinks piping hot and the MagSlider lid makes it easy and safe to drink from while driving. It’s super easy to clean as well.

Check price: REI
Coffee Maker
You’ll want to bring your coffee maker of choice along on your camping trip so you and your companions can enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee at camp just like at home. My favorite method for making coffee while camping is the AeroPress Go, a compact travel coffee maker that makes coffee in the morning a cinch. If you’re brewing coffee for more than one or two people, you may want a larger coffee press like this 1L coffee press by GSI Outdoors.

Check Price: REI

>> Read more about the AeroPress Go and how to use it here.
Water Jug
In addition to saving money and avoiding single-use plastics, having a water jug at camp makes for quick and easy cooking, efficient clean up after meals, and a great way to top off reusable water bottles. We’ve been taking this 2.6-gallon GSI Water Jug camping lately and have been loving it. Just fill it up at the water spigot and have water conveniently at camp all day.

Check price: REI
Quick-Dry Towels
I have a few hand-sized quick-dry towels in my van for drying dishes and wiping off surfaces. Cotton towels don’t work well on the road because they dry slowly and get heavy and smelly when wet. These quick-dry towels are great for cleaning up after camp meals.

Check price: REI
A tablecloth is an item that’s often forgetten on car camping trips, but no more now that you have this packing checklist. Campground tables can be a little dirty so it’s nice to have something to cover them with, both for cleanliness and ambiance.
Trash Bag
Packing out your trash and disposing of it properly is essential on any car camping trip. Bring a couple of trash bags along to ensure you have what you need to do so.

>> For more recommendations, check out our guide to the Best Camp Cooking Kitchen Essentials For Road Tripping.
Car Camping Gear Essentials
In addition to the items listed above, there are plenty of other car camping items that you can pack depending on where you’re heading and what activities you plan on doing. These are really more “nice-to-have” items and it’s up to you if you think they’ll be helpful on your next camping trip. Below are a few of our favorite car camping essentials when we’re going for extra comfort.
The Black Diamond ReMoji Lantern is a perfect addition to any car camping setup. It’s compact, rechargeable, and provides ample light (100 lumens) for cooking, playing cards, or organizing gear in the dark. It’s also light enough at 2.9 oz to take with you on backpacking trips and can last for 100hrs on the low setting.

Check price: REI
A headlamp is an absolute necessity for car camping and our headlamp of choice is the BioLite HeadLamp 200. Serving up 200 lumens across four lighting modes, it’s the perfect car camping companion. The BioLite comes with a rechargeable lithium battery that can last up to 40 hours. It’s also a great tool for the trail since it only weighs 1.6 oz.

Check price: REI
Reusable Water Bottle
A reusable water bottle is key for staying hydrated and eliminating single-use plastics. An insulated Hydroflask will keep your water nice and cold on hot days. I also like their straw lid version which allows you to easily drink one-handed while on the go.

Check price: REI
First aid kit
It’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit in your car, especially on a car camping trip. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared! We like this Adventure Medical Kit because it’s light enough to throw into a daypack to take with you on the trail and it has everything you need to treat blisters, sprains, headaches, and more.

Check price: REI
Portable Power Bank
A portable power bank like the Goal Zero Yeti Lithium 200X Portable Power Station is a nice addition to any car camping checklist because it helps keep devices charged, especially when you are camped in one place for a few days and not running the car batteries. This one is on the larger and more powerful side and offers 187 watt-hours of battery power to charge phones, laptops, cameras, headlamps, and more. If you’re looking for something a little smaller and compact, check out the Goal Zero Flip 24 Power Bank. It’s small and light enough to carry with you on day hikes if you’re worried about running out of juice.

Check price: REI
If you’re a music-lover and want to listen to some tunes around the campsite, this JBL Flip 5 Eco Portable Waterproof Speaker is small, compact, and puts out great sound. Just be sure to respect quiet hours and neighbors camping around you.

Check price: REI
String Lights
String lights are great for a little ambient lighting, plus they make your campsite look cozy and festive. These MPOWERED Luci Solar String Lights have a built in solar panel that allows them to charge while you have them set up, and even has a USB port you can use to charge small devices like your cell phone.

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If you’re like us, you like to set up a comfortable hammock at camp to take a nap in, read a book, or listen to a podcast. The ENO SingleNest Hammock is one of our car camping essentials because it packs down small, it’s easy to set up, and it’s super comfortable.

Check price: REI
Camping Clothing
What clothing to pack on your car camping trip depends on where you’re going, the weather, and what outdoor activities you’ll be doing. Here’s a list of what I generally pack clothing-wise for camping trips.
Quick-dry Shirt
I’ve been wearing Patagonia’s Cool Capilene Tees for years, both for everyday wear and for hiking. They don’t hold onto odors so they can be worn multiple times. They also dry quickly and don’t cling to you when you get sweaty on the trail.

Check price: REI
Long-Sleeve Base Layer
Even if the forecast predicts fair weather and warm temps, it’s a good idea to always pack a long-sleeve base layer. You never know when a rainstorm will roll in or exactly how cold it will get at night. I always pack a light base layer like the REI Long-Sleeve Crew Top. It’s light enough to stuff in a day pack and easy to layer beneath a warmer jacket or fleece.

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Nights can get chilly while car camping, so a warm fleece is definitely a car camping essential. I love the Cotopaxi Dorado Half-Zip Fleece Jacket. Not only do they come in fun colors, but they’re also made from 100% recycled polyester and Cotopaxi donates a portion of their annual revenue to nonprofits around the world through their Gear for Good program.

Check price: REI
Synthetic Puffy
For cold nights, you’ll want a warm jacket. Patagonia’s Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie is my fave. It’s lightweight, packs down small, and is super cozy and warm.

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Leggings are comfy on those long drives and serve as functional athletic wear on the trail. You can even wear them to bed. These High Waisted Prana Leggings in black can be worn with anything and are thick enough to cover up unwanted underwear lines.

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Quick-dry Underwear
Moisture-wicking undies are a must for car camping trips, especially if you’ll be hiking. Ex Officio makes my favorite adventure underwear, and these hipster briefs are super comfortable.

Check price: REI

>> Check out our full roundup of favorite quick-drying briefs in our Best Women’s Hiking Underwear post
Sports Bra
Sports bras are more comfortable and practical to bring car camping than normal bras, especially if you plan on hiking or doing other outdoor activities. The Beyond Yoga Spacedye Lift Your Spirits Bra is stretchy and comfortable yet provides support.
Hiking Boots or Shoes
These Oboz Sypes Hiking Boots are my favorite lightweight hiking boots. I’ve already worn them hiking in Idaho, Utah, and Montana. They’re not stiff like more heavy-duty hiking boots out there and they’re comfortable right off the bat.

Check price: REI

>> Looking for the perfect hiking boot? We list our favorites in this roundup of our favorite women’s hiking boots.
Camp Shoes
You’ll want a camp shoe that is supportive, yet comfortable and will allow your feet to breathe and relax while you’re driving and hanging out in the evenings. My go-to camp shoes are the Teva Universal Trail Sandals. They’re comfortable, have great traction, and they work with socks too (I know, super stylin’).

Check price: REI
A beanie can help keep you warm at night in your tent or around the campfire. Be sure to pack a beanie like the Wigwam Tundra Cap when you know the temps will be chilly.
Sun Hat
In addition to a warm beanie, a hat that will protect your face from the sun is also a car camping essential. Trucker hats work great, but I prefer a full-brimmed hat like the Columbia Global Adventure hat for all-around sun protection.
Additional Outdoor Clothing Resources
If you plan on hiking, be sure to check out our guide on What To Wear Hiking. For a more general car camping packing list, our Van Life Clothing Packing Checklist has all the essential items.

For cool-weather car camping trips, these blog posts have tips and recommendations for fall and winter clothing essentials.
What to Wear Hiking in Fall Cold Weather Hiking Clothes Camping Toiletries
While the point of many car camping trips is to get outside and enjoy nature without worrying about what you look like, it’s also nice to feel somewhat clean while camping. Read our tips for staying fresh and clean on the road and check out our favorite camping toiletries below. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace Principles to help keep our natural places clean as well.
Biodegradable Soap
Not all soap is good for the environment, so put biodegradable soap on your car camping checklist. We like Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap, which comes in a small travel size that is perfect for any travel kit. It can be used for anything and everything from washing dishes to washing your hands, soaping up your body, and doing laundry!

Check price: REI
Protecting your skin from sun damage is super important, so be sure to add a bottle or two of sunscreen to your car camping packing list. We like the Sun Bum SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen because it’s easy to apply and blends smoothly into the skin. It’s also reef-safe, so if you’re heading to the beach, this sunscreen is a must!

Check price: REI
Wet wipes
Wet wipes are super handy for quickly cleaning your body or face after a sweaty hike or dusty drive. The Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes are a non-negotiable for our car camping packing list because they’re gentle on the skin and they are compostable (although you still need to dispose of them properly in the trash).

Check price: REI
Travel Size Toiletries
Instead of packing full-size shampoo, conditioner, and lotion try these refillable 2.5 oz humangear GoToob+ Medium Squeeze Bottles. Simply fill them up with your favorite products and pack them in your car camping toiletry bag. They also have a LoopLock to hang from a hook or carabiner. These work really well on backpacking trips, too.

Check price: REI
Bug Spray
Never head out on a camping trip without bug spray. Take our word for it. Even if you don’t end up using it, bug spray is still a good item to have in your car camping kit in case the mosquitos come out to play. This Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent doesn’t have harmful chemicals like DEET and it smells nice.

Check price: REI
Any old toothpaste you have at home will do, but if you want a travel-size tube for on the road this Dr. Bronner’s toothpaste is a great pick. It’s natural, eco-friendly, and tastes good!

Check price: REI
Toiletry Bag
To keep all of your toiletries organized and contained on your car camping trip, stash them in a lightweight toiletry bag like the Sea to Summit Hanging Bag. You can easily hang it from the roof of your tent, the sun visor in your car, or on a tree branch. It’s also useful for keeping toiletry items organized on backpacking trips or in airplane luggage, and it even has a mirror. It comes in a smaller size as well.

Check price: REI
Poop kit
Going #2 outdoors requires a little bit of forethought and preparation to do it respectfully if you’re camping somewhere where there are no bathroom facilities. Nobody wants to encounter dirty toilet paper at camp or smell human feces nearby. Not only is it disgusting, but it’s also very unsanitary and can get lead to pollution problems. So if there’s no bathroom around, you’ll need a poop kit which includes the GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel, toilet paper, and Ziplock bags so you can pack out your TP.

Check price: REI
A quick-dry towel
Normal towels aren’t great for car camping because they take a long time to dry and often get smelly after a few uses. Instead, a quick-dry towel like the Nomadix All-Purpose Towel is a great car camping essential. Not only do they dry fast, but they’re also light and packable so they don’t take up much space, plus they’re made from recycled plastics.

Check price: REI
Camping Essentials for Adventuring
Car camping is all about spending time outside, so bring your day hiking essentials along so you’re ready to get out there and explore.
Day-Hiking Backpack
A backpack for carrying extra layers, water, snacks, a map, and a camera is essential if you plan on doing any hiking while car camping. The Osprey Mira 22L Hydration Pack is one of our favorites and has lots of storage pockets, a comfortable hip belt, and comes with a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir. If you’re looking for a simple, budget version for short hikes and walks from your campsite, check out the REI Flash 22 Pack, which is a unisex pack that is designed for ultralight adventures.

Check price: REI
Hydration Reservoir
Many daypacks have space for a hydration reservoir which allows you to drink from an attached tube while you hike. Since it’s nestled in between you and the pack, it’s easy to carry, lightweight, and is a great option for staying hydrated on-the-go. Check before you buy a reservoir because some hiking backpacks come with them included.

Check price: REI
Trekking Poles
If you plan on hiking during your camping trip and hiking tends to be rough on your knees, these Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles will be a game-changer. Not convinced? Here are all of the reasons why you should consider using trekking poles when you hike, plus the best options for all budgets.

Check price: REI

We hope this car camping checklist helps you get everything together for an epic car camping trip! What’s nice is that once you have all the items you need, they should last you for years and years of camping adventures. For additional car camping tips, be sure to check out our Car Camping 101 post for more information on how to find campsites, how to plan a trip, and more.

Do you have favorite car camping essentials not listed above? What are they? Share in the comments below!

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