Before I ever picked up a backpack and climbed up mountains with it, I dipped my toe in with glamping and car camping. Even now, I love the flexibility of having an entire car – rather than just a backpack – to fit everything into. It feels, dare I say, luxurious?
It may sound silly to use that word in association with camping, but car camping is one of my favorite ways to do it. You can have big, roomy tents, air mattresses, gourmet food, and best of all, many campgrounds are super peaceful and have plenty of room for multiple tents, meaning you can share the experience with friends if you wish.
These are some of my favorite things to take along car camping. I hope this tried and true checklist helps you have an amazing adventure:
Shelter and Safety
The best thing about car camping is the potential to bring a nice, big tent, a full-sized air mattress, and a sleeping bag that doesn’t have to keep you warm while also being lightweight (which usually means it’s expensive). These options are all quality while not breaking the bank:
- A nice big tent
- Air mattress
- Sleeping bag
- Camping blanket (this one has a poncho design – perfect for early morning coffee walks)
- Camping pillows
- Foldable chair and table set
- Lantern, headlamp, or flashlight
- Bear spray (if bears or large animals are a concern)
- First-aid kit
- Duct tape
Though many camping destinations around the world will be close enough to towns to get some food, part of the fun of camping is making your own over a campfire or with your own camp stove. The list below has got you covered:
A word on the wood: Please only use local wood to cut down on invasive wood insects and pests! Most campsites sell bundles. It’s essential not to bring in wood from other places to protect the forest.
- Camp stove and fuel (minimalist option: 1 pack camping stove)
- Cooking utensils set
- Camper knife (for general use + opening cans)
- A pot, a pan, and a kettle
- Aluminum foil
- Cooking oil and spices (put in small bottles)
- Tableware set and cutlery (minimalist option: a light camp set)
- Water storage and a LifeStraw water filter
- Biodegradable dish soap, sponge, and towel
- Biodegradable trash bags and ziplock bags
- Pancakes (mix ingredients together and store in a bottle for easy cooking)
- Granola bars, oatmeal, muesli, and/or cereal
- Burrito wraps
- Sausage, ham and/or bacon
- Sandwiches, bagels, or any other pastries you fancy
- Peanut butter and/or fruit jam
- Canned beans
- Fresh fruits that last long without refrigeration, like bananas, kiwis, apples, oranges, and grapes
- Milk, coffee and/or tea packs
Lunch and dinner options:
- Hobo stew: mix ground meat (or no meat) and veggies on a square of foil, then bunch up the sides to create a kind of bowl, pour in BBQ sauce, and add a splash of whiskey (make sure it cooks off before eating).
- Pasta + pasta sauce
- Fresh vegetables that last long without refrigeration, such as bell peppers, onions, zucchinis, eggplants, potatoes, corn, chili, and tomatoes
- Proteins of your choice (prepare them ahead to save cooking time)
- Snacks: dry fruits, nuts, bars, crackers, popcorn, and marshmallows
Don’t feel like cooking at all? Here’s a definitive ranking of the best backpacking meals you can bring along to your camping trip.
- 2-3 quick-dry tank tops, t-shirts, or long sleeve shirts
- 2-3 quick-dry shorts or pants
- 1-2 pairs of leggings
- 1 set of sleepwear
- Enough underwear and socks for the trip
- 1 pair of hiking/running shoes and 1 pair of camp sandals
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 sweatshirt and 1 fleece jacket (it gets cold at night)
- Hat and sunglasses
- Swimsuit (if applicable)
If camping multiple days, bring a small bottle of laundry powder and handwash your clothes. Or, since we’re car camping after all, bring more sets of clothes and do laundry when you get home!
The lovely thing about most campsites is access to bathrooms with running water. However, if you’re like me, you love camping off the grid on public lands, too. This list takes both possibilities into account.
- Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash (bring dry shampoo and wet wipes if shower isn’t available)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Sunscreen and lip balm
- Insect repellent
- Hairbrush and a small mirror (or just use your car’s rearview mirror!)
- Toilet paper (pack it out if there’s no bathroom!)
- Microfiber towel
Entertainment and Others
While s’mores over a campfire and stargazing are usually more than enough for me, especially since I get an early night’s sleep and a sunrise start when I camp, it’s always nice to have a fallback option. Bring a source of battery-powered light and some things to stay entertained:
- Fairy lights or glow lights
- An outdoor rug
- Offline music playlist and a portable speaker
- Reading and writing material
- USB cable and solar charger to charge phone and camera
- Trunk organizer
It might seem like a lot of things, but if you’re as into camping as I am (and you will be when you get to wake up to views you just can’t get otherwise), then these items are all worth the investment. Plus, camping is one of the cheapest ways to lay your head when you travel.
Have fun out there. There’s nothing as grounding as being so close to nature.
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