33 Car Camping Essentials
Updated: 1 day ago
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Camping can be fun for everybody and anybody. You can camp on a budget, in luxury, or anywhere in between. If you're looking for a fun way to explore nature and travel as well, you need to plan yourself a camping trip!
There are different ways you can go camping. And while these are the best camping essentials for car or rooftop tent camping, they will be helpful for any kind of camping. Wild camping, RV camping, and tent camping all require similar gear.
You also don't have to spend a fortune on camping gear. We have linked to some of our favorite trusted products, but many of these can be found second-hand or borrowed from fellow camping friends. This is beneficial for you (save money!) and the environment (less pollution and waste!).
This car camping checklist will make your next adventure a breeze to plan. If you have the correct gear, you can focus on exploring and being in nature instead of worrying about having the gear you need.
You don't want to spend hours preparing for and traveling to a beautiful area to just be worried about how you'll cook, sleep, or charge your camera.
Be prepared for any camping adventure with these camping essentials. They will make your next trip the best yet! Take a look at our winter camping and fall camping guides if you're planning a trip during these seasons.
Car Camping Checklist
Below you will find the camping essentials we take with us on every trip. While we might go a little overboard, we would rather be prepared for any situation while camping than realize we don't have a piece of gear we need.
Some of the following items may not be necessary to you, but we've been rooftop tent camping many times now and found that these camping essentials are must-haves! I've broken them into categories; this is how we pack our supplies. Each category below goes into a clear packing box and into the back of the car.
"Survival" Car Camping Essentials
You will want to bring headlamps on your camping trips. Trying to find something in your car at night while also holding onto a lantern is not easy. They also come in handy when walking to the bathroom at night, cooking, or doing anything that requires your hands.
This small lantern, which is battery-operated, is very bright for its size. Make sure you have extra AAA batteries with you; it's easy to carry and store in our packed car. It’s perfect for hanging around camp or in your car or tent. It lights up our entire 3-person rooftop tent perfectly. This larger lantern is also awesome. We hang it up under our rooftop tent while we cook and eat if it's dark.
3. Car Adapter Charger
This isn’t necessary if you plan on disconnecting from reality for a while, but if you happen to have remote work or school, a car adapter charger will be extremely handy. I recommend picking up one of these so you can charge everything while you are on the road, especially if your campsite doesn't have electricity. No more worrying about your camera or phone dying!
If your campsite does have electricity, you can bring a small surge protector instead for anything that might need charging. These are both optional, but worth thinking about!
4. Portable Charger
This is nice to have if you don't have electricity at your campsite, or if you plan on going hiking, etc. We both have a portable charger so we can always set an alarm, take photos, contact friends and family, and keep our Apple watches charged. Gotta count those steps when hiking!
5. Compact Camping Chairs
We find these are better than your typical bulky camping chair because they take up way less space, which is essential for car camping. They’re super easy to set up and take down, and they're useful outside of camping too. We have these chairs and love them!
6. Bug Spray
Camping with a bunch of mosquito bites is no fun. It really takes all the enjoyment out of a camping trip because you're just itchy and uncomfortable. If you're also against getting sticky from common bug spray, grab some of our favorite kind. This dry bug spray works wonders.
7. Folding Table
Many campsites have picnic tables already on site, but we enjoy having our own folding table with us. You might arrive at your campsite and find a soggy wooden picnic table, or no table at all. This folding table is perfect for cooking, eating, playing games, working, and more. It is also height adjustable!
If you need to save space in your car, opt for this smaller folding table. It still gets the job done, but it's about half the size.
8. Plastic Bags or Trash Bags
We always have plastic bags, like grocery bags, handy in our car. We use one for trash and throw it out at the end of the day (remember to leave no trash at your campsite). If we ever get our clothes extremely dirty or wet, we will also throw them in a bag to keep them separate from the rest of our gear.
It's very important to reduce plastic use, but if you already have plastic shopping bags at home, it's much better to use these rather than buy more plastic trash bags.
9. First Aid Kit
It is a good idea to have a first aid kit with you on any outdoor adventure. We generally make our own with items from home such as ibuprofen, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, bleed-stop, etc. You can also buy a first aid kit that already has the basic necessities.
Kitchen Camping Essentials
Cooking delicious meals while enjoying nature's company. What a perfect combo! You can get by without a cooler, but it will make your life easier while camping. You can also keep a cold supply of sparkling water or your favorite beverage on hand. If you plan on camping frequently, investing in a high-quality cooler is worth it.
11. Water Jug
I recommend getting a water jug and filling it with potable (drinking) water so you can use it for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes. We love our 7-gallon water container with a spout. It's easy to fill up water bottles, the kettle, etc.
Before you go camping, check to see if your campsite has potable (drinking) water, or fill it up at home like we do!
Another necessity for your camping kitchen is a lighter. You can bring a standard kitchen lighter, or buy yourself a rechargeable USB lighter. This is how you will light your propane stove, and you can use it for lighting wood fires too. Always check your campground's rules on wood fires. They are sometimes prohibited due to wildfire risk.
13. Single Burner Stove
There are so many options for camping stoves out there, but we have really loved our single-burner propane stove. It’s easy to set up and take down, takes up less space in the car, and gets the job done well! We've never had an issue with having just one burner.
Don't forget propane bottles! You won't be able to cook anything on your single-burner propane stove if you have no propane. Go to Walmart, Lowe's, etc., and grab a 2-pack of the small Coleman propane bottles. They're normally dark green.
15. Foldable Sink
This foldable sink will be so useful! Clean your dirty dishes in it using the water from your water jug. TIP: Heat some water up in your kettle (see below) and add it to the sink. Some campsites have utility sinks, but many do not. Make sure you clean it out after using it and follow campground rules for greywater disposal.
16. Soap & Scrub Brush
In order to do your dishes, you'll need some soap and a sponge or brush. After trying a few different kinds, we've found that this little scrubber brush is the best for car camping. I recommend bringing a small bottle of soap from home or buying yourself the kitchen utensil bag below that comes with a handy little bottle to fill.
Don't forget to bring kitchen towels with you as well. This will make drying your dishes a breeze. Rather than bringing a bunch of paper towels, just bring a handful of kitchen or tea towels. We also use one as a "cleaning rag" to wipe down messes on our table and just wash them when we get home.
18. Tea Kettle & Mugs
If you're a coffee or tea drinker, then you'll definitely want to add these to your camping packing list! Bring a metal kettle to use on your stove, and fun camping mugs that keep your drink hot or cold for hours! Remember to throw in tea bags, instant coffee, and dry milk powder (it's so much easier than storing normal milk and tastes just as good in coffee and tea).
19. Kitchen Utensil Bag
GSI Outdoors has an awesome kitchen go-bag that will make cooking much easier. It comes with a soap bottle, oil bottle, sponge, drying rag, folding spatula, folding basting spoon, folding tongs, 4-spice container, scraper, and a small cutting board.
20. Mess Kit - AKA Dishes
There are many mess kits, or dish sets, available, but this 2-person dish set is fantastic and it's cheap! Plus, it is lightweight and compact, making for easy storage. It comes with plates, bowls, cups, and silverware for two people.
21. Folding Pan
We also have this handy folding pan that we use for everything, even soup and pasta. You can bring a normal pan from home, but having a folding one makes it much easier to store.
22. Measuring Cups & Tupperware
These depend on the kind of cooking you plan on doing. We bring three measuring cups with us. These come in handy when we have to measure water for freeze-dried camping meals or portion out oatmeal for breakfast.
Check out these foldable measuring cups if you need some!
Other kitchen items you might need for your car camping trip are tupperware for leftovers or packing snacks for hiking, and a small cutting board for veggies for example. My go-to for food storage while camping is Stasher reusable bags.
Sleep & Relax Camping Essentials
23. Sleeping Bags
The weather might be perfect during the day when you are camping but be prepared for much chillier nights. We’ve found the Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 to be warm, compact, and comfortable. This sleeping bag is rated for temperatures down to 15°F but is suitable for warmer weather as well.
If you're car camping in the summer, it might be too hot for a sleeping bag. You can bring a few blankets or even a comforter from home instead. And take a look at these car window mosquito nets that allow you to let the breeze in during the summer!
Along with a sleeping bag, you'll also want a comfy pillow. If you have room in your
car, tent, etc, you can bring a pillow from home. But if you plan on doing many
camping trips, big and small, I suggest investing in a compact camping pillow. They
squish down really small which is great for storage, and you can adjust the inflation to your liking.
25. Sleeping Pad
If you are tent or car camping you will definitely want a good sleeping pad. This will be far better than sleeping on the bare ground or the back of your car. You can buy compact sleeping pads for tent camping, or throw a mattress topper in the back of your car if you have room.
This is always a fun bonus to bring if you have the room! This double hammock fits two people and a dog perfectly. Enjoy reading, relaxing, snacking, and even sleeping in your hammock. Make sure you check your campground's rules; hammocks are sometimes prohibited.
Extras | Optional Car Camping Items
27. Baby Wipes
These are especially useful on rainy days, but we also use them if we don’t have access to a shower, or just need a quick “rinse” after a hike. We use unscented baby wipes to clean our dog after hiking and anytime before she goes into the tent. They are also nice for wiping down picnic tables, dusty chairs, and more.
Read Also: Must-Haves for Camping with Dogs
28. Mosquito Net
If you're camping somewhere buggy and you want to enjoy your time outside, get yourself this pop-up mosquito net. It's compact and easy to put up and works amazingly for keeping bugs out. Now you can eat, relax, or play card games outside in peace.
29. Reusable Shopping Bag
We mentioned plastic shopping bags earlier, but we also take a reusable bag with us. We use it if we go grocery shopping, and it also doubles as a shower “caddy”. We throw our clean clothes, towel, and any toiletries we may need into this bag so we have somewhere to keep our belongings while showering.
It also comes in handy if you're rooftop tent camping; throw everything you need for the night in it and carry it up to the tent in one trip.
30. Portable Awning
If you are going camping somewhere that is rainy or very sunny, a portable awning will be a great addition to your camping setup. Keep in mind you will need trees to tie this up with. We typically tie half of ours to the back of our car and then prop up the sides to trees.
Not the most obvious, but super handy, we use a carabiner to hang everything up. We have one on our lantern to hang it up in our tent, etc. We also use one to clip a plastic bag to the outside of our rooftop tent so we can put our dirty shoes in it. We also keep a carabiner on our dog’s leash so we can clip her to the car or tent!
32. Flip Flops
Going along with the reusable shopping bag, we always take a pair of flip-flops with us so we can shower in them. I don't recommend going barefoot in campground showers. If you have Tevas or similar, sandals these are a great option as they double as hiking shoes in summer.
Along with whatever you want to pack for yourself, always bring a warm jacket or sweatshirt when you go camping. It can get much chillier at night even in the summer. It's also a good idea to have comfortable "camp shoes" with you; these might be sneakers, crocs, or slippers with soles.
I hope you find this car camping checklist handy during your next camping adventure! We have found these items make camping even more enjoyable while not taking up a huge amount of space.
Camping can be fun for everybody if you prepare well! Now you know what to bring camping, you can plan a stress-free adventure. Whether you're rooftop tent camping, hammock camping, car camping, or tent camping, these essentials will come in handy and make your trip so much more enjoyable.
A great way to get outside and explore more of nature is by camping, It's a very fun activity, whether you're doing it solo, with a partner, or with friends and family. No matter what kind of outdoor adventure you're planning, these camping essentials will make your trip the best possible.
Don't forget to grab our free car camping essentials checklist below!
Where are you planning your next camping trip? Let us know below in the comments; we love hearing about all things camping!
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