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Hi, we're Georgina and Nathan, college friends turned travel partners. We're coffee and animal-loving adventure enthusiasts here to share our favorite travel tips with you! Our goal is to inspire others to get out and explore this wild planet by camping, hiking, or wandering around a fun new city!

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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina D'Angelo

34 Car Camping Essentials

Updated: Mar 16

Stay Comfortable and Have Fun with These Camping Essentials

rooftop tent and car camping essentials

This article may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through one of them. Alpacka My Bags is by no means responsible for any products or services purchased with any third-party provider.

Camping is 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 as well. And while these are our 21 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!

car camping essentials

1. Cooler

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.

2. Carabiners

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!

car camping checklist

3. Plastic Bags

We always have plastic bags handy in our car. We use one for trash and throw it out at the end of the day. 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 buying more plastic trash bags!

4. 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 baby wipes to clean our dog after hiking and anytime before she goes in the tent. They are also nice for wiping down picnic tables, dusty chairs, and more.

Read Also: Must-Haves for Camping with Dogs

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!

car camping essentials

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Clothes

Along with whatever you want to pack for yourself, always bring a warm jacket or sweatshirt when you go camping. It can get much chiller 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.

car camping essentials

9. Foldable Hamper

If you are going on a camping trip for more than 5 days, your dirty clothes can start to pile up, and mixing them with your clean clothes will not end well. I highly recommend a mesh hamper that folds completely flat, perfect for storing in the car. It keeps our dirty clothes separate but lets them “breathe."

10. 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.

11. Travel Clothesline

We also carry a travel-size clothesline with us. It has come in handy so many times. Whether we have to hang up washed clothes or air dry our towels, this has definitely gotten its use in. We use our foldable sink (more on below) to also wash our clothes if necessary, and hang them up with our clothesline.

12. Lantern

This small lantern, which is battery-operated, is very bright for its size. You have to keep extra AAA batteries with you because it can run out, but it's so easy to carry and store in our packed car. It’s perfect for hanging around camp or in your tent. It lights up our entire 3-person rooftop tent perfectly. This larger lantern is also awesome.

car camping essentials

13. Headlamps

As well as lanterns, 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.

14. 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 small folding table works wonders for cooking, eating, playing games, working, and more. It is also height adjustable!

15. 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!

rooftop tent camping essentials

16. Propane

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 propane bottles. They're normally dark green.

17. Lighter

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.

18. Water Jug

I recommend getting a 5-gallon water jug and filling it with potable water so we can use it for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes. If you are traveling to multiple campsites and any of them have potable water available, fill up your jug! You don't want to find yourself at camp with no access to clean water.

19. Foldable Sink

This foldable sink will be so useful! Clean your dirty dishes in it using the water from your water jug to clean them. 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.

car camping essentials checklist

20. Towels

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.

21. Kitchen Utensil Bag

REI 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.

22. 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.

car camping essentials

23. Small Day Backpack

If you are a hiker, I highly recommend finding a small day backpack. We have two of these lightweight packs which have a 2-liter water bladder; they have been perfect for us. We often only bring one along on our hikes and it has enough space for water, lunch, and our dog’s water bottle.

If you have a backpack already check out this awesome water bladder set.

Camping Essentials Alpacka My Bags

24. 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!

Read Also: Best Campgrounds in South Carolina

25. 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 so check the weather before you go camping.

car camping essentials Alpacka My Bags

26. Pillow

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.

27. Sleeping Pad

If you are tent or car camping you will definitely want a sleeping pad of some kind. 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.

28. Mess Kit

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.

29. 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 all sticky from common bug spray, grab some of our favorite kind. This dry bug spray works wonders, and it doesn't get your skin all gooey.

Car Camping Essentials Checklist

30. 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).

Rooftop Tent and Car Camping Essentials

Just For Fun!!

31. Speaker

A small, bluetooth speaker is an extra that we like to bring along. It’s easy to charge with the car adapter, and it’s fun to play quiet music while cooking or hanging around camp, but only when in a more secluded campsite. If you don't have a speaker handy, I recommend a portable bluetooth speaker. Please be aware of your neighbors and how close they are!

32. 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.

rooftop tent and car camping essentials

33. Hammock

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.

car camping checklist

34. Portable Charger

This is nice to have if you will be staying at one camp for a while and won’t have the car battery to rely on. 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!

car camping essentials alpacka my bags

I hope you find this car camping checklist handy during your next camping adventure! We have found these items make camping even more exciting while not taking up a huge amount of space.

Camping really is for everybody. 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.

Read Also: Camping with Dogs

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.

Complete Car Camping Essentials Checklist

Don't forget to grab our free car camping essentials checklist below!

Car Camping Checklist
Download • 90KB

Where are you planning your next camping trip? Let us know below in the comments; we love hearing about all things camping! Will you be tent camping, car camping, wild camping, or rooftop tent camping?

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We're Georgina and Nathan, two adventure enthusiasts and creators of Alpacka My Bags. We're here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 


We've been exploring this insane planet that we call home together for over 3 years now. After college, we knew the "traditional career path" was not for us, and honestly the "traditional life path", in general, just wasn't for us.


We needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer, it sounds cliché but you do only live once. So we made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that we wanted to share them with others so they can enjoy them too! 

Our passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join us, and often our dog, JoJo, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as we have, we hope you find our tips useful for any and all of your future travels.

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