Car camping is an excellent way to dip your toe into camping without subjecting yourself to the full force of being on your own in Mother Nature right away. It is also a good option if you don’t have as much time for a hiking trip or want a nature break from life without having to prepare too much.
The downside of car camping is that the only limit to the amount of material you can bring on your trip is the space in your vehicle. You have the option to bring along as many bells and whistles as you want.
Core Mountaineering Tip: don’t go overboard. Instead, keep everything well-organized so that you still have convenient access to everything functional that you need.
Although your list might include plenty of other extras, we have developed a list of all the necessary (and some unnecessary) things you should bring on a car camping trip.
Below the printable list, we have a guide to the characteristics of the materials we suggest and what to look for when buying or using them on your first trip.
Ultimate Printable Car Camping Checklist
- Tent and footprint OR Hammock and straps
- Sleeping pad OR air mattress and pump
- Sleeping bag
- Camp pillow
- Camp chairs
- Tent light / Lantern
- Day backpack
- Sleeping bag liner
Extra Camp Comfort
- Portable charger
- Camp games
- String lights
- Camp table
- Musical instruments
- Field guides
- Star charts
- _ # of shirts
- _ # of pants
- _ # of underwear
- _ # of sweaters
- _ # of socks
- Hair accessories, i.e., hats, bandanas, headbands
- Long underwear
- Rain jacket
- Hiking boots
- Toiletry bag
- Shampoo OR All-purpose soap
- Soap OR All-purpose soap
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Bug repellent
- Lip balm
- Glasses / contact lenses
- Camp shower
- Dry shampoo
- _ # of prepped meals
- Cooking Utensils
- Stirring spoon
- Water bottles / jugs
- Camp stove
- Pot / Pan
- Coffee kit
- Cleaning gear
- Dish soap
- Sponge / rag
- Knife and cutting board
- Can opener
- Aluminum foil
- Dutch oven
- Trash bags
- Bear spray
- Duct tape
- Axe and gloves for cutting firewood (check the local regulations)
- Firewood (only locally sourced)
- Water filter
- First-aid kit
- Dog / cat bed
- Water and food bowls
- Hiking pack for dogs
- Retractable lead
If you’d like to get the printable checklist, just follow this link to Outforia.
The Why’s and Where’s of the Car Camping Checklist
There are certain aspects of a camping trip, whether from your car or not, that can make or break the trip. For example, if you don’t have a tent or a hammock setup that is well waterproofed and a storm goes over, you will spend a miserable night in a very wet sleeping bag.
That’s enough to put off any first-time camper, which is precisely what we want to avoid. Instead, here are some of our suggestions and tips for the gear you should have under each of the packing categories that form the ultimate camping checklist.
First, decide what kind of sleeping and shelter setup you want to have. The three primary choices include your car, a tent, and a hammock.
Some people have a large enough vehicle to take car camping to the extreme and do all the camping from the inside of the car. This often involves putting down all your chairs and setting up an air mattress, some string lights, blankets, pillows, and ‘wah-lah’, a cozy shelter from the outdoors.
The most common shelter of choice for camping is a tent. If you get a tent, be wise about the size of tent you will need. For example, a 2-person tent will be quite snug for two people, particularly if you want to store any equipment in it. Luckily, you have a car for that.
Also, it would help if you waterproofed your tent and rain cover seams each new season. Even waterproofing that was originally very well done wears out with age.
Finally, you can choose to use a hammock setup if you prefer over the tent or car. This is a bit more in-depth and will require you to practice tying some knots reliably before heading out.
Extra Camp Comfort
Almost everything on this list is ‘extra.’ However, you have to remember you aren’t out on a camping trip for business. You want to pack things for fun as well!
Think about how long you plan on staying out, the other activities you will do while on your trip, and also your preferred ways of relaxing in nature. Cross off anything that doesn’t apply to you or your companions.
The amount and variety of clothing you bring on your trip is up to you, the amount of room you have, and the length of your trip. You should also consider the season you are in and look up how cold the nights will get to prepare correctly.
Or, if you want to camp with your baby, you should probably consider how frequently those baby clothes need to be changed.
Clothes you intend to wear while camping or otherwise enjoying the outdoors should be quick-drying. There is a saying for those who spend a lot of time outside from civilization: ‘Cotton kills.’
Try to avoid packing cotton and instead pack clothing that doesn’t get wet easily, and when it does, it quickly dries, leaving you drier underneath.
Fill the above checklist out by thinking about the number of days your trip will last. Since you have the room for it, you should also try to pack an extra change of clothes just in case you fall on a muddy hike or decide to go for a wild swim randomly.
Many of the optional additions to your personal hygiene are up to you. Our primary recommendation is not to underestimate the value of feeling clean. Although ‘camping clean’ is different from most people’s standard hygiene practice, it is still valuable.
If you aren’t staying at a site or don’t have access to showers in a city, bring a method of washing yourself with you.
Please check out our article, Ultimate Guide to Smelling Good While Camping, for more in-depth information.
Camp kitchens and their intensity vary far and wide. There are some that seem to bring everything and the kitchen sink, literally. Others get by with a small backpacking stove and a pan.
The determining factor for creating your camp kitchen is the kind of food you want to make and the preparation you are willing to do beforehand. For example, some people bring along all the prepared ingredients to be able to whip their stove out and some foil and make a grand meal in moments. Others prefer to bring along canned or bagged meals and heat them up.
Even if you like to have more elaborate meals while you camp, it is always a good idea to bring along some simple snacks in case you are hungry, tired, and don’t feel like cooking. For example, grab some granola bars, instant oatmeal, or some tea bags to get you easily full and caffeinated with little effort.
Finally, the tool kit you bring with you is one of the most essential things for the ease and safety of your car camping trip. Triple check you have everything, particularly a fully stocked first aid kit, before leaving.