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Car Camping Essentials Cover

Car Camping Essentials

(What You Need & What Your Trip Will Suck Without)

Packing for car camping is a lot like packing for other kinds of trips: some of us can toss a few items in a bag and we're good, and others pack everything and the kitchen sink in the name of being prepared. (If you're wondering, I'm the latter, and being over-prepared on trips has saved my butt a few times.) With car camping, what you pack also depends on how long and where you're camping (a weekend at the campground in May looks a lot different than a month in the mountains in freezing temps). That's why we made this handy list—to cover everything you may or may not consider a must-have and compile it all in one place. Feel free to take what you need from it and ignore what you don't; even if it's not a must-have to you, it probably will be to someone else (many of these items were suggested by other car campers who found them handy, even if I didn't think to bring them). Plus, it helps to have a checklist, and chances are there are a couple things on this list you haven't thought of but that, now that I mention it, would be totally great to bring along.So take a look at our list. Save it, print it, borrow from it, add to it, or let us know in the comments if you've discovered a must-have car camping item we missed.*Download a copy of the checklist here. You can also check out my buddy Evangeline's car camping setup video to see some cool camping products from her recent trip.
Check out Evangeline's car camping setup for cool gear inspiration!
GSI Outdoor Orange Camping Stove

Car Camping Kitchen Gear

Whether you're camping for the weekend or you're in it for the long haul, camping in your car doesn't mean eating fast food the whole time. Pack these kitchen essentials in a plastic bin or chuck box (essentially a box designed to store your portable kitchen) to enjoy delicious meals anywhere you go.
The Bare Minimum:
  • Food
  • Water
  • A way to keep it fresh/cold
What Else Should You Consider?
Rhino-Rack Car Awning

Car Camping Campsite Gear

The point of camping is to enjoy the outdoors, so think about the kind of outdoor space you want to hang out in. Does it have cozy lights? Or are you more about time on the water? Or maybe just kicking back with a cooler full of ice-cold Blue Moon? Don't forget these essentials to bring your camping adventure to life!
The Bare Minimum:What Else Should You Consider?Recommended:
Car Camping Bed Setup

Car Camping Sleeping Gear

A bad night's sleep can really ruin the car camping experience and leave you longing for home that very first morning. Make sure to layer up your bedding for the ultimate comfort. And don't forget the mosquito nets! I'd rate all the following as pretty high up on the car camping priority list.
The Bare Minimum:
What Else Should You Consider?
  • Window covers for heat/sun/light (interior or exterior)
  • Dehumidifier or Damprid (helps with moisture and dampness)
  • Eye mask (for blocking the light)
Roof box and bikes on top of vehicle roof

Car Camping Vehicle Gear

When it comes to car camping, your car is everything; you can't ignore it. Max out its capability, durability, and comfort with upgraded storage solutions, covers, and accessories.
The Bare Minimum:
What Else Should You Consider?
Woman Washing up with Yakima Roadshower

Car Camping Bathroom Gear

Look, despite what Instagram might suggest, camping doesn't usually involve looking like a glamor model. That said, there are definitely still ways to maintain basic hygiene like teeth brushing, showering, and doing Just remember to pack the essentials you need to keep feeling like your best self.
The Bare Minimum:
What Else Should You Consider?
Man Walking Dog on Hike

Car Camping Personal Gear

You don't have to pack your entire closet, but we definitely recommend bringing layers to adjust to different weather conditions (you never know when you'll need that jacket). Here are a few items we found are good staples on any personal packing list for outdoor excursions:
The Bare Minimum:
  • Weather-appropriate clothes (shirts, shorts, pants, jacket, hoodie, etc.)
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Sleepwear
  • Shoes (tennis shoes or boots for hiking, flip flops for showering)
  • Medication
  • Chargers for phone, laptop, tablets, etc.
  • ID
  • Cash/credit card
  • Dry bag/trash bag for wet/dirty clothes
  • Crucial info saved on phone/offline (map, directions, checklists, etc.)
  • Sunscreen
What Else Should You Consider?
  • Headphones/ear buds
  • Mosquito head net
  • First aid kit
  • Rain jacket or poncho
  • Swimwear
  • Clothesline
  • Hat (for sun or cold)
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Offline content (movies, books, podcasts) for entertainment in case you lose cell service
  • Makeup/skincare products
Father and Son Hiking

Car Camping Family Gear

If you're bringing little ones along, you already know you're going to need some extra gear to keep the kiddos entertained, safe, and comfortable. Because you've got enough on your plate, here's a handy list of kid-friendly camping items to bring:
The Bare Minimum:
  • Diapers, pull-ups, etc. (depending on their age)
  • Weather-appropriate clothes (and a few changes of clothes)
  • Extra snacks, juice, milk, etc.
What Else Should You Consider?
Dog on SUV air mattress

Car Camping Pet Gear

Last but definitely not least...your best bud. Your furry friend. Your beloved Fido. No, this won't apply to everyone, but for those bringing their dogs along, pet stuff is an essential part of packing. If my dog had her way, my backpack would be filled entirely with milk bones, but since the humans are still in charge of the packing, here's a more comprehensive list. (And if you're bringing some animal besides a dog, like a cat...the same supplies work, but well, good luck to you.)
The Bare Minimum:
What Else Should You Consider?Recommended:
Amber S.
About Amber S.As a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article. At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 7/22/21



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