Car Camping Essentials [+ Printable Packing List !] – Bearfoot Theory

Car camping is a great way to get outside while still having some of the comforts of home along. Things like a spacious tent, a cushy sleeping pad, a cooler full of food and drinks, and a nice camp kitchen set-up can make camping outside just as comfortable as being at home except you get to enjoy the great outdoors. This list of car camping essentials includes everything you need for your next camping trip for a good time and more. Be sure to download our car camping checklist as well so you can keep tabs as you pack and make sure not to forget anything.

If you want to be able to backpack and car camp with one set of gear, check out our 3-day backpacking checklist for lightweight tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags that will work across the board. But for those of you who want a more comfortable car camping setup and don’t want to shell out the cash for super lightweight gear meant for backpacking, this car camping packing list is for you.

Don’t know what to bring camping? Here is our complete car camping essential packing checklist to help you get packed and ready to camp!

Car Camping Sleeping Gear

Camping is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature. But if you’re not used to sleeping on the ground, it can be tough to get comfortable. These camping sleeping essentials will help make your trip more enjoyable. From a good mat to keep you off the cold ground, to a warm sleeping bag for chilly nights, these items will help you rest easy while camping. So grab your tent and gear up for an outdoor adventure!

Orange camping tent set up with fill sized air mattress inflated inside.
The REI Co-Op Skyward 4 tent can fit a double inflatable mattress for extra comfort while camping!

Car Camping Tent

A camping tent is first on the list for good reason – it’s your shelter from the elements. For car camping, get a spacious tent with enough room to sleep comfortably and get changed in. A three or four-person tent could be a great option even if there will only be one or two people sleeping in it.

Another thing to take into consideration when shopping for a tent is what conditions you’ll be camping in. If you only plan on camping in summer and the shoulder seasons, a 3-season tent will suffice. But if you’re planning on doing winter camping, you’ll want something that is warmer and more durable.

  • Budget Tent Option: The Stoic Madrone 4-person tent is a great budget-friendly camping tent to get you started. It’s roomy inside, so there’s plenty of space whether you’re packing extra camping luxuries or you’re heading out on a trip with the whole family. It’s also fast and easy to set up, leaving more time to explore the outdoors!
  • Bearfoot Theory Tent Pick: The REI Co-op Skyward 4 Tent is a great 4-person tent with room to stand up and stretch in. My friends take an older version of this tent car camping with their two young kids – it comfortably fits two pack-and-play beds for the kiddos and still has plenty of sleeping space for the adults.
  • Dual Purpose Tent: If you know you’ll be doing both backpacking and car camping trips and only want one tent, then you can’t go wrong with the REI Quarter Dome SL2. It’s a 2-person tent, so you’ll still be able to sleep comfortably car camping whether solo or with a partner, but at 2 lbs 14 oz it makes for a great lightweight backpacking tent as well. Be sure to get the footprint so you stay dry and warm at the campground and on the trail.

Car Camping Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pads can make or break your camping trip by helping you get a good night’s sleep, so it’s one of the most important car camping essentials you’ll invest in.

A good sleeping pad not only provides comfort from the hard ground, but it can also help keep you warm. Sleeping pads are rated on an R-scale between 0 – 6. The higher the R-rating, the warmer the sleeping pad will be. For car camping during the summer and shoulder season months, an R-rating between 2-4 should be perfect.

  • Budget Sleeping Pad Option: A great budget-friendly sleeping pad that’s still comfortable is the Therm-a-Rest BaseCamp Sleeping Pad. With 2 inches of thickness and an R-Value of 6, this self-inflating sleeping pad will provide cushion and insulation from the ground so you can get a good night’s sleep. >> Backcountry
  • Bearfoot Theory Sleeping Pad Pick: The Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad is extremely comfortable, self-inflating, and extra-wide. The foam layer will keep you warm and cozy and provides a high level of insulation from the ground. This mat comes in a similar double version as well. >> Backcountry
  • Extra Comfort Sleeping Pad: If you’re looking to really bring the comforts of home to the outdoors, then the Hest Sleep System Sleeping Pad has got you covered. This sleeping pad is actually a mattress instead of a blow-up pad, so it provides extra comfort and support, ensuring you get a good night’s rest under the stars.

Car Camping Sleeping Bag

There’s no better feeling than snuggling up in a warm, cozy sleeping bag surrounded by nature. A good camping sleeping bag will not only keep you warm but also allow you to shift and move around as you sleep.

The two main considerations you want to think about when choosing a sleeping bag are temperature rating and shape. A temperate rating of 20-40° is usually perfect for car camping depending on when and where you plan on camping. The shape is more of a personal preference. Rectangular bags will allow you to move around more while a mummy bag will be warmer and more lightweight.

If you want to cozy up with your partner, check out the best two-person sleeping bags for camping.

  • Budget Sleeping Bag Option: The Coleman Kompact 20 Sleeping Bag is a great price for a 20° bag and it has a rectangular shape, so you can move and shift as you sleep.
  • Bearfoot Theory Sleeping Bag Pick: Our top pick for a great car camping sleeping bag is the NEMO Disco 30 Sleeping Bag. It’s lightweight, super cozy, and also designed to be comfortable for side-sleepers thanks to its spoon shape. We also love the ‘gills’ that help regulate temperature and the build-in pillow pocket. Check out the men’s model here. >> Backcountry
  • Double Sleeping Bag Pick: If you want to cozy up next to your partner while camping, a double sleeping bag is a great option. The NEMO Jazz 30 Double Sleeping Bag has all the comforts needed for a good night’s sleep and even has an integrated sleeping pad sleeve so it stays in place throughout the night.

Car Camping Furniture

Looking for some comfortable, lightweight furniture for your next car camping adventure? Check out our top picks! Good furniture can help make camp comfortable and relaxing. From portable chairs to sturdy tables, we’ve got everything you need to make your campsite feel like home.

Two camp chairs around an unlit fire pit at campsite with tent set up behind them
using the Helinox Sunset Chairs

Car Camping Chairs

Whether you’re sitting around the fire or watching the sunset from your campsite, collapsable chairs are a car camping must. There are a lot of different models and options to choose from including swiveling chairs, loveseats, and more. Here are our top choices.

  • Budget Camp Chair: If you’re looking for something that is budget-friendly, the REI Co-op Camp X Chair is a great option. It’s sturdy, comfortable, and perfect for lounging around the campfire.
  • Bearfoot Theory Camp Chair Pick: We really love the Helinox Sunset Chairs because they’re lightweight, pack down small, and they have a high back that is comfortable and supportive. >> Backcountry
  • Double Camping Chair: Whether you’re looking to save space or you want to cuddle with your partner, a double camping chair is a great car camping essential. The Mountain Summit Gear Loveseat is our top choice because it folds down easily and has a durable frame. >> Backcountry

>> Check out our roundup of the Best Camping Chairs for more options.

Camp Tables

A good table makes life around camp much easier and more relaxing. They can also help keep gear organized and speed up dish duty at the end of the day. Whether you bring along a simple side table or a full-on packable picnic table, here are our top picks.

  • Small Camp Table: If you’re looking for a small, portable camp table to set your drinks on, the Mountain Summit Gear Quick Fold Table could be your answer. At 20 inches x 20 inches and 4 lbs, it’s sturdy, packable, and lightweight.
  • Bearfoot Theory Camp Table Pick: I love whipping up delicious camp meals, so a sturdy and reliable camp kitchen table is a must. The GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station is great for keeping everything organized as well as providing lots of workspace to prep on. It also folds down flat, making it easy to carry and store.
  • Deluxe Camp Table: Take your camp dining up a notch with the Mountain Summit Gear Aluminum Folding Picnic Table. This setup can seat four people and is ideal for sharing camp meals or enjoying a game of cards post hike.

Car Camping Kitchen Essentials

Making delicious meals al-fresco is one of our favorite parts of car camping. To get your car camping cooking essentials organized, I recommend you start an outdoor cooking bin. This is where you’ll keep everything you need to cook with. Some things I like to keep in my cooking bin include cutting boards, knives, silverware, paper towels, Tupperware, tongs, a spatula, pots, pans, olive oil, salt, pepper, and basic seasonings. By keeping everything together in a bin, it will make it really easy when it’s time to hit the road. Just grab the bin and go!

Here’s what to bring car camping so you can cook delicious meals al fresco.

Camper turning on propane camp stove to cook camp meal
The Eureka Ignite Camp Stove is our go-to for cooking at camp
  • Camp Stove: A decent camp stove is a game-changer for making quality meals while road tripping. I use the Eureka Ignite Plus stove when I want to cook outside when camping in my van. It’s fuel-efficient and easy to fine-tune the flame so you don’t scorch your dinner. It runs off propane fuel, and for those who want to score some sustainability points, you can get an adapter at Home Depot that will allow you to hook up this stove to a 10-gallon refillable propane tank. >> Backcountry
  • Cooler: A cooler is a car camping must and will help you step your menu up a notch and eat fresh. Whether you need to keep groceries chilled or you’re more concerned about having a cold beverage at the end of the day, a cooler is definitely a car camping essential. The YETI Tundra 45 Coolers is top-notch and while it’s a little pricey, it’ll last you a lifetime. >> Backcountry
  • Cook Set: This complete GSI Pinnacle Camper cookset can feed four hungry campers. It’s a sturdy, packable, and lightweight kit that’s also nonstick and easy to clean. Inside, it contains four plates, bowls, cups, and insulated mugs. It also comes with one frying pan, two pots with lids, and its own welded sink for camp cleaning. Plus, the dishware is plastic (BPA-free) so they won’t chip or break. >> Backcountry
  • Cooking Utensils: The GSI Outdoors Destination Kitchen Set 24 has everything you need to whip up delicious meals including a spatula, large spoon, salt & pepper shaker, small cutting board, and bottle for cooking oil and dish soap. It’s also lightweight and all packs together in a small case making it easy to keep everything together.
  • Dish Buckets: Bring a collapsible bucket or two to make doing dishes easy. We like to bring one for wash water and one for rinse water. Just be sure to dispose of dirty water properly, either by pouring down the dish sink at camp if there is one or by scattering on barren dirt.
  • Coffee Mug: An insulated coffee mug is a car camping essential, and an anytime essential really. You can keep your coffee or tea hot on the drive and during mornings at camp. We love the 20oz YETI Rambler Tumbler because it keeps drinks piping hot and the MagSlider lid makes it easy and safe to drink from while driving. It’s super easy to clean as well. >> Backcountry
  • Coffee Maker: You’ll want to bring your coffee maker of choice along on your camping trip so you and your companions can enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee at camp just like at home. My favorite method for making coffee while camping is the AeroPress Go, a compact travel coffee maker that makes coffee in the morning a cinch. If you’re brewing coffee for more than one or two people, you may want a larger coffee press like this 1L coffee press by GSI Outdoors.

>> Read more about the AeroPress Go and how to use it here.

  • Water Jug: In addition to saving money and avoiding single-use plastics, having a water jug at camp makes for quick and easy cooking, efficient clean up after meals, and a great way to top off reusable water bottles. Just fill it up at the water spigot and have water conveniently at camp all day. It comes in several larger sizes as well.
  • Quick-Dry Towels: I have a few hand-sized quick-dry towels in my van for drying dishes and wiping off surfaces. Cotton towels don’t work well on the road because they dry slowly and get heavy and smelly when wet. These quick-dry towels are great for cleaning up after camp meals.
  • Tablecloth: A tablecloth is an item that’s often forgotten on car camping trips, but no more now that you have this packing checklist. Campground tables can be a little dirty so it’s nice to have something to cover them with, both for cleanliness and ambiance.
  • Trash Bag: Packing out your trash and disposing of it properly is essential on any car camping trip. Bring a couple of trash bags along to ensure you have what you need to do so.

>> For more recommendations, check out our guide to the Best Camp Cooking Kitchen Essentials For Road Tripping.

Car Camping Gear Essentials

In addition to the items listed above, there are plenty of other car camping items that you can pack depending on where you’re heading and what activities you plan on doing. Many of these are really more “nice-to-have” items and it’s up to you if you think they’ll be helpful on your next camping trip. Below are a few of our favorite car camping essentials when we’re going for extra comfort.

Camper relaxing in hammock at campsite while partner cooks meal on camp stove
  • Lantern: The Black Diamond ReMoji Lantern is a perfect addition to any car camping setup. It’s compact, rechargeable, and provides ample light (100 lumens) for cooking, playing cards, or organizing gear in the dark. It’s also light enough at 2.9 oz to take with you on backpacking trips and can last for 100hrs on the low setting. >> Backcountry
  • Headlamp: A headlamp is an absolute necessity for car camping and our headlamp of choice is the BioLite HeadLamp 330. Serving up 330 lumens across four lighting modes, it’s the perfect car camping companion. The BioLite comes with a rechargeable lithium battery that can last up to 40 hours. It’s also a great tool for the trail since it only weighs 1.6 oz.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: A reusable water bottle is key for staying hydrated and eliminating single-use plastics. An insulated Hydroflask will keep your water nice and cold on hot days. I also like their straw lid version which allows you to easily drink one-handed while on the go. >> Backcountry
  • First aid kit: It’s always a good idea to have a first-aid kit in your car, especially on a car camping trip. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared! We like this Adventure Medical Kit because it’s light enough to throw into a daypack to take with you on the trail and it has everything you need to treat blisters, sprains, headaches, and more.

>> Read next: How To Build A Hiking First Aid Kit

  • Portable Power Bank: A portable power bank like the Goal Zero Yeti Lithium 200X Portable Power Station is a nice addition to any car camping checklist because it helps keep devices charged, especially when you are camped in one place for a few days and not running the car batteries. This one is on the larger and more powerful side and offers 187 watt-hours of battery power to charge phones, laptops, cameras, headlamps, and more. If you’re looking for something a little smaller and compact, check out the BioLite 80 PD Power Bank. It’s small and light enough to carry with you on day hikes if you’re worried about running out of juice.
  • Speaker: If you’re a music-lover and want to listen to some tunes around the campsite, this JBL Flip 5 Eco Portable Waterproof Speaker is small, compact, and puts out great sound. Just be sure to respect quiet hours and neighbors camping around you.
  • String Lights: String lights are great for a little ambient lighting, plus they make your campsite look cozy and festive. These MPOWERED Luci Solar String Lights have a built-in solar panel that allows them to charge while you have them set up, and even has a USB port you can use to charge small devices like your cell phone.
  • Hammock: If you’re like us, you like to set up a comfortable hammock at camp to take a nap in, read a book, or listen to a podcast. The ENO SingleNest Hammock is one of our car camping essentials because it packs down small, it’s easy to set up, and it’s super comfortable. >> Backcountry

Car Camping Clothing

What clothing you decide to bring on your car camping trip depends on where you’re going, the weather, and what outdoor activities you’ll be doing. Here’s a list of the clothing I generally add to my car camping check list

Sitting around a campfire with two dogs
  • Quick-dry Shirt: I’ve been wearing Patagonia’s Cool Capilene Tees for years, both for everyday wear and for hiking. They don’t hold onto odors so they can be worn multiple times. They also dry quickly and don’t cling to you when you get sweaty on the trail. >> Patagonia
  • Long-Sleeve Base Layer: Even if the forecast predicts fair weather and warm temps, it’s a good idea to always pack a long-sleeve base layer. You never know when a rainstorm will roll in or exactly how cold it will get at night. I always pack a light base layer like the REI Long-Sleeve Crew Top. It’s light enough to stuff in a day pack and easy to layer beneath a warmer jacket or fleece.
  • Fleece: Nights can get chilly while car camping, so a warm fleece is definitely a car camping essential. I love the Cotopaxi Teca Half-Zip Fleece Jacket. Not only do they come in fun colors, but they’re also made from 100% recycled polyester and Cotopaxi donates a portion of their annual revenue to nonprofits around the world through their Gear for Good program. >> Cotopaxi
  • Synthetic Puffy: For cold nights, you’ll want a warm jacket. Patagonia’s Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie is my fave. It’s lightweight, packs down small, and is super cozy and warm. >> Patagonia

>> Read next: Best Women’s Synthetic Jackets

  • Leggings: Leggings are comfy on those long drives and serve as functional athletic wear on the trail. You can even wear them to bed. These High Waisted Prana Leggings in black can be worn with anything and are thick enough to cover up unwanted underwear lines.
  • Quick-dry Underwear: Moisture-wicking undies are a must for car camping trips, especially if you’ll be hiking. The lululemon Invisiwear boyshorts are my favorite. They are comfortable, hold their shape, and don’t show any panty lines when wearing leggings.

>> Check out our full roundup of favorite quick-drying briefs in our Best Women’s Hiking Underwear post

  • Sports Bra: Sports bras are more comfortable and practical to bring car camping than normal bras, especially if you plan on hiking or doing other outdoor activities. The Beyond Yoga Spacedye Lift Your Spirits Bra is stretchy and comfortable yet provides support.
  • Hiking Boots or Shoes: These Oboz Sypes Hiking Boots are my favorite lightweight hiking boots. I’ve already worn them hiking in Idaho, Utah, and Montana. They’re not stiff like more heavy-duty hiking boots out there and they’re comfortable right off the bat.

>> Looking for the perfect hiking boot? We list our favorites in this roundup of our favorite women’s hiking boots.

  • Camp Shoes: You’ll want a camp shoe that is supportive, yet comfortable and will allow your feet to breathe and relax while you’re driving and hanging out in the evenings. My go-to camp shoes are the Teva Universal Trail Sandals. They’re comfortable, have great traction, and they work with socks too (I know, super stylin’).
  • Beanie: A beanie can help keep you warm at night in your tent or around the campfire. Be sure to pack a beanie like the Patagonia Everyday Beanie when you know the temps will be chilly. >> Patagonia
  • Sun Hat: In addition to a warm beanie, a hat that will protect your face from the sun is also a car camping essential. Trucker hats work great, but I prefer a full-brimmed hat like the Columbia Global Adventure hat for all-around sun protection. >> Backcountry

Additional Outdoor Clothing Resources

If you plan on hiking, be sure to check out our guide on What To Wear Hiking. For a more detailed car camping clothing packing list, our Van Life Clothing Packing Checklist has all the essential items.

For cool-weather car camping trips, these blog posts have tips and recommendations for fall and winter clothing essentials.

Car Camping Toiletries

While the point of many car camping trips is to get outside and enjoy nature without worrying about what you look like, it’s also nice to feel somewhat clean while camping. Read our tips for staying fresh and clean on the road and check out our favorite camping toiletries below. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace Principles to help keep our natural places clean as well.

Group of people sitting in a circle in camp chairs at campsite with tents set up behind them
  • Biodegradable Soap: Not all soap is good for the environment, so put biodegradable soap on your car camping checklist. We like Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap, which comes in a small travel size that is perfect for any travel kit. Just make sure you’re 200 feet from any lakes or rivers if you want to suds up.
  • Sunscreen: Protecting your skin from sun damage is super important, so be sure to add a bottle or two of sunscreen to your car camping packing list. We like the Sun Bum SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen because it’s easy to apply and blends smoothly into the skin. It’s also reef-safe, so if you’re heading to the beach, this sunscreen is a must!
  • Wet wipes: Wet wipes are super handy for quickly cleaning your body or face after a sweaty hike or dusty drive. The Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes are a non-negotiable for our car camping packing list because they’re gentle on the skin and they are compostable (although you still need to dispose of them properly in the trash).
  • Travel Size Toiletries: Instead of packing full-size shampoo, conditioner, and lotion try these refillable 2.5 oz humangear GoToob+ Medium Squeeze Bottles. Simply fill them up with your favorite products and pack them in your car camping toiletry bag. They also have a LoopLock to hang from a hook or carabiner. These work really well on backpacking trips, too.
  • Bug Spray: Never head out on a camping trip without bug spray. Take our word for it. Even if you don’t end up using it, bug spray is still a good item to have in your car camping kit in case the mosquitos come out to play. This All Terrain Herbal Armor Insect Repellent doesn’t have harmful chemicals like DEET and it smells nice.
  • Toiletry Bag: To keep all of your toiletries organized and contained on your car camping trip, stash them in a lightweight toiletry bag like the Sea to Summit Hanging Bag. You can easily hang it from the roof of your tent, the sun visor in your car, or on a tree branch. It’s also useful for keeping toiletry items organized on backpacking trips or in airplane luggage, and it even has a mirror. It comes in a smaller size as well.
  • Poop kit: Going #2 outdoors requires a little bit of forethought and preparation to do it respectfully if you’re camping somewhere where there are no bathroom facilities. Nobody wants to encounter dirty toilet paper at camp or smell human feces nearby. Not only is it disgusting, but it’s also very unsanitary and can get lead to pollution problems. So if there’s no bathroom around, you’ll need a poop kit which includes the GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel, toilet paper, and Ziplock bags so you can pack out your TP.
  • A quick-dry towel: Normal towels aren’t great for car camping because they take a long time to dry and often get smelly after a few uses. Instead, a quick-dry towel like the Nomadix All-Purpose Towel is a great car camping essential. Not only do they dry fast, but they’re also light and packable so they don’t take up much space, plus they’re made from recycled plastics.

Camping Essentials for Adventuring

Car camping is all about spending time outside, so bring your day hiking essentials along so you’re ready to get out there and explore.

Planning an epic car camping trip? Use this car camping packing checklist to narrow down what you need and avoid forgetting the essentials.
  • Day-Hiking Backpack: A backpack for carrying extra layers, water, snacks, a map, and a camera is essential if you plan on doing any hiking while car camping. The Osprey Mira 22L Hydration Pack is one of our favorites and has lots of storage pockets, a comfortable hip belt, and comes with a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir. If you’re looking for a simple, budget version for short hikes and walks from your campsite, check out the REI Flash 22 Pack, which is a unisex pack that is designed for ultralight adventures.

>> Looking for a great day pack? Check out the best Women’s Day Packs in this roundup

  • Hydration Reservoir: Many daypacks have space for a hydration reservoir which allows you to drink from an attached tube while you hike. Since it’s nestled in between you and the pack, it’s easy to carry, lightweight, and is a great option for staying hydrated on-the-go. Check before you buy a reservoir because some hiking backpacks come with them included.
  • Trekking Poles: If you plan on hiking during your camping trip and hiking tends to be rough on your knees, the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles will be a game-changer. Not convinced? Here are all of the reasons why you should consider using trekking poles when you hike, plus the best options for all budgets.
Planning an epic car camping trip? Use this car camping packing checklist to narrow down what you need and avoid forgetting the essentials.

We hope this car camping checklist helps you get everything together for an epic car camping trip! What’s nice is that once you have all the items you need, they should last you for years and years of camping adventures. For additional car camping tips, be sure to check out our Car Camping 101 post for more information on how to find campsites, how to plan a trip, and more.

Do you have favorite car camping essentials not listed above? What’s on your car camping packing list? Share in the comments below!

Learn what to bring camping using our car camping checklist to narrow down what you need to pack in order to avoid forgetting the essentials.

Written by
Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

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