Car Camping Essentials: 11 Must-Haves to Pack Along

When it comes to car camping, the gear you pack can make or break your adventure.

But, what exactly should you pack for your next car camping trip?

If you’ve ever struggled to find the right equipment for your roadside outdoor adventures, worry not, we’re here to help. We know how challenging it can be to make a list of all the most important items to pack while car camping, so we’ve created this list to do just that.

In this article, we’ll walk you through our car camping checklist, which comes complete with all the essentials you need for your outdoor getaway. We’ll discuss the most important items you ought to pack so you never have to head outside unprepared ever again.

1. Tent

off road vehicle with roof tent

If you’re going car camping, you need a reliable tent to keep you warm and dry in the rain. However, unlike backpacking trips, where you’re limited in terms of the size of tent you can bring, car camping provides you with many more options for luxury and comfort outside.

For car camping, many folks opt for either an instant popup tent for convenience or a two room tent for comfort. Getting a multi-room tent is particularly helpful if you’re going on a trip with a large group as doing so allows everyone to get the privacy they need.

Alternatively, if you really want to go all out and prioritize your comfort while car camping, a glamping tent might be more appropriate. Glamping tents can be a nice option if you’ve managed to snag reservations for a week or two of camping at a popular national park, like Yosemite National Park.

Read More : 10 Ways to Make Tent Camping More Comfortable

2. Air mattresses

blue air mattress

Car camping is all about being comfortable at night. So, instead of packing a lightweight sleeping pad, you can make the most of your roadside abode and pack an air mattress, instead.

In fact, a thick, plush air mattress is absolutely essential for comfortable nighttime snoozing in the great outdoors. When paired with a cozy summer sleeping bag or a couple of blankets, there’s nothing better than catching some Zzs on an air mattress under a star-studded sky on a car camping trip.

Read More : Camping Cots vs Air Mattresses – Which One Suits You?

3. Pillows

comfortable blue pillows in a camper van

On the topic of comfort while car camping, there’s one piece of gear you should never leave home without, a pillow.

Okay, we know what you’re thinking, Is a pillow really a required piece of gear while car camping?

Well, while a pillow might not be as vital to a camping trip as, say, your tent, it’s hard to argue that having a quality pillow on hand won’t greatly enhance your snoozing abilities at night. Since getting a bad night’s sleep is a surefire way to make you cranky during the next day’s hiking activities, having a pillow can make a big difference.

Plus, if you’re car camping and have the space for a pillow, you might as well bring it. The way we see it, why wouldn’t you want to be comfortable at night if you had the option?

4. Stoves and grills

friends car camping with stove and grill

At the end of a long day of hiking, there’s nothing better than cooking up some gourmet grub. To do so, however, you’ll need to pack stoves and grills for your adventure.

Even if you prefer to cook over the open flame of a campfire, having a gas-powered stove and be helpful for situations where you want a quick meal. Plus, if there’s a campfire ban in effect, like what we see in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks from time to time, then a stove is your go-to choice for camp cooking.

Additionally, having a barbecue-style cookout is a time-honored tradition of any camping trip. So, you’ll want to bring a grill on your trip to ensure that you have everything you need for your backcountry barbecue.

Read More : Butane vs Isobutane vs Propane – Which is Better?

5. Camping chairs

couple sitting on a camping chair

Although many car camping areas do provide picnic tables at each campsite, it’s hard to go wrong with packing a few extra camping chairs for your adventures.

Camping chairs are a must if you want to sit comfortably around the campfire each night. Plus, even if you do have a picnic table available, it’s hard to argue that those bench-style seats are even remotely as comfortable as a dedicated camping chair.

6. Firestarters

hexamine firestarter with stove and lighter

If there’s one part of car camping that’s always a fan favorite, it’s the evening campfire.

However, coming unprepared to build a campfire on your camping trips can be a recipe for disappointment. Therefore, the key is to pack plenty of firestarters, plus other useful tools, like tinders and lighters, for your adventure.

Of course, you should always check the local campfire regulations at your campground before you build a fire during your trip. But, if there aren’t any fire bans in place, then having firestarters on hand will make things so much easier for you as you try to get your fire going each night.

Read More : How to Have A Campfire Safely

7. Camp tarp

tent with yellow tarp cover

When inclement weather strikes during your camping adventures, having a camp tarp can make a world of difference.

Although some folks view camp tarps as optional pieces of gear that are nice to have while camping, but not required, getting stuck in the rain without a tarp can be a wet and uncomfortable experience.

In fact, having a tarp to pitch over your kitchen area can make it so that you have a warm and dry place to cook and hang out when the weather won’t cooperate.

Plus, a camp tarp can also provide some much-needed shelter from the sun when camping in hot areas, like Death Valley National Park. In these places, your tarp might be the only source of shade you have in camp, making it an essential piece of gear during the midsummer heat.

8. Coffee makers

hand drip coffee maker

If the thought of going without your morning cup o’ joe during your car camping adventures brings some tears to your eyes, worry not. You can always bring a coffee maker to your campsite.

Camping coffee makers and percolators are a must-have piece of gear for any java fanatic. Whether you enjoy an espresso in the morning or a pour-over, there’s an easy-to-use camping coffee maker out there for you. Just be sure to pre-grind your beans at home to make things as easy as possible on your trip.

9. Generators

red camping generator

Going car camping doesn’t mean you have to completely unplug from your devices. In fact, with the right camping generator, you can easily power all your essential devices while on the go.

These days, camping generators come in a whole slew of different shapes and sizes. So, whether you want a diesel-powered model for your trip to Shenandoah National Park or a solar-powered model for eco-friendliness, there are plenty of great options out there for you.

Not interested in a generator but still want to charge your devices on the go?

Consider bringing portable battery packs and even a solar panel to create green, portable energy for juicing up all your devices in camp.

10. Showers

outdoor camping shower on a van

Camping doesn’t need to be a wet and muddy affair. Indeed, with a reliable camp shower, you can stay squeaky clean, even after a long day of adventuring.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be at a campground where shower facilities are available, consider yourself lucky. These facilities are few and far between, but they can make staying clean a streamlined process. Just don’t forget to pack your towel!

But, if shower facilities aren’t available, consider bringing a camp shower, instead. There is plenty of gas, battery, and solar-powered options out there to suit your adventure style.

That way, you can enjoy your time outside without sacrificing your hygiene in the process.

11. String lights

friends partying with beautiful string lights

If you want to turn your campsite into a comfortable retreat at the end of the day, a set of string lights is essential. A well-pitched set of string lights can turn any campsite or tent into a magical and cozy hangout spot, so be sure to pack these on your next adventure.

Additionally, if you think you’ll need more lighting for playing games or reading books, consider bringing lanterns and headlamps, too. That way, everyone can have the illumination they need to hang out comfortably after dark.

Gaby Pilson

Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.