Camping comes in numerous forms and is one of the most accessible and best ways to connect with nature. It can consist of an ultra-luxurious glamping experience or a raw type of camping wherein you need to backpack through the forest. Whatever you prefer, car camping is always a good middle ground.
Car camping will get you outside while still having a dry and secure shelter. Although vans and RVs are flooding the camping scene, your car is already perfect for creating an awesome camping experience.
For those who haven’t tried car camping yet or for anyone who wants to know what essentials to bring on such a trip, we’ve listed them down to help get you started.
Car camping is an easy and convenient alternative to regular camping, especially if you’re a first time camper who’s still testing the waters. There are a few things that you have to keep in mind like “Can you sleep anywhere in a camper van?” before you begin your journey.
10 Essentials for Car Camping
The ideal sleep setup when camping includes a sleeping pad, air mattress, sleeping bag, and extra blanket, but there isn’t always room for all of these. So for less baggage, you should just bring a sleeping bag.
Fully unzip your sleeping bag and use it as a blanket or keep it zipped up to use it as an extra cushion or insulation. If you are going camping in places with various temperatures, it is best to bring along quality sleeping bags that are designed to withstand the coldest temperatures. This will get you warmer without having to turn on the car and waste gas.
Our top choice when it comes to the best sleeping bags is the Western Mountaineering Alpinlite mummy-style sleeping bag, which is perfect for both backcountry and car-camping adventures. It is lightweight and provides superior warmth. It also packs down so small that it can fit in a backpack. Plus, it features a three-dimensional full-down collar, 19 oz. down fill, full-length ykk zipper, and 5” loft.
If you don’t want to sleep in your car, RV, or van, you can always bring a tent to sleep outside, surrounded by nature. When choosing a tent, you should consider the amount of people that will be sleeping inside of it. Another thing to consider is the conditions you will use the tent in.
If you want to make your car more comfortable to camp and sleep in, you can purchase a sleeping pad. These are rated for certain temperatures with the use of the “R” scale, wherein an “R value” between 2-4 is fine for most 3-season applications.
If you plan to sleep in a tent, an inflatable sleeping pad designed for camping is recommended, and a lot of these can perfectly fit in the back of a car. Alternatively, you can purchase a memory foam and a topper, cut it to fit your car, and cover it with a sheet.
Another essential to consider for a good night’s sleep is a comfortable pillow. When car camping, you can save money by bringing along one from home.
Alternatively, you can also choose to purchase a pillow that is specifically designed for camping for these pack up small and can expand in a matter of seconds, which is a way to free up more space. You can also bring them when backpacking in the backcountry.
Other than your pots, pans, plates, bowls, cups, thermos, cutting knife, cutting board, and other eating and cooking utensils, you may also consider bringing:
A Stove and Fuel
For car camping, a basic single or double burner stove will do. These are more affordable, and the gas is cheap and easily available. They also don’t take up much space in the car.Remember to check for fire bans or any other restrictions regarding cooking essentials or building a fire at the location before planning to bring this cooking equipment.
The Eureka! Ignite Portable Two-Burner camping stove is our top choice thanks to its great all-around performance. It has a well-rounded design featuring a solid build and a simmer control to allow you to cook various meals. Additionally, it has a spacious 23-inch surface to accommodate bigger pans and pots.
Having a cooler can offer you many options for cooking as it will allow you to bring eggs, vegetables, and more. It will also allow you to have a cool beverage after a hike.Our top choice for the best cooler is the YETI Tundra 65 thanks to its impressive overall performance. It features a straightforward design with sturdy latches that are easy to use and durable. It also offers a removable dry basket located inside the top where you can keep items dry and that can be outfitted with other accessories to suit many kinds of activities.
Often, clean drinking water is not available on campgrounds. Thus, you will also need a water tank to keep you hydrated throughout your trip. Fill it up with clean drinking water before heading toward the campground.Our top choice when it comes to the best water storage is the Coghlan’s Collapsible Water Container. It can hold 5 gallons of water and is collapsible to save you space in the car when heading back home. It features a handle and a spigot to easily pour out the water and is made of translucent, heavy-duty polyethylene for you to easily see how much water is left.
If you’re planning on going camping with your kids, we suggest that you give car camping a try. This way, you won’t have to worry about how you’ll carry your equipment and your kids to the campsite because everything will be in your car. We have a few tips and tricks about car camping with kids and we’re more than happy to share them with you.
If you have a larger car, you can also bring a table so that you can have a reliable surface to dine on.
The Alps Mountaineering Simmer Table is our top choice when it comes to the best camping tables because it packs down small and doesn’t cost much. This table can also be easily set up anywhere, even on the beach.
These are the things you should bring for safety and to get you ready for anything that may come up:
These are some more important items to bring when car camping. However, you may leave some behind and only bring what is necessary:
- Insect repellent
- Hand sanitizer
- Sanitary products
- Eye masks
- Contact lens supplies
- Camp shower
- Lip balm
- Toilet paper
- Baby wipes
- Hairbrush or comb
If you are camping in a less established campground, you may need some lightweight and easily transportable camping chairs.
You can also bring these extra items to make your camping adventure more comfortable and hassle-free.
The Goal Zero Lighthouse is a 400 Lumen lantern that features a USB outlet to keep your phone and devices charged. It has an adjustable and directional light that can be recharged from any USB port from a Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panel that has a built-in hand crank to charge it up instantly. It also has collapsible legs to provide a stand and a built-in handle for easy carrying or hanging.
If you camp at an established campground, you’ll notice they will have fire rings available for you to build a fire. If this is not the case, it is best to build your own fire ring to avoid damaging the area and causing a wildfire. You can look around the site for fallen branches or buy firewood at local gas stations away from the city. Remember to check for a fire ban or any other restrictions before building a campfire.
This item will help you get your fire going a lot more easily. Choose eco-friendly fire starters instead of those sold in gas stations and sports stores. Besides, eco-friendly fire starters are very affordable and easier to use.
This is a nice item to have during a camping trip as it allows you to comfortably lounge during a sunny day or watch the stars at night.
A deck of cards is the best item to bring along as it will not take up much room in the car and will offer you hours of good time. Choose waterproof game cards as they will less likely get ruined.
The Goal Zero Yeti 150 is an incredible portable charger that is powerful enough to charge your phone, camera, laptop, tablet, and more. You can also purchase solar panels to keep this charger running for days.
Car camping is a good option for every kind of camper, especially for those who plan to camp with their kids and those who are still beginners. Car camping allows you to bring along more luxury gear without having to worry about carrying them to the campsite, as opposed to backpacking. It is also an easier way to take a break and just drive right up to a campsite for spontaneous camping trips.
Do not be afraid to modify the list above, add what you really need for your activity and omit what you won’t need. Treat what we presented above as a template to loosely follow and edit according to your needs. Aside from packing your gear, you also have to make sure to check the rules and regulations, fire bans, and other restrictions before heading to your campsite.