If you love camping but hate sleeping uncomfortably in the dirt or munching unhealthy, instant meals for dinner, car camping is the way to go.
Car camping gives you the luxury of bringing more gear than you’re used to, which translates into more comfort and “homey” experience.
Because everything will be loaded into your car, the weight of your camping gear isn’t a major concern. That said, you have the option to choose bulkier camping essentials as long as they fit your needs and preferences.
You can bring as many gears as you feel helpful. But the following camping essentials should have a spot in your car.
Car Camping Essentials
Car camping doesn’t mean you have to sleep inside your car. Camping isn’t “camping” without a tent. Speaking of which, you have a lot of choices, from budget ones like the Coleman Sundome Tent to premium options like the CORE 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent. Always pay attention to the size and capacity of your tent especially if you’re traveling with a group.
A good rule of thumb is to find a tent that can fit one or two more people than what you plan. So if you’re a family of three, opt for a tent that’s good for four or five people.
Sleeping Bag or Blankets
Since weight won’t be an issue, feel free to bring thicker, heavier blankets as you please. But if you’re camping in the winter, you might also need to pack a sleeping bag with insulation or padding.
Sleeping bags have varying temperature ratings. However, you can always unzip your bag when it gets a little too warm. Therefore, choose the sleeping bag that is rated lower than the lowest temperature in the area you want to camp.
Some people prefer to sleep in their car. If you’re one of them, consider investing in a quality air mattress. It's easy to use, takes minimal space when packed, and provides a bigger sleeping space than a sleeping pad. What's more, it can be as comfortable as your traditional bed.
Collapsible camping pillows are nice to have because they pack well and don’t lose their shape with repeated folding. These pillows are surprisingly cheap and they can make your whole camping experience a lot more comfortable.
Some people love plain and simple food for camping. Others want it gourmet-style. Your cookware will depend on how you’d like to cook your meals at the campsite. Regardless of your choice, a camping stove is definitely an essential. Go for a portable stove that’s easy to operate, such as the Coleman Butane stove.
You also want to bring a cast iron which makes a versatile cooking pan as it can be used for most types of dishes and retains heat very well.
Don’t forget your fuel too. Speaking of which, you can choose among gas canisters, gas, and solid fuel. Knowing their differences makes it easy to choose which type is suitable for your camping.
Solid fuel tablets are light and easy to use, but they provide a low heat output and longer boil times. Liquid fuel (also known as white gas) is cheap and widely available. It can be ignited in lower temperatures and is therefore ideal for remote expeditions.
Silverware and Cooking Utensils
You will also need silverware, water jug, plates and bowls, paper towels, can opener, knife, etc. It’s great if you can pack all these items in one storage box so you can just easily take them off from your car and put them back on.
Think of your cooler as your mobile fridge. It makes it possible for you to prepare delicious meals even outdoors. Egg and bacon for breakfast, chicken wraps for lunch, and some satisfying chilli for dinner. These are all possible when you’re car camping. As long as you have a cooler.
From dining to chatting and enjoying the outdoors, you need a folding table. Like tents and sleeping bags, you have lots of options for these camping essentials.
In most cases, a basic folding table will suffice as long as it’s big enough for your needs. However, you want to look for something that’s sturdy and stable especially if you’re putting up your camp on uneven ground. Some tables come with bottom layers or shelves where you can store some items, such as snacks or utensils. High-end models come with more features, like a detachable grill, a stove cover, and shelves.
A portable and lightweight camping chair is essential for sitting around in the camp site. An advantage of car camping is that you can bring in a roomy chair. Rocking chairs like the GCI Outdoor Freestyle are super relaxing. If you love drinking coffee or hot chocolate, you’ll benefit from a camping chair with a side table, such as the Coleman Camping chair.
While you’re not too concerned about your luggage, you surely don’t want to overpack especially when it comes to clothes. The best approach would be to tune in to the weather forecast and pack accordingly.
Don’t forget to stash an extra pair of shoes/boots. Sometimes, a hiking sandal works just fine.
Car Emergency Kit
Mishaps can happen anytime. The least you can do is to stay prepared. You can put together your own first-aid kit or you can buy one. Regardless, it should contain the essentials like bandage rolls, wound-closure strips, antiseptics, bug bite cream, mosquito repellent, antibacterial soap, alcohol, sanitizer, and some basic medications (including your prescription meds if any).
Headlamp or Flashlight
Sure, your phone does have a flashlight. But it’s not as efficient and powerful as camping flashlights. You never know when your car or RV battery might die so you need to keep a flashlight close by especially when it starts to get dark.
Headlamps are more convenient especially for children. They’re also incredibly cheap. If you’re camping in an area where you need to be able to see longer distances in the dark, investing in a high-power flashlight is important.
Power Source Adapters for Cars
Wouldn't it be nice if you can take power anywhere you go? With a power source adapter, you can!
These portable batteries give you a lot of convenient even when you're roughing it in the outdoors. The best thing about them is they come with several charging ports and multiple charging options. You can power your electronics, from your camp light to your mobile phones, camera, and other gadgets.
Power source adapters come in different sizes and capacities. Make sure to read the label to see if it fits your camping needs.
A camp fire is not just for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows. It provides light and comfort too. Make sure you don’t forget to bring a fire starter. Choose a durable waterproof model that creates a spark rather than a flame as it lasts longer and would not require fuel (only a battery).
Car and Camping Tools
Car camping involves taking a scenic drive to the backcountry or venturing to the mountains or deserts. That said, you want your car to be in top condition. This means bringing along a basic car repair kit which includes something to jump-start a dead battery, extra fuel, a bottle of tire sealant, and a tire inflator.
You also need some tools to set up your tent, such as a mallet or hammer for your tent pegs, an ax for chopping firewood, ropes for putting up a tarp roof, and a multi-tool kit, among others.
You don’t want to crawl into your sleeping bag stinking. A hygiene kit is a must-have whether you’re just having a day trip or camping for a few days. It should include shampoo, disinfecting wipes, cleaning wipes, toilet paper, body soap, oral care, comb, and other stuff you might need.
Make sure you pack some face towels or washcloth. Pack them in a small bag (ziplock ones will do). Ideally, each camper has his or her own hygiene kit.
You will also benefit from a portable camping shower. Some camping showers can carry up to 11 Liters of water, giving you 5-7 minutes of refreshing shower time.
You can survive a few days without food. But you won't without water. Unfortunately, finding clean and potable drinking water is often a challenge with camping.
Not when you have a water container. This car camping essential is cheap and comes in many sizes. Opt for one that can hold at least 7 gallons of water especially if you're car camping with your family. Many water containers are collapsible so you can pack easily when not in use. Others come with large openings for easy cleaning and refilling. Some models are insulated, giving you cold water for a couple of days.
Whatever type you choose, make sure to purchase a water filter too. It comes in different forms, such as chemical treatments, UV device, gravity water filter, hand pump filter, and more.
Car Camping Extras
Once you have all the essential items in your car, it’s time to move on to the camping extras. These are things you can survive without but they can definitely make your whole camping experience so much better.
There are many fun things to do while camping. If you’re camping with kids, toys and games are “essential”. But teens and grown-ups would appreciate some fun games too. Board games, UNO cards, and Jenga are just among the classic stuff you can take to camping. But your choices are endless. Check out our list of the best camping games.
A music player or portable bluetooth speaker is a great source of entertainment too. Video games are fine but if you’re looking to unplug your kids, opt for traditional games and activities.
Reading books is such a relaxing activity, something you can freely do at a campsite. Activity books and sketching pads are perfect for children. You can ask your kids to draw interesting things they see, such as trees, animals, flowers, and landscapes.
Rooftop Cargo Carrier
If you don’t have enough space inside your car for your camping gears, a rooftop cargo carrier is a life-saver. Today’s cargo carriers are sleeker and nicer-looking. All you need is a roof rack (though in some cases, you won’t need it at all).
Cargo carriers vary. They can come in boxes or metal baskets. Consider something that can be locked so you won’t have to worry about the possibility of losing your belongings especially if you’re carrying expensive sports or hunting gears.
Car camping is a wonderful way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and connect with nature. The preparation can be a little overwhelming. But if you have these camping essentials, you’ll be just fine. Once everything is tucked nicely into your car, you can be confident that you’ll survive the wilderness and have an enjoyable camping experience.
If you're an avid camper and you have extra bucks to spend, you should consider buying a rooftop tent. It's going to save you a whole lot of space and bring you ton of comfort.
A rooftop tent is a great gear if you're moving from place to place. And since it's off the ground, you won't have to worry about mud or flooding, or animals conveniently accessing your tent.
This camping shelter also allows you to sleep anywhere, from parking lots to roadsides, just as an RV would let you. But it's way cheaper than an RV.
Before you purchase a rooftop tent, make sure to check its storage capacity and weight. Decide whether you're using a soft-shell or a hard-shell type. Both are easy to set up. But the latter are generally sturdier and more expensive than the former.