The Ultimate Car Camping Packing List: 35 Must-Have Items

Camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But before you can start camping, you need to pack your car with all the necessary supplies. This packing list will help you make sure you have everything you need for a fun and comfortable camping trip.

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!

What Is Car Camping?

First off, let’s define what car camping is.

Typically, ‘car camping’ is a term used to differentiate a style of camping that isn’t backcountry camping or backpacking.

When car camping, all your gear is easily packed into your vehicle and easily accessible once you get to your campsite. Usually, you’re able to drive right up to a campsite and park right by it.

Backcountry camping, on the other hand, is when you need to pack everything you need into a backpack and hike in to your campsite.

This post is going to help you with the car camping side of things. So let’s dive in!

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The Ultimate Car Camping Packing List: 35 Essentials To Bring With You

Here are the 32 most important items to bring with you on your car camping trip to ensure you have everything you need for a seamless adventure.

1. E-Z Up Canopy

You cannot think of car camping in a sunny destination without one or even two canopy shades. The canopy will essentially serve as the centerpiece of your campsite–it’s where all your campmates will come together during the day to shield themselves from the beating sun and heat.

To give your campsite some personality, pair your E-Z UP canopies with tarps or tapestries hung up on the sides.

This will allow for some privacy from other campsites as well as give you some much-needed shade. Don’t forget to pack some clips to help hang these up!

2. String lights

Spice up your campsite with some fun battery-powered string lights! Not only will string lights provide you with extra lighting at night, but they are so festive and will make your campsite easier to find in the dark.

String lights come in so many fun decorative shapes and sizes, so have fun with them! Here are a few that will help your campsite stand out from others:

3. Tent

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A tent is much needed for privacy and protection against the elements (dust, dirt, bugs, etc.).

The size of your tent will depend on how many people you plan on bunking with. If you’re a family of 4, go for a 4-person tent. If there are 2 of you, get a 2-person tent. If I’m car camping with a group and sleeping solo, I typically still opt for my 2-person tent.

My absolute favorite 4-person tent is the REI Co-op Base Camp 4 Tent! This tent combines sturdy geodesic-dome architecture and rugged materials to create a roomy and robust home away from home.

Now, if you’re a budget traveler/adventurer and don’t already have a tent, I recommend getting something that is both affordable and easy to set up and take down.

The Coleman Cabin Tent was designed with a super cool feature in mind– instant setup within 60 seconds! If you want to share a tent with your friends, the 6-person tent offers enough room for two queen size air beds.

Don’t forget to bring a tent footprint and stakes if your tent doesn’t come with these things!

4. Air mattress / inflatable sleeping pad

For maximum comfort, go with an inflatable air mattress paired with a blanket or two. This is a good choice if you are not going to be car camping with that many people and have more room for a larger tent.

For a more compact option, bring your sleeping bag paired with one of Therm-a-rest’s high-quality sleeping pads.

Whichever option you choose, these will be good investments as you can often use them in your own home, on future camping trips or even on backpacking trips.

5. Sleeping bag

Depending on where in the world you’ll be doing car camping, you will either need a super-warm sleeping bag or a basic sleeping bag. I personally own a Big Agnes sleeping bag that I love–it’s lightweight and works for every season there is.

If you’re looking for an all-season sleeping bag that you plan to use for future camping trips, I’d invest the money and get one that has a quality down filling. These typically will cost $200+.

If you’re just looking for something decent for mostly summer camping, here are a few affordable options on the market:

6. Camp pillow

Bring a travel/camping pillow for use not only in your tent but also for the drive to get to your campground.

I love my camping pillow because that means I no longer have to scrunch up my hoodies/sweaters to make a mediocre pillow. I love investing in items that serve multiple purposes!

7. Warm lightweight blanket

Whether it’s cold on your way to your destination or the air conditioning is blasting because your travel partner runs hotter than you, a travel/camping blanket is a road trip essential.

It’s also a camping essential–perfect for those nightly fireside hangouts!

8. Camping chairs

You’ll want somewhere to sit when you’re not in your tent or laying out under the sun. Camping chairs are perfect and simple, but make sure they have cup holders for your drinks!

Alternatively, you can bring tufted floor pillows if sitting on the ground is more your thing.

Another option for seating is to get an inflatable couch. In fact, you might want to bring both for yourself just so you have multiple seating options. These things provide even more relaxation because you’ll feel like you’re resting in a hammock (as opposed to sitting up straight in a camping chair).

The Chillbo Shwaggins Inflatable Couch comes with elastic anchor loops to allow you to stake down your couch when it’s windy. It also has large side pockets to hold books, glasses, snacks and an ice cold beer! Plus, they come in a lot of fun, unique colors.

9. Foldable table

While many standard campgrounds come with built-in picnic tables, there’s usually just one, which may not be enough if you’ve got a lot of campmates who need a place to eat.

A large foldable table is a must-have for car camping. This is where you will place all your food and drinks so you can leave the picnic table open for eating and hanging out around.

If your group plans on playing games, it’s best to have a separate, clear table to do it on so your ‘living area’ isn’t so cluttered.

10. Picnic blanket or tarp

A large picnic blanket or floor tarp is crucial for any car camping excursion.

Sprawling it out in front of the entrance of your tent means you’ll always have a dry and clean place to escape from the dirt!

You can roll out of your tent without having to immediately slip on your shoes and even casually hang out outside of your tent entrance.

11. Lanterns / headlamps

While it is usually really sunny and bright at the campgrounds during the day, it gets pretty dark at night. If you need nighttime lighting for your campsite, bring something like this battery-powered LED camping lantern.

Bring a personal headlamp too in case you need to build your campsite late at night, look for something at your campsite at night, or if you need to use the bathroom at night. Being hands-free while doing these activities is crucial!

Don’t forget the extra batteries!

12. Solar-powered battery pack

Depending on how you like to camp, you’re either going to completely tuck your phones and electronics away or totally embrace them. If you’re the latter, you’re going to need some battery juice during your trip.

Open-space campgrounds are usually bright and sunny, so why not take full advantage of those conditions by packing some solar operated charging devices?

If you’re camping with a large squad, bringing a solar-powered generator will provide more than enough green energy to power all your devices for hours and hours.

If you only need a bit of juice during the day, you will likely be able to get by with a portable solar power bank.

Pro Tip: Bringing a solar-powered generator with you? You could also bring a set of portable power banks that you can charge off of your solar panels. This allows you to take your recharged power banks with you when you’re out hiking or adventuring for the day, meaning you can recharge your phone, GPS, and other devices while out and about.

13. Solar shower

If you are car camping and there are no showering facilities at your campground, it may be worth it to invest in a solar shower. With a personal camping shower, you’ll be able to wash off the dirt and oils from your hair/body any time, any day!

The Advanced Elements Summer Solar Shower is an affordable option that has a large 5-gallon capacity and is designed to heat water fast in the warm sun. You can even fill up the shower with the melted water from your cooler for an extra refreshing shower!

For something that provides a bit more privacy, invest in the Green Elephant Camping Shower Tent to pair with your solar shower. You can even use this when not showering, for changing purposes! While this is not a car camping essential, it does provide added privacy and comfort.

14. Portable speakers

You will want to bring a high-quality pair of portable speakers, something that will be loud enough so that you can hear the music while outdoors and next to other campers.

We like the JBL Charge 5. Its long-lasting battery delivers up to 20 hours of playtime and the built-in power bank lets you charge your devices without taking a break!

15. Camping entertainment

You can really go crazy here! Think mountain bikes, frisbees, footballs, pool noodles, and pool floaties (if camping by a river or beach).

For those that are looking for more relaxation, you can consider bringing a deck of cards, books, and mentally-stimulating activity booklets.

16. Board games

You’ll have a lot of time to kill while camping, which is half the fun of it! Bring board games to keep yourselves entertained. We recommend the following:

If you have more space in your cars, you can even bring things like:

17. Propane Stove or Camping Griddle

Cooking your own food is part of the camaraderie and fun of car camping! Planning the menu with your family members and friends can be really fun, not to mention it’ll help the group save a ton of money collectively.

For a simple 2 burner option, go with the Coleman Triton Gas Camping Stove.

If your group is serious about meal-making, go with something more standalone such as the Camp Chef Explorer which comes with detachable steel legs and a 3-sided windscreen.

Along with your propane stove, you’ll also need to bring along any pots and pans you plan on using. A 4-quart dutch oven or a cast iron pan are great multipurpose tools to bring with you.

Pro Tip: To keep your dirty pots and pans to a minimum, try to concoct some one-pot meals! Also, don’t forget to bring the propane tanks for gas!

If you’re doing a hike-in camping trip, you’re going to need something smaller, like a backpacker’s stove. The hands-down best option here is the Jetboil Flash Cooking System.

18. Cooler

For camping trips where you’ll be under the sun most of the time, you’ll really want something with the power to really keep things cool. In particular, you’ll want to look for a durable cooler with thick insulation to help keep your stuff as cold as possible over multiple days.

For us, this is the YETI Tundra 35 Cooler. Nothing beats this beast of a cooler!

This cooler is an item that many outdoor enthusiasts yearn for in their lives, but not many pull the trigger on due to its heftier price tag. Bue one thing is for sure, with this cooler, your drinks and food will stay cold for days no matter where you are. It will most definitely hold up in the heat and save you money on having to replace the ice.

A Yeti Cooler might be expensive, but they are so worth the investment. Given their durability and high-quality build, you’ll be able to use them in your everyday life for many years to come.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to need to walk a longer distance to get to your campsite, consider getting the YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler instead. Being able to roll your heavy cooler over rocks and bumpy paths will be a lifesaver.

The best things to stock your cooler with are as follows:

  • Fruits – pre-cut watermelon, tangerines, frozen grapes
  • Pasta salads
  • Cold cuts, cheeses, charcuterie meats
  • Salads
  • Yogurt, spinach dip, hummus
  • Vietnamese sandwiches – our personal go-to lunch meals
  • Coconut water
  • Vitamin water
  • Frozen water bottles – to keep cooler cold for longer
  • Water
  • Form of caffeine – pre-brewed cold brew served on ice in the morning is amazing 
  • Beers / Hard seltzers
  • Any perishable foods you plan on cooking up (butter, eggs, meat, etc)
  • A few extra long-lasting ice packs helps keep your food/drink as cool as possible

19. Snacks

Aside from the food you’re planning on cooking, don’t forget to pack some snacks for midday munching! Some of the best snacks to bring on any camping trip are chips, cookies, crackers, trail mix, King’s Hawaiian rolls, Rice Krispies bars, etc.

Don’t forget to pack the s’mores kit and the marshmallow sticks!

Basically, anything that won’t melt from the warmth of the sun. Not the healthiest, but it sure will be nice when you’re drinking and relaxing during the day!

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That one time we forgot the marshmallow sticks, and had to improvise with twigs!

20. Electrolyte Packets

Emergen-C packets or Liquid I.V. Hydration Packets are a must for Coachella camping. These are a great way to support your immune system and overall health on a trip. They are light, take up no space, and are very easy to pack!

Adding Pedialyte or Liquid I.V. powder packets to a water bottle will keep you hydrated and replace your body with electrolytes.

21. Plates, utensils, cooking tools

Utensils, paper towels, napkins, cups, etc.

If you can help it, avoid bringing paper plates, plastic utensils, and excessive rolls of paper towels. They create a bunch of avoidable garbage.

You can consider bringing a reusable bamboo flatware set or even this super cool magnetic camping utensil set.

Alternatively, you can go with a compostable meal kit as it’s still better than all the plasticky options out there.

22. Trash bags

Bring a few sizes and a few extra of each. You never know, and extra trash bags are always handy.

Remember to respect campgrounds and the outdoors and throw everything away before leaving. Don’t bring in what you can’t bring out!

23. Reusable Water Bottle

To combat dehydration during your days outdoors, do not forget to pack water as well as reusable water bottles to drink with.

For something more durable that keeps your water cold for hours upon hours, Hydroflasks are my favorite for everyday use. These will probably be your best option because you will most definitely crave ice-cold water while in the hot blazing sun!

Pro Tip: If you happen to have those 5-gallon water jugs at home, pick up an affordable automatic water bottle pump so you can easily dispense water when you don’t have your at-home dispenser!

24. Quick-drying towels

If you’re going to be camping lakeside or beachside, there’s a really good chance that you’ll be swimming, lounging, or just dipping your legs in the water on your camping trip. How are you going to dry off efficiently?

Enter the quick-drying travel/camp towel. These towels are probably one of the best inventions for efficient travelers and campers!

They are light, super packable, and quick-drying. Definitely very useful if you plan on showering or wiping the sand/dirt off of your feet at any point during your camping trip!

This large camping towel is a great option if you’re in the market for one.

25. Hammock

Since you’ll be car camping, you have the flexibility to make your campsite as cozy as you want! If there are lots of trees at your campground, bring a hammock and straps to hang out in during the day!

Hammocks are great for midday naps and reading. There’s nothing more special than lounging around as you soak in the sun rays and sounds of nature!

26. Clothing

For a typical car camping trip, you’ll likely need the following:

  • Active shirts
  • Pants
  • Wool socks
  • Sweatpants
  • Sweater
  • Puffy jacket
  • Rain jacket
  • Camp sandals
  • Hiking boots

My favorite outdoor brands for sustainable, high-quality hiking/camping clothes are Patagonia and prAna.

Patagonia is my go-to spot for warm jackets and prAna is my one-stop shop for things like hiking pants, adventure shorts, and workout gear.

While their gear is on the pricier side, you’re going to be getting stuff that you know will last years and years to come.

San Francisco to Mendocino Road Trip: San Francisco to Mendocino - Van Damme State Park

27. Beanie / sunhat / sunglasses

Depending on when in the year you are camping, you’re going to need to bring the appropriate headwear.

Camping during the winter? Bring a beanie to keep your head warm!

If you’re camping in the summertime, you’re going to need a sunhat and sunglasses. Both of these are so necessary for spending prolonged periods of time in the sun.

If sunglasses are more your thing, too bad, we still recommend wearing a hat! Sunglasses won’t protect your face and neck from UV rays, but hats will.

28. Eye mask / earplugs

Absolutely necessary to shield your sleeping eyes from the bright sunrises of the outdoors! An eye mask is also great if you are rooming with others and you like your privacy when you sleep.

A good set of earplugs will also grant you a decent, if not a good night’s sleep! These earplugs by Mack’s are my absolute favorite.

Hint hint: Campgrounds can be kind of loud in the mornings and late at night, despite there being a curfew. Earplugs will definitely help.

29. Baby wipes / body wipes

Body wipes will come in handy for a lot of reasons. First, they are great for wiping excess dust and sand off your body throughout the day. Secondly, they can also be used for post-poop purposes!

Although using a camp shower is also a great idea while car camping, using body wipes can also be a quick and effortless way to stay clean after a dip in the ocean/lake or an afternoon hike.

If you want a body wipe that’s actually meant to replace a shower, we highly recommend Goodwipes Really Big Body Wipes. While obviously, it won’t completely replace a real shower, I always feel way cleaner after using these. Plus, unlike baby wipes, you won’t smell like a baby’s bottom after using them.

For the body and butt, DUDE Wipes Flushable Wipes are great for both guys and gals.

Ladies specifically should consider bringing ‘feminine’ wipes! In hot destinations where I know I’ll be sweating a lot, I’ll always carry around a few sheets of feminine wipes. I love Summer’s Eve Cleansing Cloths because they do provide that little oomph of freshness whenever I use them.

30. Shower supplies

If you plan on showering during your camping trip (yes, some people can go days without showering, only relying on body wipe showers), bring along some biodegradable toiletries.

The toiletries that you get at your average drugstore (shampoo, body wash, soap, etc.) contain chemicals that can be really harmful to the environment.

Their biodegradable counterparts are meant to decompose in the soil and won’t break down in the water.

Stream2Sea sells an awesome 3-in-1 body wash, shampoo and conditioner that’s perfect for outdoor activities like car camping.

31. Shower slippers / casual slides

Bringing a pair of waterproof slides or sandals is smart because you’ll be able to wear them around the campsite when you want to skip the shoes as well as get them wet in case you plan to shower.

The Birkenstock Arizona EVA Sandals are my personal favorite because they’re so comfortable and stylish enough to wear in your everyday life too.

32. Bug spray

Depending on the season you go to camping, mosquitoes may be prevalent outdoors and you’ll want to protect yourself against bites. Typically the closer you are to trees and standing water, the more prevalent mosquitos are.

I would definitely recommend packing an effective insect / mosquito repellent. We recommend the following options:

If you’re looking for more natural options, we recommend the following travel-friendly options:

33. Sunscreen

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Sunscreen is absolutely necessary. Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors.

Whenever we choose a sunscreen, we always go with a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that harm our environment as well as the natural balance of marine ecosystems.

Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy:

And on days where we are just out and about (not getting into the water)–for the face, we are absolutely obsessed with the magical Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. No white-cast, no greasy film!

34. Other Toiletries

Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, dry shampoo, hair ties, etc.

Here are some not-so-ordinary toiletries that can help you make your car camping experience more tolerable:

  • Aloe Vera Gel – Soothes that sunburnt skin; always good to lather on after a day of constant sun exposure!
  • Evian Facial Spray – Cool your face off when it’s getting too hot out there; use before moisturizer for an extra boost of hydration or use throughout the day to refresh and revive makeup.
  • Drybar Detox Dry Shampoo – Absorbs oils and adds lift at the roots. Works great as a pick-me-up when the sun’s been beating down on your scalp all day!
  • Neutrogena Makeup Remover Towelette Singles These are great for removing dirt! And because they’re individually wrapped; you can leave them in a communal area to share among all your campmates.

35. Hand sanitizer

At more rugged campgrounds, it’s nearly impossible to find a sink with clean running water. Even at campgrounds with actual bathrooms, there may not always be soap available.

Bring one large bottle of hand sanitizer for the group to share. This can be left on the communal table so that everyone has access to it at all times.

Since you’ll be using hand sanitizer so much, it’s best to get a non-drying natural hand sanitizer to prevent flaky, dried-up hands. We love the following:

36. First aid kit

Always necessary for any type of traveling or camping! You can either make your own or buy one that’s premade.

Either way, you’ll for sure want to have a variation of these things:

  • ibuprofen (for hangovers or other mishaps)
  • bandaids
  • alcohol wipes
  • allergy pills
  • Immodium
  • Pepto-Bismol chews
  • eye drops
  • lip balm
  • extra contact lenses (if applicable)

Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed!

37. Camping toolkit

Because you’re likely going to be in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to need to be prepared for anything to happen.

Should your tent rip, a rainstorm comes, you can’t seem to open a bag of chips with your hands for the life of you, or really whatever–you want to be prepared for it!

Here are some things you should always keep in your homemade camping toolkit:

38. A roll of toilet paper

The #1 rule of any sort of camping–never assume there will be toilet paper in your porta-potty or bathroom facility. Always bring some with you when you go!

You don’t want to be that person who realizes there is no toilet paper when it’s already way too late.

Where To Buy Car Camping Gear

Over the many years I’ve been camping, hiking, and backpacking, REI has been my go-to place for hiking/camping staples such as hiking boots, hiking socks, and honestly, just most of my camping gear in general!

I’ve purchased everything from backpacking meals, energy bars, running shoes, and countless pairs of adventure sandals from REI.

Even my camping chairs, backpacking pack, JetBoil, and a whole slew of other things are from there. I’m definitely a huge fan!

Plus, I love the fact that as a member of the REI Co-op, I get 10% back on all my purchases at the end of the year, as well as members-only access to awesome sales like their gently used gear (Garage Sale items). There’s seriously so much to love about REI!

Essential Tips For The Perfect Car Camping Trip

  • Set up a playlist of your favorite songs for the long drive to the campground and for campsite tunes!
  • Use an oversized tarp or picnic blanket as an entryway for your tent to prevent dirt and dust from getting all up in your tent. This entryway is where you can effortlessly take off your shoes before getting into your tent.
  • To extend the life of your ice, get dry ice. From there, wrap it in a towel, cover it with some regular ice, ice packs, or frozen water bottles. This will help keep your perishables and drinks cold for many, many days!
  • Bring and drink plenty of water. For an extra boost in hydration, bring hydration packets or even bottles of coconut water (it’s such a refreshing taste when hot).
  • Keep your ice chest (and snacks) in the shade. Why try to melt your ice faster than it needs to?
  • In addition to your food cooler, consider bringing along an extra, smaller cooler for edible and drinkable ice. You can use this ice for making ice-cold drinks and even use it to replenish your main cooler if the ice in there begins to melt.
  • Bring at least one set of warm clothes. Always bring something warm for the nighttime. At the very least, bring one hoody and a pair of sweats or leggings.
  • If you forget to buy firewood, the camp host will usually have some to sell to you.
  • Pack extra towels and leave them in the car for those just in case moments. You won’t regret bringing along extra towels. Towels are great for drying off, showering, and even cleaning pots and pans.
  • Bring along an extra few tablecloths if you want to have a clean layer between your belongings and your picnic table. For hygienic purposes, because some tables are really gross.
  • Leave the luxury items at home. First off, you won’t need it in the great outdoors. Secondly, because tents don’t have locks, there’s always a chance of petty theft.
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And that about wraps up this car camping packing list!

At the end of the day, one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is to camp in it! Campgrounds have been in high demand, so make sure you start planning your trip early.

I hope you found this packing list helpful–now go and have a great time out there.

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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