The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

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The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

What to pack for car camping: sleep essentials

Sleeping is the best part of car camping! It’s super cozy and I think it’s WAY comfier than sleeping on the ground for traditional tent camping. I love adding lights to my setup so I can read a bit before bed. Just make sure you crack a window to get some airflow so you don’t wake with all the windows fogged up!

Sleep Pad

Similar to camping, a sleep pad will help keep you warm and much more comfortable – whether you have a car camper build or are just sleeping with your seats flat. If you have two people sleeping in the car, I recommend this sleep pad for two.

If you are solo (or want separate sleep pads), I recommend this one for solo sleepers – both options are from Exped, which makes a sleep pad that I think is the perfect mix of air and foam for ultimate comfort without being too bulky. In my car camper build, I decided to buy two of the single-person Exped sleep pads for more flexibility of having my partner with me or if I went on a trip alone, I could easily just swap one pad out.

Alternate option: Air Mattress

If you want even more padding and comfort, this sleep mattress is custom-fit to your specific car – which is AMAZING – you just have to put your seats down, NO CAMPER BUILD NEEDED.

Sleeping bag or sheets

Like camping, you’ll need a sleeping bag to keep warm – cars have a lot less insulation than you’d expect. Alternatively, you could also just use sheets for ease of washing, but I’d recommend using some blankets as well (see below). I personally use a sleeping bag still with a blanket on top because I run cold. Here is the sleeping bag I recommend for women, and the sleeping bag I recommend for men.

Blankets

Blankets are SO cozy – why not have a few so you can easily adjust your temperature depending on how warm or cold the nights are. If you want to add a blanket topper, I’d recommend this one, and if you want a more comforter-like blanket, I recommend this one (it’s basically just like a sleeping bag but in blanket form!).

Pillows

You can easily bring pillows from home if that’s easier, but they do tend to take up more room. I bring a few small camping pillows like this one – the perfect blend of comfort but also compressability for ease of packing.

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What to pack for car camping: cooking essentials

I actually love to cook while camping – espeically with my Jackery Power Station and Solar Panel setup – you can get really fancy and crazy and pack anything you want to plug in (a waffle iron, a panini press, even an air fryer!). Just remember that cooking and cleanup will likely take longer than it would at home so budget a bit more time. Any extra food prep you can do at home before leaving on your trip also helps a TON. 

Camp Stove

This is my all-time favorite camp stove (don’t forget to pack extra fuel!). This folds down for easy transport and storage, and I like have two burners for more flexibility of cooking options.

Alternate option: JetBoil

If you don’t want to cook and are more of a freeze-dried meal camper type, grab a JetBoil for quick and easy meals. Again, don’t forget to pack extra fuel cannisters for the JetBoil as well.

Camping Cookware Set

If you are a car camper that likes to cook on the stove, make sure you have some pots and pans – I like this cookset because it includes a spatula and other essentials.

Camping Dining Set

When the food is ready you probably want some plates and silverware to eat with! This is my favorite essentials camping dining set.

Cutting Board & Knives

This is hands-down my favorite little kit to bring camping – it has multiple knives, a foldup cutting board, a washcloth for cleaning, and a small re-usable container for dish soap. Basically everything you need!

Folding Wash Basin

When you are ready to clean all your cookware, grab this folding wash basin that will take up hardly any room – or it can be used for extra storage and organization when not in use! Don’t forget biodegradable soap and a sponge or washcloth.

Cooler

Whether you are on a longer or shorter car camping trip, I highly recommend bringing along a cooler – even if it’s just for drinks! For longer camping trips, I use this Yeti Cooler that keeps everything cold for SO LONG. For single-night trips or just for a smaller cooler to save on space, I like this one from RTIC.

Camp Mugs

I always have a pair of camp mugs – great for tea, coffee, even just water. Peak cozy vibes! I like these mugs – the lid is great for keeping drinks warm.

Pour Over Set

For the coffee lovers out there, don’t sleep on this pour over set. Nothing is better than starting out the morning with a cozy cup of coffee! The nice part about this set is that the mug is included – meaning less things to pack! Here is the coffee I’d pair with it.

Foldable Camp Table

If you don’t have a build with a pull out drawer or elsewhere to place items, I’d definitely recommend grabbing a fold-up camping table. It’s great for cooking or just generally keeping your stuff off of the ground – yay for cleaner cars!

Foldable Camp Chairs

When you’re ready to sit down and eat or just relax at camp, you’ll definitely want some fold-up camp chairs! The nice part about car camping is that you can buy extra heavy and thus extra comfy chairs since you aren’t hauling them very far!

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What to pack for car camping: other essentials

Outside of sleeping and cooking, there are some car camping specific essentials I would highly recommend. In the end it’s up to you how you want to camp but definitely see if any of these items would fit your camping style too.

Window Shades

Cars are NOT well insulated and they will get VERY cold at night. I think adding some insulation is truly ESSENTIAL. These window shades are the ones I use, which can be customized to fit your car (!). I highly recommend paying for these top-quality Weathertech ones because they help immensely not only with insulation, but also with privacy.

GPS Unit

If you are hiking in addition to car camping or are generally going to be off-the-grid or in an area where you might lose service or are at risk of getting lost, I can’t recommend this mini Garmen GPS unit enough.

First Aid

Always ALWAYS make sure you have a first aid kit – this one is a small day hike kit that will easily fit in your bag but since you are car camping, you can easily bring a larger and better stocked first aid kit as well. I like to have them in multiple, easily accessible places like the dashboard, trunk, and my backpack.

Lantern

For when it gets dark and you don’t want to run down your car battery keeping lights on – try this foldable lantern. I like to attach a carabiner to the top so I can easily clip it to various parts of my car.

Extra Water

Never run the risk of running out of water! It’s so important to stay hydrated, and you’ll probably find that you need extra water for cooking, cleaning, etc – and you’ll go through it faster than you expect. I love to bring this folding water cube – it’s refillable and easy to fill waterbottles and anything else from the locking spout.

Multi-Tool

At some point or other while camping, something will break, or you might need scissors or a can opener – a multi-tool like this is ALWAYS useful to have on hand.

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What to pack for car camping: optional or “luxury” items

PowerBox + Solar Panels

Once I got a Jackery powerbox and solar panels for car camping, I have NEVER LOOKED BACK. As someone who often works on the road and has a ton of camera and other equipment that needs to stay charged, this has been a game changer. With this powerbox, you can keep everything charged up easily and it allows you to start bringing some luxury camping items like heated blankets, a waffle maker, or whatever you want to plug in!

Window Rain Guards

When you sleep car camping, it’s smart to crack a window – it makes it so you won’t wake up to fogged windows and all your stuff wet from condensation from your breathing. It is also important to have fresh air entering the car. But when it rains, you might find that cracking a window means you still get wet! The solution? These snap-in window rain guards.

Roof Box

If you haven’t made a car camper build and you just put the seats down flat, you might find that you don’t have enough storage in the car, especially at night. Add a roof box to your car for extra storage and for security – this locks tight for when you are hiking!

Shade / Shelter

Car camping doesn’t generally offer much shade as soon as you leave the car, so if you want to stay cool and have a bit of shade and sun protection for when you’re relaxing, use this shade.

Solar Shower

Some campsites have showers, but for those who are embarking on longer or more remote car camping trips, it might be nice to have this solar heated, pressurized shower system. It’s definitely a “luxury” item for some but an essential for others so it just depends on your camping style!

Hammock

For extra seating or relaxing options other than inside the car or in a camp chair, a hammock can be a great addition. The nice part about car camping is that you can tie one end of the hammock to your car rack and then just need one nearby tree to complete the hang!

Trowel

Long drives, wilderness – not sure where your next bathroom will be? It’s smart to pack a trowel like this one just in case you need to poo and there’s no where else to go! Make sure you practice leave no trace, dig a hole well away from water and your campsite, and bury it properly. For women – if you just have to pee, I recommend a reusable Kula cloth like this one to save having to dispose of TP properly.

Marshmallow/Hot Dog Roasting Sticks

So this is definitely not an essential BUT I’m always down to roast some marshmallows so I personally always have these roasting sticks in my car! S’mores make EVERYTHING better right?

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What to pack for car camping: clothing and personal gear

Warm Jacket

Nights get so cold camping – even in summer! Always make sure to bring a warm jacket, preferably one that is down-insulated. This is a best jacket for women, this is a great jacket for women that’s more budget-friendly, and a great jacket for men.

Beanie

Another great way to stay warm is to cover your head at night – especially if your sleeping bag doesn’t have a head cover. This is my favorite versatile beanie for camping, hiking, and staying cozy.

Sunglasses

Protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses like these – especially for those long drives. I find I get headachy when I’m out in the sun too much and these help combat that!

Headlamp

Even if you pack a lantern like the one I listed above, I still recommend bringing a headlamp so you can have hands-free illumination. Maybe you hike late and it’s dark when it’s finally time to cook dinner, or you are visiting an outhouse without any light – a headlamp is always useful in a variety of situations. If you forget your lantern, you can also use the strap to hang this up as a sort of mini-lantern.

Camp Scandal

You’ll probably be rocking hiking boots during the day, but when you are ready to relax (especially on hot summer nights), I am a huge fan of these camp scandals for women and these scandals for men – they are also waterproof and you can even hike in them if you don’t want to pack boots!

Insect Repellent

Insects can RUIN camping – make sure you always have some insect repellent on hand to keep the bugs away, especially at dusk when they are the most active.

Lip Balm

Being outdoors in the sun and elements can seriously dry you out. Pack a lip balm and put some on before you go to bed!

Toiletry Bag

One of the biggest challenges of car camping is staying organized. I like to keep all of my toiletries in a bag like this so they are easily accessible.

Duffle Bag or BackPack

Keep all your clothes and gear all in one place with the BEST duffle bag I have ever used. Prefer a backpack? Here’s a fantastic women’s backpack and the equivalent men’s backpack as well.

Quick-Dry Towel

I’m always down for a summer swim while out camping and adventuring! Make sure to bring a quick-dry towel, which is useful not only for summer swims but also in case of spills you need to clean up, or for use as a light blanket.

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated while camping – even if you are just lounging around is SO important. Make sure to bring a water bottle like this one. Camping hack: if it’s a cold night, you can even fill it with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag for some extra warmth!

Solar-Powered Power Bank

It’s vital to keep your essential small electronics (like our phone) charged up for safety reasons – connection, GPS, etc. Save your car battery and use this solar-powered power bank. When car camping, it’s easy to quickly run down your car battery just from opening the doors, having lights on – so this is a great way to take away strain from your car but keep your phone charged up.

I hope this car camping pack list helps you have the best time car camping this summer and beyond! Did I leave anything out? Want me to write about something else or have any questions about car camping? Comment below!

Jun 15, 2022 | Camping, Outdoors, Road trips, Travel

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RoamFreeRebecca content creator photographer

Hey I’m Rebecca!

I’m a travel & outdoors photographer, blogger, and content greator living in the US but you can find me adventuring around the globe! On this blog I share tips to help you improve your photography, inspiration and advice to explore the outdoors, destination guides, travel tips, and more to plan your own adventures!

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