15 Car Camping Essentials for the Practical Traveler

15 Car Camping Essentials for the Practical Traveler

3 Days left in Camping Month! Did you know that June is Camping Month? Have you gone camping yet?

We went over our backpacking essentials last week, and this week we’re going to show you our car camping essentials. The nice thing about car camping is that you can bring as much as you want (as long as it fits in your car), because most of the time you can pull up right next to your campsite. This allows for more comfort and luxuries, and since you’re not looking for the lightest, most compact gear, you can usually spend way less on your equipment!

15 Car Camping Essentials for the Practical Traveler.


1. Sleeping Bag

We bought really warm and light sleeping bags for backpacking. The ones we currently have are no longer sold, but here’s the updated version of ours. If you never intend to backpack, since weight won’t be a big issue, these sleeping bags are really nice and well-rated at a much more reasonable price.

Pro Tip: For you couples out there who like to cuddle, you could even pick up a double sleeper!

2. Inflatable Mattress

Regardless of how comfortable your sleeping bag and mat is, if you’re sleeping right on the ground, it will still be cold! Rather than getting a sleeping pad, you can pick up an air mattress to make your tent really comfortable. This is the air mattress we use.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to bring an extension cable and power adapter, so you can fill it up with your car.

3. Tent

As much as we love our backpacking tent, it’s far from ideal for car camping. We can’t even bring our backpacks in with us since the tent is so small. For car camping, we picked up this cheaper 4-person tent so that we could fit our inflatable queen mattress!

Pro Tip: Get a tent that’s a size or two larger to get plenty of space. Our 4-person tent fits our queen inflatable mattress, our two backpacks, and then some.

4. Daypack

You don’t really need a large backpack for car camping, but it’s nice to have a small one if you go out for a hike. We love using our REI Flash 18 Pack for day hikes and short excursions.

Pro Tip: Backpacks need to fit your build and body type. This is the only item I would not recommend you buy online. You need to try them on in person. The people at REI are great at instructing you on how to find the right backpack and pack it properly.

5. Water

We love using our Platypus SoftBottle Water Bottles because they roll up once we’re done with them. We always have a few spare for friends. In case we need to filter water, we also have the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier. It works similar to a french press so you don’t have to pump, squeeze, or wait. And they have different filtration levels depending on what you need.

6. Food

15 Car Camping Essentials for the Practical Traveler.

When we go car camping, if we’re not eating out at a local restaurant, we usually do a hearty eggs and bacon breakfast and eat our favorite Lasagna Mountain House or Shin cup ramen for dinners. We also bring our fave road trip snacks, s’mores, and brown bears!

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to go looking for sticks in nature, don’t forget to bring reusable smores sticks.

7. Stove & Cookware

We use this Jetboil to make our Mountain House meals and instant noodles, since it boils water quickly!  If you plan on cooking more, you’ll need different cookware. We’ve also gone camping with friends who have brought their full stoves, which makes it nicer when you’re cooking for bigger groups.

Pro Tip: If you have to have your morning coffee, we just started using an AeroPress at home, but it actually pairs perfectly with the Jetboil while camping too! We can’t wait to use it on our next trip!

8. Illumination (Headlamp / Flashlight)

Since I don’t like bugs, I don’t like using a lantern (MOTHS EVERYWHERE!). We typically stick with the campfire light and these headlamps to get to the bathroom or inside the tent.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking into getting a lantern, you can get one that is solar charged and also charges your phone and other USB devices.

9. Knife

A knife is extremely helpful around the campsite. We recently just added this leatherman to our arsenal.

10. First-Aid Supplies

You never know what’s going to happen while you’re outdoors, so be sure to bring along a first-aid kit. This is a great lightweight kit good for 2 people up to 4 days.

Pro Tip: After buying a kit, just refill what you use rather than buying a new one again.

11. Toiletries (Sun Block & Bug Spray)

We carry our toothbrush, a mini tube of toothpaste, and some toilet paper in a Ziploc bag. For all our other liquids (shampoo, body wash, conditioner), we use our GoToobs, which have been really reliable and have never leaked. Also, don’t forget your sun block (see our recent post about great natural and non-toxic sunblock alternatives) and bug repellent (we prefer the roll on kind)!

Pro Tip: To save space, take out the cardboard portion of the toilet paper and flatten it. You can even just roll up a portion of the toilet paper if you don’t need the whole roll.

12. Camp Chair

A camping chair is essential for sitting around the campsite. We have a larger chair similar to this that we can stowaway in our car. Every time we’ve visited REI, we like to hang out in these smaller and ultra lightweight chairs for a bit, so this might be our next purchase.

13. Rain Shell

Even though the weather may say it will be clear and sunny, it never hurts to be prepared. We really like our Patagonia Torrentshells (men’s & women’s) since they are light and pack away easily. We use them when we travel as well since they don’t take up much space.

14. Fire Starter

One of my favorite things about camping is the smell of a campfire. To light a fire, you need matches or a flint. We’ve used both, but matches are definitely easier out of the two.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pick up some wood before getting to your campsite. Sometimes an onsite store will sell them, or you’ll see homes that sell firewood on the way in.

15. Food Storage (Bear Proof Container and Cooler)

Not all camping sites have their own bear-proof storage containers, so it’s good to have one on hand. You don’t want to leave your food or even scented hygiene items in the car either, because bears will break into your car. This bear-proof cooler is a two-in-one that keeps your perishable food and drinks cold and keeps the bears out! It’s built tough and comes in different sizes. You can also buy the bear canister separately, but make sure it can fit all your food, trash, and anything scented.

15 Car Camping Essentials for the Practical Traveler.
Photo taken a few steps from our campsite. Love views like this! :)

BONUS: Some of our favorite National Parks for Car Camping:

Any car camping essentials we’re missing?
What do you bring with you when you car camp?
Do you prefer car camping or backpacking?

xoxo estherJacob

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I don’t see links for any of the gear you mentioned

    1. The links are on the text – I just bolded them so you can find them easier. Also linked the titles of each section!

  2. One of the greatest article about packing. Awesome writing. keep up it dear.

    Thanks for sharing.

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