Car Camping Essentials

Photo: Carl Zoch/TandemStock

Car Camping Essentials: The Ultimate Checklist


Tent: Rain likely? Load your tent (and raingear) on top so you can pitch it without unloading everything else first. 

Sleeping Bags: Choose one rated to 10 degrees F below expected nighttime lows.

Sleeping Pads: Don’t forget a repair kit—and the pump if your pad needs one.

Camp Pillow: A puffy jacket stuffed into the hood of your sleeping bag makes a decent pillow in a pinch. 

Headlamps and/or Lanterns: Make sure they’re fully charged, and/or pack spare batteries.

Camp Stove and Fuel: Pack a lighter even if your stove has an ignitor. 

Cooking Pot and/or Skillet: Try a cast iron skillet for cooking over the campfire (or baking over coals).

Plates, Bowls, Mugs, Utensils: Pack these in a separate container, and you can throw them in dirty at the end.  

Dishwashing Kit (biodegradable soap, sponge, wash bins): If water is scarce, use a few drops of chlorine in the rinse water and just dip and dry.  

Water Bottles and/or Hydration Packs: Got a big crew? Label bottles with names to avoid spreading germs.  

Water or Water Treatment (filter, UV pen, etc.): Call the campground or ranger station to check water availability before you go. Sometimes the water supply is seasonal.

Multitool: Perfect for cutting kindling, making simple gear repairs, slicing cheese, and opening bottles.

Plastic Zip-Top Bags: Handy for keeping small trash corralled, packing out used baby wipes, and storing leftovers. 

Repair Kit: If nothing else, pack some duct tape. Patches, zip-ties, and wire are also handy.

Personal stuff

Hiking Boots: Don’t get them too close to the campfire; rubber melts. 

Camp Shoes: Let the weather and terrain decide whether you should pack flip-flops, sturdy sandals, or insulated booties.

Sunglasses: Use a leash so you don’t lose them.

Sun Hat: You want a wide brim that protects your skin.  

Apparel: Don’t forget raingear, an insulated jacket for chilly evenings, and something cozy to sleep in.

Lip Balm: Get one with SPF protection, especially if you’ll be on water or snow.

Hand Sanitizer: Large group? Get a big bottle and park it in the kitchen.

Sunscreen: Skip the sunscreen/bug spray combination products. You should reapply sunscreen a lot more often than bug spray.

Bug Spray: The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer the spray keeps repelling bugs. A 15-percent formula is just as effective as a 30-percent formula; you’ll just need to spritz yourself more often for continued protection.

First-Aid Kit: Just as important—know how to use it. Take a wilderness first-aid course. 

Toilet Paper or Baby Wipes: Never toss baby wipes into a pit toilet, as they make cleaning the toilet very difficult. Pack them out in a zip-top bag instead.

Toiletries: Bare minimum, pack toothpaste and a toothbrush.


Camp Chairs: Nice to have, but you might not need these if your campsite has a picnic table.

Cooler and Ice: Lock it inside your car when you’re not using it to avoid attracting wildlife.

Firewood and Fire Starter: Check local fire regulations before you go. Cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly are easy to make and work well as a fire starter.

Coffee Maker or French Press: Gotta make do? Cowboy coffee always works. Swing the pot like a windmill to settle the grounds, or just wait 5 minutes.  

Portable Power: A battery pack and/or solar panel will keep your gadgets juiced.

Tarp: Handy in all weather, it will protect you (and likely your kitchen) from sun and rain.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.