When we mean car camping, we mean either:
- Physically camping and sleeping in your car
- Camping next to or close to your car but keeping most of your camping supplies in your car
Car camping, when done correctly, is an absolute blast. You don’t have to worry about weight, trying to pack everything in a tight backpack, and you can bring more luxury items to your campsite. All of these factors make car camping a much more relaxing experience than backpacking.
Don’t get me wrong, backpacking is amazing on principle alone.
But ask yourself this, can you bring camping chairs, a two-burner stove, a six-pack of beer, and games in your pack?
If you can, please drop us an email explaining how!
To aid in getting you set for your next car camping trip, here’s a list of essential and luxury things to pack:
Packing list for car camping
When considering what to pack for your car camping trip, there are a few questions you should ask yourself that will determine what you’ll actually pack:
- How many days am I going car camping?
- How cold is it going to get during the night?
- What am I planning on doing during the day?
- Am I sleeping in my car or pitching a tent outside of it?
- Am I camping near water?
For the purposes of this blog and our list of recommended things to bring, we’re assuming that:
- You’re camping for two nights
- You’re camping during Spring or Summer with nights in the 60s
- You’re planning on taking short hikes in the mornings and relaxing at camp the rest of the day
- You’re sleeping in a tent pitched outside of your car
- You’re not camping near water and are bringing your water in
We made these assumptions to help narrow some of the recommendations of what to bring car camping.
Obviously, if you’re planning on camping longer, in colder weather, doing more during the day, and camping near water, your list will change.
Here’s our detailed list of car camping things to pack (based on our assumptions above):
Tent and sleeping things to pack
Again, we assume in this case that you’re sleeping outside of your car. This will require a little more gear than if you were camping in your car. That being said, here’s your list of essentials:
- Three-season tent
- Sleeping bag
- Mattress pad
- Extra blanket as needed
Depending on your comfort level, you can get away with getting cheaper gear than you would during a backpacking trip.
Because your car is carrying all of your camping gear (such a luxury), you don’t have to follow the “every-ounce-counts” rule.
When I personally car camp, I use my warmest, largest, and most comfortable gear which is also the cheapest and heaviest gear I own.
Food and cooking equipment to pack
Car camping allows you to really ramp up your outside-the-kitchen cooking game. You can bring most of your kitchen out with you to cook (maybe not the kitchen sink though).
For me personally, it’s not uncommon for me to make gourmet and extravagant meals when I car camp.
Here’s a list of your essential cooking supplies to pack:
- Two-burner stove
- Plates, bowls, silverware, cups, and/or mugs
- Spices related to your menu
- Salt and pepper
- Stove fuel or gas
- A small cooler, 7-20 quarts
- Wooden spoon or stirring equipment
- Biodegradable dishwashing soap
- Serving container
- Coffee and/or tea
- At least two gallons of water, per person, per day
For car camping meal ideas, here’s a list of my favorite dinner recipes to cook (vegetarian meals):
- Chilaquiles with eggs
- Veggie fajitas
- Red beans and rice (without the meat)
- Gnocchi with pesto
- Black and mac
Keep in mind that if you don’t have a cooler, you’ll have to plan your meals around using up your dairy, cheese, eggs, and meat first.
Clothing to pack
Based on the assumptions we made above, you’re car camping during Spring or Summer with nights in the 60s. With this in mind, you’ll bring the normal clothing set-up that you would normally bring during a camping trip.
The only difference is that you don’t have to worry about weight or space so you can bring a larger variety of clothes.
Here’s a list of your essential clothing to pack for sleeping and lounging at camp:
- T-shirt or lightweight top for lounging at camp
- Lightweight pants or shorts for lounging at camp
- Ankle-high, cotton or lightweight wool socks
- Moccasins, sandals, or hard-sole slippers (I’m a big fan of “camp moccs”
- Lightweight, wind-proof jacket, overcoat, or hoodie
- Lightweight puffy/down jacket: less than 600 fill power if it gets cold
- PJ bottoms like light fleece or polyester
- Light t-shirt for sleeping
- Beanie and glove liners if it gets cold
Here’s a list of your essential clothing to pack for the daytime:
- Hiking pants or shorts
- Hiking t-shirt or top
- Lightweight, thin, breathable socks
Things to pack for your day-time activities
Assuming you’ve got all of your clothing figured out, here’s a list of things we recommend packing for anything you decide to do during the day:
- Day pack: less than 20L
- Bladder for water while hiking: 1.5-2L
- Hiking shoes or boots- depending on where you are camping and where you might be hiking
- Hiking poles
- Lunch items: Clif Bars, trail mix, premade sandwiches, fruit, etc.
Obviously, the things you pack for the day will depend on what you’re doing while car camping. If you’re going mountain biking during the day, you’ll bring your mountain bike. Climbing; your climbing gear.
You get the idea.
Luxury items to pack
Here is a list of luxury items to pack to make your car camping trip even better:
- Beer, wine, or liquor
- Ice or frozen ice packs (packed in your cooler)
- Hammock straps
- Playing cards
- Board games
- Tablet for movies, drawing, or reading
- Solar charger
- Solar shower
- Biodegradable shampoo and soap
- Dishwashing bucket or container
- Water filter
- Camping chair
- Firewood (if campfires are allowed where you are camping)
- Hacket for splitting wood
The list of luxury items to pack could go on and on!
In general, these items will turn any camping trip from good to great!
Car camping has its perks! The biggest of all being that you don’t have to worry about weight or space (assuming everything fits in your car). For me personally, car camping is my favorite way to unwind in the outdoors without the stress of a backpacking trip. The list provided above was put together based on my own personal car camping set-up. Hopefully, it will serve as a pseudo “checklist” to get you organized and excited for your next Microadventure via car camping!
Did we miss anything?
Leave a comment below of what you bring on your car camping trips!
Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.