If you’re ready to get outside with all the comforts of home, then look to this car camping checklist to make sure you bring everything you need.

Backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, sailing, hiking, walking, swimming, camping. There are close to unlimited ways to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. But, you’ve chosen car camping because you want to be comfortable, eat phenomenal food, and still enjoy the glories of being outside. Well, we’ve put together the best car camping checklist to make sure you make the most of everything that car camping can truly be. So, if you’re ready for a few solid nights and days in the woods, start packing everything on our car camping checklist.

Your Camp Infrastructure

car camping checklist - Camp Infrastructure

If you’re car camping, we can safely assume you’ll have a spot for a tent and a picnic table at your disposal. But, there are plenty of other things you’ll want to make this plot of land homey for the next few days. First off, you’ll want a great car camping tent. Choose it based on the size of your group, but know that you can upgrade to a larger size without worrying about weight. That’s one of the joys of car camping. Secondly, if you’re in a sunny spot, you’ll want some sort of shade if it's not naturally provided by trees. This could be a tarp or an easy-up type structure. Either way, this will make lounging outside much more comfortable. Make sure you have a ground tarp for your tent, or if you’re using a hammock, that you have a bug net and rain fly if necessary.

Inside your tent, you’ll obviously need things to sleep well and sleep warm. This could be anywhere from a blowup air mattress to a cot or sleeping pad with a sleeping bag. Remember with this car camping checklist, you can bring heavier and bulkier items without much of a hassle. Keeping that in mind, go ahead and throw a nice blanket and pillow in there so you can sleep like royalty, even while in the woods. Granted, those are things you should already have in your car. There are even tent heaters if you know it will get quite cold. Lastly, depending on your set up, we’d highly recommend bringing some camp chairs or extra hammocks to create your camp lounge. Overall, each of these items so far on your car camping checklist will create the main infrastructure of your great woodsy experience. 

The Camp Kitchen

car camping checklist - Camp Kitchen

One of our favorite things about car camping is that you don’t have to eat dehydrated beans and beef jerky for three days straight. Instead, you can cook some of the best campfire meals of your life. To do this, you’ll need a sizeable cooler filled with your favorite foods. Depending on your menu, you’ll want to bring a double burner stove, dutch oven, and a few pots and pans. A grill rack for over the fire is essential for the true camp food experience. Along with this, bring firewood, kindling, matches, and a lighter if it is allowed. Also, depending on your ingredients, don’t forget your can, bottle, and wine openers! Forgetting these car camping checklist essential can make for quite the adventure.

As for the actual cooking, bring along your favorite camping coffee maker to get you going in the morning. Of course, you’ll need plates, bowls, mugs, cups, and silverware for everyone involved. Speaking of utensils, make sure to bring a spatula, flipper, spoon, tongs, and skewers for cooking. A cutting board is our final kitchen essential on our car camping checklist. You could bring mixing bowls and measuring cups along, but that is dependent on how many dishes you like to do and your cooking style. When it comes to cooking and an easy cleanup, bring along a wash bin, dish soap, sponge, paper towels, aluminum foil, and multiple trash bags. Keeping a clean camp is essential to a good few days in the woods. On that note, use food storage bins and bear canisters to keep unwanted animals away.

Your Personal Car Camping Checklist

car camping checklist

So far, everything on our car camping checklist has been for camp as a whole. But, you need things to keep you happy and comfortable too. So, let’s run through a list of toiletries. Remember, you don’t have to skimp on here because you don’t have to carry it far. That being said, strong smells attract bugs, so your lotions and perfumes should still stay home. Go ahead and back the basics like your toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, washcloth, hairbrush or comb, deodorant, sunscreen, and Chapstick. If there are showers where you are going, throw in the towel, shampoo, and conditioner. On this note, it’s a great idea to bring some extra paracord to make a drying line for wet clothes and towels throughout your camping trip. Bring some hand sanitizer and bug spray as well. But, our last essential on the car camping checklist is a headlamp, flashlight, and some lanterns. Without these, you'll have a much harder time making your way around camp at night. 

What to Wear

car camping checklist - What to Wear

Every car camping checklist will include enough clothing to keep you warm when you want to be but cool when you’re out hiking and exploring. There are a few specific materials and items we would highly recommend for the ultimate time, though. To start out with the basics, you’ll need underwear. But, consider investing in some merino wool or synthetic underwear. They will keep you much more comfortable while active and when not around air conditioning. If it gets chilly where you’re heading, a great pair of warm socks is also a necessity. The same materials are best for your shirts. We would recommend having an assortment of tank tops, shirts, and long sleeves depending on the weather you’re expecting. A cozy sweatshirt, as well as a down jacket, are worth bringing along too. You’d rather have too much and be content then too little and be cold. 

The next essential on our car camping checklist is a raincoat. I’ve always said that the person who forgets their rain jacket is the one who made it rain. So, bring it along even if you’re expecting it to be sunny every day. It also works as a windbreaker if you find yourself on top of a windy peak one day. If you’re bringing hiking shoes, make sure to bring a light sandal or other shoes to wear around camp. Letting your feet air out at the end of the day will keep your spirits high. Cozy vests are also a great choice for keeping you warm without compromising on maneuverability. Lastly, a sun hat and a beanie will keep you going in any weather. All of these together complete our clothing car camping checklist.

Optional Items to Make the Most of Your Camping Trip

car camping checklist - Optional Items

We’ve gone through the essentials, from setting up camp and cooking to what you need to wear. But, here we’ll go through some items that will make your camping trip that much better, although they’re not mandatory. Having games to play around camp is quite fun at the end of a long day. So, if you have a deck of cards or Phase 10, bring that along. A frisbee or ball for tossing can also be great. If you have a four-legged friend with you, don’t forget their toys and food, either! If you’re near water, bring along a swimsuit and any appropriate gear, like lifejackets or a kayak. Other people like to lay low, so bringing a few good books or a travel journal can help you enjoy the time outside. 

With all of these memories you’re making, you ought to capture them on camera. So, if you have a great camera, bring that along. If not, makes sure to bring a portable charger to keep your phone camera juiced up and ready for the great moments. Even if you’re not an avid bird watcher, a pair of binoculars can be quite fun for when animals and birds are hanging around. These are all the main items we think about and need on our car camping checklist to make the most out of the time in the woods. 

This car camping checklist has you covered with everything from a tent to the kitchen sink.

So, if you’ve chosen to car camp, you’re ready to spend a few days enjoying the great outdoors. It will be the most relaxing if you plan a little bit ahead of time for meals and activities. That way you know what you’ll need to bring without going too overboard. However, make sure to leave space and time for a little bit of spontaneity. You might have some neighbors up for a game of ultimate frisbee or find yourself up late one night around the campfire. Either way, camping is about getting outside. With this car camping checklist, you’ll have no shortage of things to keep you out as long as you’d like. So, go ahead and pack up the van, because you’re all ready now for the grand adventure.

Related Article: The Best Car Camping Tent You Need for Your Next Adventure