A fully itemized list of what to bring when you go car camping. From shelter, to food to equipment, this list has got you covered for what to bring when you go car camping.
If you would have asked me 3 years ago if I could imagine writing a blog post on camping I would have laughed in your face. I never considered myself much of a camper. My experience extends from a one-night campsite drop-off at summer camp to a 3-day forced outward bound with my middle school. Both resulted in a lot of mosquito bites and blistered feet.
What I couldn’t appreciate then that I see now is how absolutely beautiful the world is around us and that the best way to take it all in is to deeply immerse yourself in it. And yes, this sometimes means camping.
I’m not quite ready to jump into a canoe or hit the trails for 5 days off the grid. Mainly because I’m terrified to have to portage or carry triple my bodyweight on my back, but in the interim car camping has become a great solution!
Sure, it’s a bit cushier when you have access to clean, running water and the option to go sit in your car should the mosquitos attack, but if you’re sleeping on the ground and cooking your food on the fire, I think it’s still considered camping. Baby steps people…
My friend Danielle is heading out on a fun adventure through Maine (she’s actually staying at the campsite we stayed at in Acadia!) and asked if I had any tips for what to bring for car camping. In true form, I keep a google doc with a list of “must-pack items” for various types of trips, car camping being one of them. When it comes to camping, you have to accept that most of it is out of your control, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. So I thought I would share with you my must-pack items for car camping should you find yourself seeking a little weekend adventure or getaway. I hope you find this list helpful!
Tent – I’d recommend getting one that is slightly bigger than your needs i.e. we have a 3-person tent for 2 people. It just adds some extra space without too much bulk. Don’t forget the footprint and canopy tarp in case it rains.
Sleeping bag – which one you use depends on the environment you’re in and the time of year. If you’re camping in the summer you don’t want one that keeps warmer than 0 degrees C but in the winter you will want one that can tolerate cooler temperatures.
Sleeping pads– we’re partial to the fold-up pads, but some people like the blow-up ones. If you’re in a crunch, a yoga mat will do. These just help make the ground slightly more even and comfortable (you’re still sleeping on the ground though…)
Pillows – if you’re car camping, bringing pillows isn’t a huge issue. If you’re tight on space, feel free to use your pack as a pillow.
Firewood– most campsites will sell it but be sure to check in advance. If not, try a local hardware store or gas station.
Matches – For lighting the fire
String – you never know when you’ll need to hang something up. Bring an extra yarn of string just to be safe.
Hammer – for staking in your tent polls.
Headlamp – every campers’ best friend.
Light – not totally necessary, but the last time we went camping we brought our Luminaid and loved it. It’s blow-up, solar-powered and decently lights things. Great for when you’re cooking at night.
Garbage Bags – great for when you next extra coverage in the rain or when you’re just in need of a garbage bag!
Blanket – not so much a tool but a great thing to have for inside the tent or for sitting by the fire. We use an old mexican rug.
Towels – we prefer the quick-dry variety.
Waterproof sandals– we’re big fans of Chacos around here. Especially with socks…
Raincoat– Never go camping without one. You will regret every second of it.
Wool Socks – Bring multiple pairs. I like to keep one pair in the tent that ensures they stay relatively clean.
Fleece – In love with my Patagonia Fleece. I wear it everyday when I’m not camping…
Gloves – In case it gets chilly.
Warm Hat– Ditto.
*note- this list does not include clothing for various activities or sleeping, only what you’ll need on the campsite.
Mugs – For coffee (obviously) and whatever sneaky beverage you may have laying around…
Water Bottles– To rehydrate after said sneaky beverages
Plates- Nice to have if you have the space but not a necessity if you have below items
Bowls- We like using metal camping containers that can also double as small pots.
Sporks– Can’t beat the spoon/fork combo!
Cutting board- we use an old flimsy plastic one but it’s clutch for camping
Knife- a swiss army knife will do but on occasion you may want something bigger.
Pot- To cook everything from water to veggies.
Tongs – The biggest under-appreciated item in camping. Unless you’re prepared to reach into a fire, I recommend bringing tongs.
Aluminum Foil – For grills that have wide ridges or don’t look to be the most sanitary for direct contact.
Tupperware – Nice in case you have leftovers.
Coffee Drip Cup – Best.purchase.ever. It collapses on itself so it’s super portable but incredibly handy.
Coffee Filters – Throw them in the fire once you’re done.
Oil – I bring a mason jar of olive oil to use for both cooking or greasing the grill, as needed.
Ground Coffee– because it’s not camping without coffee.
Peanut Butter – the ultimate camping food.
Bread – we’re picky about bread so I bring a loaf of organic sourdough with us for sandwiches or with breakfast.
Spices – bring your favorites to flavor your food. Post on this coming soon!
Snacks- so key. I generally have trail mix, energy balls or protein bars at all times
Breakfast – totally up to you how you want to make this work. Granola and berries, oatmeal or even eggs is a great start!
Dinner – again, your call what to cook but meat and potatoes (with a side of veggies if you wish!) is always a good way to go.
Bananas- because you can never have enough bananas…
Soap– we like to bring a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s because we can use it for our bodies and for dishes. Most car camping sites have on-sight showers. Sometimes they require payment so bring quarters!
Sponge – for cleaning those dirty dishes.
Dish rag– for drying dishes
Bug spray – twilight is beautiful, but mosquitos are not.
Are you into camping? Did I forget anything on the list?
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WK AdventureAugust 6, 2019 at 1:40 am
I’ve never tried car camping before, but now that I read your blog we will try it next time. Thank you for sharing your experience Davida 🙂
Lisa SchofieldJanuary 8, 2017 at 7:54 pm
I am a frequent flyer and I do go travelling a lot. Yet recently, I usually take my daughter with me. We both love nature and being a part of nature. In deed, in this early Jan 2017, we plan to take a trip to enjoy the atmostphere when the spring comes. Car camping, why not! 🙂
Thank you for sharing these info and please keep it up.
CYNTHIASeptember 10, 2016 at 4:30 pm
I Love you! & I love this post as much as I love Camping! and trails, and fresh coffee made in aero espresso and the breezy morning air of a nice start.. I mean… I luuuvvvv this post and all about it. Thank you, Davida=)
Davida @ The Healthy MavenSeptember 12, 2016 at 9:45 am
Can’t think of a more perfect way to start the day!!
Danielle KasperSeptember 7, 2016 at 8:15 am
Thank you for this list Camping Maven, it was seriously helpful (especially the tongs)! For campfire eats I love putting fruit (peaches are my fav.) on the grill and adding them to smores!
LeeSeptember 6, 2016 at 7:18 am
You forgot to add Curt to your list. CUZ LETS FACE IT. He’s the reason you make it out alive when camping 😛 JKJKJKJKJK
Davida @ The Healthy MavenSeptember 6, 2016 at 10:01 am
Stella @ Stellicious LifeSeptember 6, 2016 at 6:38 am
The last time I camped I was a kid. Loved it and can’t wait to get into the habit of hiking/camping more, trying to convince Boyfriend to give it a go 😉 I always love reading your hiking/camping posts and see those gorgeous photos!!
Davida @ The Healthy MavenSeptember 6, 2016 at 10:02 am
Aw thanks lovely! Nothing like taking pics in nature 🙂
HannahAugust 31, 2016 at 11:05 pm
I cook almost everything in a cast iron skillet while camping. And blankets >>> sleeping bags for car camping; sleeping bags are stupid and twisty, a pile of blankets is warm and cuddly.
Danielle @ Wild Coast TalesAugust 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm
This is amazing! Despite living in a province that is fantastic to go camping in, I have yet to go! Hahaha. Partly it is because I don’t own any of the equipment anymore – all of it is in Toronto. But the prospect of waking up in nature is very enticing, as much as I love showering on a regular basis 😉
Davida @ The Healthy MavenAugust 30, 2016 at 2:10 pm
Alright girlfriend we’re gonna need to fix this! How about I come out to BC and we go camping. DONE.
AnnaAugust 30, 2016 at 12:41 pm
Do you have a popcorn popper for fires? Not a necessity, but a necessity.
Davida @ The Healthy MavenAugust 30, 2016 at 2:10 pm
LOL a girl after my own heart! Gotta get me one of those!
AmberAugust 30, 2016 at 7:48 pm
Popcorn while camping is the best! We always pack popcorn and it’s easily made with oil and any pot with a lid?
AnnaAugust 30, 2016 at 7:56 pm
We have a pot with a long handle we shake over the fire!
Davida @ The Healthy MavenAugust 31, 2016 at 8:05 am
Perfect! My pot already has a pretty long handle so we can start with that!
Davida @ The Healthy MavenAugust 31, 2016 at 8:04 am
SuzanneAugust 30, 2016 at 9:21 am
I also kept my last camping packing list in order to better prepare for next time. We went back country camping (2 hour hike in) and found that the following were key:
-water (obviously; we planned to hike back to the car when we needed more)
-hatchet (for chopping fire wood and for hanging out food over the cables)
-rope (for hanging food, clothes etc)
I did an a+ job of preparing food if I do say myself. We had an AWESOME quinoa curry cooked on a camp stove. I’m happy to share the recipe if you’re interested 🙂