Car Camping Checklist
If you click and purchase with one of our links, we earn a commission. Thanks.Plan Your Perfect Camping Trip with Our Free Comprehensive Checklist!
Camping is a great way to get outdoors and relax. Car camping is the term that means you carry everything you need in your vehicle as compared to backpacking where you must physically carry everything with you. When people say “they are going camping”, they mean car camping.
In this article, we will give a checklist for what you should have in your car when camping. A checklist is important because you do not want to forget anything important.
You can click here to get the checklist in a spreadsheet format.
Or click here to get the checklist as a printable PDF.
We will now explain why you want to bring everything included in the checklist.
Outdoorsy people know the importance of clothing to keep them comfortable, warm and dry when they are outdoors.
Short-Sleeve Base Layer
You want a short-sleeve base layer made from synthetic material to protect you from insects and sunburn. Synthetic materials will also wick moisture away from your body if you sweat a lot.
Long-Sleeve Base Layer
When the weather turns cool, you will want to wear long-sleeve shirts. I also like to wear long-sleeve shirts when I’m going into the backcountry while hiking to protect my arms from insects and the sun.
Socks are important for hiking. You want a pair of socks to keep your feet warm when it is cold, comfortable when it rains, and dry if you sweat. I prefer to wear two pairs of socks if I’m hiking to prevent blisters. I will wear ElimiTick socks as my first layer because they prevent ticks without needing extra bug spray. I wear wool socks as my outer layer. If I’m not hiking and it’s warm outside, I only wear the base layer of socks.
It’s important to change your socks before you go to bed. Socks during the day might become wet from sweat, rain, or a water crossing. You want warm dry socks when you go to bed so you do not get cold. I keep at least 2 pairs of wool socks plus 1 lighter pair in my bag just for sleeping. This gives me maximum flexibility for the weather.
Hiking Pants Or Shorts
You will want to bring 2 pairs of hiking pants or shorts for hiking. If it’s an open trail and a warm day, you can wear shorts. But in cooler weather or going through thick brush, you want to wear pants to protect your legs. You can choose to wear convertible hiking pants.
Hiking Boots or Trail Runners For Hiking
When hiking you should wear hiking boots or trail runners because they offer much more support and protection than a regular shoe. Make sure you try them on beforehand so they fit perfectly because the last thing you want is blisters from a new pair of boots or shoes to interfere with your hike.
After a long-day of hiking you will want to give your feet a rest. Thus bring a pair of shoes you can wear around the campsite such as flip-flops or Crocs. If you go swimming, they will dry easily. We recommend Crocs because they are lightweight and easy to clean.
To keep yourself cool and keep the sun off your face and neck, wear a wide-brimmed hat. There is no better protection from the sun. A wide-brimmed hat also keeps the rain off your face and neck when it’s raining.
Wool Or Fleece Sweater Or Long-Sleeve Shirt
When the weather gets cool, you need to layer. Wool or fleece make a great option. We like the shirts from Smartwool and you can even use them as a base layer in snowy climates.
Fleece Pants Or Leggings
You also need a second layer for your legs when it gets cold.
Don’t forget your winter coat when camping in cold weather. I prefer puffy coats because they are easy to layer and pack, in particular, if you like to backpack or take hikes where the temperatures fluctuate on the hike.
A winter hat is critical because it will keep your entire head and ears warm. Because I’m in Texas so I am fine with a beanie. If you are camping in heavy snow, you might want a thicker hat.
Wear winter gloves when it is cold. I have thick ski gloves with a mylar interior. These do well when I am able to move my fingers to generate extra heat and the mylar reflects it back to the hands. You might also want a pair of mittens because they are warmer than gloves.
Rain is part of camping. The better you are prepared for the rain the more you will enjoy camping. Rain gear can also help keep you warm because it will act as a windbreaker.
If there is heavy mud you want a pair of mud boots. They protect your hiking boots and pants. The boots are also easier to remove if you get stuck in the mud.
You will sleep better if you have a separate change of clothes when you go to bed. In particular, if your day clothes are damp.
Swimming is a popular activity when families go camping. You will want to bring swimwear.
When you are camping for many days it’s important to have an extra pair of undergarments because by the end of the week, your undergarments might be beyond wearing. Also keep in mind, you want to wear clean undergarments every day because they help prevent chafing.
If the swim area is rocky or there are fish in the water it’s a good idea to bring shoes you can wear in the water. Crocs make great shoes for swimming areas because they are lightweight, don’t absorb water, and dry quickly.
Campgrounds with swimming areas typically don’t provide any towels. Bring your own towel if there is a chance you may want to take a quick shower or go for a swim.
If you are camping in the summer when it’s light out late this can help you get to sleep at night.
If there are sounds that are keeping you up at night, earplugs can help.
Hand Warmers are used to help get your hands warm. You can put these in your pockets or gloves.
If you need shelter, a tent is essential. Since you are car camping you can bring a larger tent and make it a fun family activity to set up your tent.
It’s important to bring durable stakes. You don’t want to spend your time setting up a tent only to have the wind blow it away or you lose all of your stakes.
You will need a mallet to help pound in the stakes. Get one that is lightweight and easy for everyone in the family to use.
Bring plenty of tarps to cover your tent, food, and other belongings. You will want to use the tarp as a groundsheet so you are protected from rocks or sticks getting into your shelter.
If you have room in your car and want a more comfortable sleeping arrangement, bring a cot.
Cots are lightweight and if one person gets up during the night everyone doesn’t need to be awakened by them exiting or entering their tent.
If you are going to be in hot weather when you’re camping, bring a battery-operated fan. A tent fan is a great way to stay cool throughout the night. They are lightweight and if you bring rechargeable batteries, they can be easily recharged while you drive to your campsite.
If you go camping in the winter, it’s essential to bring a tent heater. A tent heater provides warmth and makes it more comfortable for everyone sleeping in your tent.
Sleeping Pad Or Air Mattress
A sleeping pad can make a cot more comfortable. If you are not using a cot then you must have a sleeping pad or air mattress to keep yourself warm. There are several options for lightweight and packable sleeping pads and air mattresses.
A sleeping bag is important for comfort. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night because you are too cold or your sleeping bag isn’t warm enough. Make sure everyone has their own sleeping bag so they are comfortable during the night.
Sleeping Bag Liner
A sleeping bag liner is nice to have for comfort and warmth. You can add or remove the sleeping bag liner if you get too warm. It is also easier to wash a sleeping bag liner than your sleeping bag. And a sleeping bag liner can be used instead of a sleeping bag during warm weather camping.
If you are car camping, it’s OK to bring more blankets so everyone in the family can stay warm and cozy through the night.
Your bare feet will like the fact that you have rugs in your tent. A large rug for where everyone gets ready in the morning and a small one for just inside your tent door.
A camp chair is essential for relaxing around the campground. Some people bring a camp chair and set it up next to their tent. Camp Chairs typically fold up and fit in the trunk of the car. If you go camping, don’t forget your camp chair.
When it gets dark you need light to see. Headlamps are superior to flashlights because they leave your hands free. Make sure to get headlamps with a red light function.
You should have a place where everyone gathers to eat, play games, and just hang out. In particular, if the campsite doesn’t have a picnic table.
LED String Lights
LED String Lights are a great idea for lighting up the inside of your tent. You can hang them from the top edge of your tent and put them on a timer so they come on automatically when it gets dark.
Camping Lanterns will light up your campsite and surrounding area. LED camping lanterns provide bright, white light that is easy on the eyes.
Bungee Cords, Ropes, Clips
You’ll need these to secure tarps to trees or to your tent, secure your camp chair to the trunk of your car, and more.
A home for all of your toiletries from shampoo to toothpaste.
Camp Soap Dish And Bath Towel Hooks
Where you will keep your soap and towel when you get out of the shower. Some camp showers also have hooks so you can hang your towel after showering.
Camp Shower Bag
You should have a bag to put your wet bathing suit and towels in after you finish showering because they should never go inside your car.
Bring enough firewood or charcoal to cook your meals and keep everyone warm at night. If you are allowed to have campfires, you need to know if you need to bring your own wood or if the campground sells wood.
You need a reliable firestarter to light your campfires.
Keep a shovel on hand to tend to your fire.
Protect your hands and arms from burns with fire gloves while tending to your fire.
A fire blanket is a simple, quick, reliable way to extinguish a fire that is getting out of hand.
Citronella candles are great, safe ways to keep the bugs away. You also need insect repellent for personal use.
You need to protect your skin from the sun. Make sure you bring enough sunscreen for everyone and don’t forget to reapply it every couple of hours.
Make sure you have enough food for everyone in your car camping party.
Separate from beverages, you need water for cooking and cleaning. If you are camping at prepared campsites such at a state or national park, they often have potable water.
You will want something to drink besides plain water.
You need to bring along a cooler to keep your food and beverages cold.
You need ice to keep your cooler cold.
Campfires are better for ambiance but it’s quicker, easier, and more reliable to use a camping stove for campfire cooking.
Camping Stove Fuel
You need fuel for your stove.
You need utensils to cook while camping just like at home.
Don’t forget a cutting board while camping.
You need pots and pans to cook with at the campsite.
You need a way to open canned foods, even if you bring dehydrated food.
Dish Soap And Scrubber
You will want to clean your dishes while camping. You should have dish soap for handwashing and a scrubber to clean your dishes with.
You want a way to dry your dishes once you finish washing them. You can buy a camp towel or use a real dish towel from home.
Skillets and Griddles
You will want a way to fry eggs and bacon in the morning.
Dutch ovens are great for roasting or slow cooking in the coals of a campfire.
Seasonings and Cooking Oil
Bring along salt, pepper, and other seasonings you will need for cooking.
Coffee And Coffee Filters
You might want to start your day at camp with a hot cup of coffee. You need coffee filters for making the perfect pot of joe while camping.
Mugs, Cups, And Plates
You need utensils to eat with just like at home.
Cooler Plate Divider
Some campers use an old dishwasher rack to keep their food from getting soggy in the cooler. You can also buy a lid divider for a cooler.
Camping Tableware Holder
You want a place to keep your utensils and plates when you’re not using them. This way they don’t get dirty or dusty inside the car while traveling to and from camping sites.
Horizontal surfaces are at a premium when camping. A table will help you prepare your food without taking over the entire picnic table at the campsite.
You need soap when camping just like you do when at home. Don’t forget a camp towel to dry your hands when all the water has been used up.
Shampoo And Conditioner
If you are camping for more than one night, bring along shampoo and conditioner in case you run out of your travel-size bottles. You can bring along bar soap or face wash if you don’t want to pack liquid.
If the campsite doesn’t have bathrooms then you need toilet paper for the bathroom just like you do at home. Don’t forget a camp towel to dry your hands when all the water has been used up.
Baby Wipes Or Toilet Paper
Some people use baby wipes for more than changing baby diapers. You can use baby wipes after using the bathroom if you run out of toilet paper. Don’t forget a camp towel to dry your hands when all the water has been used up.
First Aid Kit
Keep your family safe with a good first aid kit like this one from Reliance Products. It’s a great starter kit even if you’re a prepper.
Toothbrush And Tooth Paste
You need dental hygiene just like at home. You can bring your entire travel-size toothpaste and toothbrush to cut down on the space they take up in your pack.
If you are a woman, you might want to consider taking along some feminine hygiene products.
Pack enough games and activities to keep you entertained when it’s raining.
You can never go wrong with a deck of cards, especially if you forget your board games at home. Bring along a travel-size card shuffler to keep the cards in good shape.
Take along binoculars when you are camping in bear country. You can also use them when bird watching or for stargazing.
Star Finder Application On Your Phone
One of the best things about camping is stargazing. However, you might not know what stars, planets, or constellations that you are looking at. Stargazing apps on your phone are a helpful resource.
Satellite Phone Or Personal Locator Beacon
What would happen if the car breaks down, you get lost, you fall in the lake, you get a flat tire, the dog runs off? Best to have a satellite phone or personal location beacon just in case something goes wrong.
Duct Tape, Gorilla Tape, And Fabric Repair Kit
Duct tape and gorilla tape are great for first aid too. You should also have a fabric repair kit just in case you need to sew ripped clothes or patch holes in your tent.
I prefer a folding saw to a hatchet or axe if I need to process firewood because it’s safer.
Pocket Knife And Scissors And Multi-Tool
You eventually you need to cut open a package or some rope. Bring the multi-tool because the one time you need a pair of pliers to fix something, you will wish you had your multi-tool in your glove box.
Bandanas are useful for pot holders, taking care of sweat, and First Aid. Make sure one of them is orange because it’s useful for a signaling flag or trail marker.
Map and Compass
You don’t need to learn how to orient yourself across the terrain like General Patton. But having a map that can show you your general location and direction is useful to have. The same thing for your compass. You don’t need to know how to explore new lands without GPS, just learn how to use a compass to walk a straight line.
Pencil, Sharpie, And Paper
Sometimes you need to write stuff down. A Sharpie is useful if you need to make notes bold or in the case of snakebite First Aid, to circle the bite for the doctors to determine the status of the bite.
Batteries, Battery Packs, And Chargers
Headlamps, lanterns, flashlights, phones, etc all need batteries or to be recharged.
Most campgrounds require you to keep your dog on a leash. And even if there is no such rule, you want to keep your dog close because the great outdoors can be full of animals that don’t view your dog as a friend.
Food, Water, And Their Bowls
Don’t forget to bring everything your dog needs to eat and drink.
Bring your dog’s crate for travel and to keep them safe if necessary.
If your dog has a favorite toy then make sure to bring it with you.
Make sure your dog has a place to sleep.
It can be difficult to find the right camping gear. To make it easier, we’ve put together a list of essentials that are useful for car camping or backpacking trips.