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The Essential Car Camping Checklist (My Recommendations)

Car Camping packing list

Camping Gear

When it comes to car camping, you have three options when it comes to where you sleep; inside your vehicle, in a tent at a campsite, or a rooftop tent.

All options require the same camping gear as listed below:

1. Tent

Mountainsmith Tent
Image Source: REI

From my experience of car camping, when searching for a tent it’s important you find one that is compact-able to where it won’t take up too much room in your car while still also roomy.

Trust me, you’ll want as much space in your tent as you can after being in your vehicle all the time.

A great tent that offers both of those qualities is the Mountainsmith Bear Creek 4 Tent with Footprint from REI as shown below.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option that is still good quality, check out REI’s clearance page.

2. Sleeping Pad

Teton Sports Canvas Camp Pad Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad

Teton Sports Canvas Camp Pad and Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad

A lot of people seem to take an interest in inflatable sleeping pads for car camping but personally find them uncomfortable. I recommend any sleeping pad made of foam, canvas, or wool. Above are my two recommendations.

3. Sleeping Bag and Blanket

REI Co-op Trailmade 20 Sleeping Bag Marmot Trestles Elite ECO 0 Sleeping Bag

REI Co-op Trailmade 20 Sleeping Bag and                                     Marmot Trestles Elite ECO 0 Sleeping Bag

Before purchasing a sleeping bag, you’ll want to consider the temperatures you will be sleeping in. REI has tons of options including budget-friendly sleeping bags. You can check out their website to find a sleeping bag that suits your ideal temperature and budget.

Above are two great options.

When it comes to blankets, I recommend heavy wool blankets. They will keep you warmer than your average blanket and get less dirty.

4. Pillow

Teton Sports Camp Pillow Vaverto Camp Pillow

When it comes to finding the perfect pillow for car camping, it’s important to find one that is smaller than your average pillow but also still comfortable.

Just like sleeping pads, I recommend avoiding the uncomfortable inflatable pillows. Teton Sports Camp Pillow and Vaverto Small Memory Foam Pillow are great options.

5. Light

BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern


I have tried multiple lanterns from REI and have ended up returning all of them except the BioLite lantern. I still use it to this day and love it.

Cooking Gear

YETI Cooler

Without my YETI cooler, I don’t know how I could have ever lived out of my car. Food lasted a little less than a week in these coolers which is perfect timing as I tend to grocery shop every week or so anyways.

Here are other essential cooking items:

  • Portable Stove and Fuel
  • Pan and Pot
  • Travel Utensil Set
  • Knife
  • Plate and Bowl
  • Cup
  • Cutting Board
  • Food Containers
  • Coghlan’s 12-Egg Holder
  • Biodegradable Soap
  • Sponge
  • Dish Towel
  • Lighter
  • Trash Bags
  • Firewood

Food Essentials

  • Non-Perishable Snacks
  • Produce
  • Protein
  • Salt, Pepper, Spices
  • Large Water Jugs
  • Coffee (Optional)


Me in my car with my sporty outfit
  • T-shirts
  • Long-Sleeve Shirts
  • Shorts
  • Pants
  • Undergarments
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Fleece or Wool Sweater
  • Lightweight Down Jacket
  • Thermal Underwear and Pants
  • Swimsuit
  • Gloves, Scarf and Beanie
  • Hat


  • Hiking Boots
  • Camp Shoes
  • Water Shoes
  • Winter Boots


  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Biodegradable Soap
  • Biodegradable Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Towel
  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip Balm with SPF
  • Feminine Products
  • Hair Brush
  • Hair Ties
  • Nail Clippers
  • Basin
  • Portable Shower
  • Shower Shoes

Safety and Emergency Equipment

First-aid kit
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Insect Repellant
  • Compass
  • Lighter
  • Fire Starter
  • Multi-Tool
  • Flashlight
  • Water Purification Method
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Maps
  • Medication
  • Jumper Cables

Personal Items

  • ID and Wallet
  • Passport
  • Phone Charger
  • Phone
  • Sunglasses
  • Car Keys
  • Books
  • Journal and Pen
  • Hammock
  • Camera