The Perfect Car Camping Checklist

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Before I ever picked up a backpack and climbed up mountains with it, I dipped my toe in with glamping and car camping. Even now, I love the flexibility of having an entire car – rather than just a backpack – to fit everything into. It feels, dare I say, luxurious?

It may sound silly to use that word in association with camping, but car camping is one of my favorite ways to do it. You can have big, roomy tents, air mattresses, gourmet food, and best of all, many campgrounds are super peaceful and have plenty of room for multiple tents, meaning you can share the experience with friends if you wish.

These are some of my favorite things to take along car camping. I hope this tried and true checklist helps you have an amazing adventure:

Shelter and Safety

The best thing about car camping is the potential to bring a nice, big tent, a full-sized air mattress, and a sleeping bag that doesn’t have to keep you warm while also being lightweight (which usually means it’s expensive). These options are all quality while not breaking the bank:

camping in big sur
Camping along Pacific Coast Highway


Though many camping destinations around the world will be close enough to towns to get some food, part of the fun of camping is making your own over a camp fire or with your own camp stove

A word on the wood: Please only use local wood to cut down on wood insects and pests! Most campsites sell bundles. It’s essential not to bring in wood from other places to protect the forest.


ventana campgrounds

Breakfast options:

  • Pancakes (mix ingredients together and store in a bottle for easy cooking)
  • Granola bars, oatmeal, muesli, and/or cereal
  • Burrito wraps
  • Sausage, ham and/or bacon
  • Sandwiches, bagels, or any other pastries you fancy
  • Peanut butter, fruit jam
  • Eggs
  • Canned beans
  • Fresh fruits that last long without refrigeration, like bananas, kiwis, apples, oranges, and grapes
  • Milk, coffee and/or tea packs

Lunch and dinner options:

  • Hobo Stew: Mix ground meat (or no meat) and veggies on a square of foil, then bunch up the sides to create a kind of bowl, pour in BBQ sauce and a splash of whiskey (make sure it cooks off before eating).
  • Pasta + pasta sauce
  • Fresh vegetables that last long without refrigeration, such as bell peppers, onions, zucchinis, eggplants, potatoes, corn, chili, and tomatoes
  • Proteins of your choice (prepare them ahead to save cooking time)
  • Snacks: dry fruits, nuts, bars, crackers, popcorn, marshmallow

Don’t feel like cooking at all? Here’s a definitive ranking of the best backpacking meals you can bring along to your camping trip.


If camping multiple days, bring a small bottle of laundry powder and hand wash your clothes. Or, since we’re car camping after all, bring more sets of clothes and do laundry when you get home!


The lovely thing about most campsites is access to bathrooms with running water. However if you’re like me, you love camping off the grid on public lands, too. This list takes both possibilities into account.

  • Shampoo, conditioner and body wash (bring dry shampoo and wet wipes if shower isn’t available)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Insect repellent
  • Hairbrush and a small mirror (or just use your car’s rear mirror!)
  • Toilet paper (pack it out if there’s no bathroom!)
  • Microfiber towel

Entertainment and Others

While S’Mores over a campfire and star gazing are usually more than enough for me, especially since I get an early night’s sleep and a sunrise start when I camp, it’s always nice to have a fallback option. Bring a source of battery-powered light and some things to stay entertained:

hiking in the dolomites

It might seem like a lot of things, but if you’re as into camping as I am (and you will be when you get to wake up to views you just can’t get otherwise), then these items are all worth the investment. Plus, camping is one of the cheapest ways to lay your head when you travel.

Have fun out there. There’s nothing as grounding as being so close to nature.

Click for a complete car camping checklist, with everything you need to bring for shelter, safety, food, clothing, and entertainment to have a comfortable and fun car camping experience.
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