Car Camping Essentials – Tips for a Relaxing Trip

Bring everything but the kitchen sink

When you go car camping, you aren’t limited to a large degree on what you can take with you. That’s the beauty of it. You can bring everything you need and want, plus more, ensuring that you will be comfortable and entertained on your camping trip.

You would be hard-pressed to roll a full cooler of iced beer down the trail, but if you can get your car near your campsite, a new world of camping is opened up to you. Check out our previous articles containing basic essential camping gear to fully complete your car’s kit.

These car camping essentials have some items that you could consider less than necessities, but if you packed your car’s trunk with nothing but essential gear (i.e. survival items) you’d be planning a one-way camping trip. You have to bring along some comforts and entertainment, especially if you have kids with you. A lot can fit in a car trunk, let’s not worry about available space just yet.


Digging in


Food is easy. For ideas of what to get at the grocery store. In terms of what you should bring or what you can prepare at your campsite, if you have the rest of this list covered you shouldn’t be limited! Bring whatever you need to prepare your meal list, just so long as it fits in the car!


How many people are coming with you on your outdoor camping adventure? Does everyone have their own tent or is there enough room for everyone in the giant tent you brought?

Shelter has to be covered, obviously. But car camping usually provides you with the luxury of being able to bring whatever size of tent you want. You might have an old 8-Person tent lying around that is still in good condition. Who’s to say you can’t bring that just for yourself and your significant other? Make it an epic trip.

Do make sure you have all of the other components of your tent(s) before you leave. If you get to your campsite with a tent without poles, it won’t be of much use to you and you’ll find yourself as the third wheel in the above scenario. Double check!

Bringing a ground cloth or tarp (if your tent doesn’t have an included footprint) is also a good idea. Place this under your tent and it will help save the floor of your tent from damage.

Sleeping arrangements

Sleeping bags. Make sure you and everyone else has their sleeping bag packed and ready to go before you set out on your camping trip. I have forgotten this once. In Colorado. Make sure you have them!

Your sleeping bags should be rated down to the temperature you’re expecting to encounter during the night at your campsite. Sleeping pads and air mattresses are a borderline necessity when you go car camping.

They don’t take up a whole lot of room relative to everything else in your vehicle, and they provide that extra home comfort when you lay down for the night. Talk about a passing grade in the cost/benefit calculations.

I strongly recommend setting up your tent and sleeping arrangements right when you arrive at your campsite, especially if the sun is going down. It can take some time to get everything assembled and you don’t want to be left doing this in the dark.

Plus, if you set everything up immediately, you can get right to that relaxation much more quickly. That’s the ultimate goal, right?

Cooking gear

So you aren’t limited in what meals you can prepare at your campsite, a healthy portion of your kit will be comprised of cooking gear. Whether you plan to cook hotdogs over the open flame of the campfire or you have a collection of camping stoves, this list will show you that sacrifices don’t necessarily have to be made on your car camping trips.

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    Firewood – Realize it or not at this point, firewood could end up being the biggest piece of cooking gear you bring (collective, by weight) if you are camping in an area that doesn’t allow firewood collection. Established parks seldom allow the collection of enough firewood to fuel your campfire for a couple days. On the other hand, other jurisdictions have no problem with you collecting deadwood for firewood. Check first and plan accordingly.
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    Campfire grill – Having one of these at your campsite makes a world of difference. Simply placing it over your campfire gives you an outdoor grill just like you would have at home. You’ll be ready to grill up your brats, hotdogs, burgers and buns right away.
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    Camping stove – Depending on what you plan on making at your campsite, it may be more convenient to bring a stove and accompanying fuel canisters. Camping stoves come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and others have multiple burners for some serious campsite food creations. You can get by just fine with only the campfire grill pictured above, but here are a ton of deals on camping stoves that can boost your car camping trip to a new level of convenience. Just be sure you bring the fuel for your stove!Element
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    Cooler – And ice! Be sure to pack all of your bottled and canned drinks in your cooler with plenty of ice. Whatever size cooler that will both fit in your car and hold all of the drinks you are bringing is perfect. Planning a long trip and worried the ice will melt by the end? Use these tips to cool down your sodas or beers without ice or that cooler.
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    Cooking pans and utensils – Multiple pots or pans is best, but you can get by with just one if your car is getting packed up by this point. Bring any spatulas, cooking knives, tongs and skewers you need. You will need to clean your pots, pans and utensils as well, so bring dish soap, a scrubber and some extra water as well! Setting a large container aside to hold all of these items in your car is a wise move.
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    Aluminum foil – Trust me
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    ‘Dinnerware’ – Plastic knives, spoons and forks usually work best. For plates, open cups and bowls, go with paper. While you’re at it, pack some paper napkins, paper towels and a tablecloth too (your campsite will likely have a picnic table, or you can bring your own portable one!). Bring a washcloth and a few trash bags as well to clean up after your meals. When it comes to your drinking water, consider the collapsible, compact, and damn-near bulletproof models from Hydrapak in addition to your bulk water bottles (could be gallon jugs of water). They collapse easily when you’re finished and pack away nicely.


Let’s be honest. In today’s day and age, the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about entertainment is technology. You want that technology you have available at home to be available to you pretty much anywhere, including your campsite.

Smartphones, tablets and portable DVD players can offer hours of entertainment on your camping trip as well, provided they have the battery power.

You might need some old-school entertainment on your car camping trip as well. Consider taking simple playing cards, a bocce ball set or horseshoes and a couple of small posts. I’m partial to having a football with me when I go car camping with a group of friends.

Whatever your choose to bring along for entertainment, make sure it doesn’t erupt into an overly dangerous activity. Nothing is worse than an injury getting in the way of your relaxing trip!


You didn’t expect me to think you were to sit on a rock or a log, did you? There are many different camping chairs out there, ranging in price from a $15 ‘super-model’ to $100+ camping thrones.

Everyone on your trip is going to want their own camping chair, and it doesn’t have to cost much to have everyone covered. has just about every chair imaginable, camping chairs included. Check out ‘The Fusion Chair’ model they have available below – not one, but two coolers.

Other notable items

There are some other miscellaneous items that always seem to come in handy at the campsite and leave you missing them if you are without. Quickly glance through this list of items to get an idea for what can fill the gaps in your car’s trunk:

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    Trusty camping knife
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    Hatchet/axe – useful in firewood processing and driving in horseshoe posts
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    Duct tape – the uses are endless
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    Rope/cordage – always come in handy somehow
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    Plastic freezer bags
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    First Aid Kit
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    Bug spray
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    Hand soap/sanitizer
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And you’re off!

Lastly, making sure you have enough clothing for your trip (weather appropriate – here’s what you need for the coldest-case scenario) will set you up for success on your next car camping trip, which I am sure you can’t wait to embark on!

Car camping trips often lead to some of the best camping experiences and memories; you have everything you need and want with you removing the survival factor of being in the wild; you can relax and enjoy the natural world around you!

Cindy Herrera

I’m Cindy, a free-spirited outdoor enthusiast. Since childhood, I was very much exposed to the outdoor environment. Our family frequently goes on weekend camps and my father, who was a skilled hunter, used to teach me and my siblings valuable things about wildlife survival. Now that I’m a married woman with two wonderful kids, it’s hard to keep up with outdoor activities while parenting at the same time… so I made this blog to share the best of my knowledge, experiences, and tips from other bloggers to you, my fellow outdoor enthusiast because merely talking about the outdoors makes me feel closer to it.

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