Car camping is a great, rewarding, and fun outdoor experience. But it can become incredibly sore, especially if you don’t carry things that matter.
Here’s an ultimate checklist and everything you need to know about camping accessories for cars, so you don’t regret leaving behind the necessary gear.
I remember my first car camping experience. I didn’t grow up camping and traveling, so I had no idea what accessories to bring on a camping trip (and I didn’t do my research).
I wanted to save money too, and I ended up buying the cheapest, bulkiest, and most uncomfortable camping equipment, not to mention skipping the things I’d need most.
Let’s say we had many painful days and sleepless nights in cold and hot weather alike. Nonetheless, I later learned from my experience.
Of course, you want a functional and fun camping experience, and that’s why you’re here for the ultimate list of camping accessories for cars. Camping is under the mercy of the right gear, without which things can soon turn miserable. Trust me; I’ve been there.
One great benefit of car camping is the almost limitless extent of gear you can carry on your trip. This is the real-time for all the bells and whistles, and that could mean gourmet camp meals, campground furnishings, or even the corn hole set.
Setting up a car camping site is like setting up an outdoor home complete with a kitchen, bed, kitchen, and more places to lounge.
And with the countless options for extras, it’s imperative to have a baseline understanding of what accessories you’ll need for a successful excursion. Want to make sure you bring all the essentials to your car camping trip? Keep reading.
We have a whole camping checklist that you should review, so that you’ll always look back on the moments of your camping trip with a smile and think, “I can’t wait to go camping another time!”
A Brief History of Camping Accessories
There was a time that camping wasn’t a recreational activity but a necessity – a simple and cheap way to be on the move while transporting merchandise, for hunters following animals, or for militaries to base themselves.
Then there were the nomadic communities, whose camping has been their way of life for centuries. Not to mean that nobody camps for such reasons any longer, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, recreational camping began its roots and became the favorite leisure activity we know today.
Early tents were heavy, some made from oiled animal hides and dolphin skins. By the 1800s, alternatives such as heavy canvas and waxed fabrics came up, though they were still difficult to erect.
The lightweight camping accessory revolution began in the mid –19th century when Macintosh developed rubberized silk jackets weighing in at just about 5oz. Silk became a popular tent material choice as campers looked for techniques to save on weight.
The first person to popularize recreational camping is Thomas Hiram Holding, the UK traveling tailor. Holding’s desire for camping began in 1853 at the age of 9, when he traveled with his parents across North America as part of a wagon train.
As an adult, Holdings made numerous trips, including a cycling and camping trip in Ireland and a canoe and camping tour across the Highlands. Bike trips especially necessitated the need for lightweight tents.
In 1987 Holding designed a small, lightweight tent that suited his mode of transport. He later put together the ‘Phantom Kit,’ touted as a critical point of the lightweight camping revolution.
The Ultimate List of Camping Accessories for Cars
Getting on a plane to a far destination isn’t always easy, and sometimes domestic travel is much more appealing. Car camping is one of the budget-friendly ways to travel locally.
But before investing in car camping stuff, I’d ask you to consider whether you have any future interest in backpacking.
The reason for my concern is that car camping doesn’t necessarily require super light accessories, while backpacking absolutely does. Many campers like to have just one type of sleeping bag, tent, etc., thus choosing to go for lighter gear for backpacking and car camping.
The good thing about sticking with car camping is that you can find more affordable gear compared to lighter backpacking options. A lot of technology goes into making lightweight and high-quality backpacking gear.
So eliminating the need to keep the item lightweight makes it easier and economical to make and cheaper to buy.
Also, you can often use stuff from home, like utensils, pillows, and other common things when you car camp, saving extra cash.
So, whether you’re going to camp with your car for the first or the 20th time, here’s a comprehensive list of what to pack for the trip to protect yourself from the toughest lessons that nature has to offer. Bottom of Form
1. Sleeping Accessories
Your sleeping gear is one of the camping basics you can’t afford to leave behind. It’s important to research the items you plan to buy.
You may get many of them at a reasonable price, but purchasing the cheapest isn’t always the best way. Other things to consider include quality, camping conditions, and the number of people to use the item.
Simple things I want from a tent are for it to withstand harsh weather and be easy to assemble. The condition in which the tent will also be used matters. A three-season tent is the most popular if you won’t use it in a blizzard and heavy snow.
One more important thing to consider before acquiring a tent is the number of people sleeping inside.
Tents sizes are rated per person, meaning that if only you and your partner will be using the tent, you can bargain for a two-person tent. Otherwise, a tent that’ll pack small and fit your whole family and pets is what you should go for
The Nemo Hornet Ultralight 2-Person tent is a recent version of the tent I use for car camping. It’s super small and lightweight to fit in; my car has lots of storage pockets, keeps me dry, and is easy to erect.
For those who plan to set up a larger and more established campground, the Big Agnes Big House Deluxe tent is a good option. It’s tall enough to stand in, has many pockets, and can fit your extra luxury items like tables and chairs.
Its downside is that it takes up more space in your car and may not fit in small campsites, and you’ll have to break a sweat to set it up!
It’s almost impossible to have a warm and comfortable night in a camp without your sleeping bag. Since the bags are categorized in seasons relating to the temperature in which they’re effective, you’ll want to have an idea of the type of weather you regularly camp in to get a sleeping bag rated for those temperatures.
A four-season sleeping bag is ideal for extremely cold environments, while a one-season bag is good for hot conditions.
I’ve used my Mountain Warehouse Everest Down sleeping bag for quite some time now, and I still love nestling in it. It has a comfort range of -3 to -9 degrees Celsius, meaning I’m always kept warm on all my adventures.
The only downside is that my bag is too much for hot summer nights, and I’m forced to use a sleeping bag liner to neutralize the too-hot nights.
Good sleep depends on having a comfortable sleeping surface in the camp. There’re many options for sleeping pads rated for definite temperatures using the R scale. A pad with an R rate of 2-4 is fine for most 3-season applications.
If spending the night in a tent, I’d recommend an inflatable sleeping pad specifically designed for camping. But if you’ll be sleeping in your car, you can find some great inflatable/air mattresses that’ll fit perfectly on your vehicle.
The Exped Deepsleep Mat Duo 7.5 is the sleeping pad my partner and I use to sleep in the back of our car. The pad is well and is large enough for both of us. Though it’s too big for backpacking, it’s perfect for a tent when car camping.
You really need a comfortable pillow to actualize a good night’s sleep. You can bring along a regular pillow from home, it’ll serve you right. Or consider an inflatable pillow for camping if you need to save on space.
Camping pillows pack up tiny but blow up now and then. Although they aren’t as comfortable as full-sized pillows, you don’t have to keep worrying about them getting ruined, and you can take them backcountry too.
I always carry along my Exped Air Pillow, even to my backcountry camping. It’s incredibly lightweight and packs super tiny.
I usually deflate the pillow to about half full, store it into a buff, and fill it using a down jacket when I need to use it at night. It takes my comfort to the next level and saves on space.
2. Kitchen Essentials
The beauty of car camping is that you can carry everything you need to prepare delicious camp meals. You can bring a lot of cooking stuff from home and be just fine if you don’t intend to spend much on this sector
But Personally, I like to have a separate set of utensils for camping so my delicate items from home won’t get ruined out there in the jungle. I normally store all this stuff in a bin, well packed, and ready for my next adventure.
Here are some car camping kitchen necessities:
Stove and Fuel: The type of stove you buy will depend on your needs. An ordinary two-burner camp stove serves me perfectly for car camping.
They’re reasonably priced, gas is economical and available, and they take up a small space in the car. You can find gas from most sports stores, outdoor stores, and even some gas stations.
Cooler: You can’t beat the urge to drink a cool beverage back at the camp after a long, tedious hike, so you better not leave your cooler behind.
I also don’t, and my Roadie 24 cooler gives me many more meal options at camp, allowing me to bring veggies, fruits, eggs, and more.
Water storage: Sometimes, your camping environment may not have access to clean drinking water. Filling up a gallon water tank or two before you leave home will keep you hydrated and make your sanitation easier during those times.
Reusable Water bottle: On top of packing a gallon of the water tank, I never forget my water bottle. The Hydro Flask Wide Mouth Trail is my favorite; it isn’t heavy, keeps my water cool, looks so classic, and I don’t get a plastic taste like some other bottles.
Table and Chairs: Having a good surface to sit, eat, or prepare your stuff at the camp is nice, more so if there’re no permanent benches at the camp site.
I enjoy camping with my Helinox camp table because it’s lightweight, takes up less space, and I can set it up almost everywhere along with my chairs.
Camp Kitchen Sink: Established campgrounds like some national parks may have communal sinks. But in most cases, you won’t find one. The Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink is a portable sink that’ll help wash your dishes at camp much more comfortably.
Coffee press: If you’re a coffee person like me, keep the coffee press on top of your list of car camping essentials.
I guess you can tell how much this can make a difference to your camping experience, especially in the cold weather. I also carry reusable coffee thermos to keep my coffee warm for quite some time.
Utensils and cutlery: Whether you prefer the pre-made kits and packages or not, just be sure you carry the following:
- Cooking spoon
- Chopping board
- Bottle opener/can opener/corkscrew
- Dutch oven
Other extra kitchen essentials you may pack include cooking oil, salt, spices and condiments, aluminum foil, trash bags, paper towels or rags, and a shelter so that you won’t have to cook in the rain if you encounter it.
3. Tool Kit Accessories
You’ll need the following necessities to keep safe and ready for anything. You can pick what you think you might need for your type of destination.
Multi-tool: A multi-tool is handy in so many situations. My Leatherman multi-tool has pliers, file, wire stripper, bottle opener, screwdriver, blade, saw, and more.
Headlamp: A headlamp becomes essential when it gets dark. Make sure to pack one. I’ve always preferred a headlamp over a flashlight since I can use it hands-free. I find my Petzl Actik Core Headlamp good enough. It has a sufficient amount of light and a nice rechargeable battery.
Duct Tape: Duct tapes are useful for fixing things that break. You may require duct tape for most random things, and if you didn’t pack any, there’d be a time you’ll regret you didn’t bring it along.
First Aid Kit: Since we never know what could happen when camping, having a first aid kit is essential. A simple kit with bandages, gauze, blister patches, and tape is a lifesaver that can go a long way in an emergency.
Portable Charger: Goal Zero Yeti 150 is a splendid portable charger! It’s powerful enough to charge my phone, camera, and laptop. The charger comes in various sizes and power capacities, and you can choose what suits you.
Extra Tent Stakes: An extra tent strake is something you may not think about until you lose a single tent. Bring a spare stake for when such a moment comes.
Bear Spray: A bear spray will give you peace of mind in the bear realm. It’s also useful for predators like mountain lions or deter a fellow human in an emergency attack.
4. Clothing Essentials
It’s obvious that you have to park some clothing for your camping trip. But despite my recommendations, it’ll be better if you research the conditions of your destination ahead of time to pack appropriately.
Camp Attire: You will want to wear a cozy outfit around camp. I typically wear a fleece sweater and some leggings, though it depends on the season.
Sleeping Attire: Merino wool long underwear and top are my all-time sleeping attire. They’re warm, super comfortable, breathable, and odor resistant, so I can wear them for several days without getting stinky.
Outdoor Activities Attire: This depends on the outdoor activities you intend to participate in. A lighter outfit is appropriate for vigorous activities. But if it’s a winter season and you still want to have fun outdoors in activities such as skiing, try to keep warm.
Camp Footwear: Your footwear much depends on the climate conditions of your camping. When relaxing around the camp on a summer day, I love to put on my flip-flops.
But when it comes to winter season or wetter conditions, I find the Dunlop fur-lined wellies more appropriate to keep my feet toastie.
Wool Socks: Wool socks are necessary for keeping your feet warm around camp. Darn Tough socks are my go-to choices, for they are super comfortable, moisture-wicking, and odor-resistant.
Insulated Jacket: I’ve used the same Patagonia Down Jacket for many years and I don’t intend to replace it soon. It packs up tiny, is super lightweight, and is great for almost all outdoor adventures.
Puffy Jacket: A nice puffy jacket can be a lifesaver in many camping situations. Never keep it far away.
Rain Jacket: Having a rain jacket is important. After all, you don’t want to be locked inside your car or tent if it pours. If it’s heavily raining, you might even consider having some rain pants too.
I like Marmot Precip Eco Jacket because it’s completely rainproof and fits great. Lots of rain jackets are super boxy, but this one isn’t!
Cap, Sun Hat, Sunglasses, And Gloves: Such attires make your camping life comfier, and they don’t take up much space. You have no reason not to bring them along.
Bandana: A bandana can have many uses around the camp. I use my bandana to warm my neck in cold seasons or to cover my plastic feeling pillow and make it more comfortable.
5. Camp Hygiene Accessories
While I wouldn’t say that my list of hygiene items is all-encompassing and final, I’d suggest going over it and packing what’s necessary for you.
- Camp Shower
- Toilet Paper
- Baby Wipes
- Bug Repellent
- Hand Sanitizer
- Ear Plugs
- Eye Mask
- Sanitary Products
6. Extra Accessories for Camping Comfort
When your packing space allows you to carry some more luxury stuff, why not? Some of these items will make your camping even more tranquil, functional, and fulfilling. Check out the following list of items.
- Midge/fly/mosquito net:
- Water filter
- Water purification tablets
- Basic herb and spice
- Small wallet
- Patch Repair Kit
Point to Remember
Since you don’t want to leave essential things behind, and no one wishes to travel for hours with a tent or sleeping bag on their lap and no space to stretch, you must learn to organize your car such that everything fits perfectly.
Packing a car for camping is an art that needs a bit of mastering, particularly if your car is smaller and there’s more than one person to be packed into it.
I do this by loading each type of gear in a separate bin and ensuring every accessory has a place in my car. I usually start with the big stuff, fill the boot first, pack things upright, and fill the extras in spare gaps.
I also like keeping my fundamentals like water bottle, portable charger, and headlamp in the center console, so I won’t have to dig up many things every time I need something essential.