Car Camping Must Haves for the Best Car Camping Trip

Are you ready to embark on a car camping adventure? If so, make sure you’re fully prepared by packing these 21 car camping essentials to ensure your trip is enjoyable, peaceful, and unforgettable.

Car camping is a unique experience that blends the rugged outdoors with creature comforts, and the comfort level of your trip will largely depend on the gear you bring with you.

What’s So Great About Car Camping?

Car camping offers several benefits that make it an attractive option for people who love spending time in the great outdoors:

  1. Convenience: Car camping allows you to easily pack and transport all of your camping gear and equipment, making it more convenient and less time-consuming than backpacking or other types of camping where you have to carry all of your gear on your back.
  2. Comfort: With car camping, you have the luxury of bringing larger and more comfortable gear such as air mattresses, portable chairs, and a table. You can also pack more clothing and food options without worrying about the weight of your gear.
  3. Accessibility: Many car camping sites are easily accessible by car and offer amenities such as bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables, making it a more accessible option for families, children, and people with disabilities.
  4. Flexibility: With car camping, you have more flexibility in terms of where you can camp and how long you can stay. You can easily explore different campsites and regions, and can also easily pack up and move to a new location if you wish.
  5. Affordability: Compared to other types of camping or vacations, car camping can be a more affordable option since you can bring your own food and gear, and there are often free or low-cost camping sites available.


1. Sleeping Bag or Blankets

To get started, you’ll need to consider the essentials for bedding, hygiene, campsite, food, and safety. For bedding, you’ll want to choose sleeping bags or blankets that suit the weather of your destination. For instance, if you’re camping in fall or winter, opt for heavier bedding.

The Moosejaw Double Snoozilla XL Sleeping Bag is a great option, as it can be used in temperatures as low as 30-degrees Fahrenheit. This spacious sleeping bag has a water-repellent shell, a fast-warming interior liner, and room for two full-sized pillows.

If you’re looking for something more compact, the Yeti Lowlands Blanket is an excellent choice. This versatile blanket can be used for bedding or as a ground cover to keep you off the cold, hard ground. It’s even designed to repel pet hair.

2. Air Mattress or Sleeping Pad

You’ll also want to bring an air mattress or sleeping pad for added comfort, like the HEST Foamy Sleepy Pad, which is self-inflating for easy setup. And don’t forget about pillows. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow Cinch is a super-soft pillow that can be easily adjusted for firmness and packs away into itself for easy storage.

3. Compressible Pillows

Compressible pillows are a popular choice for car camping because they are lightweight, easy to pack, and can be compressed to take up very little space.

This makes them perfect for car camping where space is often limited and you need to be able to pack everything efficiently.

Compressible pillows are also very comfortable and provide good support for your neck and head. They are typically filled with down or synthetic fibers and can be fluffed up to your desired firmness.

Additionally, they are often more affordable than other types of camping pillows, making them a popular choice for budget-conscious campers.

This super-soft pillow has a light layer of insulation and a cinch cord, so you can adjust its firmness. When you’re ready to go, it packs into itself for easy storage.


Personal hygiene is another important consideration for car camping. To keep all your toiletries organized, the Vorspack Toiletry Bag is a great option. It’s made from water-repellent material and has multiple mesh pockets to keep your products in place.

Don’t forget to pack shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toilet paper, lotion, sunblock, medication, toothbrush and toothpaste, razor, and more.

4. Toiletries

Toiletries are perfect for car camping because they allow you to maintain your personal hygiene while on the road.

While you may not have access to a traditional bathroom, packing toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and shampoo can help you stay clean and fresh.

Additionally, some campsites may offer basic shower facilities, which make it easier to freshen up and stay comfortable during your trip.

Having toiletries with you also ensures that you are prepared for unexpected situations, such as spills or accidents, and can help you feel more comfortable and confident during your camping trip.


The campsite is an essential aspect of car camping as it is the place where you will be spending most of your time during the trip. It is important to choose a good campsite as it can significantly impact the overall experience of your trip. Here are some reasons why the campsite is important when car camping:

  1. Safety: The campsite should be safe and secure, with no potential hazards like steep drop-offs, cliffs, or unstable ground. It is important to select a campsite with good lighting, a clear area for the campfire, and well-defined camping spots.
  2. Amenities: Many campsites offer amenities like toilets, showers, and water sources. When selecting a campsite, you should consider what amenities are available and what you might need for your trip.
  3. Location: The location of the campsite can make a big difference in your experience. Some campsites offer scenic views, while others are closer to popular hiking trails or other outdoor activities. You may want to choose a campsite that is close to the attractions you want to visit or offers easy access to the activities you enjoy.
  4. Privacy: Some campsites can be crowded and noisy, which can impact your camping experience. If you value privacy and peace and quiet, you may want to select a campsite that is more secluded or offers separate camping areas.

Overall, choosing the right campsite can make your car camping trip more enjoyable, comfortable, and safe.

Camping in Arkansas

5. Tent

The tent is an essential piece of equipment when car camping because it provides shelter and protection from the elements. A good quality tent will keep you dry during rain, provide insulation during colder temperatures, and offer ventilation during warmer weather.

It also gives you a place to sleep and store your gear, which is especially important when camping in areas with wildlife or insects. Additionally, a tent provides a sense of privacy and personal space, making it easier to relax and unwind in the great outdoors.

6. Light Source

A reliable light source is also a must-have. The Fenix PD25R Rechargeable Flashlight is a durable piece of equipment that’s both dust- and waterproof.

For your campsite, the Goal Zero Crush Light is a compact and versatile option that can be used as a lantern, flashlight, or even a party light.

7. Firestarter

The firestarter is an essential tool for car camping because it allows you to start a fire quickly and easily, even in adverse weather conditions.

A fire is not only important for keeping warm and cooking food, but it can also provide light and create a cozy atmosphere at your campsite.

Without a firestarter, starting a fire can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially if you are in an area with limited resources.

It is important to choose a reliable firestarter that is easy to use and can withstand different weather conditions to ensure that you can start a fire when you need it.

8. Portable Power Device

A portable power device can be very useful when car camping, as it allows you to charge your electronic devices or power other equipment such as lights or fans. There are several types of portable power devices available on the market, such as power banks, solar panels, and portable generators.

Power banks are small, portable batteries that can be charged before your trip and used to charge your electronic devices while you are camping. They are convenient and easy to use, but their capacity is limited, so they may not be suitable for powering larger devices or equipment.

Solar panels are another option for portable power, and they are particularly useful for car camping as they can be set up outside to charge during the day while you are out exploring. They can be used to charge a battery pack, which can then be used to power your devices at night. However, they require sunlight to function and may not be as effective on cloudy or overcast days.

Portable generators are the most powerful and versatile option for car camping. They can provide enough power to run larger devices and equipment such as a refrigerator, air conditioner, or power tools. However, they are also the most expensive and heavy option, so they may not be practical for all camping situations.

When choosing a portable power device for car camping, it’s important to consider your power needs and the type of equipment you’ll be using. It’s also important to consider the weight and size of the device, as well as its durability and ease of use.

9. Collapsible Camp Chairs

Collapsible camp chairs are a great addition to any car camping trip for several reasons. First and foremost, they provide a comfortable place to sit and relax after a long day of hiking or exploring. They are also lightweight and easy to pack, making them a convenient choice for car camping where space is limited.

Collapsible camp chairs are designed to fold down into a compact size, so they don’t take up much space in your car or camping gear. They can be easily stored in your trunk or on the roof rack, and can be quickly set up at the campsite when you’re ready to sit down and unwind.

Another benefit of collapsible camp chairs is that they are versatile and can be used in a variety of settings. Whether you’re sitting around the campfire, enjoying a picnic lunch, or taking in the views at a scenic overlook, a comfortable and sturdy camp chair can make all the difference.

Overall, collapsible camp chairs are an essential item for any car camping trip, providing comfort, convenience, and versatility.

10. Collapsible Table

A collapsible table is a great addition to any car camping setup. It provides a stable surface for cooking, eating, playing games, or simply setting items down.

The main advantage of a collapsible table is that it can be easily stored in the trunk of a car and transported to the campsite without taking up too much space.

Once at the campsite, the table can be quickly set up and taken down as needed, making it a convenient and versatile piece of equipment.

Additionally, many collapsible tables are made with lightweight materials such as aluminum, which makes them easy to carry and move around the campsite.

11. Portable Fan

A portable fan can be a useful accessory for car camping, especially during hot summer months or in areas with high humidity.

It can help keep you cool and comfortable while you sleep or relax in your tent, and can also help keep bugs away. Additionally, a fan can help circulate air and reduce condensation inside your tent, which can be especially important in areas with high humidity or during rainy weather.

Portable fans come in a variety of sizes and power options, from battery-operated handheld fans to larger rechargeable or solar-powered models. When choosing a portable fan for car camping, consider factors such as size, weight, battery life, and noise level.

Food Preparation, Storage, and Clean-Up

12. Electric Cooler

An electric cooler is a great addition to your car camping gear as it can keep your food and drinks cold for an extended period of time. Unlike traditional coolers that rely on ice, electric coolers use a small compressor to keep the temperature inside low. This means you don’t have to worry about melting ice or constantly adding more ice to keep your food and drinks cold.

Electric coolers come in a range of sizes, from small ones that can fit in your car’s trunk to larger ones that can hold enough food and drinks for a whole family. They also come with different power options, such as plugging into your car’s 12V outlet or running on a rechargeable battery.

One of the biggest advantages of an electric cooler is that you can keep it running in your car while you’re out exploring, so you can always have cold drinks and snacks on hand. It’s also more environmentally friendly than using disposable ice packs or constantly buying bags of ice.

Overall, an electric cooler is a convenient and efficient way to keep your food and drinks cold during your car camping trip.

13. Portable Propane Stove with Fuel

A portable propane stove with fuel is an important item to bring for car camping because it allows you to cook meals and boil water without needing to start a campfire.

This is especially important if there are fire restrictions in the area where you are camping or if the weather conditions make it difficult to start a fire. Propane stoves are also very convenient because they can be set up quickly and easily and can be used in almost any location.

They are also much safer than campfires as they can be easily turned off and do not pose a risk of spreading out of control.

When choosing a propane stove, make sure it is portable, compact, and easy to clean. Also, make sure to bring enough fuel for your entire trip, as you do not want to run out of fuel while cooking.

14. Cookware and Garbage Bags

Cookware and garbage bags are essential items to bring when car camping as they allow you to prepare and cook meals while also maintaining a clean campsite.

Cookware includes pots, pans, utensils, and other items that you need to cook and prepare meals. When choosing cookware for car camping, look for lightweight and durable options that are easy to pack and transport.

Garbage bags are important for keeping your campsite clean and tidy. They are used to dispose of food waste, packaging, and other trash. Make sure to bring enough garbage bags and dispose of them properly to help protect the environment.

Overall, bringing cookware and garbage bags ensures that you can cook and eat meals at your campsite while also minimizing your impact on the surrounding environment.

15. Reusable Mess Kit

When car camping, it’s important to have a reusable mess kit that includes utensils to enjoy meals with. The MRS Folding Utensils come in two versions, with two forks and two spoons or four sporks.

These utensils are color-coded, making it easy to identify which utensils belong to each camper. Additionally, they are collapsible, making them easy to pack efficiently, as they can fit inside drinkware.

16. Food

Food is another essential item for car camping. You have two options: bring and cook your own food or bring packable, ready-made meals. If you choose to bring your own food, you can store perishables in the electric cooler mentioned earlier.

However, if you prefer ready-made meals, which is a space-saving option, we recommend the Peak Refuel Titanium Spork. This bundle includes 12 individual meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including strawberry granola, chicken alfredo pasta, and beef stroganoff.

17. Water Filtration

Water filtration is an essential item for car camping, as it ensures you have access to clean water. The LifeStraw High-Volume Gravity-Fed Water Purifier is a survival product that removes bacteria, parasites, protozoa, microplastics, and viruses from water. It can last through 4,755 gallons and comes in two compact roll-bag reservoir sizes, 1.3-gallon and 3.1-gallon. The purifier uses gravity to produce 2.4 to 3.4 gallons of purified water per hour.


18. First-Aid Kit

Safety is crucial when car camping, and a first-aid kit is a must-have item in case of minor injuries. The 273-piece waterproof first-aid kit by YIDERBO contains trauma supplies for cuts, bruises, and minor injuries.

Additionally, a car emergency kit is essential for unanticipated car trouble.

19. Car Emergency Kit

The Lifeline AAA Premium Road Kit includes booster cables, a flashlight, cable ties, and a two-in-one screwdriver. A flat tire kit and car user manual should also be included if there is enough room in the trunk.

If you have room in your trunk, we suggest bringing a flat tire kit and your car’s user manual.

20. Mesh Window Coverings

Mesh window coverings are important for camping in the spring or summer months if you plan on sleeping in the car. The EcoNour Car Window Screens keep bugs out and protect you from the sun while allowing air to circulate inside the car.

21. Portable Toolkit

Lastly, a portable toolkit is a must-have item for car camping. You never know when something might break or require manual assembly, and other kits, such as the car emergency kit, might not have everything you need. The Carman 39-piece Tool Set ensures you have all the necessary tools for a seamless car camping experience.

Seamless Car Camping Experience

In conclusion, this car camping essentials list covers everything needed for a comfortable, efficient, and safe car camping experience. With all the basic necessities and conveniences covered, you can focus on making memories during your trip. For more information and tips on car camping, check out our Car Camping page.

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