In our last post, we (Kristen Bor & Kat Carney) talked about how to plan a car camping trip in 8 simple steps. One of those steps in figuring out what gear to bring, and in this post we expand on that. We split up the major pieces of car camping gear you’ll need into 4 categories: Sleeping, Eating, Essentials, and Extras.

Follow this car camping gear guide when you’re packing for your car camping trip to make sure you don’t forget anything important. And to help you get the gear you need, check out our Car Camping Giveaway at the end of this post.

Camping gear packing listSleeping


If weather permits, we love to sleep out under stars. However, you always want to have some sort of shelter in case you end up with less than ideal weather.

Your shelter can be a car, like a Subaru, a tent, or a tarp. If you are just starting out camping, you can score a cheap tent at Costco, on Craigslist, or on sale at retailers like REI. Since weight doesn’t matter when you are car camping, we like spacious car camping tents that have enough room to sit up and hang out in if ends up raining. Kristen has a 6 man tent that she got at Costco for $99. It fits a full queen sized air mattress, you can stand upright inside it, and it’s a cinch to set up. Kat has a spacious 2-person all season Marmot tent that she likes to set up when car camping.

The point is that is doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it’s going to keep you dry and ideally keep the bugs out.

A tarp is also a cheap option in you’re in a bind, but they are a little more complicated to set up and require trees, hiking poles, or rocks to tie on to. If you don’t have either, you can also tie a tarp up in between two cars.

gear list for camping tripSleeping Bag

Sleeping bags come in a few different materials. Down provides the most warmth for its weight and size, but it comes at a cost. Synthetic materials are cheaper and perform better when it’s wet. Sleeping bags also come with a temperature rating which tells you the minimum temperature that you’d want to use the sleeping bag in. When choosing a sleeping bag for car camping, consider the typical climate that you’ll be camping in, and pick a temperature rating that’s a lower than that. As far as materials, your budget should really be the deciding factor, unless you plan to use the sleeping bag for backpacking. In that case you’ll want to go for the lightest bag that meets your temperature requirements.

If you don’t want to shell out the dough for a brand new sleeping bag, you can also just bring a bunch of pillows and blankets from home. In her van, Kristen loves her Rumpl blanket. It’s super warm, easy to clean, and is durable enough to be thrown around in the rocks and dirt.

Sleeping Pad

Your sleeping pad has two purposes. The first is to provide a cushion between you and the ground that will help you sleep more comfortably. The second is to provide a layer of insulation. For car camping, we recommend something bigger and cushier. You’ll get a better night’s sleep and be more likely to want to go camping again.

complete camping gear listEating 

Camp Stove

If you want to eat a hot meal, a camp stove is pretty essential. Of course, you can always eat sandwiches or some other non-cooked meal, but we think that a tasty home cooked camp meal is far more enjoyable. If you don’t have a camp stove, check and see if there are grills where you are camping.

cooking while car camping

Cooking & Eating Utensils

When you first start camping, it’s easiest to grab some stuff from your kitchen drawers. For 2 people, you’ll want a couple of plates, bowls, cups, spoons, forks, and knives, plus whatever you need to cook with. Cooking might require a pot, pan, spatula, and a cutting board. Think about what you need and pack it.

If you want a hot meal, a camp stove is essential

Once you get some more experience, we’ve found that it’s easier to have a dedicated set of cooking equipment for camping and to store that in a bin so you can grab and go. Kristen’s cooking bin has all the essentials mentioned above, plus some basic seasonings – including salt & pepper and olive oil. Kristen always brings a Stanley vacuum mug with her on her trips, which is perfect whether you are slowly drinking your morning coffee or sipping on a cocktail by the fire.

Water jug

If there is no potable water available at your campsite (check ahead!), you’ll need to bring a jug with drinking water. We suggest a 6 gallon jug for 2 people for a weekend. That’s enough for drinking, hand washing, and some dishes.

Car Camping Gear Essentials

Table / Chairs

Chairs are essential for camping. Kristen loves her Helinox Swivel chair. This lightweight chair folds down extremely small, yet it’s very comfortable.

A table is less important, but it’s nice to have one to cook on if your campsite doesn’t have a picnic table.

camp table and chairsHeadlamp

You need a flashlight of some sort for walking around at night. A headlamp is really the way to go, and a decent headlamp will only run you $20.

Personal toiletries

A toothbrush and toothpaste is really all you need to go car camping. Remember to use hand sanitizer before eating and cooking.


Bring layers! Even where it’s warm during the day, it may get very cold at night. Depending on the temps, you may also want a beanie and a pair of gloves. Kat loves her down booties which she wears to keep her feet warm while she’s lounging around camp.

Firestarter / Lighter

If fires are allowed where you are camping, then by all means build one, but stay in an existing fire ring. Just make sure to bring your own wood, or if allowed, use only down and dead trees. In other words, don’t take an axe to a living tree to build your fire.

If fires are allowed, then by all means build one

If you are new to building fires, make a pile of small sticks and then build a teepee with your bigger logs around the smaller sticks. You can also bring some fire starter or throw some paper in the middle to help get things going, and make sure you have airflow at the base to help it catch.


Once you’ve packed the essentials, here’s a few ideas for extras you can bring to spice up things at camp!

Games – Whether it’s a deck of cards, a frisbee, or glow in the dark bocce ball, having something to play during your downtime makes camping more fun.

Hammock – There’s nothing like an afternoon hammock nap after a long day on the trail. To make hanging up your hammock easy, we suggest ENO’s hammock straps.

Camera – Part of the fun is capturing your adventure, and the the best camera you can bring is the one you already have. Whether that’s an iPhone, a GoPro, a compact camera, or a full blown DSLR, camping scenes make for some great photo ops. If you really want to expand your skills, bring a tripod and try to capture the night sky or your friends sitting around the fire.

vanlife and campingWe hope this car camping gear packing list helps you get ready for your weekend getaway. To help you prepare, we are giving away one set of gear that includes some of our favorite items.

Enter the Car Camping Giveaway

Update: Giveaway entry is now closed. Thanks for entering!