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What To Pack For Car Camping

Essential Gear For Hitting The Road

Are you new to camping? Do you have a friend or partner who you’ve always wanted to introduce to sleeping outside, but noticed they’re a bit hesitant? Car camping is a great gateway activity for getting outside. You don’t have to worry about over-packing or about getting lost. You can drive right up to your campsite and stay for however long (or short) you like, without fear of running out of food or fuel. This article will cover the pros and cons of car camping, plus offer a packing list for you to prepare for your first night of glamping.

Car camping is pretty straightforward—you drive your car to a tent site or designated camping area and camp out of your car. Many sites include nearby public bathrooms and showers, potable water, fire pits, and picnic tables

Pros: This method of camping is an accessible way to experience the outdoors because it doesn’t require a high amount of mobility. It’s a great option to try out camping for the first time, or get your friends and family into camping if they haven’t done it before.

Having your car close means it’s easy to make a supply run, or if you have an emergency (or just want to head back to civilization) you always have the option to drive home or to a nearby hotel. Car camping is also a good method for testing out gear because you can store extra items in your car.

Cons: You may need to camp in close proximity to other people, especially if you’re at a popular destination during the summer season. Evenings can be noisy and many campgrounds have curfews (though they’re not always strictly enforced, which means you could be dealing with loud neighbors.)

Essential Gear

This packing list is specifically for warm-weather adventures (temperatures around 50 degrees F and above). If you’re going to do any day activities from your car camping site, make sure to pack those as well. There are often great spots for paddling, climbing, biking, and hiking nearby popular camping areas.

  • Water and reusable bottle 
  • Food 
  • Cash (for campsite and park fees)
  • Sneakers and sandals
  • Insulated jacket
  • Rain coat
  • Sun hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito/tick repellant or a bug net
  • First aid kit including: band aids, gauze, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial ointment, painkillers, tweezers, insect sting treatment, and medical tape
  • Headlamp
  • Lantern
  • Tent, hammock, or tarp
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Camping pillow
  • Camping stove
  • Firewood
  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Camp cookware (pot and pan)
  • Utensils
  • Plates, bowls, and mugs
  • Cooler 
  • Bear bag/canister
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Quick dry towel
  • Camp chairs
  • Phone charging device
  • Toiletries (mini size are great for camping)
  • Shovel, garden trowel, or wag bags if camping in a location without bathrooms

Nonessential Items

The items on this packing list aren’t required but can make your trip more comfortable or fun!

  • Camera
  • Book 
  • Portable speakers for hanging out in camp
  • Local beer, wine, or spirits
  • Hammock

These lists aren’t exhaustive, and there may be some items that you won’t need based on your camping style, location, or nearby amenities—so do plenty of research on your location prior to setting out. Safety and first aid kits are a priority, along with water, layers, and bathroom essentials (like toilet paper and a shovel) if you’re not camping at an established campground with bathrooms. 

Do you know the 7 Leave No Trace Principles? If you’re new to camping, brush up on these easy principles to minimize your impact, preserve our outdoor spaces for generations to come, and stay safe while you’re at it. 

Finally, research the best campsites in your area, whatever that means to you. Read more on how to find places to camp in our article on Car Camping. Then, round up all your gear, pack the car, and head off to your next camping adventure!


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Bethany Clarke has her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. She lives in Portland, Maine with her partner and their two cats. You can find her art and outdoor adventures on Instagram @bethanymclarke.