Car Camping Checklist (Printable & Editable PDF)

The biggest benefit of car camping is that you have enough space to bring a few creature comforts with you! You can bring a few special items, like a double hammock or a guitar (both hard to manage on a hiking trip!) that will make the time away a bit more special. 

We’ve compiled a list of all the basic things you will need to go car camping and we’ve left the fun stuff for you to choose. You want the list to be fun as well as functional!

Because you are taking the car, you can organize things into big plastic tubs making it so much easier when you get to camp to find everything. All the tent stuff can be together, all the kitchen stuff in another bin, and all the toiletries in a waterproof bag. Car camping makes organizing everything, easy!

Car camping is perfect for beginners as most car campsites have fire pits, picnic tables, toilets, and drinking water pretty close to where you park your car.

You can also use the car for securing items when you aren’t there and the electrics when you need to charge something or shelter from some unexpected rain. Car camping has lots of advantages for the newbie camper – so let’s dive into our car camping checklist!

Sleeping

  • Tent, poles, stakes/pegs, mallet, rainfly, or tarp
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  • Sleeping pad/air mattress
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  • Sleeping bag, sheets, blankets
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  • Pillow
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Related: Want to go camping but can’t be bothered faffing around with guy lines and looping tent poles through fabric? Pop up tents are the answer. Check out our list of the best pop up tents.

Kitchen

  • Portable camping stove or campfire materials
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  • Lighter or matches
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  • Cooking pot or pan
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  • Something to open food packets – eg can opener or scissors
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  • Multi-tool
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  • Dehydrated or canned food that can be reheated or boiled in a single pot
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  • Food that can be eaten cold or needs no prep, fruit, muesli bars, nuts, dried fruit
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  • Rubbish bags for keeping your campsite clean
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  • Ziploc bags for leftover food
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  • Cutting board/knife
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  • Baby wipes or a cloth/ detergent to clean up cooking and eating gear
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  • Water Bottle or a water purification system
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Eating

  • Wide shallow bowl – works as a plate and a bowl
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  • Knife, fork, and spoon or a spork – works as a spoon and fork
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  • Mug for all drinking needs (water, coffee, wine!)
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  • Fold up chairs in case there’s no picnic table at your campsite OR a picnic blanket
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Wet weather protection

  • Tarp, poles, ropes, stakes, OR car-mounted awning OR just stay in the car…
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  • Rain jacket or a hooded waterproof poncho
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Clothing & Footwear

  • Bag for clean clothes
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  • Quick-drying suitable outdoor clothing for the season
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  • Suitable nightwear
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  • Sun protection (Hats, sunglasses, sun shirts)
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  • Trekking boots, water shoes, slip-on shoes
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  • Socks
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  • Swimming gear (swimsuit, towel)
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  • Plastic bag for dirty/wet clothes
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Toiletries

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
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  • Deodorant
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  • Soap, shampoo
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  • Quick-dry towel
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  • Hairbrush
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  • Toilet paper
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  • Medications
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  • First aid kit
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  • Insect repellent
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  • Sunscreen
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  • Chapstick or lip balm
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  • Toilet shovel – just in case
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Lighting

  • Headlamps
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  • Spare batteries or a portable solar panel for recharging
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Entertainment

  • Notebook and pencils (pencils write on wet-ish paper)
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  • Music player, Bluetooth speakers, phone, tablet, etc
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  • Musical instrument
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  • Deck of cards
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  • Small backpack for day hiking
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Car Camping Items

  • Leveling blocks to even out the bed if sleeping in the car
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  • Roadside assistance plan
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  • Vehicle service manual
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  • Car-mounted awning instead of a tarp
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Useful things

  • Phone charger for the car
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  • Multi-tool/Pocket knife/Scissors
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  • Duct Tape
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  • Hammer/saw/axe
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  • Credit card/cash/Identification
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  • Repair kits for tent, tarps, water toys, blow-up mattresses
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  • Bear spray for errant bears. Also works well on unwanted human intruders
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  • Whistle
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Campers setting up camp beside an SUV as the sunsets on an open plain.
Dinner✔️ Drinks✔️ Fire✔️ Marshmallows✔️ Music✔️ Perfect -That’s why you use a checklist!

Tips and hints for first-time car campers

Packing

  • As you have the car, you can take a few heavier comforts for when you need them. 
  • Try not to bring too many clothes with you. It’s the number one thing that beginners do. You’ll probably live in the same few outfits the whole time anyway! 
  • If you are a family, use the one bag per person packing rule. You have to have all your clothes, entertainment and personal things in one bag each!
  • Sorting your camping gear into big plastic tubs in your car’s trunk keeps things dry if it rains.
  • Car camping does mean you can bring a big and comfortable tent which will be better if you anticipate rain at all. It will give you the space to wait out the rain. 

Keeping Clean

  • A lot of really amazing camping spots don’t have showers. Be prepared to have a sponge bath or take a dip in a creek instead. 
  • Put all your toiletries into a bag that you can take to the showers without having to hunt for stuff in different places. Don’t worry about getting a bit dirty and wearing clothes for longer than a day. You can take a long hot shower when you get home!

Cooking

  • Plan your meals and snacks and prep as much as you can before you leave. 
  • Headlamps are more versatile than flashlights or handheld devices when cooking. 

Planning

  • Go for quality rather than quantity when buying gear. 
  • Car camping is perfect for people who want to move around and “explore” each day rather than set up “camp”.
  • If you plan to camp in popular areas, book well in advance to secure your site. 
  • Use this list when you pack and when you arrive back, cross off all the things you didn’t use and add the things you wished you had bought to create a personalized packing list.
  • Car camping is great for families and kids as it forces everyone to be creative and interact with the environment when you haven’t bought toys or entertainment with you. 

And a few other things to consider before you leave

Always check the weather forecast before you leave and make sure you have the gear you will need for what weather is predicted. While you are online looking at the weather forecast, find out what animals you are likely to encounter and what toxic plants might be in the area you are going to camp in. Do a fire status check as well so you know what you are allowed to do in your campground. 

It’s a good idea to make sure you have the booking number, address, phone, direction, and a printed confirmation for your campsite with you just in case your phone reception is patchy when you get there. And if phone coverage is bad, a paper-based map will help you actually get there!

Always leave home with a full tank of gas in the car and remember to tell someone exactly where you are going and when you’ll be back. Email them all your campsite confirmation details so they know where to start looking for you if things go pearshaped! 

Stay safe! Happy Camping 😊

Next up: Would you rather go camping instead of car camping but you’re not sure what to take? Worry not – we’ve got you. Check out our camping packing list.

Back one: Want to keep your camping trip as easy as possible? Prefer speaking to friends rather than staking out guylines? A pop up tent might be for you – as long as you can handle the drawbacks. Find out in our guide – are pop up tents good?

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Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

Kara grew up in New Zealand where camping in the backyard as a child turned into multi-night trips in the National Parks as a teenager and then a full blown backpacking adventure for a year in Asia, by herself in her early 20's. Camping, bush walking, car camping and road trips still feature heavily in her current life style. She lives right next door to a World Heritage National Park on Springbrook Mountain and highly recommends having them as next door neighbours!