Minimalist Car Camping Checklist (Printable PDF and Editable)

You want to go camping but you don’t have a garage full of gear. You’re not into having a lot of possessions and are wondering how little gear do you actually need to go camping, safely?

The more nights you go camping for, the more gear you need, Right? Not really…Once you’ve got the basics sorted, the rest is personal preferences and creature comforts.

If you want to be at one with nature or you have another activity that is the main focus of your trip you can get the list of camping gear down to the bare minimum, which suits you, cost wise, space wise, and give you less gear to track, maintain and look after!

Check out our minimalist car camping checklist and see how little you really really need to go camping!

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: Looking for a big, comfy tent? Check out our reviews of the best large camping 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 preop, 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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A car using a picnic table for their campsite by a lake.
Make use of any facilities provided to minimize the amount you need to bring with you.

Tips and hints for first-time minimalist car campers

  • Minimalist car camping is perfect for people who want to move around and “explore” rather than “camp”.
  • As you have the car, you can take a few heavier creature comforts for when you need them.
  • When packing, ask, do I really need that? And, does this have more than one use? to make sure you are only packing what you need.
  • Plan your meals and snacks and prep as much as you can before you leave.
  • Sort your camping gear into big plastic tubs that fit in your boot so you can pack and unpack easily on-site and keep things dry if it rains.
  • Put all your toiletries into a bag that you can take to the showers without having to hunt for stuff in different places.
  • For families and kids, use the one bag per person rule. You have to have all your clothes, entertainment and personal thing in one bag each!
  • Headlamps are more versatile than flashlights or handheld devices.
  • 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.
  • Go for quality rather than quantity when buying gear.
  • If you plan to camp in popular areas, book well in advance to secure your site.
  • Head for campgrounds that have tents or cabins already set up to save more space in the car or if you don’t have a tent.
  • 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 minimalist list
  • Consider renting or hiring gear for your trip rather than owning it. It will save space, maintenance hassle and give you the flexibility to try new things for each trip.
  • Minimalist 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.
  • Unplugging is one of the greatest benefits of minimalist camping. A book and a deck of cards could be all you need.
  • 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!
  • If you are camping in summer, think about ditching the tent and using a tarp!
  • Campfire cooking in sticks or in foil can eliminate a lot of extra cooking equipment.

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: Fancy stepping your camping experience up a notch? Glamping might just be the answer you’ve been waiting for. Check out our glamping camping checklist.

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!