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When it comes to camping, there is an endless list of gear for sale. It can become overwhelming when trying to decide what qualifies as car camping essential gear.
Well, we have attempted to find out by asking fellow world travelers what they would define as “must-have camping gear”.
We asked over 20 of the most well-traveled campers what car camping gear they can’t live without.
I think you’ll agree with every single one of them.
Each of these are items that you’ll want to include in your packing list. Or they make great gift ideas for the camping enthusiast in your life.
Table of Contents
Car Camping Essential Gear For Cooking
Let’s start with the cooking gear. One of the best things about being outdoors is you have an excuse for some hearty meals. And these suggestions will have your bellies full by nightfall, or ready for your coffee first thing in the morning.
Submitted by JJ Haglund from The Minivan Bucket List
You haven’t lived until you’ve tried peach cobbler cooked in a Dutch oven over a nice campfire. There’s not much to the recipe – just dump in two cans of sliced peaches with the syrup, sprinkle one package of Betty Crocker oatmeal cookie mix evenly over the peaches, and take a 1/2 stick of butter and slice it evenly over the cookie mix. Put the lid back on with some charcoal briquettes and let it bake for about 45 minutes or until it looks done. Your campouts will never be the same!
Besides being an awesome and easy way to make dessert while camping, Dutch ovens are a must-have for any camper because of how versatile they are. You can cook anything from breakfast casseroles (think eggs, hash browns, and meats), to mac and cheese for the kiddos, to stew or chili for dinner. You name it. Friendly tip: when you clean it, just use water and do not use any dishwashing soap.
Tips for selecting the right Dutch oven: Make sure to buy a cast-iron Dutch oven. The four-quart size is plenty large for a group of four people but if you have a larger group, get a 6-8 quart size instead. You’ll also want to make sure you get some necessary accessories, such as a tool to remove it from the fire and something to set it on when you do, as well as a bag of charcoal briquettes and a charcoal briquette chimney starter, and some heat resistant grilling gloves.
Submitted by Olivia from Girl With Blue Sails
A portable camp stove is a must-have piece of camping gear for anyone who wants to take their cooking skills out into nature. This item is perfect for cooking up morning eggs and sausage, warming baked beans, or heating water for coffee or tea.
There are various models out there, but one user favorite is the Coleman Gas Camping Stove. It has two burners and is fueled by propane. Two small to medium-sized pots and pans can sit right on the burners, and the level of heat can be adjusted with the control dials on the side. The top of the stove folds up when in use, and doubles as a wind blocker for your stove, ensuring your flames stay lit.
The portable camp stove folds down flat, making it perfect for quick setup, takedown, and storage. The Coleman camp stove brand sells a cast iron griddle too that can be placed across both burners for some next-level cooking for things like stir fry dishes and hash browns.
User tips include buying an extra propane fuel tank as a backup and bringing matches to light the burners. Always be sure to give the stove time to cool down before packing up, and be sure not to leave your pots and pans unattended in the campground. Happy cooking!
One of the greatest glories of camping is the morning coffee. This point may be obvious to you since we named the website Maps Over Coffee.
We always bring our GSI French press. No matter whether we’re car camping, glamping, or overlanding, its a quick way to start the day.
Of course, there are a number of ways to heat up the water over the campfire. A percolator, simple pot, mocha press, etc.
But one of our most reliable is to have a dedicated camping kettle.
You will find it useful for everything from coffee to tea, hot chocolate, or rehydrating quick meals.
It will quickly become one of your favorite pieces of camping equipment.
Submitted by Jen Ambrose and Ryan Victor from Montana Discovered
For most camping trips, a cooler is an absolute must-have item. But there are hundreds of coolers on the market of all sizes and styles – and at all price points. So how can campers choose which one to get? There are plenty of quality brands, but YETI is one that stands above the rest. Be warned, these coolers do not come cheap. But in the end, they just might be worth the price tag.
Too many inexpensive coolers will barely stay cold for the drive to the campground, leaving campers with melted ice and rapidly warming food by the time they’ve even pitched their tent. But stored in a YETI, food will stay refrigerated for days, allowing campers to bring prepared food or grocery items to last the entire trip. In the long run, buying a YETI can actually be a money-saver, since campers can pack more food instead of needing to eat out at nearby restaurants or stock up at notoriously expensive rural grocery stores while camping. Plus, it’s easier to eat healthy when bringing food from home. As a bonus, when used with locks, the standard YETI hard coolers also constitute bear-proof containers – another vital consideration for most camping trips.
Alternatively, we have listed the best coolers for under$100Check out the full list of coolers here:
Water Purification Tools
Submitted by Samantha from Continuous Roamer
Staying hydrated while camping is an important survival skill. Even if you are car camping or glamping, you may not have access to potable, running water. If you drink water straight from an unsafe water source, such as the lake, you could catch giardia (also known as beaver fever). Therefore, you should bring tools to make sure you can drink water no matter what your situation.
There are two options for water purification tools. The first option is to bring purification tablets. You can fill up your water bottle with any water source and dissolve a tablet in it to make it drinkable. The downside of these tablets is that they can leave an off taste in the water. However, they are inexpensive and light to carry around with you, so they are an easy solution to accessing drinking water.
The other option is a gravity bag. It is a bag that you fill with lake water and hangs from a tree or post. It then filters out any bacteria from the lake water and you can pour it into a water bottle or cup. This gravity bag is more expensive than the tablets, but the water will taste better, and your water source will last longer.
An alternative to water purification gear are water purification tablets. This is more for emergency use, but it gets the job done.
Collapsible Water Bottle
Submitted by Srikanth Rajkumar from Dads That Fail
A must have camping gear item for everyone is a collapsible water bottle. Most people aim at staying hydrated but end up leaving their water bottle at their camp site especially if they’re going on a short day hike.
A collapsible water bottle like the Hydaway bottle is compact enough to fit in a pocket thereby lightening carrying load during the hike while ensuring one stays hydrated.
A collapsible water bottle with a built-in filter is an added bonus to have as well.
Must-Have Car Camping Gear for Comfort
The next category on our list of essential gear for car camping is camping comforts. Because, sure you can rough it out there. But it’s these little things that make life outdoors just a little bit better.
Submitted by Alan & Ros Cuthbertson from Frequent Traveller
A camping trip is one of the best ways to experience the great outdoors. Loading the car with camping gear and heading off to that special place is for many the best way to have a memorable getaway.
An essential component of any successful camping trip is ensuring you have a top-quality tent that is designed to not only protect you and your family from the elements but also provide enough space and comfort for everyone. Lightweight polyester tents with aluminium poles are the preferred choice for many as they fold up and can easily fit into a vehicle.
With so many on the market to choose from it can be daunting knowing which tent will suit your camping style.
Apart from choosing a lightweight design that doesn’t take up too much precious space in your vehicle one factor that is often overlooked is how easy the tent is to set up.
Following the excitement of planning the trip, possibly driving for hours to the campsite, the last thing you will want to do on arrival is waste time and effort constructing the tent and setting up your campsite.
Thankfully, there are many modern tent designs that are not only lightweight but fast and easy to set up. A popular choice is the pop-up style that can be set up in a matter of minutes. Often by just 1 person as the tent structure is already in place and just needs to be pushed up from inside locking automatically into place. Then it’s only a matter of pegging down the outside. All the major tent manufactures now have these types of tents so you can have your campsite up and running in no time, allowing you to get out and do what you came for, having fun.
Camp Chair With Side Table
Submitted by Nadia from Perth Weekend
After a long day of exploring, there’s nothing better than returning to your campsite and relaxing around the campfire with a well-deserved drink and snack. A quality camp chair with an attached side table is a must-have for campers who are serious about relaxing in comfort!
These camp chairs are generally constructed with a durable but light-weight aluminium frame making them a sturdy seating option. They feature solid armrests for extra support and bars attached to their feet, so they won’t sink on soft ground. The chairs are completed with a fabric back and seat, which is often padded for added comfort.
The best part about these chairs is the side table. Unlike many other camp chair varieties which only include a drink holder, these chairs have a fold-up table attached to their side. The table generally features an in-built drink holder and is the perfect place to rest your phone, wallet, and snacks. As some varieties also include a cooler pouch on the other side for even more storage.
It’s also worth mentioning that these chairs fold down flat in a way that makes them super easy to pack up into the car or slot away into tight spaces when stored at home.
Melody from The Winding Road Tripper
The Rumpl Blanket is the perfect camping gear for those chilly mornings and nights at the campsite.
This blanket is lightweight, packs away quickly, and provides an excellent barrier from the elements. These features make it a blanket every camper will be happy to have with them on their adventures.
The blanket is surprisingly cozy and warm for how light-weight and compact the blanket is. Made with recycled materials, but that doesn’t take away from its durability. It’s even stain-resistant for those “trip on a tree root with a glass of wine in your hand” moments. And as a bonus, it comes with a cape loop and clip, making it easy to walk around the campsite wearing it.
The Rumpl Blanket comes in several sizes, and there are many beautiful patterns to choose from. One of the Rumpl Blanket’s best features is its ability to stuff into a compact carrying case easily. It’s also a great road trip accessory to stay comfortable in the car on those long days of driving.
While the price of the Rumpl Blanket can feel steep for a camping blanket, the features and quality make it a must-have for any camper.
SUV Air Mattress
Submitted by Morgan from Crave The Planet
If you’ve got an SUV and you’re on a 1 or 2 person outdoor journey, why waste money on a hotel or overpriced camp spot when you have a perfectly good place to sleep in the back of your SUV with an SUV Air Mattress.
It doesn’t require full-on hippie millennial YouTuber #Vanlife conversion to sleep in your SUV. It’s easy and simple to fold down the middle and third row to make it a great place to sleep the night before a big backpacking, kayaking, or bike trip. You can park right at the trailhead and get an early start.
The best part about sleeping on an SUV mattress inside your car is that you’re able to go stealth — camper vans and other conversions are pretty obvious for law enforcement to get into your business — or residents get annoyed with your squatting.
Protip: Fold down your seats and take accurate measurements of the space you have. Do not forget to measure between wheel wells for the SUV mattress.
It’s not so obvious and you’ll have more options. Of course, you should always be legal, but many popular outdoor locations do not allow parking for RVs or campers. However, many of those areas do allow overnight car parking.
These multi-functional mattresses pump up quickly and offer enough thickness for side sleepers. Made by trusted brands so you know you’re getting quality and it has a great price point so buying it doesn’t break the bank.
Submitted by Lisa Manderino from Planning Away
One of the “must-have camping gear” items for anyone over 30 is a cot. A cot is a lightweight, raised portable bed that is used for camping. The older you get the harder it is to sleep on the ground! A cot offers more comfort while sleeping in the great outdoors.
Why Bring a Cot?
A great camping cot is essential to getting a good night’s rest. They offer a much more comfortable option while camping. It also keeps you off the ground, allowing more protection against unwanted critters. Being above the ground will also help you stay warm during the night.
Different Types of Cots
A good cot will have a metal frame and be durable. There are different types of cots. Some will have a nice mattress while others just have a strong fabric to sleep on. Cot’s are very transferable. There are some that fold up and fit in your car and others that can actually fit into a backpack. Most cots are a little bigger and probably are not great for backpacking trips. Depending on the type of camping trip you want to go on, you can determine what is best for you. When planning a camping trip, the cot should be one of the most important items on any list.
Cool Camping Gear for Daytime Fun
Camping doesn’t just have to be about cooking meals and sitting around the fire!
There is so much to do to truly enjoy the outdoors. From hiking, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Whatever you choose, make sure you have some of this gear with you.
Submitted by Ania from The Travelling Twins
Camping is a popular pastime that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It gives you the chance to get back to nature and experience outdoor life with all its benefits. Camping has many different aspects, including hiking, fishing, bird watching and more.
For me going camping means leaving the city and being closer to nature. Plus I love spotting nature like birds or other wild animals. And this is only possible with good binoculars. which I always pack for
I always pack for camping or hiking binoculars as they are small and light and the reward of seeing a bird or another wild animal up close is always a thrill.
The best type of binocular for camping and hiking would be a compact roof prism model with an objective lens size of 7-10 millimeters, as they are going to provide you with the most bang for your buck. They will also be extremely light and easy to carry around, as well as being affordable and easy to store in your backpack.
So for your next camping trip don’t forget to pack your binoculars because now you know that they can provide hours of entertainment and are just one of the many camping essentials.
Nighttime Car Camping Essentials
Of course, the best thing about camping is being under all of those stars. Getting away from the lights of the city can be so refreshing.
The downside is, it can get really dark out there. So make sure you bring along these essentials for your nights around camp.
Solar-Powered Camping Lantern
Submitted by Stephanie from Travel Taale
One of the main reasons for camping is to go back to basics, right? And after a day of exploring you sit down in a relaxing chair to have dinner, talk about the things you did that day, and plan for the day ahead. But it’s already getting dark and some light would be nice, but there is no electricity at the campsite.
This is where a solar-powered camping lantern comes in. They are great to have on your table during dinner but due to the hanging hook on the top, you can also hang them up in your tent or on a branch. They are kind to the environment, there is no need to bring extra batteries and they are lightweight. Most solar-powered lights can be folded to take up even less space (and who does not like to save space when camping?)
During the day you just leave them in the sun or pop them on the dash of your car to charge while you’re driving around. No sun? No worries, you can also charge them with a USB. After a full charge, the light lasts for about 10 hours in the low mode. When in high mode, the light is bright enough to read with and lasts for 5 to 6 hours.
Submitted by Chelsey Evans from Chelsey Explores
When planning a camping trip with friends, it’s important to pack the right camping gear. Anything can happen, like rain, getting lost, getting injured, or even a power shortage. To be prepared, make sure to pack some form of light to perform tasks in the dark. Headlamps are a convenient and effective way to do this.
Headlamps shine a light wherever you’re looking with no risk of tiring your arms or having the light falling and breaking.
They help to increase flexibility by leaving your hands free to focus on activities like climbing, crawling, and hauling gear while camping.
Headlamps are easy to use and come in many varieties and lumen values (intensity of the lamplight). The weight of a headlamp can be dependent on the battery size, USB chargeable ones are also available. And, some are waterproof.
A headlamp is a must-have item that will come in handy when camping!
Submitted by Corritta from Itz A Family Thing
Having a flashlight is the ultimate camping essential, especially for travelers with kids. It’s one of the top three things to take when camping, along with a first-aid kit, and water.
Having a flashlight is a must-have when camping. They are more portable, efficient, and longer-lasting, compared to using the flashlight on your cell phone.
Many flashlights can withstand the rugged outdoors, so it’s a tool that should be included in every camper’s bag. Several heavy-duty flashlights are waterproof, shatter-proof, and provide up to nine hours of light.
Flashlights provide more than just light, they can be a tool to signal for help or to help guide someone. There are so many uses for flashlights when camping.
Different types of flashlights can be used when camping. Many campers prefer headlamps because they provide a hands-free option, which is great for outdoor enthusiasts that love the night sky. Other popular flashlights are lanterns, solar-powered flashlights, high-intensity discharge flashlights, diving flashlights (for water lovers), and tactical flashlights.
Some of the things to consider when choosing a flashlight for your next camping adventure are durability, size, lumens, and power source. Also, there are flashlights for kids who love the outdoors, so your little one can explore nature with you.
Submitted by Melinda from Melinda on the Go
One of the most versatile tools for a camping trip is a Luci light. Compact, eco-friendly, and affordable, Luci lights are indispensable for camping and many other outdoor activities like hiking and sailing.
Luci lights are so lightweight and compact when you add a few to your pack you won’t even notice them. Each one compresses into a slim disc and is feather-light.
Designed with snaps, you can hang one around your campsite from trees, or inside your tent for late-night reading. You can also carry one to the outhouse in the dark or to the lake for a late-night swim.
Solar-powered Luci lights are ideal for camping because they charge all day when you won’t need them and work all night when you do!
Tip: Snap the Luci light to the outside of your pack so it charges when not in use.
For something so lightweight and compact, its power is surprising. With 4 settings, even the low light setting is pretty strong. If you’re having a party at your campsite, you can set the light to flashing for a disco effect! This flashing light is also useful if you ever need to draw someone’s attention to your campsite.
Another great aspect of these lights is their durability. They’re waterproof, so you can bring them kayak or canoe camping, and use them in rough storms or other adverse conditions with no harmful repercussions. Useful, light, and sturdy, a Luci light is a must for your next camping trip.
Necessary Car Camping Gear for Cleaning
One of the main challenges with camping is good housekeeping and general cleaning.
With just a few extra things on your packing list, you can make cleaning a breeze and get back to relaxing as quickly as possible.
Submitted by Sam from Seeing Sam
Avid campers know how important freshwater is while camping. From drinking to washing hands and doing dishes there is little that competes with the luxuries water can bring. Showers are one such luxury that can help even the most skeptical of campers stay camping longer. Showers keep you feeling fresh, eliminate odors, pesky germs, and generally help you feel more relaxed so you can sleep better.
There are a lot of camp shower setups on the market but the easiest way to take a shower while camping is to invest in the compact, lightweight and portable Rinse Kit shower system. Nothing beats the ease of having pressurized on-demand freshwater. Rinse Kits are perfect not only for showers but for washing hands, rinsing pets, cleaning gear, and doing dishes. Rinse kits come in 1.5-3.5 gallon options and include a hose and multi-function spray nozzle great for a multitude of campsite needs. Newer models come with an optional water heater, and the updated design makes it impossible for leakage when sitting upright.
You might not know you need a rinse kit until you try it, but once you do you’ll never want to camp without it. The convenience of having portable, pressurized water, makes camping so much more enjoyable!
Solar-Powered Shower Bag
Submitted by Kerry Hanson from Adrenaline Junkiez
One of the most important camping gear items for when you’re going off-grid is a solar-powered shower bag. It sounds a little strange and it certainly won’t compare to a hot steaming shower, however, it is a fantastic way to keep clean while on a camping trip.
The best way to use it is to ensure that you pre-charge the solar panels before your trip, just in case you don’t get enough sunlight while you’re away. Fill the bag with water (this can be from a bottle, tap, or even from a river if that’s all that is available) and simply wait a few hours for the bag to do its magic. You can see the progress on the temperature gauge and some bags will even reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. Use the handy strap to hoist it onto a tree branch or something similar and away you go. The showerhead operates just like it does at home.
This shower bag will be useful for camping trips or even just when you’re out cycling or walking a dog through muddy terrain. It is also a useful festival accessory to avoid those annoying shower queues.
Submitted by Victoria from guide your travel
Going camping often means having limited space in your luggage and sometimes just staying for a few days or even a night will be normal. One thing that every camping enthusiast needs and should never travel without are microfiber towels. They are available for little money online or in any outdoor store and come in different sizes and colors so there is always a lot to choose from.
In addition, the microfiber towels are ultra-light and can be folded so small that they fit in any free corner of your luggage. The microfiber towels also dry super fast, and you do not have to bother with wet towels while you’re at campsites or in places without laundry facilities.
They are very easy to hang up by their ribbon with a push button to promote the drying process further. The space-saving in the luggage is so good that 4-5 microfiber towels can easily replace one regular towel when it comes to size. A microfiber towel is also not only suitable for drying.
You can also use it as a picnic blanket in the park or on the beach without losing much space. Don’t worry about filling your luggage with heavy towels and invest in some high-quality microfibre towels.
Laundry Detergent Strips
Clotilde from A Princess Travelling With Twins
When choosing the camping gear to bring on your adventures, it is easy to get carried away and pack much more than what is really needed. Packing for camping should follow the same rules as packing for traveling with a baby. You must be smart and not only choose the essentials you need but also what kind of form and shape you pick.
The ideal is to focus on camping gear that optimizes size and weight: small, light, and possibly multifunctional. Clothes soap is an excellent example. You can simply decide to bring along a bottle with liquid soap, but one of the best inventions in this category is the Laundry detergent strips. What are they? At first sight, they seem simple paper sheets, however, they contain an ultra-concentrated, hypoallergenic soap for clothes. Tru-earth has been one of the leading brands on the market for years and also promises an eco-friendly product.
Another great advantage they offer is that despite being a product developed to go in the washing machine, it can also be safely used in hand and cold washes. The strips can be divided to match the quantity of clothes to be washed. After having tested them with the intention of using them only during road trips, they could easily replace the more traditional detergent in your home cupboard.
Car Camping Emergency Essential Gear
The last on our list may be the most important, but hopefully you don’t need them at all. That’s right, emergencies happen. And while you usually have a stockpile of antiseptics and bandages at home, bringing some of these basics will get you out of a jam so you have a good story to tell, without any long-lasting damage.
First Aid Kit
Submitted by Delilah from Our Travel Mix
A first aid kit is one of those pieces of camping gear that you hope you don’t need, but when the need does eventually arise, you’ll be extremely grateful that you remembered to pack it.
As accidents can happen any time, whether you’re camping in the outback of Australia or a glamping site in Queenstown, a first aid kit is an essential piece of camping gear.
They come in compact sizes that can easily be stored at the bottom of your pack, out of the way but available for peace of mind.
It’s always better to pack a first aid kit that you won’t mind bringing around with you than something too large and unwieldy, so usually, this means bringing the essentials.
The best first aid kits will include alcohol wipes, gauze, disinfectant, tape, and bandages for dealing with minor scapes, grazes, and open wounds. Needles, scissors, and gloves are also a good idea for helping others.
Including some over-the-counter medication can also come in handy, such as pain killers, anti-nausea pills, and Imodium. And camping-specific first aid kits will often include a few extra items such as an emergency bivy blanket and a whistle.
Packing all these items in a compact first aid kit offers you both peace of mind and preparedness if something goes wrong.
Submitted by Dina from Hey Explorer
An emergency blanket is an essential product in the kit of medical professionals and rescue responders. It is also useful for campers and hikers. Also known as space or survival blankets, this product comprises a metalized plastic sheet that traps up to 90% of the heat your body radiates. As such, it helps to keep you warm by using your own body heat.
Don’t be fooled by its name, though. An emergency blanket isn’t just for emergency situations. While undoubtedly useful during extreme weather situations to prevent hypothermia, an emergency blanket can also be used when you’re feeling cold. Campers can wrap it around themselves during the chilly evenings, or use it as an additional layer of blanket above their sleeping bags when the cold sets in at night. To ensure it’s effective, tuck in the emergency blanket on your sides and under your feet.
An emergency blanket can also be used for other purposes. For example, it can function as an emergency shelter that keeps out the rain or snow thanks to its impermeable nature. It can be a signal for help, as its reflective nature makes it easily visible from the sky. It can also keep you cool in hot weather; simply cover your tent with the blanket, shiny side up.
With so many uses, it’s best to pick up a reusable emergency blanket rather than a disposable one. The best part is that these emergency blankets are small, lightweight, and often affordable too. What’s not to love about them?
Car Camping Essential Gear Wrap Up
These are some great suggestions to keep in our packing list for any car camping trip.
We want to thank all of our contributors for their ideas to improve your camping packing list. For more details, be sure to check out their websites. Simply follow the links under their suggestions.And you can always shop Amazon for the Best Camping Deals
More Great Camping Guides
Before you go, make sure you check out our other guide for camping, hiking, and outdoor adventure.
For starters, you won’t want to miss our rundown on all of the ways to make coffee whenever you’re camping.
Of course, the simplest way to pack for a camping trip is to have a checklist. You can download your own checklist below, and keep up with our adventures in the backcountry and forays into the best gear.