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A Customizable Car Camping Checklist

Currently, I spend most of my time car camping. I love the intersection between convenience and nature, where you can bring more amenities than if you were downright backpacking, but you also don't have the same level of comfort as an RV or camper.

Your car camping setup can be customized in any way you'd like, from setting up an outdoor house with a bed, kitchen, and lounging area, to simply sleeping in your car and cooking over the campfire. Renting a car and camping instead of staying in a hotel is also a great way to save money when traveling abroad.

Whether staying at a state park or going to a music festival, it's important to tell someone about your plans and have a baseline understanding of what to bring. Want to ensure you have the essentials? Here's my car camping checklist to go over when planning your next adventure!

Shelter and Bedding

These are the basic shelter items for a camping trip. Many people who go car camping still use a tent, and mainly use their car for storage. I like to reduce the amount of gear that I bring so that I can cozy up in my car with the windows cracked. This is helpful for events like Freezer Burn where you are camping in the cold and any extra barrier against the outdoors will be appreciated. Consider the weather and landscape where you will be camping - you may want to bring a canopy for shade, bug netting, or heavy duty stakes for windy areas.

  • Tent and footprint with stakes

  • Extra stakes

  • Tarp, ground cloth or camp rug

  • Sleeping bag(s)

  • Sheets/blankets

  • Sleeping pad, cot, or air mattress and pump

  • Hammock and straps

  • Shade structure

  • Camping pillow or normal pillow


Your gear will change depending on your location and planned activities, but for the most part, you need safety equipment, sanitation, lighting, a way to charge your electronics, and a way to stay warm or cool. Once you have these basics, add the gear for your planned activities, such as hiking, painting, or fishing.

  • Hiking backpack or day pack

  • Fanny pack

  • Extra batteries/bulbs

  • Compass/GPS/ physical map

  • Lighter and/or headlamp

  • Portable charger - I invested in a Jackery and I absolutely love it

  • Any necessary fuel or batteries

  • Bear spray if needed

  • Dry bags, stuff sacs, or plastic bins for storage

  • Urinary products (pee funnel or kula cloth)

  • Sanitation trowel (if no toilets)

  • First aid kit


If you’re camping with a group it can be fun to plan an elaborate potluck, and when camping by yourself no one will judge you for living off of protein bars and jerky for a few days (I've been there). No matter what you will be eating, make sure to plan ahead and bring every tool and ingredient you need, including ice, fuel, oil, spices and containers. If you are camping in an area with bears or other wild animals, look up the regulations on how to properly store your food.

  • Cooking utensils: skewers, spoons, tongs, spatula, etc

  • Plates, bowls, cups, and eating utensils

  • Cooking utentsils - spatula, knife, tongs, etc

  • Knife and cutting board

  • Can opener if needed

  • Kitchen towels

  • Potholders/oven mitts

  • Reusable water bottle

  • Water filter

  • Water storage

  • Bucket or camping sink

  • Pot and pan

  • Coffee or tea appliances

  • Containers for food storage

  • Cooler with ice

  • Aluminum Foil- can be used for cooking as well as storing food

  • Biodegradable soap such as Dr. Bronner's

  • Reusable sponge or dish towel

  • Fold up table if campsite has no table

  • Trash bags

  • Camp stove and fuel

  • Matches/lighter

  • Firewood - may need to be bought onsite

  • Firestarters/charcoal

  • Bear box or bag if necessary


Try to pack seasonally and activity-appropriate clothing by researching the weather and terrain before you go. Some areas can be very hot during the day only to have the temperature plunge at night, and during tick season it is a good idea to wear long pants and sleeves when hiking on trails. A raincoat is always a good idea, even if it is not supposed to rain during your time camping. Don't forget your swimsuit if there is water near your campsite or your costumes for the upcoming music festival!

  • Shoes/boots

  • Sandals, crocs or other camp shoes

  • Shady hat

  • Bandana, bonnet, or do-rag

  • Sleep clothes

  • Moisture-wicking underwear

  • Moisture-wicking T-shirts

  • Quick-drying pants/shorts

  • Sweater or jacket

  • Boots or shoes suited to the terrain

  • Socks with extras

  • Underwear

  • Sleepwear

  • Raincoat/ rain gear

  • Long underwear for layering

  • Warm insulated jacket or vest

  • Gloves or mittens

  • Warm hat

  • Swimsuit and towel


It is important to take care of your body in order to enjoy your outdoor experience. When I camp at a primitive campsite, I simply pack extra water to use for toiletries and dishwashing and a bucket with a seal to store the greywater in (which you can buy from most hardware stores). While some people prefer baby wipes, it is much more refreshing and better for the environment to use a makeshift sink and shower.

  • Hair care products- shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, etc

  • Skin care products- lotion, reef-safe sunscreen, etc

  • Menstrual products

  • Prescription medication

  • Toilet Paper

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste - toothpaste tablets can be a better alternative, especially when trying to watch out for waste, as they are easy to count out and store for the length of your trip.

  • Sunscreen

  • Bug repellent

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Deodorant

  • Lip balm

  • Insect repellent

  • Sunglasses

  • Earplugs

Camping With a Dog

Dogs can enhance any experience, but it's important to make sure your pup is also having fun. Make sure to keep an eye out for the weather conditions, your dog's breed and their experience being outside for long periods. Some dogs simply don't like camping and would have more fun staying with a friend or family member. Much of this gear can also be used when backpacking with your dog, so investing in quality gear is a good idea

  • Dog food and extra water

  • Collapsible food and water bowls

  • Poop bags

  • Leash

  • Cable tie out or other system- most campsites don't allow loose leash dogs

  • Flea and tick protection

  • Microchip and/or electronic tracking collar

  • Outdoor safe toys

  • A current photo, vet records and medical information: important if your dog gets lost or in a confrontation with another dog

  • Booties for cold weather or thorny terrain

  • Grooming equipment

  • An outdoor harness

  • A swim-safe leash and lifejacket

  • A doggy daypack

  • Dog bed and/or sleeping bag (get affiliate link)

  • A dog rain jacket

  • Battery-powered fan or cooling mat

  • Kennel: for dogs who get easily overstimulated or struggle to sleep outside of the house, it can be worth it to give them their own space by bringing their kennel (if already kennel trained)

Tool Kit

From fixing a torn tent to cutting firewood, having the right tools on hand is important to getting tasks done.

  • Duct Tape

  • Extra lighter or matches

  • Scissors or knife

  • Small sewing kit

  • Multi-tool

  • Axe and gloves (if you plan to cut your own wood)

  • Mallet for tent stakes

  • Radio

  • Paracord

  • Bungee cords

  • Broom and dustpan or hand vac

  • Extra water purification

  • First aid kit

  • Small shovel

Car Camping Extras

Once you have the basics, you can get creative about making your camping trip fun! If you are going to a music festival or Burning Man, you will likely want to consider adding a few extra things to your list. Similarly, if you are going to be camping for a long period or in a remote area, it is important to ensure you have everything you need. But if you are going to a normal campground with a bathroom nearby and stores within driving distance, you can focus more on bringing things that will make your campsite comfy and fun.

  • Camp chairs

  • Lights to decorate the campsite

  • Camera

  • Musical instruments

  • Book or tablet

  • Journal and pen/pencil

  • Camp games- board or card games, ball, frisbee, etc

  • Folding table if your site doesn't have one

  • Speaker



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Hi, I'm Koi!

I'm an environmental project manager who decided to make a change from office life to to outdoor projects and small business ownership.

My goal is to help promote forward movement in outdoor spaces and live events towards full accessibility and diversity by giving everyone the inspiration and tools to create their own adventure.

I love self expression, hiking, music festivals, and Burning Man, and want to show that celebrating diversity in the outdoors makes it better for everyone.

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