Car Camping Pack List (Epic Road Trip Planning Part 5)

by - Monday, April 20, 2015

The size of your vehicle, number of passengers you have, and type of activities you want to do will determine what you can and can't bring on a car camping trip. Before kids, our epic road trips were done in a 1995 Honda Civic hatchback. Since it was just the two of us, and we were used to packing light, we had plenty of room for everything we needed. Bikes or skis could go on the roof; everything else could be safely stowed inside. When we had kids, we lost the back seat and needed more room for all the baby gear. We sprang for a small SUV, installed a hitch, bike rack, roof rack, and roof box and were finally ready to travel in style. With this setup, we could bring everything we needed for long road trips. 

MEC Hootenanny Bug Shelter and MEC Wanderer Tent
If you don't have a large vehicle or extra storage space, it is imperative that you differentiate between necessities, consumables, and luxuries. What can you do without? What can you buy along the way or at your destination? My downfall is packing half the pantry when it would be easier to buy groceries in a few days. The pack list below is broken into several categories with essentials at the beginning and nice to haves at the end.

Car Camping Pack List

(Disclosure - product links below are Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small percentage of sales but there is no additional cost to you.)

Shelter / Sleeping

1. Tent + Footprint

Get a tent with footprint/groundsheet, reinforced "bathtub" floor, and fly that goes down to the ground. More information on getting the best tent for your budget can be found here: Choosing a Tent.

Pro Tip: Set up your tent before you go so you can set it up properly in any conditions. You will appreciate knowing how to set your tent up fast when it's dark, a storm is rolling in, or you are surrounded by biting insects! Learn how to peg the fly out so you aren't surprised by water in the tent after a night of rain. The most expensive tent will not keep you dry if you fail to put the fly on right.

MEC Wanderer Tent

2. Sleep System 

Most of the time, when I ask people why they don't like camping, they say it's because they don't like sleeping on the ground. There is no reason to be uncomfortable just because you are sleeping in a tent! There are several good options for sleeping pads/mattresses, but unfortunately, the most comfortable aren't cheap. Keep in mind, however, that a high quality sleeping pad, self-inflating mattress, or cot will last for several years. We like down mummy bags and Therm-A-Rest self-inflating mattresses. We are using Therm-a-Rests that are over 10 years old and likely have at least another 10 years to go!

My comfy set up: Thermarest Luxurylite Ultralite cot, Trailpro sleeping pad, MEC Raven (now sold as Aquilina) sleeping bag, and Thermarest pillow. The kids and my husband do the same minus the cot.

Learn more about camping sleep systems (sleeping bag + sleeping pad) and what baby should sleep in here.
Therm-A-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot - just got it and love it!

4. Clothes and Sleepwear
  • Bring 1 pair of socks and underwear for each day of your trip, and clothes that mix and match and dry quickly. Don't forget a midlayer and waterproof/windproof layer. 
  • Sleepwear: Bring a change of clothes, sleeping hat, socks, and liner gloves. Do not sleep in the clothes you wore during the day; for bear safety as well as hygiene. Since it's so chilly in the mountains at night, I usually sleep in Patagonia Capilene 3 or microfleece long underwear.
  • Baby sleepwear: Dress babies and toddlers in PJs and a wearable blanket or fleece bunting suit with foldover mitts and booties. If necessary, put booties and mitts on baby's hands and feet. We loved a blanket sleeper with the MEC Ursus Bunting Suit. Columbia and North Face also make quality fleece bunting suits.
5. Camp Kitchen
  • Something to make coffee in: I like a stainless steel to-go coffee press or FORLIFE Tea Infuser . Neither require a paper filter, they aren't breakable, and since they fit in a travel mug, they do not take up extra space. 
  • Cooler & block of ice (lasts longer than cubes): For extra cooling capacity, get the 12V plug-in type by Koolatron or Coleman. We have the Koolatron 52-Quart Krusader Cooler and find it works well and reduces the amount of ice we need to buy. A convenient option is to freeze (clean) milk jugs full of water so you have drinking water when they melt.
  • Camp Stove: Camp stoves are preferred for car camping for stability and simmering capability. The Coleman Classic Propane Stove has been around forever as it is affordable and reliable. Ours is almost 20 years old and still going! If you don't have room, the Coleman PerfectFlow 1-burner stove is excellent and reasonably priced. We also have this single burner stove and love it. You can simmer on it, it is very stable, and the propane cans can readily be found at hardware/outdoor stores and even some gas stations in the summer.
  • Stove backup: In the event your camp stove fails, it's good to have an extra stove, folding emergency stove, or hotdog sticks and grill to put over the fire. Since campfire bans are common in the summer and we can't rely on cooking over a fire, we bring a backpacking stove (our MSR Whisperlite Liquid-Fuel Stove or Optimus Crux Stove ) in addition to our Coleman and hotdog roasting sticks.
  • Fire making kit: Lighters, waterproof matches, flint and steel; purchase or make your own fire starters and pack them in a Ziploc bag or sealed plastic container; small ax
  • Water filter/purification device: For family or group camping, I like the Katadyn Combi Microfilter and SteriPEN Handheld UV Water Purifier . Bring extra batteries for the Steripen. Other alternatives are to boil or treat your water with chlorine or iodine. Even if drinking water is readily available at camp, it is useful to carry a water filter in hot weather so you can refill your water bottles on a long hike.
  • Clear plastic bins for your nonperishables. Shopping bags rip or allow your cereal and chips to get crushed. Clear bins allow you to find things quickly without unpacking the whole bin. Remember spices, cooking oil, and your favorite beverages (somehow I always remember Baileys but forget my tea). 
  • Dishes, cutlery, and cookware should go in a separate bin from your food for convenience. Don't forget a tablecloth, can opener,spatula, cutting board, colander, sharp knife with cover, potholders, cooking oil, and spices. Learn how to make a cutlery roll here (saves space and can be brought on picnics).
  • Cookware: Backpacking pots that nest inside each other save space! If space/weight are not an issue, a cast iron skillet can be used over a fire. 
  • Dishwashing kit: Bring biodegradable dish soap (Campsuds in Nalgene) and a small dish scrubber in a ziploc bag (dries faster than a washcloth and some are made of antibacterial materials); Collapsible bucket (Seattle Sports Jumbo Camp Sink ) for hauling dishwater; quick drying dishtowels or camp towels 
  • Roll of aluminum foil
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Hotdog roasting sticks: Get telescoping roasting sticks (Coghlan's 9670 Telescoping Fork) to keep kids a safer distance from the fire.
  • Ziploc bags of varying sizes for packing lunches or snacks
  • Small/medium sized garbage bags (bring extra for dirty laundry)
  • Nylon rope and clothespins for a camp laundry line
  • Nylon rope and waterproof stuff sacks (Outdoor Research Durable Stuff Sack) dedicated for food, toiletries, dishes, and garbage, and carabiners if you are doing walk-in/backcountry camping and must make your own bear hang. Put food items at least 100 metres from your tent and never cook near your tent. Best practice is to also hang up clothes you have cooked in.
  • Finally, FOOD! Another post dedicated to food will follow. Pro Tip: Pack several extra dehydrated meals in case of emergency. Also good for when you want to camp an extra day but don't want to drive back into town for groceries. 
Coleman Classic Propane Stove - reliable and affordable


Other Necessities
  • LED headlamps - one per person + extra batteries
  • LED lantern + extra batteries (far nicer than making do with headlamps); battery lanterns can be brought in your tent at night, gas powered ones cannot.
  • tarp and lengths of rope for a rain shelter. Deal: blue tarp, Splurge: Siltarp. 
  • car charger(s) for cell phones and tablets
  • daypacks - for a daypack checklist, click here. Don't forget a first aid kit, bear spray, rain poncho or emergency blanket, and signalling devices (whistle and mirror).
  • water bottles or hydration packs - one each
  • camp towels or bath towels, washcloths 
  • coins/tokens for showers, shower sandals/flip flops
  • toiletries -soap or body wash, shampoo and conditioner, razor
  • sunscreen and bug spray
  • baby wipes
  • rope and clothespins to make a clothesline 
  • potty or bucket for emergencies
  • duct tape
  • hand sanitizer
  • folding camp chairs or stools
  • dust pan and broom
  • tarp/mat for tent/trailer entrance
Black Diamond Orbit Lantern - compact, light, and brighter than our regular-sized lantern.
Did I mention it doubles as a flashlight?!


Nice to Have
  • bug screen house - we like the MEC Hootenanny
  • solar gear for recharging cell phones etc.
  • Fishing gear & fishing licenses
  • firewood hammock
  • air compressor for filling air mattresses, balls, rafts
  • Raft/air mattress, floaties, snorkelling gear, wetsuits for lakeside trips
  • pie iron
  • hammock
Coleman Camp Cooker - so much fun!


Fun Stuff
  • Your camera, with extra batteries and memory cards, and charger
  • Sturdy digital camera so kids can take their own photos. Create a photo scavenger hunt and make a photo book after the trip for priceless memories.
  • Coloring books, sketch books, pencils, crayons, markers
  • Binoculars, magnifying glass
  • Bikes and helmets if you have room; at the very least, bikes for the kids make getting around camp quicker.
  • Smartphone, iPad or tablet loaded with bedtime stories. There's no need to give up a good bedtime routine.
    • Apps to consider: c:geo for Android (geocaching app), Merlin Bird ID, The Night Sky
    • audiobooks for the drive
  • Phone / tablet chargers
  • Board games or cards 
  • For the beach: Life jackets, sand toys, inflatable beach ball, kite
  • Soccer ball, frisbee, bubbles
  • Funky Flames
  • Glow sticks
Finally, don't forget car safety kit & essentials such as battery booster, cell phone charger, and first aid kit. Pump up your spare tire too. See here for more details on getting your vehicle ready for an epic road trip.

Is there anything you would add?


Related Posts


  • Epic Road Trip Planning Part 1: Vehicle Check
  • Epic Road Trip Planning Part 2: Budgeting Tools & Tips
  • Epic Road Trip Planning Part 3: Embrace the Journey
  • Epic Road Trip Planning Part 4: Deciding Where to Stay
  • How to Choose a Tent
  • Camping Sleep System 411 - recommendations for what you and baby should sleep in 
  • Walk-In Campgrounds Near Calgary
  • Where to Camp in Alberta & BC
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    8 comments

    1. Nice write-up, Gal. Will save it and read other posts too.

      Charles - you are a beauty! "Everybody does not know which air compressor is best" - I wonder if this is a Chineglish, or plain dumb, or a robot.

      ReplyDelete
    2. I have a feeling "Charles" was a robot!

      ReplyDelete
    3. Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger.

      ReplyDelete
    4. Great advice! Thanks for adding to thediscussion.Thanks for putting this together! It looks very cool so far. I’ll be checking back to see the full plans.

      ReplyDelete
    5. Safety — As vehicle safety laws become ever more stringent, automakers are forced to change the way vehicles are built and the safety systems with which they are equipped. Some form of tire pressure monitoring is now mandatory on all vehicles sold in the U.S., and by 2012, stability control will be, too. Other technologies that are not mandated, like blind-spot monitoring systems, side curtain airbags, adaptive cruise control, and brake assist are becoming more prevalent on less expensive vehicles as their associated costs come down.

      ReplyDelete
    6. Thanks Gary! Be sure to check out the rest of my Epic Road Trips articles!

      ReplyDelete
    7. Automotive Buddy, there are definitely benefits of having a newer vehicle, but it's always good to check everything yourself before you head out. :)

      ReplyDelete

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