This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.
Car camping is a great place to start for beginner campers.
Car camping offers all of the benefits of time spent in nature, plus the convenience of all the stuff you can pack in your car (compared to what you can carry on your back–this is a lot!) Many camping sites even have showers and toilets–what luxury!
That being said, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to be strategic about car camping.
You can only fit so much in a car. After stuffing a cooler, tent, and a few chairs in the trunk, you may find yourself surprisingly strapped for space.
This checklist is also for beginner campers who are potentially nervous about their first time leaving the comforts of home behind. Being prepared can help ease any nerves, and save you the panic of realizing you left your charger at home.
Get the Printable Checklist
Download the full ultimate care camping checklist PDF here or read on.
Unless you have a rooftop pop-up tent or are sleeping in the car, you’re going to need a tent. I recommend The North Face Eco Trail 2-Person Camping Tent.
Rainfly or tarp
Many tents will come with a rainfly to protect you from getting soaked in inclement weather. It’s good to double check you have one packed. It’s not a bad idea to bring along an extra tarp to set up outside the tent (perhaps over a picnic table) so you can spend some time outside despite the weather.
As the only thing between you and the cold, hard ground, the sleeping mat can be the difference between a good camping trip or a bad one. I like the VAUDE Tour 5 M – Self Inflating Sleeping Pad.
A cozy sleeping bag is a necessity, especially if you are expecting cooler nights. I love The North Face Eco Trail Down 0 sleeping bag, which is made of recycled materials and will keep you warm at zero degree temperatures.
In the hot summer months, I like to forgo the sleep bag altogether for a lightweight, down camping blanket. The Rumpl Down Blanket is much cooler and is less restrictive than a sleeping bag.
Honestly, I just bring my pillows from home for a car camping trip, but if you’re looking for something more compact check out the Trekology Ultralight Inflatable Camping Travel Pillow.
You can’t flick on the lights when the sun goes down at the campsite. Don’t be left in the dark without a lantern like the classic Coleman CPX 6 Classic XL 700L LED Lantern.
You’ll need some chairs to sit around the campfire. I like the camping chairs that are completely collapsible for easy storage and transport.
Definitely not a necessity, but a hammock at the campsite takes lounging to a whole new level. Set up one of these hammocks between two trees and take an afternoon nap in the sun.
There’s no refrigeration in the bush, but with the right cooler and some ice you can store perishable items for at least a few days. (Yes, even meats and eggs if kept to temperature!) I like the OtterBox Venture Cooler for a weekend trip.
The beauty of car camping is you don’t have to stress about starting a fire. Instead, bring your fire with you with the Weber mini propane grill.
If you’re not planning on using wood to build your own fire, you’ll need to plan on bringing fuel. If you’re using the Weber grill I recommend, stock up on a couple of canisters of liquid propane.
Every outdoor survival kit needs a good fire starter that won’t be affected by the elements or your ability to obtain fuel. I like the Wolf Grizzly Fire set, which consists of a ferro rod and striker–ensuring your ability to get a fire going in even the worst scenarios. For a simple car camping trip, bring a few fire starter sticks.
Bring some old pots and pans from home or get this 5-piece camp kitchen starter set.
A must-have in the home kitchen, a cast-iron pan shows off over an open flame at the campsite as well.
There’s nothing better than a cup of fresh coffee in the great outdoors. I usually just bring my French press when car camping (and pack it carefully!) but an Aeropress is a lightweight, plastic option that makes a great cup of coffee.
Enamelware mugs are a lightweight option that are perfect for the campsite, but these mugs from Crow Canyon are also classy enough for the kitchen.
You’re going to need a can opener to enjoy those refried beans.
Skip the plastic and invest in a portable cutlery set you can also bring with your lunch at the office.
A sharp chef’s knife will be necessary for tougher jobs. This three-knife set covers about all you need for cooking at the campsite.
A cutting board is a necessity if you plan on cooking from scratch!
Life hack: pack your spices in a stackable pill dispenser.
Don’t litter! Make sure you take all your trash with you in these 100% recycled trash bags.
Bucket, dish soap, sponge
I like this collapsible bucket for travel.
A headlamp is a must for those midnight bathroom trips in the middle of the woods.
This camp-ready solar wireless charger comes with a battery that runs up to 36 hours and solar power backup.
Cover your bases with a multitool that literally does it all.
The Sawyer Micro Squeeze Water Filter allows you the ease and transportability of a regular water bottle, but it filters out bacteria, protozoa and other nasties.
First aid kit
You’re not fully packed for a camping trip without a first aid kit. It’s just the safe thing to do.
Spare your camping buds the stank with these handy biodegradable wipes.
Full days outside mean multiple reapplications of sunscreen head to toe!
When the sun goes down, the bugs come out. Oil of lemon eucalyptus insect repellent is effective and smells better than its chemical counterparts.
Download the full ultimate care camping checklist PDF here. Print it out and use it for your next trip.
Shopping for your trip or for the camper in your life and looking for eco-friendly camper gear? Check out 10 Gifts for Campers Who Love Sustainable Products.