The Only Car Camping Checklist You Will Ever Need


Here is a complete list of items to bring with you on a camping trip. This list is designed for car camping (or regular camping) but can be adapted for any type of camping. This list contains over 100 items with a description of why you need to bring those items.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new tent, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

Stay till the end for a really helpful downloadable PDF checklist of this list for FREE.

Campsite Essential Gear

Tent – If you are going to be camping then you are going to need a tent. If you don’t have one already then you can check out my recommendations for getting a tent. I don’t think that you need to get an expensive tent in order to have a good camping experience. I paid around $60 for my first tent and it has lasted me for years. I have taken my tent through many different terrains and landscapes, and it is still standing. Nevertheless, a tent is an essential camping item.

Tent poles – So I had to throw this on the list since sometimes you have to store the tent poles separately from the tent itself. What we don’t want to happen is we get to our campsite and get ready to set up your tent only to realize that we forgot the tent poles. Tent poles are usually the first thing to break too. It has happened to me, but nothing too bad where some good ole duct tape couldn’t fix. Make sure you have the tent poles to go along with your tent.

Rainfly – I have made the mistake of forgetting the rain fly a couple of times. Those tent bags they come in do not have enough space to fit everything beyond when the manufacturer packs them in there. Even if the weather forecast says no rain, you still need to bring your rain fly. It provides privacy and a little bit of warmth at night. I wrote about how a rain fly can make it a little bit warmer in your tent in this article.

Tent footprint – A tent footprint is going to help keep the bottom of your tent from getting damaged from the rugged terrain that you set camp on. I have been guilty of forgetting this item on many occasions, and because of it, I have noticed some small holes in the bottom of my tent – Oops! If you want to protect your tent and help it last longer then don’t forget to bring a tent footprint. You can read about tent footprints and why you need then for your tent in this article that I wrote.

Tarp -Tarps can have many uses when it comes to camping. For one they can act as a cheaper tent footprint. Additionally, they can act as a really good rain fly. Also, they are very helpful for creating a canopy to block out the sun, it’s very popular with people who camp in a hammock. I’m sure you can think of many more uses for a tarp while camping because there are many. It is an essential camping item and it should be on your list.

Sleeping bags – Sleeping bags are one of your most important lifelines while camping because they keep you from freezing to death. Beyond that, it is comfy to be wrapped up in a cocoon every once and a while. If you need a sleeping bag then check out the one that I use here. My sleeping bag has kept me warm through many cold nights, although I usually don’t do any camping in below-freezing temperatures. If you do then you are going to need a more heavy-duty sleeping bag.

Sleeping pads or Air mattresses – You need something to sleep on, whichever one you decide to bring it’s going to be a lot better than sleeping on the floor. I personally use sleeping pads a lot more often than I do an air mattress. It’s just a lot easier to set up and take down. Sometimes I want to “glamp it up” a bit and so I will break out the air mattress. If you want to see what sleeping pad I use you can check it out here.

Another thing I would highly recommend you check out if you are trying to decide if you want to get an air mattress or a sleeping pad is this article that I wrote. In that post, I discuss the pros and cons of each option for camping.

Pillows – Your neck will thank you if you bring some pillows. You can bring your regular pillows from home, but risk getting them dirty. You could also get some inflatable camping pillows, but they aren’t as comfy. The choice is yours.

Chairs – Sitting on a rock, a log, or even the wooden benches that you usually find at your campsites isn’t the comfiest. You need to bring some nice camping chairs of your own, especially for sitting around the campfire!

Table – You can use the table that comes with your campsite if it has one, but they are usually pretty dirty. You can get a lightweight folding table for a pretty good price that comes in really handy for camping.

Necessities

Headlamp – Headlamps make it easy to get around in the middle of the night when you are camping, particularly when you get up and its pitch black (there are no streetlights after all) and you need to go to the bathroom. Headlamps make both of your hands-free to take care of other things. The only downside is that it becomes a magnet for bugs flying right into your face.

Flashlight – Flashlights are also a necessity to have while camping. They are held in your hand and not on your head so you don’t have to worry as much about bugs flying into your face.

Lantern – Lanterns are classic camping necessities that easily associated with the camping activity itself. Lanterns have developed in recent years to be very energy efficient and lightweight. They should be on your list.

Firewood or Firelogs – You probably want to have a campfire when you are camping. I usually do. We have two primary options when it comes to creating our campfire, there is firewood and there is fire logs. Both options have their pros and cons, and if you want to learn more in-depth about those pros and cons then check out this article that I wrote titled “Fire Logs VS Firewood For Campfires – Which Is Right For You?”

Kindling – Kindling is pretty much anything you use to get your fire started. This can be small twigs and leaves that you find around your campsite or it can be anything else that is combustible. Many people use lighter fluid to get their campfires started, but another really good and free option is to collect the dryer lint your dryer at home produces and use it to get your fire started, it works extremely well and requires little effort on your part to collect.

Clotheslines + Clothespins – If you are going to try and wash some of your clothes at your campsite then you are going to need a clothesline and clothespins to hang them up to dry. At the same time if you will be swimming near your campground then you will need to hang the bathing suits up. If it rains you can hang up anything that might have gotten wet. Bringing these items is often a good idea in some cases.

Repair kit – You never know what might break when you are camping. If it is something really important like your tent or your sleeping pad then you are going to want to fix it up right away. Having a simple repair kit packed with your camping gear can save you from a lot of headaches.

Rubber mallet – I like rubber mallets because they are lightweight and foolproof when hammering in your tent stakes. It stinks when you are setting up your tent and the ground is too hard to get your tent stakes in without a mallet. You can also use a regular hammer if you have one at home, the main thing is that it can securely put your tent stakes into the ground.

Broom + dustpan – These are great for cleaning out the inside of your tent. You should always take your shoes off before going inside your tent, but dirt still seems to always find its way in. You don’t need to bring a full-size house broom and dustpan, just the handheld ones are fine. They also come in useful for cleaning off the tables and dirty bear boxes.

Backpacks – Bring your backpack for bringing anything you need along with you wherever you go. If you go hiking then you are definitely going to want to bring a backpack to pack your water and snacks into. 

Ax – Bring an ax to chop up some firewood that you collect. Be sure to check the rules first to make sure that wood collection is allowed, but if it is then you will be glad that you brought an ax. In pretty much all campgrounds your firewood must fit into the fire grate and cannot stick out for obvious safety reasons.

Whistle – A whistle is a simple but essential safety item to bring camping with you. If you go exploring or hiking then having a whistle with you could save your life in an emergency situation. The sound of a whistle can travel much farther than the sound of your voice.

Multi-tool – A multi-tool will serve you well while camping, You never know what you might need to fix. To be honest I have had to use my multi-tool a few times on my car when I hit something on the way to go camping and it broke some of the plastic undercarriage.

Pocket knife – Good for keeping in your pocket.

First aid kit – A first aid kit is something you need to have with you when camping. You can get one that is preassembled or you can make one yourself. There are lots of ways to get hurt while camping and you should be prepared to treat yourself or others quickly in order to speed up the healing process.

Rope – Rope can have many uses for you when you are camping. Notably, it could be used for hanging up a tarp. Or it could be used as your clothesline, or it could be used for tying things down in the wind, there are plenty of uses, and I’m sure you will find one use for you.

Duct tape – Duct tape can fix just about anything in a pinch, including most of your camping gear, it never hurts to have some of it handy.

Extra batteries – You might need some extra batteries for anything electronic you bring camping, mainly your headlamp, flashlights, and lanterns. I prefer to get rechargeable versions of these items so that I don’t have to worry about bringing extra batteries, but if yours are battery-powered then bring some extra batteries so you don’t get stuck in the dark when the batteries lose all their juice.

Health and Hygiene

Toilet paper – Bring your own, even if the campground bathroom is supposed to have some, because they always run out, plus their stuff is super thin.

Paper towels – Need some of these for cleaning up your messes.

Baby wipes – Baby wipes are a really versatile camping item. Especially if you intend to take a baby wipe bath.

Hand sanitizer – You might not have running water for cleaning your hands. Hand sanitizer does the trick.

Toothbrushes – You still need to maintain oral hygiene while camping.

Toothpaste – Goes well with the toothbrushes.

Floss – Just because you are camping does not mean that you should skip out on flossing. I like to use the little floss sticks.

Deodorant – Be careful with this because animals could be curious about your deodorant, even bears! Try one that is unscented.

Sunscreen – Essential for being out in the sun, your skin needs protection.

Chapstick – Another part of your skin that needs protection from the sun and the wind.

Bug spray – It really is effective at keeping bugs away, mainly mosquitoes.

Towels – You need towels for staying clean mostly. Also, bring one to dampen and put over the ice chest so that your ice will last longer.

Digging Trowel – If there is no toilet available then you are going to have to dig a hole to do your business.

Bucket – Buckets have many uses while camping, my favorite use is actually using it to take a bath using a washrag and some soapy water.

Necessary medication – If you or someone you are camping with requires medication then don’t forget to bring it.

Water purification tablets or filters – Just in case.

Hairbrush – Keep your hair from getting crazy, bring a hairbrush and keep your hair under control.

Hair ties – If you have long hair then you are probably going to want to tie it back when you are camping.

Feminine products – Females might want to consider bringing anything they need.

Food and Drink

5-gallon water jug – You can never bring too much water, trust me. You need water for more than just drinking. Bringing water in a large jug makes things super easy. I talk about exactly how much water you need to bring with you camping in this article.

Water bottles – You need something to drink out of, so bring some water bottles. I like bringing re-usable bottles and just filling them from the 5-gallon jug.

Camping stove – For cooking your meals you are going to need a good camping stove. To see what camping stove I use and recommend click here. It’s not exactly practical to cook all of your food on the campfire and therefore you need a camping stove if you want to eat well.

Propane or equivalent fuel – Your camping stove is going to need some fuel to work. Always bring more than you think you need so that you don’t run out with more food left to cook.

Matches or lighter – These are for lighting your campfire and lighting your cooking stove. I prefer matches since I can see how much longer they are going to last. Plus they are just fun to light.

Oven mitts – If you are going to be cooking over a fire or even on your stove then the pit could get hot and you are going to need some mitts to get the job done.

Pot – You can make a big batch of delicious chili in these.

Pan – Great for some morning eggs and everything else.

Forks – My favorite utensil to get food to my mouth.

Spoons – Pairs well with oatmeal in the morning.

Knives – For cutting up the meats and vegetables.

Mugs – Mainly for your coffee addiction (or is that just me?).

Cups – Sometimes you don’t want to drink out of a water bottle and want a cup instead.

Plates – You are gonna need some of these to hold all that good food.

Bowls – Keeps liquidy foods under control.

Napkins – Food can be messy, especially the kind you cook when you are camping.

Can opener – If you bring canned food, you’re gonna need one of these.

Cutting board – For chopping up those meats to be cooked over the fire.

Ice chest – Where all the good stuff gets stored.

Ice – Keeps your food and drinks chilled and ready to go.

Tablecloth – Camping tables aren’t exactly the cleanest places. Bring a tablecloth and you will drastically improve your dining experience.

Camping sink – A camping sink is simply just any kind of plastic bin you can use to wash your dishes in.

Biodegradable soap – You can safely wash your dishes or your body with biodegradable soap and it won’t cause any harm to the environment.

Trash bags – Gotta put your trash somewhere, just don’t leave it in your tent unless you want lots of visitors.

Ziploc bags You always need some of these when you are camping.

Dish Sponge – Needed for scrubbing your camping dishes clean.

Dish Rag – Helpful for cleaning your dishes or your body.

Coffee – Maybe it’s just me but I love making coffee after I wake up early from the sun shining in on my tent. If you like coffee too then don’t forget to bring some.

Roasting forks – Those long metal forks you use for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, can’t forget them.

S’mores kits – You can’t go camping without S’mores, can you? Make your own kits by separating the ingredients and putting them into a large Tupperware container.

Aluminum foil – An essential item for cooking over or in a campfire.

Saran wrap – Saran wrap can be used to keep bugs off of your food once its cooked. You can also put it over plates to keep them clean.

Sealable Tupperware – Put your food in Tupperware instead of leaving it in the box or bag that it came in. 

Large plastic bins – Use these plastic bins to store everything, especially nonperishable food.

Spices – Spice your camping food up, it doesn’t have to be plain just because you are camping.

Condiments – I like to put hot sauce on just about everything, don’t forget to bring some of your favorite condiments to get some extra flavor.

Canned food – It’s always good to have some canned food as a backup in case you can’t cook or your other food spoils.

Food of your choice – Lots of food goes well with camping, be creative!

Drinks of your choice – Usually I just drink water but you can bring anything you want.

Entertainment

Board games – Board games are an excellent way to stay entertained while camping. Some of my favorites to bring camping include Yahtzee, dominoes, and chess. I wrote about 28 camping games that are awesome for camping, check it out here for some ideas for entertainment.

Deck of cards – Perhaps the most versatile of games all contained in a very compact space. A deck of cards comes with nearly unlimited possibilities for entertainment while camping. Look up some games you have never tried before, and save the rules so that you can try them out when you are camping.

Backyard games – By backyard games, I simply mean games that are played outside. In the article, I wrote I include some outside games that go perfect with camping. Some of my favorite outside games to play when camping include cornhole, ringtoss, and badminton.

Pen – For writing because you come up with the best ideas when you are camping.

Pencils – For people like me because when I write I make a ton of mistakes that need to be erased and rewrote. Also good for drawing.

Paper – You are going to need something to go along with those pens and pencils. Also useful for keeping score on some of the camping games you play.

Books – Camping is one of the best times to catch up on some much-needed reading. In order to do that you are going to need a good book or books.

Binoculars – Bringing some binoculars can help you see some fantastic things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to if you were relying on your eyes alone. Great for birdwatching and other wildlife.

Hiking poles – If you are going to be doing any intense hiking while you are camping then you might want to bring some hiking poles. They really help when climbing steep mountains and such.

Fishing gear – Fishing is one of those activities that pair perfectly with camping. If you are planning on doing some fishing then don’t forget to bring your gear and your license!

Bikes – Bikes are fun to ride around your campground, but they can also be useful for using at other locations nearby where you are camping. If you are into mountain biking and you are camping in the mountains then it is a no brainer.

Headphones – For listening to music or anything else. It’s the best way to do it while not disturbing others. Sometimes I like to use them when I am hiking to keep my mind off of the pain.

Clothing

Shirts – Short sleeve, moisture-wicking material is best.

Long-sleeve shirts – Long sleeves will protect you better from the sun, just as with the short sleeve shirts, moisture-wicking would be best.

Shorts – Athletic shorts are nice for camping and hiking.

Pants – To stay warm at night I often switch to athletic pants or sweats.

Underwear – Need these at all times.

Socks – Bring lots of these, because they get dirty easily. Wool is the best for moisture and for keeping warm or cool.

Jacket – If it’s going to be cold, then bring a jacket.

Sweater – My favorite for those chilly nights.

Hats – I’m always wearing my hat when I go camping, keeps my neck and face from getting sunburned.

Beanie – If it’s chilly enough then switching from hat to beanie can help.

Sandals – Great for walking around the campground, but your feet get dirty.

Hiking Boots – If you are going on any strenuous hike then you need a pair of these.

Running Shoes – Any athletic shoes really for just hanging out or easier hikes.

Rainwear – If it’s going to rain then that sucks, but be prepared.

Gloves – If you are gathering firewood then these come in handy, or if it’s really cold.

Swimsuit – Gonna take a swim? Then don’t forget this.

Sunglasses – Protects your eyes from the unforgiving sun.

Luxury Items

Hammock – Once you get a hammock you will want to lounge around in it all day. Hammocks are a great way to catch a mid-day nap or read a book in.

Cot – A camping cot will raise your bed off the ground. It helps a lot with keeping you insulated from the cold floor while at the same time making camping a lot more comfortable.

Canopy – A canopy will aid in keeping the sun off of you during the day. It will make it feel a lot cooler and can protect your skin. You could even put one over your tent in order to protect it from the sun and keep it cooler inside.

Tent carpet – A tent carpet lines the inside of your tent. It makes walking on it a lot smoother and helps insulate the inside of your tent.

Regular blankets – Using regular blankets instead of a sleeping bag or in combination with them makes your camping bed feed more homey and comfortable.

Mosquito net – If you want to stay safe from mosquitos then a net is probably one of the safest bets. It also helps keep a lot of other bugs off of you.

Portable shower – Staying clean while camping should be a priority. There are lots of ways that you could maintain your hygiene, but a portable shower is probably the most luxurious.

Hydration Pack – I love having a reservoir on my back, it makes hiking and exploring much better than carrying water bottles.

Other

Identification card – This is probably already in your wallet or purse, but just in case, don’t leave home without it.

Cell Phones – As much as camping is a great way to unplug and be away from electronics, you should still bring your phone for emergency calls.

Car charger – Bring something to charge your phone, but if you have no outlet then it’s no good. Make sure that you are able to charge your phone in your car.

Keys – It will be hard to forget these since you need them to use your car to drive to your campsite anyway.

Cash – A lot of campgrounds must be paid with using cash and envelope. Bring smaller bills since the prices of the campground usually, do not end in a 5 or a zero. It also helps to have some cash when you are near smaller towns.

Quarters – You might be able to use the shower at some campgrounds if they are coin-operated. You’re gonna need quarters though.

Campsite reservation paperwork – If I have a reservation for my campground then I like to take a screenshot of it. You could also print it out. You might need it for checking in or to remember which campsite is yours. 

Necessary permits – Some places you go camping require permits. If you need them then don’t forget to bring them. I’ve been camping places where I needed to do an online course in fire safety first before camping there.

America The Beautiful annual pass or other passes – As needed.

Positive attitudes – Last but not least don’t forget to bring a positive outlook for your upcoming camping trip, no matter what is running through your mind right now.

I think that you will find this checklist to be very comprehensive and it should cover just about everything you need to bring camping with you. Of course, there is always going to be something that we like to bring that differs from any generated list out there, but this checklist pretty much as you covered.

As promised, here is your free pdf download of this checklist, feel free to use it as you wish:

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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