Car Camping Checklist
Below, I share with you my car camping checklist. I use a checklist, always, so that I won’t ever find myself in the middle of the Wenatchee National Forest without tent poles again. Keep this checklist with your camping gear so it’s always handy when you need it.
Car Camping Checklist
Fall is a great season to get outside and go camping. Nature is at its peak of beauty, and camping can be a relaxing oasis for anyone. And car camping is a great activity for the whole family. It does not require a minimalist mentality, like backpacking so often does, because you can haul around all your things in… your car. Labor day weekend was always a big camping weekend for my family and many others. We started car camping, and soon worked our way up to a RV. But there’s nothing quite like ending your summer with a crackling campfire and a gooey S’mores. It was always the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate before school started up again, and spend one solid weekend enjoying each other’s company.
Car Camping Checklist
Car camping affords you the luxury of sleeping in (relative) comfort when compared to backpacking, where every single ounce is counted. I use the same sleeping bag for both. I’m a cold sleeper and being cold can keep me awake for hours, so I love my 15 degree goose down bag by Marmot and the price is fantastic. A lighter-weight bag will save you some money. If you only camp late spring – late summer, aim for one that is rated 30-50 degrees F, like this Kelty Discovery Sleeping Bag that’s just $45 and has great ratings. You can always bring along extra blankets when you are car camping, too–I love this Mambe Classic Outdoor Blanket). REI has a sleeping bag finder on its website to help you find one that suits your needs and budget (use the left-side advanced search boxes to zero in on the perfect bag). For sleeping pads, your car camping options range from a deluxe-thickness Therm-a-Rest to a family-friendly air mattress. (This past weekend, we opted for the air mattress and it was heavenly).
The next step is to organize the equipment that you will need for camping. Contrary to what you might think, camping, and in particular, car and tent camping, does not need expensive equipment. Here are the essentials:
We have two stoves – a basic Coleman two-burner dual-fuel stove for car camping, and an MSR Pocket Rocket backpacking stove (which is one of my favorite things, like in the world.) In my experience, dual-fuel stoves can be a little tricky, and so we always bring the MSR along on car camps just in case. I’ve no doubt that our issues with the Coleman have been user-error. It illustrates, though, that you should know how to use your stove really well before you get to camp. Learn how to use it before you leave the store. If you buy your stove online, practice assembling and lighting the stove in your driveway before you go. In fact, you will ideally test your stove each and every time before you go camping. For cookware, I use Seattle-based MSR products and think they’re the best – this stainless cookset is all you need.
Car camping gear is usually a bit easier to prescribe in a list than car camping food. I have some basic items below, but the key here is to plan out each and every meal in advance and have the complete list of ingredients you will need for the dishes you plan to make. I pre-measure and pack all of my ingredients beforehand, keeping all of the ingredients together that I’ll need for each meal in separate gallon-sized ziplocks. Repack bulky items like boxed pasta to leave excess packaging at home. This makes cooking a cinch and helps cut down on camp clutter and trash. Don’t forget any utensils you will need, such as a can opener, cutting board or bottle opener. (Many multitools have several useful utensils built into one device. I use this medium-priced Swiss Army Knife).
Tent? Check. Marshmallows? Check. When you’re heading into the wilderness, you want to make sure you’re prepared. With our helpful car camping checklist, you’ll be able to pack properly for your next family adventure.
If you’re packing for a family, your car camping checklist will naturally be a little longer. Babies require everything from diapers to a pack ‘n play (we’re past that stage.) For older kids, remember to bring along some activities like a frisbee, bikes, scooters and fishing poles to keep the kids occupied and happy (and to help keep their minds off the iPad you left back at home.)
We like you, started out with backpacking, but as the kids and years came along integrated car camping into our activities list. We found one new invention that has been pure love, rain or shine. That is the 10×10 quickshade. My goodness that thing is wonderful! When east of the mountains in the hot sun it is just great to have the relief, and west of the mountains when we find ourselves camping in cool or wet conditions, it is also great for respite from the rain and pine needles. We always put it over half of the picnic table and our lightweight camp table. That let’s us cook, sit and eat, and spend time out of the rain, or in the shade. You gotta get one!
We like you, started out with backpacking, but as the kids and years came along integrated car camping into our activities list. We found one new invention that has been pure love, rain or shine. That is the 10×10 quickshade. My goodness that thing is wonderful! When east of the mountains in the hot sun it is just great to have the relief, and west of the mountains when we find ourselves camping in cool or wet conditions, it is also great for respite from the rain and pine needles. We always put it over half of the picnic table and our lightweight camp table. That let’s us cook, sit and eat, and spend time out of the rain, or in the shade. You gotta get one! Reply
A lot of this stuff is in our car earthquake survival kit already, and may be in yours, too. It’s easy to create your own first aid kit from items you already have at home, but here’s an affordable first aid kit that is great to grab and go for a day hike or a car camping trip.
Back in our car camping day, my dad would always over pack. The car was overflowing with stuff, that barely was used. So here I’ve compiled a list of essentials, give or take a few things that are just fun to have.
We’ve just returned home from our first car camping weekend of the summer. Our home was our Kelty tent perched high above the Ohanapecosh River, swollen with snowmelt off the southeastern flank of Mount Rainier. My ears are still delightfully roaring from the sound of the river, and I may have cedar twigs dangling from my hair as I type this.
Much of the backcountry experience under my boots is from backpacking, which necessitates decisiveness when it comes to packing. After all, each additional item that goes in means a heavier backpack, schlepped over miles of hiking trail. Not so with car camping. Theoretically, you could pack every comfort from home and bring it along with you. Some campgrounds have electricity in the bathrooms. Imagine, you could even pack your hair dryer!
Need a tent? We put together this handy tent finding guide that will help you zero in on some good options for your needs (what size tent is best for you, how much rain protection you need, the best tent on a budget, etc.) Most tents come with a rain fly and ground cloth (also called footprint) but some don’t – so check. A regular old blue tarp will work as a ground cloth (or rain fly) in a pinch. (In fact, for car camping I rather prefer a sturdy tarp as a groundcloth). Always try out a new tent in your backyard or city park before heading out into the wilderness so that you are familiar with how to assemble it and know you have all the parts you need. I sometimes skip the extra tarp and rope on this list, but if it’s raining, it’s so nice to have a tarp hung over your head while you’re cooking up dinner.