44 Essential Items For Every Car Camping Trip

"There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm." – Theodore Roosevelt
Like Theodore Roosevelt, hundreds of people through the ages have been captivated by the beauty and charms of nature. Through camping, thousands of these urban dwelling enthusiasts have the opportunity each year to experience the wilderness first-hand. Unfortunately, many eager but naïve campers do not prepare sufficiently and, therefore, gain an unnecessary dislike for camping. Although camping can be an incredibly uplifting and relaxing activity, it can also be a time of difficulty and discomfort. Much of the difference depends on the weather and wilderness, but your decisions as camper also make a large impact on the success or failure of your expedition. To be a prepared camper, make sure to bring the items


Because this list is so long, it is divided into six categories on two pages:
  • Shelter (page 1)
  • Heating/Cooking (page 1)
  • Food & Water (page 1)
  • Clothing (page 2)
  • Personal Items (page 2)
  • Other (page 2)



The tent is obviously one of the most important items to bring. Before you pack your tent in the car, set it up at home to verify that…
  • you understand how to assemble it (you do not want to be putting it up for the first time in the dark),
  • it is not broken, and
  • it will hold all the campers.
You should also double check to make sure that you have all the needed poles and stakes.

Ground Cover

Although some tents do not need ground covers, they still are useful because the ground cloth will prevent the tent floor from being easily damaged.  It is easier (and cheaper) to replace a damaged tarp than a damaged tent.

Sleeping Bags

Make sure you have one for each member of your “expedition”. Also make sure that your sleeping bags are warm enough for the place you will be camping. You can always unzip an uncomfortably hot sleeping bag, but you cannot add heat to a thin sleeping bag.


Rope is one of those things which seem to come in handy all the time. My personal favorite is parachute cord, but nearly any type of rope should do.

Duct Tape

Like rope, duct tape will almost certainly be used multiple times during your trip.



Although many campgrounds sell firewood on-site, you can often save money by bringing it with you. If, however, space is an issue, you might be better off paying the higher price.


This will help you complete many tasks around a campsite, such as making kindling, splitting large pieces of firewood, and planting tent pegs.

Propane Stove

This will be very useful for cooking. Before you leave on your trip, verify that it does actually work.

Propane Fuel

Bring at least one can more than you expect to use. I have a friend who had to drive all the way back to town once just for enough fuel to cook breakfast.


You need a way to start your campfire and stove. A lighter or a very long match will probably be necessary for the stove.

Food & Water


Make sure to pack plenty of food. It is (normally) easy to bring home excess food, but it is frustrating to run out of edibles.


Not only are coolers excellent for storing and transporting food, but they can also double as seats for people who do not want to sit on the ground.


If you are bringing any perishable food, you will need to pack it with plenty of ice. Beware, however, you will need to replenish this ice occasionally or your food will go bad. Make sure that new ice will be available at your campground.

Table Cloth

This is not an absolute must, but it is very helpful. Table cloths make cooking and eating much easier by giving you a clean place to set things.


Make sure to bring plenty of paper plates.  Avoid bringing reusable plates unless you plan to also bring your kitchen sink to wash them.  (Washing dishes while camping is a frustrating and difficult procedure.)

Napkins/Paper Towels

Both are useful, but, if you can only bring one, paper towels are best since they can double as napkins.

Eating Utensils

Obviously, you need to have something with which to eat.

Durable Water Bottles

Invest in reusable water bottles rather than disposable paper cups.

Cooking Pan(s)

Bring at least one pan for cooking. Three or four is best.  Remember, though, that you will have to wash these pans.

Cooking Utensils

To successfully cook, you will need a set of cooking utensils. Depending on what you plan to cook, include items such as the following:
  • Spatula
  • Stirring spoon
  • Ladle
  • Knife
  • Scrubber
  • Wisk
Double check that you have all the necessary instruments for cooking your planned meals.

Wash Cloth

Bring two for each day you are camping. These will be useful for cleaning pots and pans and wiping down your table cloth.


Start with four and add an extra one for each day you plan to stay. You will almost certainly be unable to wash these until you get home, so use them carefully.

Trash Bag

These will be very useful to help contain any trash that is generated during your trip. You can also use it as makeshift protection against unexpected rain. Click "Page 2" to read the remaining three categories: clothing, personal, and other!



Because the weather can change unexpectedly, always bring a warm rain jacket. Nothing ruins a trip faster than shivering in the rain.


Even if you are visiting a warm locale, the nights may be chilly. Be prepared.


Depending on what activities you have planned, you should bring shoes, boots, or both.


If you get sunburn as easily as I do, a hat is simply a necessity. If, on the other hand, you are not easily sunburnt, a hat still makes itself useful by shading your eyes.

Weather Appropriate Clothing

Before you go, check the local weather for your destination and pack accordingly. Be prepared for sudden weather changes by packing a few clothes for unexpected conditions. (i.e. Even if the weather service expects sun, be equipped for rain also.)

Laundry Bag

Obviously, you do not want to mix your clean and dirty clothes.

Personal Items



This will be extremely useful at night. Remember to bring extra batteries and bulbs so you will not be stranded without light.

Pocket Knife/Multi-tool

Hopefully, you carry this with you all the time anyway. If not, you will certainly want to take it with you when camping.


Without a good pillow, you are likely to wake up with painful cramps after your first night camping. You can get a camp pillow or just bring your normal pillow from home.

Personal Kit

Remember to bring a personal kit of things that you will need daily. For instance, you can start with items such as…
  • a toothbrush,
  • toothpaste,
  • floss,
  • shaving equipment,
  • a comb,
  • a washcloth, and
  • soap.
Add in any other items you will need and put them all in a durable travel bag.


If you plan to take a shower, you will not want to forget your towels. Bring at least a couple so you can use one while the other dries.

Sun Lotion

If you are visiting a sunny location (even one that is cold and sunny), sunscreen should be included in your packing list.


Like a hat, sunglasses can help protect your eyes and make it easier to see.

Bug Repellent

Although you might not need to use it, bug repellent can save your trip from an untimely end.


If you take any medicine, make sure you do not forget to bring it. Also verify that you have enough for the entire trip.

Hand Sanitizer

You can use this soap to wash your hands before meals.  It may also come in handy if a public restroom is out of soap.


A pack of tissue will be very helpful if you have allergies or catch a cold.



Make sure you have a map of the campground and the surrounding area. This will help if you decide to take any day trips.


Even after you pack as carefully as possible, you will almost certainly need to purchase something on your trip, so you should bring some cash.

First Aid Kit

Bring a first aid kit that is able to at least handle normal “emergencies”. More is better. . . as long as you have room.