What You Should Take on a Car Camping Trip

SUV with kayak on top and pitched tent nearby in camping ground

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

Whether you call it luxury camping or 'glamping,' the beauty of car camping is that you can travel in relative comfort.

Car camping, however, does not have the best reputation. It is often associated with crowded campgrounds, dirty washrooms, drunken partiers, and nearby highways. This is unfortunate because car camping is an excellent way to travel with kids, to cover significant distances, to save money, and to enjoy a degree of comfort that cannot be maintained in a canoe. (I do love canoe trips, too, but they're a different beast altogether.)

If you're interested in car camping but unsure of how and where to start, here are some suggestions for basic gear, inspired by this article in Outside magazine. Gather up these items, whether purchased or borrowed, and get outdoors to experience car camping for yourself. Fall is the best time to do it. It's not so hot, the bugs are gone, and those evening campfires will feel wonderfully cozy.

1. Waterproof tent

green and black tent in woods with dog peeking out from screen

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

Don't scrimp when it comes to the tent. (I made this mistake once, purchasing an ancient Walmart tent at a garage sale -- a double mistake.) Buy the best tent you can afford, and make sure the fly goes all the way to the ground on all sides. This is very important and, in my opinion, marks the difference between serious campers and beginners.

2. Sleeping mat & bag

inside of camping tent shows sleeping pad, sleeping bag and pillow

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

It's not a canoe trip, so you can take the biggest, thickest sleeping mat you want. Not only does it make your bed softer, but it insulates your body from the cold ground, which is especially important at this time of year. Bring a sleeping bag, a warm quilt, or a duvet -- and, of course, some cozy pyjamas.

3. Double-burner stove

man cooks on camping stove on picnic table with tent and car nearby

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

Double-burner stoves make cooking almost as easy as being at home. You can have a pot of chili and a pot of rice simmering at the same time. Your coffee brews while you fry eggs for breakfast. The possibilities are endless.

4. Cooler

open cooler on picnic table filled with wine and beer and ice

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

A cooler stashed in the trunk allows you to eat like royalty while enjoying the outdoors. Fine cheeses, cream for your coffee, smoked salmon, salad greens, condiments, chilled beer -- all of these glorious foods can only be enjoyed when kept cold.

5. Lawn chair

guy reads book in lawn chair next to tent while camping outside

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

I have spent many a camping trip perched on a picnic table bench, trying to read a book while my bottom grows painfully numb. Now I've realized it's worth hauling a lawn chair to a campsite because it makes a huge difference. It's comfy, relaxed, and portable around the site.

6. Storage containers

hatchback SUV popped open to reveal multiple containers full of camping gear

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

Camping with boxes is the best way to do it. Whether you buy hard plastic carrying containers, or simply use cardboard boxes, car camping enables you to store goods in a compact, easy-to-access way. I usually have a box for food and a box for cooking/eating gear.

7. Odds & ends

a picnic table in camping ground covered with colorful tablecloth and set for coffee

Treehugger / Jordan Provost

These aren't true necessities, but they make the car camping experience a whole lot more pleasurable:

  • A tablecloth to cover an icky-looking picnic table
  • A wash basin for doing dishes after meals
  • Rope for a clothesline to hang towels, dish rags, and to air out sleeping bags in the morning
  • Flip flops for any questionable-looking public showers
  • Ear plugs for those noisy Saturday nights when you wish your neighbors would go to sleep
  • Newspaper for starting a campfire
  • A headlamp for pretty much everything after dark
a headlamp rests on wooden picnic bench, ready for nighttime camping
You'll definitely need that headlamp when you're looking for the loo at midnight.

Treehugger / Jordan Provost