Camping and Travel

Car Camping Checklist For Your Next Big Camping Adventure

Here are some of the top items that we recommend for going on a camping trip. These are the things that if they broke, we’d buy them again. They are the things that have really proven to be very useful on our camping trips and we routinely use them.

You don’t have to have everything on this list, and you may have a thing or two that you’d add to it, but here are the top things we would include on our car camping checklist.

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1. A Jackary or Other Portable Power Station

A portable power station, or a battery-powered generator, is extremely useful if you are camping in a place where you do not have access to electricity. You may want to go camping to get away from things that use electricity, but even if you want to have no-screen time, a portable battery generator is perfect for running lights, fans, mini coolers, etc.

We use a Jackary Explorer 300, which is the smallest the brand offers. These power stations can be recharged in your vehicle or you can purchase a solar panel to recharge them during the day with power from the sun.

A fully charged Jackary Explorer 300 will grant you:

  • 31 phone charges
  • 2.5 laptop charges
  • 4.5 hours for a mini cooler
  • 4.5 hours for a TV

The top version, the Jackary Explorer 2000 Pro will offer:

  • 260 phone charges
  • 16 laptop charges
  • 77 hours for a mini cooler
  • 25 hours for a TV
  • 1.1 hours for an electric grill
  • 75 minutes for a coffee maker
  • 68 minutes for a microwave
  • 2 hours for an electric kettle
  • 48 minutes for an electric stove

With the Jackary 300, we were able to run an electric fan, recharge our phones, run a string of electric lights, and recharge our lantern without running completely out of battery.

Other portable power stations you might like are:

2. Wolverine Tuff Bottle or Water Storage

We have been camping at quite a few places that do not have running water. We’ve also camped at quite a few places that have running water but you have to walk to get water every time you need it. That’s why we LOVE our Wolverine Tuff Bottle.

We do have jugs of water that we use for water storage, but the Wolverine Tuff Bottle is super easy to use and makes getting a little water to pour into your cup, fill up a basin for dishes, or brush your teeth simple and you won’t spill water all over the ground trying to do it.

3. Camp Shower

Along the same lines as the water jugs, you also might need a camp shower. We have been to a lot of campgrounds that don’t offer showers, and believe me, you’re going to feel pretty yucky after the first few days of camping, especially if you’re camping in hot temperatures.

We don’t have one yet, but if you want some privacy you might like having a camp shower curtain. So far we showered with bathing suits on but this would be a lot more convenient.

4. A Cooler That Stays Cool For a Long Time

A great cooler is, in my opinion, worth the extra money to get it. In order to have a cooler that will keep your food cold for up for a few days without needing to refresh your ice is a big deal.

We use an Otterbox cooler that holds up well on the outside, and keeps our food cold for many days. We took it on a 2.5 week camping trip, and although we did drain and add extra ice every few days, there was still cold ice in the cooler each time and our food stayed cold.

We don’t own a Yeti cooler, but I think they would fairly comparable. In reviews I’ve read online, the Otterbox slightly outperforms the Yeti, but both will keep your food and drinks cool for many days.

5. A Sleeping Bag For Cold Weather

We have a definite mix-mash of sleeping bags. Some are camping sleeping bags that we bought or were gifted years ago and some are military surplus sleeping bags. I do think it’s important to pack sleeping bags that will keep you warm when the temperature drops at night.

On our cross-country camping trip we experienced a large range of temperatures from 30 to 90 degrees. We didn’t need a cool-weather sleeping bag on the 90-degree nights, but we definitely did when the temperature dropped below 60.

They often say that whatever the sleeping bag is rated, you should add 10-15 degrees to it. So for example, if your sleeping bag says it’s a 30-degree sleeping bag, you’ll probably be comfortable in temperatures as low as 40-45, but you might be chilly if it drops below that.

For most summer camping, you and your family should be comfortable enough in a 30 degree bag.

While traveling, we purchase our daughter a new Kelty kid’s sleeping bag. We really liked it and I would recommend it to other families for their kids as well.

Even though car camping gives you more room for gear than a backpacking camping trip, I would still suggest getting sleeping bags that you can store small in a stuff sack. We like to have as much room as possible in our vehicle and having smaller sleeping bags means more room for other stuff or more room for the family to fit comfortably in the vehicle.

Generally, that means a mummy sleeping bag or materials that can be squished up into a stuff sack.

Other great brands of sleeping bags for camping include:

Sierra Designs


North Face

6. A Sleep Pad or Blow Up Mattress

When I was a young girl I would sleep on the ground without a care in the world and I would wake up in the morning and my hips wouldn’t hurt and I could run around the campsite and go hiking and everything was perfectly in balanced.

Now I’m 36 and wake up with a cramp in my neck if I accidentally sleep with the wrong pillow. Sleeping on the ground makes it hard to sleep, and I wake up with aches and pains. Could I power through the pain? Sure. But why would I want to if I don’t have to? I’m not on Survivor. I’m on a family vacation.

So that’s why I really love bringing a blow-up mattress or sleep pad for sleeping in a tent. Does this make me weak? I don’t care, and neither should you.

If you’re looking for a higher-end mattress, you really can’t beat the Exped self-inflating sleep pads.

Nemo sleep pads also come highly recommended by backpackers and campers.

For a more budget-friendly option, we recently purchased a Trekology sleep pad and an Overmont sleep pad that we think will be really nice on camping trips. The Overmont sleep pad is a great option for space saving.

7. Rechargeable Lantern

A rechargeable lantern is a big improvement on the once-use battery lanterns that die and require you to purchase four new D batteries to run it again. Our rechargeable lantern lasts for days and then we can use our Jackary to recharge it when it dies.

We got a Swiss Tech Lantern from Walmart, but you can also find good rechargeable lanterns on Amazon.

Top rated rechargeable lanterns on Amazon are:

The AYL LED Camping Lantern

The LE Camping Lantern

…and the Energizer Rechargeable LED Camping Lantern

8. Rechargeable Fan

Planning on camping when it’s hot and humid outside? We like having a rechargeable fan for those extra hot nights.

We bought a Koonie Rechargeable and Portable Fan. If running on high, we have found that it runs for almost an entire night without being plugged in.

We often sleep in our Ford Transit Van, and we like to put it in the window in the front to help circulate air and keep things cool. It can also be beneficial in a tent.

9. Head Lamps and Flashlights

Headlamps and flashlights can be a lifesaver and a great item to have on your trip. The day can get away with you, and before you know it, you’re sitting in the dark in your tent and you or one of your kids has to go pee. A headlamp is a perfect solution. I also like to use them for reading at night when the rest of the family wants to go to bed and I still need a little time to unwind.

Petzl makes a good headlamp

As well as Black Diamond

10. A Cast Iron Skillet (and other cast iron cookware)

A cast iron skillet is an extremely versatile way to cook while you’re camping. It works well on your camp stove, but you can also use it over an open fire. We love our cast iron skillets and use them in our home and while we’re out camping.

There are different types of cast iron that I think are worth looking into.

The first is a regular cast iron skillet. A nice 12-inch skillet will do you but you can go bigger or smaller depending on your family size.

Next, you have the cast iron dutch oven. Can be used for stews, desserts, mac n’ cheese, meats, and so much more.

A cast iron griddle/grill is a great option for cooking meats and vegetables, or making pancakes.

11. Paracord

Paracord can be useful for many things when it comes to camping. We like to use it for a clothesline, and you can also use it for setting up tarps, securing down items in our vehicle, or hanging food away from critters.

There are tons of useful things you can do with paracord and it’s really cheap to pick up.

12. Camp Towels

This year we purchased microfiber camp towels and it’s made a big difference. They’re lightweight, take up only a small amount of space, and they’re surprisingly effective. Another plus is they dry quickly!

13. French Press Coffee Maker

Those of you who like coffee while camping might really like a french press coffee maker. We have a Coffee Gator French Press and it works really well. Ned uses it at home and when we go camping.

14. A Camp Stove

Yes, you can camp over the fire for a lot of your cooking needs, but this isn’t always convenient and in some places you may be prohibited from having a fire.

A camp stove is really useful on a camping trip, and we use ours often. We have a basic Coleman propane stove that we liked for camping. It’s good if you’re on a budget and the only thing we might want different about it is a built-in ignitor.

You can also have a lighter backpacking version that works great for boiling water for freeze dried meals.

Other good camp stove options are:

Camp Chef Everest 2X-Burner

The GSI Outdoors, Selkirk Camp Stove

15. Tarps

Tarps are a classic camping staple, and they are so incredibly versatile they’re definitely worth having. They can be placed under your tent to protect it, they can be used to keep out the rain, or they can be useful as simple shelters for sleeping under.

You can use a basic poly tarp like this for protecting or tent or many other things.

We also really like Aqua tarps for making shelters or rain blocks. They’re a little pricier than your run-of-the-mill tarp, but they’re also much higher quality.

16. A Tent

You might camp in your van or car, or you might like to camp out under the stars, but most people like to have a tent along for camping even if it’s to give them extra space when they’re camping at the same location for a few days.

We use a coleman-style tent, but there are so many amazing tent options. Those of you who like to camp alone might be interested in a single person tent, but you can also get large tents for your entire family.

Teton Sports makes nice and (mostly) affordable tents if you want something that won’t entirely drain your camping fund.

Marmot is another trusted company that makes tents. They’re a little pricier, but they’re great quality and get excellent reviews.

17. Pocket Bellows

Starting a fire can be difficult, but pocket bellows can help. It’s a cheap little device that helps get oxygen to your fire without causing you to breath in smoke or get too close to the flames.

18. A Cook Set

A nice camping cook/dishes set is a great way to have all the cooking gear needs met without having to take anything from your home kitchen.

Stanley makes a nice camping cook set that includes pots, dishes, cutlery, and more.

I’m also a big fan of the traditional enamel camping dishes. There’s just something about them.

Looking for an even more budget-friendly dish set? Plastic camp dishes hold up well, are easy to clean, and cost less.

19. Reusable Water Bottles

I can’t really overstate how much we use our reusable water bottles. We take them everywhere with us, and they get thrown around, dropped, and rolled in the dirt. That’s why we like to use a nice sturdy water bottle. We’ve tried a lot of water bottles, and we are fans of Nalgene and Camelbak water bottles, but I think the one that has stood the test of time for our children are the RTIC brand double wall insulation water bottles.

They come in a lot of colors and have put up with a lot of abuse. I also like the slim style because it fits in cup holders and it isn’t hard for kids to hold.

Other great brands to look out for are:

Klean Kanteen



Stanley (I happen to love my Stanley water bottle, and they’re more budget-friendly than a Yeti or a Hydroflask. I have this style:

Can You Go Camping Without Everything on this Car Camping Checklist?

New campers please don’t be overwhelmed by this list. It takes time to accumulate gear, and different types of camping trips require different kinds of equipment. If you’re camping in your backyard you don’t need a lot of things on this list. However, if you’re planning a big trip you might want more things than I have listed here.

There’s not gatekeeping for camping. We get a lot of our stuff cheap on Amazon or Walmart, from yard sales, or hand-me-downs from other people who no longer want it. You can also check military surplus sales, or seconds shops for camping gear.

Little by little you will discover what works best for you and or your family. If it’s a hobby you really enjoy, you can budget for more things as you go along.

Interested in more camping-related information? Try our:

What are the main things on your car camping check list? Let us know in the comments below!

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