Car camping evokes images of crackling bonfires, toasted s’mores, and nights spent gazing at the stars. The right car-camping gear can take your outdoor adventures to the next level. It can be a great way to connect with friends and loved ones as you enjoy the natural world and discover new places.
For camping beginners, car camping is when you drive your vehicle to a campsite instead of walking in and it can take two forms. You either pitch a tent at the campground or you sleep in your vehicle. The former is the most traditional form of camping, but the latter is gaining popularity with couples and solo travels as a more simple form of camping.
Dana Cama, a professional wildlife photographer, is a fan of sleeping in her vehicle because “you can roll right up to a campsite and not have to set up a tent, so if you’re driving all day or hiking all day, your bed is already set up in the back,” she explains to SELF. “You can travel to a lot of different places on longer trips without getting as tired.” However, although tent camping requires a more extensive setup, it is much more comfortable for most people. The best camping tents allow you space to spread out, stand up, and relax after a long day.
But camping isn’t all about sleeping, so you’ll also want to purchase gear so you can eat, play, and stay safe while you’re outdoors. We’ve rounded up some of the best camping gear items from top brands like Yeti, REI Co-Op, and Therm-a-Rest that you can buy from retailers like Amazon and Backcountry. Read on for our picks of sleeping gear, cooking gear, and other car camping essentials.
Whether you’re sleeping in your car or pitching a tent, a complete sleep system will help you get some much-needed z’s while you’re camping. If you’re sleeping in your car, your sleep system should include a sleeping pad (or air mattress) and an outdoor blanket or sleeping bag. If you’re tent camping, you’ll need to add a tent into that mix.
Because car camping allows you to bring heavier gear than backpacking, I—and many of our experts—like to bring blankets and pillows, rather than sleeping bags, for a cozy camp setup. Most of the gear below can be used in both a vehicle or tent and is designed for outdoor use so you don’t have to worry about it getting dirty or wet while you’re camping.
Food is essential and, with the right gear, cooking at camp can be an enjoyable way to spend time. Whether you choose to cook over a camping stove or a bonfire, you’ll want to stock up on outdoor gear like a cooler, coffee maker, cookware, and cooking utensils.
Cama spends quite a bit of time cooking while on a road trip and recommends you “keep your kitchen gear streamlined by investing in multi-purpose items because it can take up so much space.” These camp kitchen products below fit the bill.
Camping isn’t all about eating and sleeping—you’ll want to have fun when you’re out in the woods or on the beach. Outdoor brands have created gear like camp chairs, hammocks, and portable showers to make your base camp more luxurious and enjoyable. Here are a few of our favorites:
When you’re car camping it’s easy to spend a lot of time setting up and breaking down camp. It helps to have your gear organized so you can streamline this process and spend more time enjoying yourself. “If your car is unorganized, you can waste an entire morning looking for a lighter to start your camp stove,” Cama says. “If you have a good system and know where everything is, you don’t waste as much time.” With these vehicle accessories you can spend more time doing what matters: experiencing the great outdoors.
Safety gear, like a first aid kit and headlamp, may not be fun to think about but should absolutely be in your car camping kit. Lights can be life-saving in an emergency but also provide convenience for getting around camp after dark, and you’ll use gear like first-aid kits and multi-tools regularly to solve minor problems. Here are some items you shouldn’t go without.