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Car camping is one of the cheapest and most fun things you can do with a vehicle. Camping gear is one of those things that you can spend as much money on it as you want. However, if you spend thousands on car camping gear, you’ve taken away a major part of the appeal. That said, these seven Items will level up your car camping game this summer without breaking the bank.

2023 Jeep Grand Wagoneer L pulling a camper
2023 Jeep Grand Wagoneer L | Jeep

What do you need for car camping? 

Car camping is the best because it is the lowest barrier to entry for camping. Backpacking or backwoods camping requires meticulous planning, skills, specialized light-weight gear, and usually more time. Car camping cuts so much of that out. 

The key to fun car camping is the same as basic survival plus a couple of small steps. The main goals are reliable shelter, enough food, dry storage, and water. This list of camping gear nails down all the essentials without overspending or much camping knowledge. 

Storage is key

Iris weather tight storage containers in black
Iris weather-tight storage boxes | Iris

Autoblog’s first recommendation comes from the fine folks at Iris. These weathertight storage containers are 30.6 qt each and come in a six-pack for $103.39. If this feels pricey for storage, consider that the popular Front Runner Outfitters version of the same product is $59 per storage box. 

Having plenty of storage can make or break a camping experience. Having a place to keep valuables safe, dry, and organized is a smart way to head into a weekend outdoors. 

A chef’s best tool is a knife

Camp cooking is one of the highlights of camping for me. I think most casual campers might agree. However, cooking without a proper knife can get frustrating. At the same time, bringing a high-end chef’s knife camping doesn’t make much sense either. 

Enter the GSI Outdoors Santoku 6″ Chef Knife. At $13.99, it is hard to find a downside to this pragmatic cutlery. It features a 6” stainless steel blade and a rubberized handle. This thing is durable, sharp, and cheap; the only three things a good camp knife should be.

Don’t forget the table 

Traditional camping pretty much takes carrying in your own table, well, off the table. This is the beauty of car camping; carrying large pieces of gear into the woods is now possible. 

Having a stable, flat surface to work, prepare food, play cards, and eat is not to be underestimated while camping. Oftentimes, campgrounds will equip campsites with picnic tables. However, this isn’t a guarantee. Bringing a small folding table car camping is a pro move. These days even some Jeep and Ford models offer built-in table storage. There are a plethora of options on Amazon and REI. The prices range from around $50-$100.

Cast iron will change your car camping forever 

Cast iron dutch oven
Cast iron dutch oven | Getty Images

Camp cooking is one of my favorite parts of car camping. As you might imagine, hauling cast iron pots and pans on a hiking trip is a bad idea. Car camping allows for much more opulent packing lists, like tables and cast iron cookware. 

Cast iron is perfect for camping becuase it is heavy-duty enough to stand up to open flame cooking or even burying in the coals. Your non-stick skillet would never. Autoblog mentions picking a dutch oven for your camp cookware. The toughness and versatility of a proper dutch oven are not to be underestimated. Cast iron can get pricey, but a little shopping around antique malls or thrift stores could help you find some cheap iron. 

Always have a good hatchet

Fiskars Hatchet in orange and black
Fiskars Hatchet | Fiskars

Carrying a full-wood-chopping ax is probably a step too far, but a good hatchet is a must-have. A high-quality hatchet like this Fiskars is a key part of any good camping packing list. You can use hatchets to split firewood, as a hammer, and even self-defense should you need it. 

Autoblog mentions that this Fiskars option shows up from the factory “razor-sharp” but does require sharpening with heavy use. Thankfully, Fiskars includes a blade sharpener with this $32.98 hatchet. 

Ratchet straps, rope, or bungee chords

As far as tie-downs go, it’s the dealer’s choice. Whether you prefer rope, bungee cords, or ratchet straps, reliably securing gear while car camping is beyond important. Many car campers carry things like bicycles, paddleboards, or other outdoor sports gear, which often require straps to secure them to the car.

The benefit of ratchet straps over the others is that they are more multipurpose. For one the webbed material of ratchet straps is very strong. This matters for strapping down gear and even emergency uses. Racket straps can be used to pull at stuck vehicles, rappel, hoisting gear, or even people in the case of an emergency. 

A gas stove 

Building a campfire is another one of those activities that makes camping fun. However, there are many reasons why building a campfire might be impossible or even against the law. Sometimes the weather will prevent any fire-making. Also, certain areas might have fire bans. Aside from the fun part, we need fires to cook and purify water. This is why packing a small camp stove is always recommended. 

As with everything else on the car camping packing list, you can spend a lot of money on camping stoves; however, you don’t have to. 

There are single burner stoves for as little as $23.99. If camping is on your summer to-do list, a stove might make or break your car-camping adventures. 

Don’t forget the most important thing about car camping

Camping is meant to be fun. The better prepared you are for camping in your particular region, the more fun you’ll have. I have met many people in my life, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys being wet, cold, and hungry. Don’t be this person; plan, pack, and then play.


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