Car Camping Essentials

There are a lot of Youtube channels and Facebook Groups out there dedicated to #vanlife and #homeiswhereyouparkit. Vans or busses that are converted into living quarters are at the center of these communities. The idea is that people can take their belongings with them and travel almost anywhere. But not everybody can convert such a van or bus. Some people just want to go camping on a weekend trip in their car, called car camping. For those interested in that experience, here is a list of essentials.

Mitsubishi Delica Off-Road conversion | Platinum
Mitsubishi Delica Off-Road conversion | Platinum

A good location

The choice of a location can make or break the car camping experience. It’s important to be enough away from the road to still be legal and safe, but not close enough to hear the traffic. Here are a few tips for an ideal car camping location. 

  • The location will allow the vehicle to be level. This allows for better sleeping and lessens the opportunity of having to chase gear or equipment as it rolls or slides downhill. 
  • The location has shade. This provides relief from heat and glare. 

The tools and equipment

Tools and equipment are going to be needed at one point or another. Some of the basics are covered in the list below.

  • A multi-tool such as a Swiss army knife would be the absolute minimum to have during a camping adventure. However, it does not hurt to have a few additional tools, like Phillips head and flathead screwdrivers, a hammer, and a wrench or two. 
  • Folding chairs, a folding table, a cooler, and a stove are good things to bring. They will allow the set-up of a nice camp next to the vehicle and a way of cooking meals. 
  • Speaking of cooking, matches, and a lighter will be helpful in getting the stove or campfire going. If the stove requires fuel, make sure that when transporting it that it is done in a manner that is in keeping with local safety ordinances. 
  • Trash bags and large Ziplocs bags – don’t leave food or garbage out overnight, nor unattended. Trash bags and large Ziplocks will keep all the trash centralized, and animals unable to sniff out the food waste.

Solar charging equipment for electronics

Inevitably, it is going to get dark. Once it does, lighting will be a concern. Flashlights, lamps, and lanterns are great things to bring. However, do not forget to bring a portable solar charging station. These can range from handheld units to backpack gear, to rooftop panels.

Car camper grilling on a stove off the back of his car
Car Camping in a Ford Focus |


Do not forget to pack toiletries. The collection of toiletries can be as basic or as extensive as desired. Some thoughts for inclusion are listed below.

  • Toothbrush
  • Soap
  • Personal wipes
  • Shaving razor
  • First aid kit – Something sufficient enough to take care of a scrape and also handle a burn from the campfire or stove. 
  • Toilet paper
  • Sanitizer
  • Prescription medications
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun protection


Being able to sleep comfortably is important when car camping. Indeed, the ability to sleep well can make or break a car camping outing. Mats, pillows, cushions, blankets, and air mattresses are all common things easily put in the back of the vehicle for the trip. It is important to note, however, that if the season is cold, make sure to have insulated blankets or appropriate temperature rated sleeping bags that are packed and ready. 

There are two things that are often overlooked. Privacy and the ability to sleep-in are all the more achievable if something is brought to cover the windows. Curtains, towels, or whatever it is, will keep prying eyes away and the sun from shining on the face at the crack of dawn. 


Of course, the clothing needed for car camping is totally up to the camper. However, some good rules of thumb to have on hand are gloves, a hat for the sun, a beanie hat for cold weather, and warm winter socks. Having these items tucked away in the car can be instrumental in keeping all fingers and toes comfortable, and the head and eyes protected and warm.

Toyota branded cooler
2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition Cooler | Toyota

Food and snacks

Having a cooler will be beneficial as well. Packaged meals ready to eat, or MRE’s only go so far. So, having a cooler will be beneficial in food storage. Whether it stores prepared sandwiches, snacks, or items for grilling on the stove, a cooler will be sure to take care of them. 

Getting away to find some tranquility is not an uncommon thing. While the van and bus culture has gained steam in recent years, car camping is also gaining popularity. When a driver comes prepared for the experience, it is more likely to become an enjoyable memory to be repeated again. The essentials discussed above certainly go a long way to make that possible for any individual considering car camping as their next getaway.