Car packed full for a car camping trip.

Summer is here, which means that another season of car camping is never far behind! Looking to dust off the camping cobwebs? The key to successfully semi-roughing it is all wrapped up in one little camping secret: the car camping packing list. Making a car camping packing list isn’t necessarily fun (especially for folks who hate lists) but there is nothing worse than missing a key piece of car camping gear--sleeping bags, anyone?--when you need it.

To help you avoid the packing panic, we’ve created our own car camping packing list divided into three categories: Must have, should have, and “wish I had.” We’ve bolded the items, from most to least necessary. You may not agree with every item on our car camping packing list, but you may also get some new ideas.

The Must Have Gear

A group of friends sits outside of their tents during a car camping trip.

You will need at least a (1) sleeping bag, although depending on the weather and season you’re planning your trip, occasionally blankets will suffice. Don’t forget to also bring a (2) tent, just make sure it’s one you’ve set up before. As far as hydration goes, we recommend bringing along (3) potable water in a jug that makes a good decanter. Even though you may prefer your campfire wine, you can never have enough of our all-time favorite beverage: water! Obviously, bringing enough (4) food to make your meals and snacks is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many families forget to pack enough goodies. If you’re looking for easier options, there are a variety of pre-packaged meals on the market, many of which have upped their nutritional value in recent years. Of course, you’ll also need a semi-decent (5) cooler to store all of your perishables!

Once you’ve settled on your meal plan, don’t neglect (6) trash bags (at least three) because you will make trash, just like at home. Trash bags happen to be one of the most versatile items you can bring camping, as they can serve as seat covers in the rain, makeshift ponchos, wet clothing storage bags, and a host of other things in addition to their traditional purpose.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention our #1 car camping packing list item: (7) foldable chairs. Car camping without chairs is like watching TV without anything to sit just doesn’t quite make sense. Looking for options? We recommend our reclining camping chairs. It’s the most comfortable camping chair you’ll ever sit in (or nap in, if that’s your style). In addition to proper seating, it’s a safe bet to take your own (8) toilet paper no matter where you go, because even if there is a bathroom, it may not have any. A (9) headlamp or lantern matters because you’ll do things in pitch darkness. Oh, and, finally, you’ll want a (10) mess kit because you cannot eat or drink without a bowl (at least).

Should Have Gear

Car camping in the forest.

As far as the should-haves go, a (1) stove w/ fuel source is almost as important as a cooler, but it’s on the should have list because not everyone needs to bring one. It’s possible to eat out of your cooler and never cook, but a hot meal while camping can be one of the great pleasures of outdoor life. A (2) sleeping pad is necessary for 99% percent of campers, but not everyone. You are probably not the 1%--don’t skimp on this important item. Especially while car camping, weight and packability shouldn’t be a concern, so go as crazy as you’d like—we won’t even judge if you go for an inflatable mattress.

If you’re a wilderness foodie, a (3) menu for each day and night might be advisable, so you can take only the food you need, and either keep it on your (4) smart phone or in your car glove compartment. You should also probably have a (5) pocketknife of some sort, if you don’t normally carry one, mainly because it can do so many things around camp (cut rope, cut food, open wine bottles, etc.).

“Wish I Had” Items

A couple goes car camping with their rooftop tent.

Ever been halfway to your camping destination and realized you left something vital behind? Us too. Don’t neglect to consider these last five items on your car camping packing list, no matter how mundane they may seem: (1) ear plugs (the wax ones); (2) scissors; (3) a multi-purpose soap (like Dr. Bronner’s); (4) a multi-purpose kitchen towel; and (5) a small bag of clothespins or other fasteners.

While this car camping packing list is generic, it’s helpful to avoid both over packing and forgetting something important to your trip. New to the car camping scene? Our recommendation for packing is to start with the basics and add only what you need. Once you’ve got a few trips under your belt, chances are your car camping packing list will start to look more unique to your preferences and camping style.

Happy camping!