One of our favorite ways to unwind in the summer and fall is to go car camping. We love getting out in nature, hiking, canoeing, reading tons of books around a campfire and of course…eating!
Camping is affordable, flexible and just plain fun. Let’s take a peek at what we actually pack and use while camping!
Over the years we have been working hard to compact our gear to eventually move to a more “grab and go” approach. We have been able to do one hiking camping trip and are looking forward to doing more.
Everything on this list fits in our car. We do not have a roof rack or trailer.
Note: I am sharing a lot of lists so please feel free to use the “READ LATER” button to get a PDF of this post sent to your inbox! You can find it at the top of this post.
We camp mostly in Provincial or National Parks in Canada. They focus on preserving nature and include many learning opportunities on the trails. Many have outdoor theaters that tell about the history and steps you can take to help preserve our wildlife.
Parks Canada also provides dry shelters. They often include showers and flush toilets along with pit toilets.
Wherever you decide to camp here is a list of important papers you will want to take:
- Your campground reservation info
- Emergency contact numbers
- Directions to the campground
We use Coleman 6-Person Instant Cabin.
I had requirements of my car camping tent. Plain and simple I wanted to be able to stand up to change. Lying down trying to get into pants is a royal pain. At 10 x 9 ft. 6 ft. center height. 6 ft. center height this tent is awesome.
This tent is easy to set up it takes under 3 minutes with the poles attached. (Yes, I know the review says 60 seconds but I gotta move it around and see where I want the door. LOL)
We did not buy the fly and now we are kicking ourselves! So we throw a small tarp over it because someone (me) is terrified it is going to leak. We camp every summer and have never had it leak yet.
This tent says it sleeps 6 which is true if you like the cuddly feeling. I never go by “people sizing”. This works great for 4 people and bags of clothes.
We hope to replace this for a tent that folds up smaller. This is my only complaint. It takes up a lot of car room.
Items you need:
- Tarps or fly
- Pegs for pegging the tent down in rain (bring extra since a few might break!)
- Bungee cords or rope for tarps
- Hammer or Mallet (like this one: Kalili Outdoor Camping Aluminum Multi-function tent Hammer Stake Mallet)
For sleeping, we take air mattresses. It keeps you off the damp ground in chilly weather and let’s just say, it is softer than the ground. We use Intex Classic Downy Airbed. We have a queen and the kids have singles.
These can be purchased in sets to include pillows and hand pumps. I highly recommend having a hand pump in case your electric pump fails. We haven’t had that happen but ouch can you imagine??
Note: Not a tip but don’t let your cat walk all over the airbed if they have claws. They leave tiny holes that will never be found.
We use two Broadstone Sleeping Bags. These can be zipped together to make a double sleeping bag for hubby and I. These are large and take up a lot of room. They are on the “to replace with a compact lightweight item” list.
We do have mummy style sleeping bags for the kids. They prefer the pillows that come with their air mattresses.
Items you need:
- Sleeping bags
- Air mattress or pads
- Extra blankets if in cold weather
- Patching kit
Camping Kitchen Set Up:
As important as the rest of camping is food is where it is AT! 😉 We try hard to make sure most of our food is made ahead so we don’t spend all day cooking. We want to explore and hit the trails.
We have a kitchen tent but I will admit we didn’t use it last time. It was given to us. It has holes and is on the flimsy side. It wasn’t worth the space or effort. I’d love to get a sturdy one that compacts down small. Someday…
In the meantime, we set up a very large tarp, similar to this Roughneck 6-Oz. Extreme-Duty Black/Silver Poly Tarp . This tarp is black on one side and reflective on the other. This is the KEY!
When camping in colder weather you want to put the black side up to attract the heat of the sun while the reflective side reflects the heat from the stove and campfire down on you. When camping in warmer weather you flip it over the other opposite effect.
The tarp provides shade and protection from the rain, be sure to tie it tight from gusts of wind.
We use two stoves. We love/hate our Coleman Camp Propane Grill/Stove+ . Bought years ago for the 2 in 1 factor. We love the grill but miss the extra burner. So we also take along our Coleman Butane Stove. We love our butane stove, it is small, lightweight and easy to use. We’ve had ours for years!
I splurged and bought this Campeggio 8 Piece Camping Cookware Set. It is heavy but it nests. It is soooo cool. It was my anniversary gift to my husband that year and he was so excited. You get two pots, two frying pans, removal handle, and covers. The pans are nonstick. They are the only cookware we take. Love them!!
You can use this set right on the campfire if you want, we made a stew this way it was the best ever.
For coffee, we use our Coleman 12 Cup Stainless Steel Percolator. This is perfect for heating water for tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and dry food meals.
Our dishes are GSI Outdoors Infinity 4 Person Deluxe Tableset. We love this set.
- Color-coded 4-person deluxe table set designed for car camping
- Four 6-inch bowls with lids and four 9-inch plates
- Four 17-ounce insulated mugs and four 12-ounce glasses
- Mugs include insulated EVA sleeves and no-spill Sip-It lids
- Stores in stuff sack; measures 9.3 x 9.6 x 9.3 inches (W x H x D)
We love this set but, do not use steak knives on the plates! They scratch big time. This is the only downside we have found. We purchased a small wooden cutting board for this reason. Also, we chucked the lids. I mean, they are perfect if you are going to carry something or keep leftovers but… really? We never used them.
The mugs are awesome!! And they come with cozies that you will for your coffee and the lids are awesome for walking around with your drink 🙂
It is the only dish set we use.
We use sporks for eating, pack a serrated knife for cutting meat and bread/English muffins etc., a wooden spoon for mixing and an egg flipper for eggs etc.
Items you need:
- Camp stove
- Fuel (butane or propane – different stoves require different fuels)
- Firestarter (matches and lighter)
- Cookset (pots/pans) and cooking utensils
- Coffee maker/percolator
- Eating utensils (plates, bowls, cups)
- Can opener, bottle opener, knife, cutting board, etc.
I talked about our make ahead camping meals before. However, you are going to need a way to take them with you.
We take a Coleman 60 Quart Performance Wheeled Cooler. I am starting to think we love Coleman brand lol never noticed this before today, Ha! It keeps everything cold for 4 days and has wheels and a handle for easy moving. Full coolers are heavy!
Also fun fact about coolers in Canada at least. This one is 60 quart but they advertise “holds 90 cans” umm??
One thing we love about this cooler is it is high because you can store tall bottles of water, coffee creamer etc. without laying them down and worrying about them spilling. We also freeze bottled water as ice. It is larger and stays frozen longer. The drain on the bottom is handy for getting rid of water and it is easy to clean.
We also use a tote for dried food such as bread, chips, trail mix anything that doesn’t need to be kept cold. as well as odds and ends.
Items you need:
- Ice/Freezer Packs
- Garbage bags
- Ziplock bags
- Biodegradable soap and a sponge
- Bucket or camp sink or small tote for washing dishes
- A dish washing cloth and drying cloth
- Clothes line and a few clothes pins
- Paper towel roll
- Collapsible water jug
- Bottled water for drinking
We like to eat and read around the camp fire. Therefore we always bring folding camping chairs with cup holders. We love these collapsible chairs because they fold down into a bag. However make sure you are on HARD ground or they sink and tip! Before you know it your are tossed into the dirt. We hope to find a sturdy brand to replace them with.
First Aid Camp List:
In the last tote we store camp fuel, odds and ends listed below including our first aid items. We also store a smaller tote where we keep the utensils in. This smaller tote doubles as a wash bin.
Items you will need:
- First-aid kit
- Insect repellent-Mine includes tick repellent
- After Bite
- Citronella candles
- Prescription medications
- Allergy medication
- Duct tape
- Patching kit for tents and air mattresses
- Flashlights one per person
- Camp Lantern
- Cell phone, and a car charger and a portable battery pack
- Small broom and dust pan
Fun/Rain Day Camping List:
No matter what you do you can’t control the weather. When it rains you end up with wet bored kids.
Here are a few things take with us to keep sane:
- Games- think deck of cards or Crib,
- Notebook and pen- for drawing, hangman, keeping score
- Art supplies and stickers
- Mini microscope
We pack our camping clothes in backpacks. We each get one. I like mine to have many pockets so I can keep organized. Much like my packing list for business trips ,I use a list.
Here is my basic car camping clothing list:
- Rain coat, make sure it has a hood.
- Hiking sneakers
- Shower sandals
- Long sleeve shirt
- PJ’s- I use warmer pants
- Swimming suits
- Warm hat and gloves
- Sunglasses and baseball hat
Camping Personal List:
We also keep our personal items in our back pack. I like to use a separate pocket or you can use a zip lock bag.
Items you need:
- Washcloths and towels
- Biodegradable soap/shampoo
- Face-cream one that contains sunscreen
- Lip balm one that contains sunscreen
- Toilet paper
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
Car Camping Packing Tips:
I hope you enjoyed reading our ultimate family car camping list. Everything listed above fits in our car. We had a Mazda 6 for years. My husband does the actual “fit it all in the car” thing. So I asked him what his car camping packing the car tips were.
He said: Totes are the key for keeping organized. As for the order, the last thing you want to pull out of your car – put in first. Coolers, camp stove, etc.
If you are camping in the rain, you want to make create your weather shield first. You want to be able to reach your rain coat first. Make sure your tarps are accessible then your tent.
Lastly, our car looks like a chaotic mess but results in organized campsite!
There you have it! Our family camping car packing lists and practical tips. I hope this encourages you to get out there and enjoy your next camping trip!
PS. Are you wondering what we eat while camping? We love these easy make ahead meals! Be sure to check them out!