In my 6 years in Colorado, I have only been backpacking once! So every other time we go camping its car Camping. Last year, Clay and I got our car camping set up dialed in! We have absolutely everything we need to camp in luxury out of his truck. So here is the rundown of our must-haves and how to organize it.
Car Camping Essentials
Easy Up Tent
We have two tents, one for car camping and one for backpacking. For car camping, we use a big spacious 4 person tent from Coleman Instant Tent that literally sets up in a matter of seconds. You lay it open, fold out the arms, pull from the center, lock the arms in place, and stake it down. Seriously so simple! I do wish our tent had a few more interior pockets but its still pretty great.
The Coleman Instant Tent and comes in various sizes but a 4 person easily fits a two-person air mattress with room for two dogs and our bags. We recently saw a “Black Out” tent at Costco that blocks out the sun which sounds pretty amazing! Once the morning sun hits your tent, it will begin to heat up! If you’re looking for a backpacking and car camping tent I use this 2 person Half Dome from REI – had it for almost 10 years now too!
Sleeping Pads + Air Mattress
You are car camping, bring an air mattress! Honestly, we have found the best air mattresses are cheapest. Why? Because no matter how much you spend the will inevitably pop!On our first camping trip, our air mattress popped right before going to bed and we had nothing to sleep on but piles of clothes. So we always always always bring out backpacking sleeping pads as well.
To stay warm you need something insulated between you and the ground, so bring a sleeping pad. REI has some fantastic sleeping pads and I prefer the REI AirRAils Pad that is made for side sleepers. Not all pads are the same so depending on how you like to sleep you may need a different type of pad. If you want an even more luxurious experience… invest in a Paco Pad. These thick Paco Pads are seriously comfortable but do take up more space. But your car camping so ya got the room!
Bring a tarp, actually bring two. If it looks like rain you will want to put your tarp down under your tent to prevent the bottom of your tent from getting wet. You may even want to string up another tarp as a shelter. For a pretty tarp like the one below check out Tarpesty.
Easy Up Tent
We actually don’t have an easy up tent. These are great when you need shade but we typically don’t spend too much daytime at our campsite and when we set these up and leave the probability that we come back and it’s still intact is very low. I have seen many tents get totally crushed by wind.
As I said, car camping means living in luxury! We typically bring out sleeping bags, pillows and sheets & blankets. We use a fitted sheet to cover our air mattress then place our sleeping bags on top. In the Summer you may want to kick off your bag and sleep with just sheets. In the winter our bags will keep us warm enough but an added blanket is nice for added weight and comfort. For me, I get really cold so having a big blanket on the side closest to the tent wall keeps me more comfortable. Or if you wanna kick a leg or not be totally constrained by your sleeping bag… bring some blankets. Don’t forget your pillow!
Camp Kitchen Essentials
Car camping means you can bring a lot and live in luxury. In my camping kitchen essential post I break down everything you need for your camp kitchen and exactly how to organize all of it. If you are looking for luxury check out the Biolite Camp Firepit here.
You need a headlamp. If you want to walk around your campsite and be hands-free- and you do then you need a headlamp. My Petzl headlamp last me about 10 years so last summer when it really died, I went for another Petzl. Yep, it’s under $30 and works great. I recommended Petzl or Black Diamond Brand headlamps.
Now that your campsite is perfect its time to go exploring. I have recently gifted a bag by Adventurist Backpack Co. This padded bag is great for bringing the essentials with you from work to camping and even on a short hike. The inside has great padding so you can protect your computer and all your camera gear as well. This bag is practical and stylish making it the perfect hike to town bag. Plus, for each backpack sold the Adventurist team provides meals for families in need. You can learn more about their mission here.
Hydration Pack Bag
For longer hikes, I prefer a hydration pack. I just purchased this Gregory Maya 16L bag that I am super excited to use. I choose this bag because of its size and its compartment. A lot of the bags I saw were just a flap open when I find annoying and no side/outside pockets.
Now, what to pack all your clothing in! Well, I use about 9 bags just because they’re all small to medium size. Clay uses his Patagonia Black Hole Duffle and I love my Lo & Son’s Weekender bag. I usually compartmentalize all my things, so clothing goes in a bag in my tent, toiletries and electronics stay in the passenger seat and locked at night and I usually have another bag just of shoes & jackets. The shoes in jackets bag is also accessible while we drive so if we get out and its chilly I can grab those easily.
There are lots of great coolers on the market and there is one for every budget too. Yeti is the OG cooler that started it all but sells at a premium price. There are other totally comparable coolers at much lower prices such as Rtic and Grizzly. We were going to purchase an Rtic cooler last summer but there were a few months wait on delivery so we went with Grizzly. We totally lucked out in that the larger size in this two-tone color was on major sale. I highly recommend buying the baskets as you can keep food that doesn’t need to been ice there like cheese!
For Christmas, Clay got me a smaller Rtic Soft Pack Cooler just for my cheese and smaller trips. We are also going to keep this little cooler in the car with us to keep snacks and drinks cold on longer trips. Ideally, you have 2 coolers – one only for food and one only for drinks with extra ice. This way when everyone goes to get a drink they are not opening the food cooler. Learn more about proper camp kitchen setup with coolers here.
Camp boxes are the key to having an enjoyable car camping experience. Currently, we use 3 camping boxes that are essential to our set up. Don’t buy cheap boxes. You will regret it immediately. We bought 2 heavy-duty boxes with locking tops that are perfect. To organize the inside we just use cardboard board boxes cut off.
- Camp Kitchen Box – What to put in the camp kitchen here
- Camp Gear – The camp gearbox holds all the other little things you need while camping such as sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, rope, duct tape, firs starters, lighters, lanterns, speaker, cords, mallet, extra tent steaks… really anything else your campsite may need goes in that box.
- Tent/Sleeping Gear – This box is pretty big. It fits our sleeping pads, air mattress, tarp and sleeping bags all in one. We just got this size box from Target and it barely all fits.
P.S. All those stickers you have laying around? Put them on the SIDES of your camp box! Putting on top will get lots of wear and tear so go for the sides.
I will continue to update this post as our car camping expertise continues to evolve. Have any questions? leave me a comment or shoot me a DM!
Now that you know how to camp… where should ya go? Check out my Colorado Guides here for some camping ideas!