The Best Damn Car Camping Checklist. Ever.

by Jack T. Wilder

With some states opening back up and easing restrictions on travel, camping outside under the stars this summer has become the hot ticket. Having just spent the past two weeks on the road with my lovely wife and two young kids I can tell you that families are indeed packing it up and heading out there. No matter what you use to get to the campsite you’re gonna need a checklist of items to help you pack it up and get there.

Road Atlas

Sure you’ve got your phone and GPS to guide you but sometimes you just really need a good quality road map. My wife likes to pore over ours as I’m driving and add helpful ideas and suggestions for places to go. It doubles as a lap table for making sandwiches on the go. Full of useful information and providing that all needed birds-eye view of the region you’re driving through, this is the first thing I get out when I start planning a trip and the first thing I pack into the truck. BUY HERE: 2021 Rand McNally Atlas Road Map


This year I decided to get a big tent for our family excursion across New England. Being able to park close to your campsite means you can bring an exceptionally heavy and large tent with you for extra room and comfort. We opted for the North Face Wawona 6 and it was the smartest move I made all year. There are others in the same class that will get you the same degree of comfort. If you’re going alone, take a 2 man tent with you. If you’re a couple consider getting a 4 man tent. You’ll appreciate the extra space. Don’t forget the footprint or rainfly if optional as they go a long way to keeping you dry. BUY HERE: North Face Wawona 6, or try the Big Agnes Doghouse. For a slightly smaller tent try the REI Kingdom 4 Person Tent or the North Face Wawona 4.

Sleeping Bag

If it’s summer you won’t need much here. Find yourself a good lightweight bag that is affordable and then get a stuff sack to keep it rolled up and tucked away. My wife likes to forego the sleeping bag altogether in the summer for a light down blanket like the kind they make at Nemo and Rumpl. I bought a new bag this spring that I really like that is also made by Nemo. The Forte 35 kept me warm at night in the Vermont mountains and was plush. I can’t say if the thermo gills worked or not. BUY HERE. Nemo Forte 35 sleeping bag. Don’t forget the pillows. Sleeping on a rolled up pair of jeans is never fun.

Air Mattress

I went to Wal-Mart and bought a basic full sized air mattress and pump because I like to sleep in comfort and our tent was big enough to accommodate. My wife and kids for some reason wanted to sleep on the smaller kind that self-inflate and fit right under your sleeping bag. I can tell you who was more comfortable but if space is an issue these babies will work in a pinch. BUY HERE: REI Groundbreaker or the Sea to Summit Ultralight.


We opted for a USB led lantern for our campsite and it did quite well. You of course can go out and buy a Coleman lantern like your grandparents did it, but the new designs do have some perks. For instance, we could charge a phone off the USB lantern or plug in some more lights. Our choice was the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400. We loved it. For inside our tents I got everyone a Black Diamond Moji and these we hung on the ceiling or used as our own personal globe lantern while walking around. They come in a variety of colors.


If you have the room in the car, I highly recommend the Coleman RoadTrip LXE Propane Gas Grill for all of your car camping needs. Easy-to-clean, cast-iron and porcelain-coated surfaces with removable grease tray. 20,000 BTUs of cooking power. In a pinch though you can head to Wal-Mart and pick up one of their very cheap one burner portable gas grills and a small can of propane. We used one of these to cook some lobsters in Maine and it worked perfectly.

Kitchen Needs

You’re going to need a few small pans and a pot to boil water in at the least. Either bring some of your own from your home kitchen or stop in any small store to get some. We like to bring four good plastic plates and plastic cutlery. A sharp knife for cutting meats and vegetables and a cutting board. But the best thing we brought with us was this Ultimate Kitchen Sink! It folds down to take up less space and holds two gallons of water for washing up plates after dinner.

Camp Chairs

Easy to forget but the first thing you want after un-packing. We’re fans of the Woods Reclining Siesta camp chairs but there are many different kinds to choose from. In a pinch Wal-Mart sells cheap ones for $10

This list will help you get started as you plan your car camping trip to Valhalla. But you’ll need to round it out with some good bug spray, rain gear, hats and suntan lotion too. Remember to have fun and make memories that will last you and your family a lifetime!