Packing up for a camping trip can be stressful. Often times my family will have the goal of getting in the car and leaving our house by 8 am only to find ourselves pulling out of the driveway around lunch time.
Our late departures are usually due to not being packed ahead of time, forgetting and remembering camping items, and questioning what to bring.
Only once we fully embraced our car camping checklists did we find ourselves leaving on time and with a bit more peace of mind.
About This Family Car Camping Checklist
I have organized this checklist to be easy to read, show the importance of each item, where to buy it and any other info that I can provide.
Importance Ranking: After each item, you will see a number which indicates the level of importance for that item. Importance was calculated based on average state park camping during the peak camping months of June-August. So if you are camping in a more secluded area or during Fall, Winter or Spring, adjust the importance rankings accordingly.
Purchase: After many items, you will see a link to my recommendation of where to buy the item. These links will take you to the store that sells the item, I do make a small commission off many of the items purchased through these links. This helps me run Beyond The Tent and your purchases are greatly appreciated! These recommendations are where I have purchased my gear and I truly recommend these suppliers.
Reviews: After many of the items you will also find reviews of those items that we have done here on Beyond The Tent. This link may take you to an individual review of a specific product of to a list of reviews.
Many of the items you see will not have reviews. This is because of one of two reasons. First, the item might be too small and basic to merit a review. Second, we may not have gotten around to writing up the review yet (I’ve got a lot of writing to do!).
The Complete Family / Car Camping Checklist
The shelter is your most important piece gear for any camping trip. Investing in a high-quality tent is the single most important investment you can make in camping. A high-quality tent will be durable, easy to set up and take down, weatherproof and able to withstand high winds.
- Tent – 10
- Coleman Sundome – The Coleman Sundome is one of the most popular tents in the world, and for good reason. The Sundome is a well-built tent at an affordable price. This is the perfect tent for anyone new to camping who isn’t ready to spend a fortune. The 4 person Coleman Sundome sells for $67.38.
- Kelty Trail Ridge 6 – The Trail Ridge 6 is the perfect family camping tent for a family looking for a bit higher quality tent. It is durable and not too heavy, only 14 lbs. Kelty Trail Ridge 6 Review
- Big Agnes Blacktail 2 – The Blacktail 2 is perfect for 1 – 2 people looking for a durable and well-built tent that is lightweight (5 lbs) and won’t break the bank. We use ours on canoe and hiking trips and love it. Big Agnes Blacktail 2 Review.
- Nemo Bugout Camping Screen Room – The Nemo Bugout is a combination tarp and mesh screen that protects you from the sun, rain, and the bugs. My favorite new pieces of gear (a camping must have)!
- Tent Repair Kit – 9
- Coleman Tent Repair Kit – Don’t wait until you need a tent repair kit to buy one or it will be too late. Always keep a repair kit packed right next to your tent.
- Tent Footprint – 9
- 8′ x 10′ Tarp – A tarp will help keep your tent floor dry and protect it from getting tears and holes in the bottom due to sharp sticks and/or rocks.
- Extra Stakes – 5
- I usually don’t bring extra stakes with me on my trips, but I do keep a container of them in my garage and regularly replace any bent or lost stakes. Purchase: 9″ Camping Tent Stakes
- Stake Hammer – 6
- A stake hammer can be handy, but only if you are car camping. If weight is a concern, this is one of the first things to skip. Purchase: Coleman Stake Hammer
- Tent Fan – 7
- Dust Pan/Brush – 2
- Camco Dust Pan & Wisk – Always nice to keep a clean tent!
- Tent Rug – 2
- Camco Leisure Mat – If we are out car camping with the family and can afford the extra space, I love bringing a rug. I drop it just outside the tent and ideally within a screened in shelter.
Proper sleeping gear is essential for an enjoyable car camping trip. If you are cold, uncomfortable or hot while sleeping, you will be tired and find your camping trip going sour rather quickly.
- Sleeping Bag – 10
- Sierra Design Bed Style Sleeping Bag – Sierra Designs Bed Style sleeping bag is perfect for any camper looking for a comfortable, yet durable bag. Filled with DriDown this bag is comfortable and practical. Sierra Designs Sleeping Bag Review
- Big Agnes 30 Degree Sleeping Bag – The Big Agnes Gun Creek 30 is great because it integrates with Big Agnes’s sleeping pad, making for a perfect fit of bag and pad which prevents you from rolling or sliding off your pad. Big Agnes Sleeping Bag Review in the BWCA.
- Sleeping Pad – 8
- Klymit Insulated Sleeping Pad – Klymit sleeping pads are ultra lightweight, take up no more room than a can of pop and are still incredibly comfortable. Klymit pads are a bit more for lightweight campers than family campers.
- Big Agnes Insulated Sleeping Pad – What is super cool about Big Agnes’ sleeping pads is that they fit perfectly into a built-in pocket in their sleeping bags. These are perfect for family campers.
- Pillow – 7
- Nemo Camping Pillow – If you have the room, packing your normal pillow works great, but camping pillows are comfy, lightweight and take up little room.
- Sleeping Cot – 9
- Kamp Rite Tent Cot – If you have the room for a cot, cots can be incredibly comfortable and super fun! The Kamp Rite tent cot is one of my personal favorites. Beyond The Tent’s review coming soon!
- Air Mattress – 5
- Coleman Quickbed – An air mattress is different from a sleeping pad in that they are much bigger and heavier. If you have the room though, they are definitely comfy!
- Extra Blankets -2
- Ear Plugs – 2
I recommend purchasing your family camping clothing from either Cabela’s or REI as both have a wide selection of camp clothing for men, women, and kids as well as a wide range of sizes. Here is a post we did last fall about some of our favorite camping clothing.
- Long Pants – 10
- T-Shirts – 10
- Sweat Shirt – 10
- Long Sleeve Shirt – 10
- Ibex Long Sleeve W2 – Again, this is my favorite camping shirt (only long sleeve) as it is, soft, durable, breathable and incredibly lightweight at only 7.24 ounces.
- Socks – 10
- Undies – 10+ 🙂
- Hat – 9
- Thermal Underwear – 8
- Hiking Boots – 8
- Shorts – 8
- Rain Jacket – 7
- Bandana – 6
- Water Shoes / Sandles – 6
- Keen Sandles – We use Keens for literally all of our camping, canoeing and paddleboarding trips. They are perfect to wear into the water, on a beach, around a campsite and more since they allow your foot to breath, dry quickly and yet still have a hard durable sole and toe.
- Bathing Suit – 5
- Beach Towel – 4
- Dirty Clothes Bag – 3
- Granite Gear Dry Sack – Granite Gear makes the most durable and pack forming dry sacks available.
General Car Camping Gear
Without the right gear, any type of family or car camping trip can become quite miserable rather quick. Here is my essential gear with recommendations.
- Back Pack – 10
- Boreas Backpacks – Boreas packs are great for hiking and camping. Incredibly durable and well thought out design makes them perfect for any trip. Read my full review on Boreas Packs here.
- Granite Gear Portage Packs – For any canoe trip or when you need to pack a serious amount of gear on your camping trip, this literally no better backpack on the market. Granite Gear Portage Pack Full Review.
- Water Filter – 10
- Vapor Microfilter Water Bottle – This water bottle / water filter is perfect for any camping trip and allows you to drink directly from nearly any water source including lakes and streams. It also rolls up to take up as little room and weight as possible. Read my full review here.
- Katadyn Gravity Water Filter – This gravity-fed water filter can filter up to 6 liters at a time at a pace of 2 liters a minute and a total 1,500 liters per filter. One bag full is the perfect amount of water for an evening of camping for all drinking, cooking and even cleanup needs. Read my review of the Katadyn Water Filer Here.
- Flashlight – 10
- I’m pretty sure you understand the importance of flashlights on any type of car or family camping trip.
- Lantern – 10
- Thermacell – 10
- Bug Spray – 9
- You may not love putting on bug spray, but getting 50+ mosquito bites will turn any camping trip into a nightmare real quick. It can be really hard to enjoy the outdoors without proper bug protection. If you don’t like the idea of deet, check out the Thermacell (above).
- Pocket Knife – 9
- A high-quality pocket knife is not only handy but also vital in many emergency situations. If you want to read more about creating a camping survival kit, check out this post.
- Camp Chairs – 9
- Coleman’s camping chairs are classic, easy to pack and priced affordably.
- Rope – 9
- A quality rope / paracord is essential in almost any situation.
- Duct Tape – 9
- Drysacks – 9
- Solar Charger – 8
- Hydration Pack – 8
- Day Pack – 8
- Head Lamp – 8
- Xtreme Bright – One of the best selling and highest rated headlamps on Amazon.
- Compass – 7
- You’d be amazed how useful a compass can be. While more of an emergency item for most people, I always have my compass with me and use it quite often.
- Cooling Towel – 6
- GPS – 6
- Hammock – 5
- Eno Double Hammock – The Eno is a horribly comfortable hammock perfect for nearly any camp trip. Eno Hammock Review
- Hummingbird Hammock – If you are looking for something that can pack smaller and lighter, then the Hummingbird Hammock is perfect. Review Coming Soon.
- Hennessy Hammock – The Hennessy hammock is straight up awesome! A different type of hammock than both the ENO and Hummingbird, this hammock actually is built as your tent and hammock. Complete with a bug screen and rain cover, perfect for anyone wanting to sleep in the trees. Review Coming Soon.
- Screen Tent – 5
- Ozark Instant Screen Tent – A screen tent is great for a large family camping site so you can enjoy lounging or eating without the sun and bugs pestering you.
- Clothes Wash Bag – 4
- Fire Knife – 4 – Review Coming Soon.
- Binoculars – 4
- Folding Table – 4
- Lantern Pole – 3
- Large Umbrella – 3
- Child Carrier – 3
- We have loved these when our kids were under 2!
Personal Camping Items
I try to go rather minimal on personal items while camping. I never bring deodorant and try to go minimal on soaps as well.
- Toiletries – 10
- Water Bottle – 10
- Sunscreen – 10
- Glasses – 9
- Soap/Shampoo – 3
- Wilderness Wash – This concentrated soap is biodegradable and perfect for shampoo, dishes, hands, pets and even laundry detergent, I use it all the time.
- First Aid Kit – 10
- Emergency Water Filter – 10
- Life Straw Water Filter – While a Katadyn or Vapor bottle will fulfill all of your clean water needs, placing a Lifestraw in your emergency kit is definitely a great idea.
- Bug Sting Ointment – 9
- Aloe Lotion – 8
- Cooler – 10
- Yeti Coolers – Yeti coolers are amazing, durable and can keep things cold for a very long time. But they are extremely heavy. We only bring ours on car camping trips. Read our Yeti vs. Coleman review here.
- Coleman Extreme – The Coleman Extreme is far cheaper than a Yeti but can still keep ice frozen for roughly 5 days. The Coleman definitely does not have the same durability as the Yeti though. Read our Coleman vs. Yeti review here.
- Cookware – 10
- Utensils – 10
- Cups/Bowels – 10
- Coffee Pot – IR: 9
- Camp Kitchen – 8
- Grub Hub – The Grub Hub is a family or car campers dream. It packs neatly in the back of any size vehicle and holds all of you food, dishes and kitchen needs. When out camping it unfolds into an incredibly versatile camping kitchen. Review Coming Soon.
- Portable Grill – 8
- Fuel – 8
- Charcoal – 8
- Water Jug – 7
- Trash Bags – 6
- Table Cloth – 5
- Aluminum Foil – 5
- Cooking Oil – 5
- Dutch Oven – 5
- Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven – One of the best ever built.
- Paper Towels – 4
- Dish Soap – 4
- Skewers – 4
- Pie Irons – 4
- Zip Lock Baggies – 4
- Water Proof Matches – 10
- Fire Starting Kit – 10
- Firewood – Purchase at campground, DO NOT bring your own.
We didn’t feel the need to give our fun items a IR (Importance Ranking).
- The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 is simply the best camera you can get for your money. Incredible 4k video, durable and the proud camera of almost every shot on this website since December 2014. Most all of the video and photos from our camping trips that you see here on Beyond The Tent were all taken with the FZ1000, like this BWCA Camping Post.
- Memory Cards
- Water Toys
- C4 Waterman Paddle Boards – I prefer inflatable boards since they are compact and still awesome. Check out the whitewater trip I took with my C4 board in late 2015 here.
- Floating Mats – Absolutely love our Aqua Lilly Pad floating mat!
- Footballs & Frisbees
- Ice Cream Ball – Yay Labs Ice Cream Ball
- Disc Golf – Innova Skill Shot
- Geo Caching – Magellan Explorist
- Glow Sticks
Luxury / Optional
We did not feel that giving our luxury camping items an IR ranking was necessary.