Ooooooh boy, pull up a chair, get yourself a coffee, and get comfortable because this post is a BIG one! Now that I’m more regularly sharing my outdoor adventures, I’ve been flooded with requests for a blog post all about my favorite car camping essentials and equipment. I totally get it! Sean and I have honed our assortment of gear over the years, so we have a really good set up right now. So it finally felt like a good time to share what works for us when we go camping here in the Pacific Northwest! Let’s dig in.
Ok, what would one of my posts be without a disclaimer?? Just kidding, but I want to set a few expectations before we get too far into this post. First, Sean and I are not guides or experts by any means. This is a list of stuff that works for us because we’ve evolved our set up over the last 5 years… and it’s continuing to evolve. It will never be done. Every time we go on a van trip or even backpacking, we keep a running list of ways to improve, new things we need, and any upgrades we want to make. That’s a big part of camping off the grid!
The other disclaimer is that backpacking gear is totally different from car camping gear — and this post will reflect that. I’ve talked about this on Instagram before, but we do not usually go to established campsites where you pay a fee, enter a park, etc. Instead, our preference is to disperse camp, which means we camp for free via a forest service road or what’s sometimes called a hunter’s campsite. Basically, it’s a pull out in the middle of nowhere. Usually, there’s no potable water, electricity, phone service, and waste facilities. Because of that, we prepare ourselves accordingly.
And one more thing: waste management is a HUGE deal when you do any outdoor activities. Do your research before going, be a good steward, and pack it in and out. I don’t even leave biodegradable toilet paper behind. So please, be a responsible camper (same goes with forest fires!!!!).
Car Camping Packing List For Your Next Outdoor Adventure
Our essential car camping gear:
- Washington state atlas
- 1988 Vanagon GL — I know it’s weird to list this, but we literally glamp thanks to having a van. It’s changed my camping habits so much and I love it. I joke that sleeping in the van is my best sleep… but it’s kinda true! We’ve also done a TON of work to the van because it doesn’t have 4 wheel drive, which is something we definitely need for our camping off the grid adventures! Just make sure your vehicle is equipped properly for where you’re going.
- Bamboo charcoal memory foam topper — the best mattress topper, we’ve put it in both the van and our sail boat. Charcoal helps to prevent moisture issues.
- Pillows, comforter, and sheets from home — I’m not kidding about glamping, you guys.
- REI Half Dome tent — I linked the most recent version of the tent we use. Basically, I was given this tent by a friend when he was moving 7+ years ago and we’ve used it ever since. It isn’t the best for backpacking because it’s ‘heavy,’ but it’s served us well. We only sleep in the tent if we can’t find a level place to park the van or if we’re backpacking.
- NEMO sleeping pad — I love these because they are really thick once inflated and have an awesome foot pump.
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Backpacking Mattress — One of the most multi-use things in our camp set up! I use mine as an insulating layer between my sleeping pad and the ground AND as a place to sit on the ground when we’re backpacking. As they get old and worn out, we cut them in half and use them to sit on when doing day hikes or climbing. And I add it to my camp chair seat to keep my butt warm.
- REI Co-op Joule 21 Sleeping Bag — I don’t love this sleeping bag because it feels too restrictive and the zipper is crap. Mine is about 5-6 years old, so maybe it’s been improved. I’d like to upgrade my sleeping bag soon.
- Exped Air Pillow — I only use this for backpacking.
- Camp chairs
- Fiskars axe
- Fiskars hatchet
- Chainsaw — not required, but great for clearing any downed trees
- GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table 25
- Luci Color: Solar Inflatable Lantern
- Black Diamond Voyager Lantern
- The Deuce — sometimes you just gotta go…
Our camp cooking set up:
When it comes to camp cooking, I have worked on our set up a LOT. This is where I really excel when it comes down to getting ourselves situated. There’s a lot of info here, but it’s all stuff I’ve tested and refined over the course of many many years. We have 3 bins that it’s all organized into: food bin (where we keep dry goods), cooking bin, and utensil bin. Here’s what the last two contain each:
Cooking bin — everything here is either a hand-me-down from our house or thrifted to keep our camping gear as affordable as possible
- Coleman 12-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set — we keep 4-6 pieces of each on hand, depending on if we’re camping with people
- Metal tumbler (similar)
- Snow Peak Titanium Cafe Press
- Jetboil — for backpacking only
- Greenpan non-stick fry pan
- Greenpan covered sauce pan
- Medical kit
- Hydro Flask Travel Coffee Flask
- Bag of dryer lint — used to start fires
- Aluminum foil, plastic food storage containers, ziploc baggies, paper towels
- Stainless Steel Food Storage Bowls with Lids
Utensils bin — everything here is either a hand-me-down from our house or thrifted to keep our camping gear as affordable as possible
- Snow Peak utensils — our gear is older, so this spork isn’t what we actually use. Snow Peak used to sell a set that was a separate spoon and fork, which is what we use. If you’re only car camping, just use whatever utensils you have on hand at home or from a thrift store
- Cutting board
- marshmallow roasting sticks
- Wine bottle opener
- Spices — I rinse out and repurpose old jars that contained skincare
- Hot sauce
- Can opener
- 1 large chefs knife
- 1 paring knife
- 1 butter knife
- Wooden spoon
- Silicone mit
- Long lighter
- Sponge + biodegradable, natural dish soap
And then for my general camp cooking set up:
- Mountain Summit Gear Deluxe Roll Top Kitchen — ditch the fabric hanging shelf thing. It’s dinky and not really useful IMO
- Camp Chef Everest 2 Burner Stove — truly the best camping stove, hands down. I used this for a full year when we were renovating the kitchen. We hook ours up to a 5 gallon propane tank, but you can also use smaller canisters.
- Joseph Joseph wash basin — this makes doing dishes SO easy
- Coleman Jug With Water Carrier, 5 Gallons — this usually holds enough for us to drink and do dishes for a weekend
- Yeti 65 cooler — truly the best of the best and SO worth the money
Outdoor apparel + accessories for women:
- Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
- Smartwool Timbervale beanie
- Black Diamond StormLine Stretch Rain Shell
- Patagonia Nano puff
- Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Pullover
- Down vest — mine is the same one my mom used when we lived in Wyoming!
- Prana Halle pants
- Smartwool heavy wool socks
- Smartwool lighter wool socks
- La Sportiva Trango Cube GTX Mountaineering Boots — these are very specific and expensive, so not necessary. I wear them in order to keep the hardware in my leg accustomed to them, womp womp
- Outdoor Research Papyrus Brim Sun Hat
- 2 bandannas (at least)
- Prana Momento Bra
- Cotton tee — I always bring a cotton tee to sleep in, even if we’re backpacking. It just feels SO good to get into bed with something clean, soft, and not made of technical fabric.
- Bathing suit
- Lightweight Quick Drying towel
- Petzl Spatha Knife
- Nalgene HDPE BPA-Free Water Bottle + Wide Mouth Splash Guard
- Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 — the only sunscreen I will ever use again!
- Picaridin Insect Repellent
- Nuun Sport: Electrolyte Drink Tablets
- Outdoor Research Ultralight Ditty Sacks
- Deuter Guide 40+ SL Pack — throw away the dumb hair tie that comes with it
- Exped Torrent 30 Daypack
- Filson Dry Duffel, Large
- Patagonia Black Hole 55L Duffel Bag — good for when we travel with gear
- North Face Base Camp duffel XXL — good for when we travel with gear
- Dr. Bronners — good for washing your body and doing dishes
- Mini broom — to sweep dirt out of the van
- Door mat — When we arrive and set up camp, I put on the ground outside of the van so we can wipe our feet and take off our shoes before coming in (if it isn’t raining)
How to organize camping gear:
- Ziploc WeatherShield storage boxes — These are amazing. They’re waterproof and pretty sturdy for our use, plus lock into place on each other so they don’t slide around in the van.
- IKEA tote bags — Great for literally anything and everything and so cheap.
- Commercial Plastic Bus Boxes — These hold everything miscellaneous in the van
I really tried to make sure I got everything in this post… so hopefully I did! If I think of anything or we change any gear, I will update this list of our favorite car camping essentials. I hope you find this list helpful and I can’t wait to see what adventures you go on… be sure to tag me! Also, I am working on posts about the recipes and food I cook when we’re camping. So stay tuned for that!