March 30


Pro Car Camping List For Beginners 2023

By Michael Bryant

March 30, 2023

camping, checklist

Beginner Car Camping List: Get Outside!

It is time to turn quarantine into camping isolation and if you are new to car camping, the Lifers have created a gear list for you. 

Car camping doesn't mean you have to sleep in your car, although you are welcome to.

What it really means is that you can bring along whatever will fit, meaning all of your creature comforts. 

Sounds pretty nice huh? In fact, it is delightful, taking the time to breathe some fresh air and inhale some wood smoke is good for the soul.

But first, here is some gear you'll need to make the trip memorable.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature. He finds it attached to the rest of the world."

-John Muir

Cow Camping

Cow Camping in Indian Creek

Car Camping List: Sleeping Gear

To be honest, it seems silly to start with sleeping. After all, you came outside to play but without a warm place to rest, your' trip will be incredibly uncomfortable. So decide based upon the time of year and weather forecast of where you'll be staying.

Car Camping Tents:

Limitless options here, they are generally broken down by number of seasons. Let's have a look...

4 Season Tents

Are built for year round use, but if you're not planning on winter camping they are overkill. Not to mention they will hold in moisture in warmer months making them rather muggy.  Not really a beginners car camping list need. But hey, maybe you are going to climb Rainier this year.

4 season tent

3+ Season Tents

These are essentially just a burlier version of a 3 season tent. If you camp in early spring or late fall and expect bad weather occasionally it's a reasonable choice. Still manages in summer but will also hold in moisture and you might wake up real sweaty and stinky. Which may or may not matter, depending on your tent mate.

3 Season Tents 

These are by far the most common and for good reason. They are the most well-rounded, especially for car camping. We're not dog sledding in Alaska in this article. These tents will provide enough protection from the elements while also having good ventilation. You can find them at all sorts of price points. Just remember you get what you pay for.

rei camping tent

LIFER TIP: Get a footprint for your tent if it doesn't come with one. It's essentially a tarp underneath your tent to protect it from ripping and water soaking through. 

Tent in Wyoming

Car Camping Sleeping Bags:

Down vs. Synthetic: If you are in the Pacific Northwest, I wouldn't bring along a down sleeping bag, if they get wet they are basically useless. Stick with synthetic there. But if I was headed out to the desert in early spring a down bag would be my go to. 

Sleeping Pads for Car Camping

There's a lot of options when it comes to pads. I like the self inflating thin pads myself. But since you have the full capacity of your car, you can get the biggest inflatable mattress you can find, so long as it fits in your tent. Test that first! These are great for couples and can even be fitted with sheets and blankets from home. If you are a little more dirtbag-ish like me, you'll be fine with even a foam mat in most cases. 

Car Camping Sleeping Comforts for Beginners: The Extras

  • Slippers or Down Booties: can be a game changer when having to get up in the middle of the night when nature calls.
  • A Rug: Yes, a rug. This keeps the dirt out of your tent and helps avoid that sleeping in sand feeling. Unless you need exfoliation, this is a Lifer Pro Tip.
  • Pillow: I usually just stuff some clothes inside of the stuff sack my sleeping bag comes in. But since we are car camping, bring whatever your pretty little head desires.
Sleeping bag in tent

Car Camp Cooking List For Newbies and Non Chefs

  • Camp Stove: For car camping a 2 burner stove is they way to go. There's elaborate standalone versions with griddles etc. But a simple set on a table version works for even gourmet meals.
  • Table: Now your campsite may have one, but if not, a folding table makes the chef not feel like a primate cooking and cutting on the ground. Eating in a chair is fine but slicing veggies on a cooler isn't that cool.
  • Chairs: Folding camp chairs are essential to enjoying time around a campfire. Your' booty will thank you. Don't expect a perfectly cut stump to rest on, that's only good for photos.
  • Cooler: There is big hype and big prices in coolers these days. You decide what's right for you. For a beginner camper on a weekend trip, most plastic coolers will do. Just bring enough ice ice baby.
  • Water Jug: Go big, 5 gallon containers with a spigot are the only wy to go in my eyes. It is a life necessity after all.
    Pots, pans, water bottles, utensils, plates, bowls, knives, cutting board, wash tubs and soap. Feel free to raid your home, just use biodegradable soap. You'll learn what is necessary and what you like. I guarantee you'll find a way to get that food in your mouth if you're hungry enough. Lifers and car camping beginners alike, we all need to be eatin'!

    Now this list can get really longer depending upon your culinary skills and desires. We will stick to the basic car camping kitchen for now. You've been eating your' entire life so throw in whatever you'd like to make your trip as delicious as you'd like.

World's Best Camping Plate: Tortillas!

LIFER TIP: Tortillas are plates and the best vessel to fill a hungry after-hike belly. I love eating my dirty dishes this way.


Camping plates, bowls and napkins you can eat.

New Car Camper Gear List Conclusion

Car camping for beginners, while we haven't covered every single thing you'll need for a beginner's car camping trip. Here are some miscellaneous categories of items you should consider and tailor to your trip, the weather and how much space you have in the car. A full printable list will be along shortly.

  • Proper Clothing
  • Speakers or Instruments
  • Bug Spray
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Proper Footwear
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Towel
  • Toiletries
  • TP or Biodegradable Wipes
  • Trowel
  • Axe, Hatchet, Knife
  • Day Packs
  • Camera

Michael Bryant

About the author

After a lifetime spent in the outdoors and 10 years in the outdoor sports industry, I figured out what I'm best at. Finding great mentors to show me the ropes. Without the Lifers that taught me all I know, I wouldn't be where I'm at, which is... "pretty solid" at most adventures outside.

Mentors are the best way to access the backcountry. Learn with us.