Car Camping Essentials For Beginners

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Calling all Weekend Warriors, Automotive Adventurers, and Practical Pioneers - nothing helps you shake off those big city blues like a little jaunt into the wilderness. At the same time, not everyone is quite ready to embrace the full scale “living off the land” aspect of straight camping. You have to be back at the office bright and early on Monday, and the last thing you need is to show up to that board meeting looking like you slept on rocks and ate berries.

Those looking for a quick and easy escape from the mundane without having to go full Wildman of Borneo need look no further than your trusty car. We’re talking about car camping, people. Think of it as the happy medium between full roughing it and glamping: Car camping means you don’t have to pack light and you can load in and out just as fast as your horsepower can carry you. More than that, car camping is about being able to experience the great outdoors and be comfortable. 


For all you first-timers looking to dip a toe into car camping, whether it's with your partner, your buds, or your trusty pooch, here are your car camping essentials:

The Car (duh) and Some Extra Space

Doesn’t matter if you have a sedan, SUV, RV, van, or a two-door hunk ‘o junk, the car is going to be your main means of conveyance and cargo hold. Even so, it pays to streamline: take out anything that might be cluttering up your trunk or backseat (not including kids, though feel free to spook ‘em into being good by saying that). If you can, think about borrowing or renting roof rack storage or a small trailer to hold some of your bulkier items. It’s also a good idea to have your vehicle maintained before you hit the road.

Regardless of the conditions of your vehicle, it’s always smart to have the following:

  • Spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Automotive tools that you would use if you run into any trouble 

Safety First: First Aid Kit, Car Phone Charger, and Lighting

Even camping in comfort and style can be a little dangerous. That’s part of the excitement, but to keep everything on the “fun” side, be sure to have the following:

  • Emergency first aid kit
  • Plenty of flashlights
  • Car phone charger or power pack (in case you need to call for help)

Creature Comforts: Tent, Camp Chair, and Sleeping Bag

Don’t let the name fool you: Car camping is still more camping than a car. You won’t be sleeping in your car most likely, so bring along whatever you’d need to set up camp.

This includes:

  • A tent
  • Camping chair
  • Sleeping pads
  • Sleeping bag
  • Extra blankets

This is where that extra space can come in handy: Feel free to bring a larger, more roomy tent and more cushy sleeping paraphernalia, even an air mattress and pump.

Food, Water, and a Little Extra

Ya need ‘em to live, what can we say? Food and especially water is a camping essential, so bring plenty. Luckily, you aren’t one of those poor saps who have to worry about “only pack what you can carry.” Fill an Adventure Fast Flowing Water Jug for easy sharing, and refill it with water (or margaritas for a crowd) as needed. Feel free to pack along some of your favorite treats alongside the staples in your Stanley Adventure Cooler. Heck, you can even prep your meals ahead of time and bring them along, keeping them warm for hours on end in an Adventure Stay Hot Camp Crock or cookware. If you’re a first-timer heading out for a car camping adventure, make sure you know how to properly pack a cooler to ensure you’re set up for success. 

The space afforded you by your car means that you can bring along some of the luxuries of home as well: Is this is a ladies and gents trip with some of your closest besties, the last thing you want is to realize you left the adult beverages at home. Fill up a Classic Easy-Pour Growler with your favorite brew and you’re good to go. And if you overindulge the night before, be sure to bring along ground coffee that you can make the next morning in your Classic Stay Hot French Press and sip from a camp mug.

Kitchen and Cookware

Camp cooking can be a blast, especially if you have all the best toys. A simple Cook Set can give you everything you need to throw your own version of Chopped: Car Camping Edition. Before you head out, make sure you have an idea of the meals you’re going to prepare, so you won’t have to spend your time doing any guessing or realizing you don’t have the right ingredients. Need some ideas? You can’t go wrong with chipotle egg skillet for breakfast or easy camp tacos for lunch or dinner.

Did we miss anything in our car camping essentials? Have a wild tale of adventure and excitement while car camping with your trusty Stanley? Tag #Stanleyness to share it with the world!



The Stanley brand has a rich 100+ year history. Born from inventor William Stanley Jr. who forever changed the way hot drinks were consumed, in 1913 he fused vacuum insulation and the strength of steel in one portable bottle, inventing the all-steel vacuum bottle we know and love today.