Car Camping Gear: 3 Things You Need to Have the Best Weekend Ever

car camping gear

When it comes to car camping gear, it’s easy to go completely over the top.

With a decent-sized vehicle and an open calendar, your list of essentials can quickly get out of control.

However, when you’re first dipping a toe in the camping water, there really isn’t a lot you need to be comfortable.

Especially if you’re only heading out for the weekend.

Which is exactly what we’ll be doing in five days time. Yikes!

Reflecting on our experience camping in a tent at SpiritFest as well as our recent van living test run, Sporty and I figured out what car camping gear we absolutely cannot do without.

1. Someone Fun to Camp With

car camping with dog

While not car camping gear per sé, having someone fun along for the adventure is super important. It doesn’t matter how comfy your camping mattress is or how delicious that first cup of coffee tastes, if your camping buddy isn’t a good fit, you won’t have fun.

This is true if your ‘someone’ is your spouse, best friend, new flame or yourself. Camping isn’t like hanging out on the couch at home. Things can easily go pear shaped.

If/when that happens you’re going to want to be with someone who a) has an excellent sense of humour; b) is relatively calm in stressful situations and c) either knows how to change a flat tyre or is willing to figure it out.

Bonus points if they’d be willing to share their coffee with you.

2. Somewhere Comfy to Sleep

car camping gear sleep

When Sporty and I first tried our hand at camping we bought a tent, two inflatable mattresses and a sleeping bag each. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience.

Now, I get that for a lot of people this would have seemed luxurious, but it certainly wasn’t our idea of luxury. I also get that we were camping, not spending the night at the Hilton.


The fact remains, you need at least some level of comfort if you’re to have any hope of a good night’s sleep. For us, that meant ditching the tent and skinny mattresses and buying a car we can sleep in.

We also splurged on some really decent mattresses. We’re talking extra thick and super poofy. Best of all, we don’t have to inflate them. They’re ready to sleep on the minute you unroll them.

I should note that they’re definitely not hiking mattresses. They’re bulky and heavy and that’s just fine. The furthest we need to carry them is from the house to the car and back again.

Because we’re camping in our car, we haven’t bothered to buy new sleeping bags. (We donated our old ones to a homeless shelter last winter.) We’ll just use our regular bedding for now. 

Another super important item for bedtime is a good headlamp or torch. They’re great for reading, finding your PJs and avoiding animals on your way to the toilet. I jest not. 

When we went on our van dwelling test weekend I narrowly missed walking into a grazing horse on my way to the ablution block. I’m not sure who got the bigger fright.

3. Something to Boil Water On (Because Coffee)

For Sporty and I, being able to make coffee first thing is as important as having somewhere comfy to sleep with someone you enjoy being with.

As far as we’re concerned, a morning without coffee is not worth getting up for. If you have the money and feel like spending it on a ‘nice to have’, then by all means, spring for a Wacaco Minipresso.

They’re super cute and compact, but you still need boiling water. Just sayin’.

We opted for a small gas canister, cooker top and pot. This way we can boil water for coffee (which we brew in a glass jar and pour through a small strainer) and cook our food.

We can also make a spot of tea in the afternoon, should the desire arise.

Car Camping Gear Nice to Haves

Mentioned above is the bare minimum you need to have a decent weekend away. (In our opinion.) There are of course some additional items to add to your car camping gear arsenal should you decide to make these adventures a regular occurrence.

A folding table and chairs for example, will definitely make the experience more comfortable. Some campsites will provide this, usually in the form of those all-in-one picnic table bench thingies.

However, if your chosen camping site doesn’t, then you’ll be forced to sit in the car or on the ground. Not the worst, but not the best, either.

Should the camping bug bite hard, an electric cooler will certainly take your outdoor experience to the next level. As will a car awning sun shelter. 

Like so many things, car camping can be as simple or extravagant as you’d like it to be. Our approach (as complete newbies) is to start with the bare essentials and add as we go.

Photo by Jorgen HendriksenHoang M NguyenKevin Schmid and Andrew Ly on Unsplash

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