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The Ultimate Car Camping Checklist

Car camping is all about comfort in the wild. Here's a list of everything you need to make your outing as enjoyable as possible.

Thrillist | Maitane Romagosa
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Car camping is all about comfort. Big tents, big chairs, air mattresses, hammocks, stovetop dinners, portable lights, etc. It's a bit more rugged than glamping, but with the right gear and attitude, you can turn a small campground spot into your own haute hideout in the middle of the forest (I can't believe I just said that). Anyways, here's everything you'll need to get started.

For sleeping and comfort

Screw roughing it. Go big. With the right stuff, you can set up a tent that'll resemble a bedroom in a New York City apartment... without the exorbitant rent. 

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A nice, big tent like Coleman's Instant Pop-Up Tent
The Coleman 10' x 9' Instant Pop-Up Tent is THE tent you want. Spacious (the center is 6' high), water proof, and can easily fit not one but two queen-size air mattresses.

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REI's Co-op Kingdom Insulated Sleep System
REI's Kingdom Sleep System is the entire package. You're getting a queen-size air mattress, quilted cover, an insulated quilt, AND a topsheet. This is better than most people's home beds.

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The NEMO Stargazer reclining camping chair
This chair combines total comfort with portability, which makes it the perfect choice for car camping. You get the luxury of the recline with the feel of a camp chair.

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The UCO Sitka 500 Lumen Camping Lantern with extendable arm
I've had this Coleman LED Lantern for years now (and I love it), but never knowing when I'll need to replace its eight D batteries is always something on my mind. Now check out UCO Sitka. Fully rechargeable, hours of lighting, and an extendable arm that'll light up your picnic table for dinner or games.

Even more comfort

Aside from your shelter and bedding, you'll also want to bring a pillow, a mud rug for your tent's entrance, perhaps a portable fan, and even ear plugs if the restful sounds of nature sound more like a bunch of drunk bugs all trying to get laid.

For eating and drinking

No need to bring MREs or ramen. Be sure to pack a few key things like pots and pans, butter and/or olive oil, some salt and pepper, and whatever meat or veggies you want, and you'll end up with a restaurant quality meal under the stars. Just make sure to plan out your meals beforehand.

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A YETI cooler
There are so many coolers to choose from. Personally, I love my Coleman (that vintage look!), but I've camped with a Yeti before on a three-day overlanding trip, and it kept our food cold and ice solid the entire time. There's no denying it's easily one of the best coolers ever made.

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This small propane stove from Eureka
The campfire is great for hot dogs and s'mores, but when you're cooking up a steak at night or an egg scramble in the morning and want that bacon just right, you need this portable stove to get the job done.

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GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Base Camper Cookset
I love this set. You can cook for an entire group on actuallynice cookware. Plus cleanup and storage are a total breeze.

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Camp mugs
Enamel mugs are great, but will 100% burn your hands when filled with hot coffee. Grab this insulted Rambler from Yeti and keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold (all while sparing your hands from rapid temperature changes).

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Some cooking utensils
Don't buy more plastic. Grab a hobo knife or camp cutlery set and hang on to it for years. I've had my Case 52 for 7 years now and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

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A French press made for camping
I've tried so many methods of coffee making in the wild. The French press is undoubtedly the best way to make a delicious, fresh cup in the morning, and this press from Stanley is the way to go.

Even more eating and drinking

Depending on your specific needs, what you bring for eating and drinking will vary. However, some things you'll definitely want to bring (or consider bringing) would be aluminum foil, koozies, the MSR Windburner stove system which boils water incredibly quickly, a water bottle (seems obvious, but can be easily forgotten), and condiments of course. 

For fun and activities

A deck of cards and dice will sometimes be all you need, but you've got room in that trunk. Throw in a few games like bocce ball, KanJam, or even just a couple of baseball mitts.

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Games like Kan Jam, horseshoes, bocce ball, etc
If there is one thing I'd ask you to trust me on, it's this. Bring KanJam. You'll play for hours.

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An awesome hiking pack
This pack from Cotopaxi folds up small and opens wide. It'll carry everything you need on a day hike and sit comfortably on your back as you hike/explore.

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A Bluetooth speaker
This Marshall is a bit of a luxury item, but hey, that's what car camping is all about. With the Kilburn 2, you're getting incredible sound with adjustable bass and treble -- which you wouldn't think matters until someone turns on Jock Jams, Volume 1 at midnight.

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A hatchet for chopping small pieces of wood & making kindling
Chopping wood when you don't actually have to chop wood is extremely fun and rewarding. Plus, axe throwing is a great way to pass the time and/or lose money betting that your cousin Tevin who grew up in Appalachia can't hit that tree from 30-feet out. This Estwing hatchet should do the trick.

Even more ideas for fun!

Get creative here. If you've got A LOT of room in your vehicle, think about bringing a portable kayak, paddle board, or even that acoustic guitar you've had sitting in the closet for three years. People love to hear the intro to "Redemption Song" over and over again.

Totally awesome accessories

You're out here to have fun. Ideally, you could hang around your camp all day and never get bored. Even if that means swinging in a hammock for a while reading a book... or listening to Tevin play the intro to "Redemption Song" for the 75th time.

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A durable hammock
ENO is the leader in portable camp hammocks. They're durable, comfortable, and super easy to hang up. I've never spent a full night in mine, but I've taken enough naps in it to fully endorse it. Want even more hammocks? Click right here.

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A solid camping table
Cup holders, cards, and cold ones. What more could you ask for?

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A good portable charger
Since you're car camping, you'll likely have an outlet at your site (but it's not guaranteed). To keep the lights on and devices charged, there's nothing better than the Yeti from Goal Zero.

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String lights for the campsite
These Luminoodle lights also have built-in magnetic sliders, so they'll easily attach to your car and create a great ambiance -- especially as Jock Jams, Volume 1 plays on.

Some more great accessories

You'll absolutely want to bring a headlamp or three -- I'm partial to Petzl. Some other things you'll want to consider: a wine key, a good knife, and a small, discreet vape.

A bunch of other things you'll likely want to consider

I don't want to get too in the weeds when it comes to clothing, only because where you're camping will decide what you need to keep warm/comfortable. Camping in North Florida in the summer is a very different experience than camping in the Rockies. However, you'll definitely want to bring sunglasses (I love my Knockarounds), a hat, insect repellent, duct tape, sunscreen, lip balm, a first aid kit, dish soap, and trash bags. 

My motto when it comes to car camping is this: If I wonder about bringing it, I bring it. When you keep your camp maintained, clean, and decked out with everything above, you'll be guaranteed a good time. Now all that's left to do is pack the car and hit the road. 

Alex Robinson is a writer & editor for Thrillist and an avid outdoorsman and camper. Follow him on Instagram @alexanderrobinson.
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