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The Ultimate Checklist of Fall Car Camping Essentials

Road Trips Insider Guides Camping
by Morwenna Muir Jones Nov 11, 2021

For people who love the outdoors, fall is an odd time to buy adventure gear. On one hand, the summer crowds that flock to the trails, beaches, mountains, and lakes are thinning out. The leaves on trees compete more with each day’s sunset as to which can produce the brightest hues and the balmy evening temperatures of summer are fast becoming a distant memory. Unfortunately, it also means wind and rain threaten to replace them, and temperatures can plunge at night, making the prospect of trekking for miles to set up a tent less appealing.

For this time of year, car camping is the comfortable compromise somewhere between glamping and finding that picturesque remote camp spot of your dreams. It means being able to take as many home comforts as you can fit into your car and as many of your buddies as you can convince to come with you. This car camping checklist has all the essentials you’ll need to keep yourself warm and dry, as well as a few creature comforts to help you create a campsite so cozy, you won’t want to go home.

We hope you love the car camping essentials we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

1. Tent

The main advantage of car camping is that you don’t need to worry about carrying everything yourself. You’ll pitch the tent with the car next to you, so you might as well go big. Even if there are only two of you, if the weather closes in, you’ll be grateful for a space in which to hang out and play cards. The Big Agnes Big House tent sleeps four and has two doors for easy access (however it should be noted that this is a freestanding tent intended for ideal weather, and won’t necessarily provide extra warmth or moisture control). For really bad weather or strong winds, the Coleman Dome Tent for six is a good deal. At just $119, you can sleep the entire family or crew with room for your gear inside in case the weather turns sour.

Buy Big Agnes tent

Buy Coleman Dome

car camping essentials

Photo: mihaiulia/Shutterstock

2. Bedding

Forget trying to fall asleep while rolling off of roll mats or wriggling around what feels like a shrinking mummy bag. You’ll get a better night’s sleep on an air mattress, and, since you’re right next to your car, you can use an actual duvet and pillow. Intex’s air beds are reasonably priced at about $37. If you really want to go big, throw homely rugs on the floor; you’ll appreciate it when your feet hit the ground first thing in the morning. If the weather forecast predicts cooler temperatures, pack an extra sleeping bag or two, just in case.

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3. Cooking equipment

Since you can take (almost) as much as you want with you in a car, it won’t hurt to pack your own miniature kitchen. A two-burner stove, like the Coleman Triton (about $119), is ideal for putting the kettle on while you fry up some bacon in the morning. And, one of the easiest ways to make your coffee in the morning is with the Primular single-serve coffee mug.

Buy Coleman Stove

Buy Primular Pour Over

4. Camp chairs

Even if you have a picnic table at your campsite, you’ll still want chairs for hanging out by the campfire (if you’re permitted to light one) and just chillin’. The Coleman quad chair is a comfortable option, with handy beverage slots for your cold drinks.

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car camping essentials coleman stove

Photo: Erin McGrady/Shutterstock

5. Storage boxes

Car camping might mean you have a lot more space, but that’s not an excuse to leave things lying around. A few storage boxes will save you from rummaging around trying to find a bottle opener with your iPhone’s flashlight.

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6. Lighting

Speaking of lighting, you should still be sure to bring a good flashlight, such as one by Princeton Tec. Whether or not you choose to build a fire — and if you’re out west, you may be prohibited from doing so until the wildfire danger subsides — car camping gives you the opportunity to have some fun. Why not bring some battery-operated fairy lights that you can string up around the camp?

Also invest in a decent-quality lantern like this one from Coleman’s. Especially if you don’t have a fire, the lantern will be the focal point of the camp and, if you’re in a proper campsite, it’ll also come in handy for the walk to and from the restrooms. For inside your tent, you’ll appreciate the handy, LED hanging Cairn lantern from Lander, which doubles as a portable charging bank.

Buy Princeton Tec

Buy Fairy Lights

Buy Lander Cairn

7. Cooler

The best thing about being able to take as much as you want, apart from being able to take your duvet, is that you can take as much beer as you can carry. You may need some hard-sided coolers, but for those extra brews, soft coolers are easier to squeeze into spaces and move around. So load up the coolers and crack open a freshie while watching the sun go down. We recommend the YETI Hopper Flip 12, which can store all your food, beer, and other cold items and packs easily in the back of the car.

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