Packing for car camping – we are organized!

When we first started car camping we quickly discovered it helped a lot be a bit organized. Our first ever car camping trip included a diversion to buy a couple of camp chairs because we’d left ours at home in the garage. Now we have back packing gear, the way we approach car camping has changed, but it still pays to be organized.

This post gives a few tips for new car campers and seasoned backpackers alike.

Chrysler Town and Country Minivan packed full of car camping gear - Ozarks Walkabout

Packed for car camping – We are organized!


We found that a minivan is ideal for car-camping. With the back row of seats removed we have enough room in the back of the car for all the boxed up camping gear and supplies, and by swapping the first rear pair of  captains’ chairs for the back bench seat we can still carry five people. This has to be the most practical vehicle around.

We have sorted all the camping gear into a selection of large and smaller plastic bins with lids, and Ginger added a packing list on each bin, so the only stuff we forget is the things in everyday use.

In the above picture you’ll notice the absence of pillows…

When we are all-out car camping, we take along all the creature comforts. Some of the items listed below fit more into the categories of ‘nice to have’ and ‘as we’ve got it we might as well take it’. We should probably trim it back a bit.

General Camping. Tent pegs, two inflatable mattresses, the air pump, folding shovel, our tent groundsheet,  camping hatchet (which doubles as a hammer for the tent pegs), door mat – we car camp in style, hammock (did I mention we camp in style?), lots of lighters and the two burner propane stove.

Coleman ultralight car camping propane stove

Coleman ultralight propane camping stove – $10 in a yard sale

Lighting. Spare can of white gas, kerosene, propane, fire starting fluid, Coleman lantern, 2 hurricane lamps, folding wood saw, tarp to cover firewood if it rains, lighters, spray bottle of Listerine (apparently it keeps chiggers at bay, and I’ve not been bitten while we’ve been spraying it on the ground around the campsite) and a large can of waspy things killer.

We added the wasp killer after we had to abandon one campsite because there was a wasp nest under the table.

Kitchen. Plates, cups, pots, pans, bowls, glasses and all the utensils we might need, plastic table cloth for the picnic table, clips to hold the cloth on – a bonus when it is windy, plus all the cleaning stuff.

Small bins. In addition we normally have three small bins for non perishable food, wood (dry kindling mainly), and our personal stuff – toiletries, first aid kit, torches, more lighters, bedding, towels,  etc…

Picture of where a squirrel has gnawed its way into a plastic food box

Unfortunately our plastic food box isn’t squirrel proof. Luckily we returned to camp before he got more than a nibble at the bread that was to be the wrapper around my eggs and bacon breakfast the following day.

We also pack our tent (to state the obvious), gazebo, a couple of chairs, clothes  and two 2.5 gallon water carriers (full) and of course a cooler full of beer (and food). We still have the water carriers shown in the picture, but we prefer to use our 6 liter backpacking hydration bag as it is more reliable. We’ve had one of the water carriers split as the trunk lid closed, and we’ve suffered some minor leaks too. Recently we’ve added a splitting maul and wood saw as the folding saw is a pain to use.

Did I mention that just  about every box has one or more lighters in it?

We also take our NOAA weather Alert Radio. It’s invaluable for weather forecasts, and the extreme weather warnings and alerts. The alarm feature warns us of local weather hazards down to the county we are in. In fact it’s proved so useful we now keep it on all the time at home. It even gives out tornado warnings before the local tornado sirens start up.

Taking the kids along just requires one more box (kids tent) plus their sleeping bags and personal stuff.  Having everything boxed up ready to go and a standard way of packing everything in the van means that we generally don’t leave stuff behind, and we quickly learned some basics like remember to put the cooler in so that you can open it from the back. It is also a good idea to make sure the cooler is not going to fall out as you open the tailgate.

Here speaks the voice of experience. There’s nothing quite like stopping mid-journey, opening the tailgate, and having the cooler, ice, beer, and food spill out onto the road.

The first picture, showing the back of the van (above) was taken just before we left for a couple of night’s camping and as I already pointed out, there’s a distinct absence of pillows…

Car camping with Backpacking Gear

We also keep our backpacking gear stored in plastic bins, and the first couple of times we went car camping with our backpacking gear, we just threw the bins in the back of the van.

That was a big mistake, as we found out when we accidentally left our sleeping bags at home,

because we don’t keep them in the bins!

We have no problem using the lighter and more compact backpacking gear for car camping including our Coleman Exponent single burner stove, and my light weight Coleman Exponent pressure lantern. Our Therm-a-rest and NeoAir sleeping pads are a lot easier to inflate and carry than the heavy inflatable beds we used to use.

Picture of bacon sizzling on top of a Coleman Exponent stove

Bacon and eggs for Breakfast, cooked on our Coleman Exponent stove – car camping at Berry Bend

Since the sleeping bag debacle we pack and take our backpacks to avoid the embarrassment of forgetting essential gear. Besides our packs, we’ll take some chairs, the food box, cooler, axe, wood saw and possibly the gazebo. Car camping in August 2012 in the middle of the drought, we didn’t take the gazebo and we regretted not having it as a sun shelter, and even more when unexpectedly the heavens opened.

The car camping gear is still kept packed away neatly in its plastic boxes. It’s there ready should we need it to take the kids or visitors car camping.

3 thoughts on “Packing for car camping – we are organized!

  1. Taia Frohman

    We have enjoyed getting a spot on BullShoals Lake in Arkansas. Actually, half of it sits in Missouri. Even though it is a resort spot we are blessed to watch the deer right in front of our camper and it always amazes me how beautiful the sunsets are. Wish I could post a picture for you but didn’t see a spot to do it. Love your website.

    Reply
    1. Gary Post author

      We had hoped to check out the campgrounds at Bull Shoals last year but it didn’t happen Maybe if next summer isn’t so brutally hot! If you like you can email me a picture gary@ozarkswalkabout.com, I’d love to see it, and I can share it here if that’s okay.

      I’m glad you like our site, and thankyou very much for taking the time to comment.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The Perils of Camping – Pass the Corndogs Please | Romance at Random

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