It’s so easy to pack way too much on a car camping trip. After the essentials (the tent, sleeping bags, food, and clothes), it’s tempting to throw in all those things that make the trip a little more comfortable. Add toys and games, the coffee pot, and a fan for that hot weather and your car is now busting at the seams.
There is no need to live without all of those things though. Here are my top picks for camping gear that maximizes your camping comfort and maximizes the space in your car:
[This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.]
1. Collapsible Lanterns
Our pick: MPOWERD Luci Original – Inflatable Solar Light
Why we love it: Not only does it take up less space when packing up your gear, it’s also solar powered, so you don’t need to pack back-up batteries that just take up even more space. Just make sure you charge it in advance if you will be arriving at your site after dark.
2. French press coffee cup
Our pick: Bodum Insulated Stainless-Steel Travel French Press Coffee and Tea Mug, 0.45-Liter, 15-Ounce, Black
Why we love it: Skip the coffee pot and bring this coffee cup with a built in french press. We saved a good amount of space by making this switch. This one is also insulated so coffee doesn’t go cold on those chilly fall mornings.
3. Plastic or melamine dishes
Our pick: Ikea 36-piece Dinnerware Set, Assorted Colors (yep – the toddler set from Ikea that you probably use for your kids!) This set is cheaper than purchasing cups, bowls, and plates individually. It does also come with forks & spoons, which are great for younger kids, but these don’t work so well for adults, so plan on disposable flatware too.
Why we love it: Paper plates and bowls are always a convenient option, but if you want to reduce the trash on your camping trip, you’ll want to bring a set of non-breakable dishes. There are a lot of camping-friendly sets out there, but if you are more casual campers like we are, you may not want to invest in many of them. These plates, cups, and bowls from Ikea are compact and nest well. I also love the lip on the plates that help prevent spills while balancing in camp chairs.
4. Absorbent towel
Our pick: Microfiber Travel Towel Large (XL, L or M) – Fast Drying Super Absorbent Sport Towel – Ultra Compact Size Great for Kids, Bath, Gym, Pool, Beach, Camping, Fitness or Yoga
Why we love it. Towels are a must for showers and swimming, but packing them can get bulky fast. While small towels are a good option, they don’t often go far with heavy or frequent use. These super absorbent towel pack small and dry quickly so they are ready for when you need them next.
5. Small totes
Our pick: Sterilite 19849806 18 Quart/17 Liter Ultra Latch Box, Clear with a White Lid and Black Latches, 6-Pack
Why we love it: They may not seem like they hold much, but with a little planning, they can hold a lot. I keep one for kitchen staples, one for pantry/dry foods, and one for tools and other camp gear. They are ready to grab for your next trip and because they are small, they are flexible in packing.
Planning your next camping trip? If you are in the Boulder, CO area, be sure to check out Pawnee Campground at Brainard Lake Recreation Area!
6. Broom and dustpan
Our pick: Coghlan’s 8407 Whisk-On-Pan. We’ve had ours for over 10 years!
Why we love it: No matter how hard you try, leaves and dirt will end up in your tent. At the end of your trip, you can shake most of it out, but during your trip, you’ll be thankful for this compact broom and dustpan set.
7. Silicone travel size bottles
Our pick: Leakproof Silicone Travel Bottles TSA Airline Carry-On Approved FDA Certification Refillable Portable Containers for Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion, Toiletries (3oz 4 bottles)
Why we love it: Full size dishsoap, body wash, shampoo, and conditioner definitely take up too much space in your gear box. These silicone tubes are great because it’s easy to get all the product out and the hook on the top make them easily attach to a carabiner for easy transport to the bath house.
Looking for more space saving gear? We have 7 more camping gear favorites that help you pack small.
8. Compact camp chair
Our pick: Moon Lence Ultralight Folding Chairs Heavy Duty Camping Chairs Beach Chairs with Carry Bag
Why we love it: This is the next best thing to pulling up a log by the camp fire (and a lot more comfortable). Camp chairs add bulk to your gear, fast. When you need to pack a chair for everyone in the family, the compact versions can make a huge difference. These do cost a bit more than a regular camp chair, but I’ve found they are more durable and last longer than cheaper versions.
Our pick: TITAN MIL-SPEC 550 Paracord / Parachute Cord, 103 Continuous Feet, 620 lb. Breaking Strength – Authentic MIL-C-5040, Type III, 7 Strand, 5/32″ (4mm) Diameter, 100% Nylon Military Survival Cordage. Includes 3 FREE Paracord Project eBooks.
Why we love it: This is a must in the camping gear box, with so many uses for ropes and lines while camping. String between 2 trees to create a line to dry clothes and towels. In an unexpected rain storm, use to tie up a tarp and stay dry. There are also instructions for making bracelets when the kids need a little entertainment!
10. A deck of cards
Our pick: Glow in the Dark Playing Cards
Why we love it: As much as we love nature, kids (and adults!) sometimes need a little civilization – especially on those rainy days. A deck of cards is the perfect solution. They are super portable, and with so many ways to play, they can entertain for hours. Not only are these waterproof to protect against the elements, they are also glow in the dark so the fun doesn’t need to stop when the sun goes down.