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It’s so easy to pack way too much camping gear on a car camping trip. After all the things you need (the tent, food, and clothes), and then all the things you want (comfy camp chairs, games for the kids, and extra shelters), it really starts to eat up space in your car. Before resorting to stuffing things under seats and on the kids’ laps, try these space saving camping ideas and gear recommendations for your next camping trip.
No matter what type of camper you are, you’re sure to find plenty space saving gear and ideas to make that next trip a whole lot easier.
Space Saving Camping Ideas
1. Repack food and other items into smaller containers
When the container is taking up more space than the actual food or gear, repack into smaller containers to save a lot of space in your camping supplies. Use the same containers you use at home, so you don’t need a second set for camping and won’t have to dig through the camping gear when you’re packing for your trip. (We love to use our Stasher Bags and Collapse-It Silicone containers for the campground.)
- Crack eggs and store in a plastic bottle – or cut the egg carton down to size if you’re not using the full dozen.
- Save space with condiments by using leftover fast-food packets of ketchup, mustard, and mayo. Or buy the smallest versions of condiments to rinse and reuse just for camping trips.
- Tear off a few feet of duct tape instead of bringing the full roll. Wrap the tape around a pen or water bottle.
2. Prep meals ahead
Avoid bringing full containers of ingredients for your camping meals. Instead, prep ingredients ahead of time.
- Pre-mix dry ingredients of pancake mix and bring in a zip top bag
- Make marinades at home and store in a leak-proof jar
- Chop fruits and veggies ahead and store in a zip top bag
3. Pare gear down to only what you need – or will at least use
As campers, we like to be prepared for everything in the wilderness. But we’re often not using most of what we bring.
- Pack only the kitchen gear you need for your menu. If mountain pies and stew aren’t on the menu, leave the iron pie maker and Dutch oven at home.
- No rain in the forecast? Don’t worry about bringing extra tarps and bungee cords.
- If you’re camping near town, consider making a trip into town for any emergency items if you end up needing them.
- Plan a few camping activities that don’t require gear (play tag and do scavenger hunts instead of bringing corn hole)
Pro tip: During your camping trips, make notes of items you bring but very rarely need and items you really wish you had.
4. Get water and firewood at the campground
Bring a collapsible water container to fill with drinking water at the campground instead of gallons of water or cases of bottled water. We use the 5-gallon GSI Outdoors Collapsible Water Cube, but have our eye on these smaller water storage cubes.
Many campgrounds sell firewood, so you can skip on packing that into your car too. Firewood should always be bought at, or at least near, the campground anyway to avoid bringing any insects that can infest the area.
Pro tip: look for information on availability of both water and firewood at the campground ahead of time. These may not be available at the campground, or access may depend on camp store hours.
5. Use packing cubes for clothes
We love packing cubes for two reasons: they help organize clothes (like separating PJs from shirts and pants, or outfits by day) and they compress clothes so you can get more into smaller spaces. Try the compression packing cubes from Eagle Creek or trtl Packing Pods.
6. Buy collapsible or compact versions of camping gear
As you add to, replace, or upgrade your camping gear, look for items that collapse, nest, fold, or are otherwise smaller in size so they take up less space. Every camper – from backcountry to glamper – is looking for the same thing, so there are lots of great options out there. Click here to jump below to see our list of favorite space saving camping gear.
7. Look for multi-function gear
Some camping gear can be used for more than one purpose, so you can trim down on what you bring.
- Nalgene bottles have fluid ounces marked on the side and can be used for measuring liquids.
- Paracord can be used as a lightweight rope, crafts, and some small fixes or repairs.
- In a pinch, tarps can be used to block sun, provide shelter from rain, or even reduce the impact of high winds instead of bulky canopies.
8. Skip the giant totes and pack in smaller totes
Raise your hand if packing up your car for camping is a game of Tetris! These smaller totes will help you win every time. The smaller size gives you flexibility in arranging them and filling in empty spaces. 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.
The Best Space Saving Camping Gear
Instead of living in the woods without the comforts of home, use space saving camping gear that takes up less room in the car. Here are my top picks for compact camping gear that maximizes your camping comfort and maximizes the space in your car.
1. Collapsible Lanterns
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. Compact Camp Chair
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 can cost a bit more than a regular camp chair, but this is a great quality chair at less than $40.
Our pick: Slackline Kit with Training Line
Sometimes you just want an afternoon to relax in your camp chair with a book or a magazine, but the kids want to play. Our solution? Pack up games and toys that will entertain them while we chill. We started with corn hole (aka bean bags), but it was way to big to pack with all the other camping gear. Then we tried ladder ball. Still bigger than we’d like. Then we found the slackline. It’s nice and compact, and fits right under the seat of the car, so we always have it with us, even if we aren’t camping. Bonus: learning to balance on a slackline is great for building gross motor skills.
4. Travel Sized Games
Why we love it: These games are super portable and can entertain for hours. The waterproof cards protect against the elements and are glow in the dark so the fun doesn’t need to stop when the sun goes down.
5. Packable Towel
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.
6. Silicone Travel Size 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.
7. Paracord for Fun and Function
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!
8. Collapsible Laundry Baskets
These laundry totes pack flat on the way to the campground, then pop-up when you need them. And while they’re meant laundry, they can also be used to haul out other lightweight items.
9. Compression pillow
Why we love it. Just like other bedding, pillows take up so much space! Many people have their clothes work double time, by using them to fill an empty pillow case to make a pillow, but I’m a little too high maintenance for that. These pillows squish down to get really compact, but are just as comfy as the pillows we use at home. They have worked so well for us that they are now in our road trip essentials too!
10. Stuff Sack to Compress Bedding
Our pick: REDCAMP Nylon Compression Stuff Sack
Why we love it: Bedding and other squishable items get packed smaller when tucked into stuff sacks. If your sleeping bag didn’t come with a stuff sack or you sleep with sheets and blankets, packing them into a stuff sack helps to compress your gear down to a much smaller size.
Pro tip: Protect the filling of your sleeping bag by storing them in something other than the stuff sack. Large totes or pillow cases work well for off-season storage.
11. Collapsible Roasting Sticks
Why we love it: Yes, going into the woods to find nature’s roasting stick is really the best option, but it’s not always reliable – especially if it’s dark and the kids are hungry. But the length of the metal roasting sticks we’ve always carried with us are nearly impossible to pack or store. These extend enough to keep a safe distance from the hot fire, but are compact enough to pack away in a smaller tote. We like to pack these as a back up for those times we can’t get a good old fashioned stick to roast those marshmallows over the campfire.
12. French press coffee cup
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.
13. Nesting Dinnerware
Our pick: Ikea 36-piece Dinnerware Set, Assorted Colors (yep – the toddler set from Ikea that are awesome for toddlers). 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.
14. Single burner Propane Stove
Why we love it: This is our backup for getting dinner cooked when a campfire just isn’t going to happen (like those unexpected rainy weekends), or we don’t want to use up the firewood just for a pot of coffee. Just make sure you bring a spare canister of fuel in case your first one runs out. Jet boils and similar camping stoves are smaller and more environmentally friendly, but they cost more than we are ready to invest for the casual car camping that we do.
15. Nesting pots and pans
Why we love it: If you aren’t ready for making any more investments into the camping essentials, the pots and pans you use at home will certainly do the job just fine. I just don’t like how much space they take up and the handles always get in the way when packing them up. These pots have removable handles so they don’t get hot when sitting on the fire (or camp stove), and nest so they never take up more than the space of just one pot. Tip: store your pots and pans with thin dish towels in between, so the coating doesn’t get scratched while stacked.
16. Multi-function Utensils
Why we love it: Instead of a fork and spoon for each person, this fork/spoon combo works better than a spork and cuts down on gear to pack up.
17. A Kitchen Gear Combo
Why we love it: The best space saving camping ideas are often finding gear that has multiple uses. And this one has 3 uses for just one thing in the gear box. Give veggies a good rinse, then collapse the colander into a cutting board to chop them up. After dinner, pop it back out and use the plug to convert into a wash bin for quick clean up.
18. Heat Resistant Gloves
Our pick: Ove Glove Hot Surface Handler
Why we love it: We’ve saved the best for last! Our Ove Glove has become our favorite of all our space saving camping gear, and one of the most valuable items in our camping essentials tote. So valuable that our son was given one for his birthday this year as a rite of passage in manning the camp fire with Dad. This glove is meant to protect against the heat and makes moving logs around to keep that camp fire roaring super easy – plus it’s much easier to pack than a fire poker.
We’d love to know about your favorite space-saving camping ideas, tips, and favorite gear in the comments!