Simple and Effective Space-Saving Camping Ideas (+ See Our 18 Gear Picks)

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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 (like your 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. Don’t resort to stuffing things under seats and on the kids’ laps. Instead, try these easy 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 of space-saving camping gear and ideas to increase storage space to make that next trip a whole lot easier.

various collapsible and compact items shows the best space-saving camping gear in use
Camp chairs, heat-resistant gloves, collapsible lanterns, and single burner stoves are just a few of our favorite space-saving camping gear picks.

Space-Saving Camping Ideas

1. Repack food and other items into smaller containers

When the container takes up more space than the actual food or gear, repack it 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

We like to be prepared for everything in the wilderness. But we often don’t use 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. Plus, it’s always best to buy firewood at – or at least near – the campground to avoid bringing any insects that can infest the area.

Pro tip: look for information on the availability of 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. Our favorite for travel is doubles as our go-to for space-saving camping gear: 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. From backcountry to glamping, there are many great options available for every type of camper. See our list of favorite camping space savers.

7. Look for multi-function gear

Some camping gear can be used for more than one purpose, so you can trim down 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 you can get a lot packed in with a bit of planning. Kitchen staples, pantry foods, and camp gear each get their own tote. They are ready to grab for your next trip, and because they are small, they are more flexible in packing the car for your camping trip.

The Best Space-Saving Camping Gear

Instead of living in the wilderness without the comforts of home, look for space-saving camping gear to get extra space in the car. Our favorite compact camping gear (pulled right from our camping checklist) maximizes camping comfort and the space in your vehicle.

1. Collapsible Lanterns

Our pickMPOWERD Luci Original – Inflatable Solar LightMPOWERD Luci Lantern

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 backup batteries that just take up even more space. The Luci lantern gives off the perfect amount of light around the campsite or in your tent. Just make sure you charge it in advance if arriving at your site after dark.

2. Compact Camp Chair

Our pick: Moon Lence Ultralight Heavy Duty Camping Chairs / Beach Chairs with Carry BagMoon Lence Camping ChairsMoon Lence Camping Chairs

Why we love it: This is the next best thing to pulling up a log by the campfire (and a lot more comfortable). Camp chairs are one of those bulky items that quickly take up a lot of space when you need to pack a chair for everyone in the family. This compact version 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.

3.  Slackline

Our pickSlackline 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 too big to pack with all the other camping gear. Then we tried ladder ball but found that it was still bigger than we’d like. Then we found the slackline. It’s nice and compact and fits right under the car’s seat, so we always have it with us, even if we aren’t camping. Bonus: learning to balance on a slackline is excellent for building gross motor skills.

4.  Travel Sized Games

Our pick: Glow in the Dark Playing CardsGlow in the Dark Playing CardsGlow in the Dark Playing Cards, Sequence, and Pass the Pigs

Why we love it: These games are super portable and can entertain for hours at the campground. 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

Our pick: PackTowl Personal Quick Dry Microfiber 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 towels pack small and dry quickly, so they are ready for when you need them next.PackTowl Microfiber Towel

6. Silicone Travel Size Bottles

Our pick: Mylivell Travel Bottle Set, Leakproof Silicone, 4 Pack 3 oz

Why we love it: Full-size dish soap, body wash, shampoo, and conditioner definitely take up too much space in your gearbox. These silicone tubes are great because it’s easy to get all the product out. The hook on the top makes them easily attach to a carabiner for easy transport to the bathhouse.

You Might Also Like: The Ultimate Guide to Tent Camping for Beginners

7.  Paracord for Fun and Function

Our pick: Paracord Planet Mil-Spec Commercial Grade 550lb Type III Nylon Paracord

Why we love it: This is a must in the camping gearbox, with so many uses for ropes and lines while camping. String them between 2 trees to create a line to dry clothes and towels. In an unexpected rainstorm, use to tie up a tarp and stay dry. There are also instructions for making bracelets when the kids need some entertainment!

8. Collapsible Laundry Baskets

Our pickCleverMade Collapsible Fabric 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 for laundry, they can also be used to haul out other lightweight items.

9.  Compression pillow

Our pickTherm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping, Backpacking, Airplanes and Road Trips

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 pillowcase 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 pickREDCAMP 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 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 pillowcases work well for off-season storage.

11. Collapsible Roasting Sticks

Our pickMalloMe Marshmallow Roasting Smores Sticks, Set of 5

Why we love it: Yes, going into the woods to find nature’s roasting stick for s’mores and hot dogs is really the best option. However, 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 is 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 bring these as a backup for when we can’t get a good old-fashioned stick to roast those marshmallows over the campfire.

12. French press coffee cup

Our pick: Bodum Insulated Stainless-Steel Travel French Press Coffee and Tea Mug, 0.45-Liter, 15-Ounce, BlackBodum Insulated French Press and Mug

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 cup is also insulated, so the coffee doesn’t go cold on those chilly fall mornings.

13. Nesting Dinnerware

Our pick: Ikea 36-piece Dinnerware Set, Assorted ColorsIkea Dinnerware Set (yep – the toddler set from Ikea that is awesome for toddlers). This set is cheaper than purchasing cups, bowls, and plates individually. It also comes with forks & spoons, which are great for younger kids, but these don’t work so well for adults, so plan on additional flatware for the grown-ups.

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 a more casual campers like we are, you may not want to invest in many of them. The compact plates, cups, and bowls from Ikea are nest well, which gives them a top rating in our space-saving camping gear. I also love the lip on the plates that help prevent spills while balancing in camp chairs.

These camping space savers also make great gifts! If you’re looking for even more ideas check out these perfect camping gift ideas and outdoorsy gifts for your friends and family who love to get outside

14. Single burner Propane Stove

Our pickColeman Bottle Top Propane Stove

Why we love it: This is our backup for getting dinner cooked when a campfire just isn’t going to happen. Whether there is unexpected rain 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 if your first one runs out. Jet boils, and similar camping stoves are smaller and more environmentally friendly. However, they cost more than we are ready to invest in for the casual car camping that we do.

15. Nesting pots and pans

Our pickCamping Cookware Kit Portable Outdoor Non-stick Cookware Set

Why we love it: If you aren’t ready to make 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 dishtowels in between so the coating doesn’t get scratched while stacked.

16. Multi-function Utensils

Our pick: humangear Gobites UNO 3-Pack or Light my Fire Titanium Spork

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

Our pick: Collapsible Cutting Board with Colander and Dish Tub

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 gearbox. 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 it into a bin for washing dishes after your outdoor meal.

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 the favorite of our space-saving camping gear and one of the most valuable items in our camping essentials tote. We love this one so much that our son received one for his birthday this year as a rite of passage in manning the campfire with Dad. This glove is meant to protect against the heat and makes moving logs around to keep that campfire roaring super easy – plus, it’s much easier to pack than a fire poker.

moving logs in a campfire with heat resistant gloves, showing one of the space-saving camping ideas
A heat-resistant glove tops our list of space-saving camping ideas.

We’d love to know about your favorite space-saving camping ideas, tips, and favorite gear in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “Simple and Effective Space-Saving Camping Ideas (+ See Our 18 Gear Picks)”

  1. These are some great ideas! I have one of those microfiber towels. Absolutely love it. They dry super fast. And I will have to check out the glow in the dark playing cards and the refillable bottles.

    1. The microfiber towels work so well – we love them too. The glow in the dark cards are so much fun for the kids, and give them something fun to do on those nights when the sun sets a little too early!

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  3. Amazing, great post! Love your cool outdoors camping list. These are looking lovely and stunning. These camping gear are truly gainful for an outdoors experience. Thank for your awesome battle on this post.

    1. Thank you 🙂 These are definitely things we can’t live without on a camping trip – and since they are all pretty compact, we have no trouble packing it all in!

  4. I looooove camping and have a lot of the same gear, only instead of small totes we use packing cubes (and put them in huge totes). I am loving your blog, keep it up!

  5. I love these ideas!! And how fun are those glow-in-the-dark playing cards?! The prices on everything were surprisingly low, too. I’ve added a few things to my camping wishlist! With at least three more camping trips to go before it gets too cold, I’m excited to try some of these out!

    1. I’m glad you like them! We try not to invest too much in any one thing (like camping) so we can do more – so I’m always looking for high quality, low price gear for our trips. We hope to get a few more trips in this year too – fall camping is the best!

  6. Haha! I believe the only thing I have never brought with me while camping, is the only thing on this list that I don’t know how I couldn’t have thought to bring with me!!!!! The broom and dustpan! Well… I will definitely be remembering this for next time!! Thank you for sharing!

  7. As a frequent summer camper with 5 little ones, I love your suggestions! And in some capactity, I have each one of these except for the french press. Now I need one!

    1. I can only imagine how busy 5 must be – we have 3 kids and even that can feel a little crazy sometimes! You’ll definitely love the french press – with the coffee pot and coffee cup in one, there is one less thing to worry about (and clean)!

  8. Yes! I love this post! My husband and I try and go camping as often as we can, and I’m always looking for ways to make it go a little bit better or a little bit more smoothly. I’ll definitely check out this camping gear. Thank you!

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