Before moving to Canada, I’d never truly experienced an authentic camping trip. I’d glamped in the south of France when I was 4, and camped at festivals – those times don’t count! My first real camping experience was here in Canada on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Tofino. I had dreams of waking up on the beach and swaying my hair in the breeze as I walked on the soft sand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that glamorous and I learned a few newbie camping tips on that trip. Through trial and error I have learned what the essentials are for a car camping checklist, and what to leave at home! 

One of the things I really enjoy about camping is you get to escape reality and every day life for a little. Many camping spots in British Columbia have no access to cell service, and it’s really nice to switch off from social media and just enjoy the outdoors. 

The great thing about car camping is that you don’t have to haul a 30lb backpack for miles. You simply drive into your campsite and set up!

We’ve slowly added to our camping set up over the years, we went cheap on that first trip in Tofino because I didn’t know if it would potentially be my last camping trip also! Most of car camping set-up is basic camp gear. You don’t need to get super fancy with this! You also don’t need to buy brand new, there is always the buy-and-sell where you might find better gear at a fraction of the price.

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Car Camping Essentials Checklist

In the last year camping has become an activity many people have taken an interest in and are new to. As mentioned before my first camping trip was not so glamorous, so it’s important to know what to bring with you so you can enjoy the outdoors! 

There are many different types of camping and campgrounds and what you need will vary based on this. Car camping is when you pack up everything you’ll need for a few nights from a tent to bug spray and hit the road. 

There are many types of campgrounds, these can vary from Provincial Parks, Recreation sites to private sites with fully working showers. In British Columbia you can also camp on Crown Land (public land) but will obviously not have access to any facilities such as bathrooms or picnic tables, not even pit toilets! 

Whichever you decide to do this summer please remember the Leave No Trace guidelines and pack out what you pack in. This past year many hiking and camping spots have become so popular that they are quite simply getting trashed. It can happen any year but this past year has been a real problem and has caused many places to close as it is damaging the environment and local wildlife. 

If you’re ready to get outside and enjoy nature, read on to find out what should be on your camping essentials list! 


Shelter

Tent – You’re gonna need shelter if you’re camping, and most people opt for a tent. Some people are living the van life and others have an RV or trailer. In this post we’re gonna focus on tents because that’s how I roll. 

We have a 3-person tent as it gives us a bit more room but also fits in every camp site big or small, it’s also easier to store and pack for trips. We don’t have a big fancy tent and we’ve had it for four years now. We find for car camping a little more room goes a long way, a 4-person tent for two people would give you some extra room, or if you need more a 6-person tent for bigger groups.

Some people like the big 8-people tents for a couple that allow you to stand up etc If that’s you then great, do your thing but we find a simple small tent works for us! 

Sleeping Bag – Sleeping bags are more important in my opinion as you don’t want to be cold at night. We have two sleeping bags each, one for “car camping” and one for “backpacking”. Our car camping sleeping bags are big and comfy and the temp rating is to around 5 degrees celsius.

Sleeping Pad or Mattress – Nobody wants to sleep on the cold rocky ground at night so you’ll need either a sleeping pad or mattress. For car camping we bring a double inflatable camping mattress which we inflate with a foot pump at the campsite.

Electric/Foot Pump – You need a pump to inflate your mattress… A vital item in your camping kit!

Camping Pillow – Up until now I’ve always used a make shift pillow when camping. Usually bunching up a t-shirt or hoody or whatever piece of clothing you aren’t wearing will suffice as a pillow. However I often find that my DIY pillow doesn’t stay bunched up and moves around a lot at night and it’s just not comfortable. Trying to get a good nights sleep in a tent is hard enough, invest in a camping pillow (or even just bring a small one from home) and it will make a world of difference! 

Photo of a lake in the mountains with blue skies. In the foreground is a camping set-up. A blue tent in the front of the photo, a pontonn fishing boat next to it, red champing chairs to the left and just right of that is a cooler and just behind the tent is a blue tuck
A last minute camping trip in the mountains. Photo credit: MM Creatives

Camp Kitchen Essentials

Camping Stove & Fuel – A good camping stove should be on your camp kitchen essentials list. You could always use the campfire but for multi-day camping trips, a good camping stove is a godsend! 

Food – We aren’t too fancy when it comes to camp food, cheap hot dogs cooked on the campfire and a breakfast of eggs and bacon is usually our go-to! This year we tried something a bit fancier… wild venison cooked on rocks (yes, that is fancy for us) It’s up to you what you decide to cook while camping. I like to keep it quick and easy. What you bring and how much also depends on how long you are away for, and if you are planning to eat out at any local restaurants during your trip. 

Snacks – Camping is the best excuse to eat cake. My go to snacks are chips, muffins and biscuits to dip in tea (You can take the girl out of England but you can’t take England out of the girl)

Plates/ Bowls/ Cutlery/ Camping Mugs – You don’t have to get fancy with your camping plates and bowls. Re-usable plastic plates are the most cost effective and eco-friendly. We have a set of four plastic plates, bowls and cups that we keep in our camping box ready to when we need it. We also have light-weight cutlery that we take on backpacking trips and a couple of standard (our are personalised!) tin camping mugs for hot drinks like tea and coffee. 

Seasonings/Sugar/Condiments – What is a morning coffee without sugar? Or a hotdog without mustard? I try to keep camping food as easy and basic as I can to lessen the amount of things we bring, but some things you just can’t go without. Ketchup, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper should be the minimum of what you bring condiments wise. 

CoffeeEveryone needs coffee when camping. When we are backpacking in the backcountry and camp for the night we bring instant coffee and coffee whitener to save on weight. But when you’re car camping you get the luxury of real ground coffee and creamer! 

Coffee Percolator – A cheap version of a coffee machine. We’re not huge fans of instant coffee so bring a coffee percolator to “brew” coffee with. 

Cooking Utensils – You’ll need at least a spatula for camp cooking. If you’re getting fancy with your meals you may need to bring additional utensils such as tongs, serving spoon, cheese grater or whisk.

Cooking Pots & Pans – We purchased a frying pan just for our camping set-up. It doesn’t have to be high end but a good non-stick pan will last for years. 

Cutting Board – We have a cheap cutting board that we use purely for camping trips. You’ll need one of these when prepping your meals each night. 

A calm still morning at the lake
Morning camp coffee

What To Wear Camping

Toque – Or beanie (what Canadian’s call a toque) A bobble hat is your best friend on chilly evenings, even better if it has a cute design! 

Raincoat – As an English woman living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m no stranger to rain. I’ve learned to be prepared for rain no matter what. The weather can change quickly in the mountains, don’t let it ruin your camping trip.  

Socks – One of the most important items for camping is your socks, gotta keep those feet warm at night! I bring the standard boot socks or if it’s going to be chilly I’ll bring some merino wool socks which are great staying warm and they tend to smell less than regular socks…

Underwear – Another important item when camping is underwear. This year I invested in merino wool underwear from a company called Smartwool. Merino Wool is really good for outdoor adventures such as hiking and camping as it’s much more hygienic. I tested them out on my first camping trip of the year, a short one-nighter at Lillooet Lake and despite not showering for two days they held up great. Highly recommended! 

Boots/Hiking Boots – If you’re planning on walking or hiking nearby trails while on your camping trip, comfortable hiking boots can make a world of difference. 

Sandals/Flip Flops – Never underestimate a pair of flip flops. Flip flops feel amazing after a full day of hiking and wearing tight socks. But they’re also super cheap so you can get them dirty, sit by the fire in them or wade in the lakes and if you ruin them, it’s okay! Sandals are also super comfy while camping and so easy to slip on and off. A nice comfy pair of Birkenstocks is a staple on any camping essentials checklist. 

Water Shoes – Alternatively you might want to add a pair of water shoes to your camping list. A pair of water shoes may save your feet from hurting when walking into nearby lakes and rivers.

Thermals – Depending on the of year you’re camping, you may want to bring thermals. If you’re camping in the shoulder seasons (spring/fall) or when the temperatures drop at night, thermals are gonna keep you warm and toasty. 

Bikini/Bathing Suit – Come prepared for any lake swims or boating activities and bring your swim suit!

Shorts/T-shirt/Sundresses – Standard summer attire. Just remember not to bring just shorts, t-shirts and dresses. You will at some point need warm clothes. If only I could have told 2017 me this… *cough*Tofino*cough*

Cap/Sunglasses – A hot sunny day can suck without either a cap or sunglasses, gotta protect your face from the sun so you don’t look like a tomato once you return home from your camping trip.

Enjoying an early morning coffee during my most recent camping trip

Toiletries And Hygiene

Toothpaste/Toothbrush – Probably the bare minimum you’ll want to put in your camping hygiene kit is a toothbrush. I’m all for “becoming one with nature” but not brushing my teeth ain’t it. 

Hair Brush – If like me, you have a huge mane, you won’t want to forget your hairbrush. A night of sleeping in a tent tangles my hair like crazy and makes me look like a mad woman in the mornings. Tame that wild hair! 

Sunscreen – It’s important to protect your face from the suns UV rays, even on an overcast day.

Deodorant – If camping in bear country a scent free deodorant is recommended.

First Aid Kit – A must for any camping or hiking kit. We have one first aid kit that we switch between the hiking packs and camping box. It has your standard items like gauze, scissors, antiseptic wipes etc.

Tylenol/Pain Medication – This should be in your first-aid kit already but I always bring extra.


Camping Essentials

Camp Chairs – camping chairs are one of the biggest essentials when car camping. One of the best experiences at the campsite is sitting close to the fire to roast marshmallows or simply warm up once the sun sets. We actually forgot our camping chairs on a one-night trip last year, so we just sat on the cooler instead. Needless to say it wasn’t overly comfortable – don’t forget your camping chairs!

Firewood – You can often buy firewood at private campgrounds. If camping in Provincial or Recreational Site campgrounds this probably won’t be an option so you’ll need to bring your own. We often stock up on firewood throughout the year and early spring so it’s easy to grab for any last minute camping trips!

Map – Depending on the area you are camping in you may need a map or some type of navigation. If you’re camping on a private campground with great facilities such as WiFi then it’s unlikely you’ll need a map. But if you’re in an area with no cell service and a ways away from any services a map is recommended.

Compass – For the same reasons as above, a compass is something I always pack in my hiking kit and it comes with me when camping too. 

Bug Spray – The mosquitos love my English blood, or maybe it’s the fact I’m always full of cake, either way every summer I get covered in mosquito bites and that does not make camping fun! Don’t forget your big spray, you’re gonna need it! 

Bear Spray – On the other hand, I’ve never had to use bear spray, but I still wouldn’t go camping or hiking without it. Whistler is bear country and even the nicest bears get territorial. Of course depending on where you’re going camping in the world, you may not need this. 

Photo of a lake with a flat reflection of the blue sky and green trees with a mountain peak in the background.
Would you like to wake up to a view like this in the morning? – Photo credit: MM Creatives

Recreational Activities & Entertainment

Depending on the length of your camping trip you may want to bring along some additional equipment to keep you entertained during your stay. I like to camp close to rivers, lakes or the ocean in the summer. Being close to water means it’s easy to cool down on a hot day and also means endless activities on the water. Here are a few ideas for your next camping trip:

Fishing Gear – Matt always brings his fishing gear if we are camping near any lakes or rivers. Avid fisherman might want to find a more secluded area to fish as some campgrounds can get very busy in the summer months. 

Paddle Boards – I don’t own any paddle boards as of yet, but the inflatable ones are super easy to transport and an easy activity anyone can pick up.

Kayaks – I’ve never gone kayaking, I’m always scared it will tip with me in it and fill up with water (I have a huge fear of deep water…) but for those who are somewhat braver than me, kayaking is a great activity and you can even find inflatables.

Canoes – Just like kayaks, I’m afraid of a canoe tipping, however if there’s someone else in the canoe with me I feel a tad more adventurous and actually really enjoy canoeing on a calm day on the lake. 

Inflatable Boats – We have a huge inflatable boat that we bought last year and it’s super fun to take out on the water. Ours is really heavy and big so ideally needs a motor to be truly enjoyed but you can find the smaller one-person inflatable boats that are easy to manoeuvre with paddles and awesome for a day chilling on the lake. 

Bikes – Depending on the campground you choose there may be nearby recreational trails that you can go biking on. Check your campgrounds facilities and what is nearby before heading out. 

Frisbee – The cheapest of them all, a frisbee. A frisbee will never not be fun and you can guarantee that at least one person in your party owns one. A staple in any camping set-up.

A Book – A good book is always a must on any camping trip. 

What are your go-to items when camping? Is there anything you would add to this list?


Looking For More Outdoor Adventures? Check Out These Other Posts!

8 Easy Hikes Near Whistler, BC To Add To Your Bucket List

Best Hikes In Whistler – A Local’s Guide

Wedgemount Lake Hike – Stunning Glacial Lake In Whistler

Cirque Lake Hike – A Hidden Gem In The Callaghan Valley

Day Hike Packing List – What To Bring On A Day Hike

Things To Do In Squamish – Ultimate Squamish Travel Guide


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