10 Car Camping Essentials

Ready to hit the road for a little outdoor fun with the fam? The first rule of family car camping is to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bikes)! Great for getting from the lake to the tent and back, and going beyond the campsite, bikes not only help you get around, but they also make many kids’ first cycling memories right there at the campground. But there’s more…

In addition to bikes, there are a few make or break items for family car camping. Here is a cheat sheet to get you outside with all the essentials you need to camp and ride:

camping essentials

1) Tent(s)
Named after the infamous Seattle sports arena that was imploded in the year 2000, the REI Kingdome tent may not be as big as its namesake, but it’s huge by camping standards. It comes in a 4-, 6- or 8-person model and the larger models even have a divider that creates two “private rooms.” Add even more living space or gear storage with the garage attachment. Other popular family tents include the budget-friendly Kelty Discovery 4- or 6-person tent.

2) Sleeping Bags & Pads
You can’t go wrong with traditional sleeping bags like the North Face Dolomite (also available in kids) and the Thermarest Basecamp self-inflating mattress. But more and more families are also discovering the homey comfort and freedom of movement available in the emerging mattress/blanket combo market like the Vela HD and Vela HD Double. For kids who like to be tucked in and tend to move around a lot at night dreaming about all their camping adventures, the mattress/blanket combo puts them right at home under the stars.

3) Bikes
Bringing bikes on a camping trip is the icing on the cake! Ride, swim. Ride, fish. Ride, roast marshmallows. Ride, ride, ride! Make sure to bring bikes that can roll on the paved campground roads and tackle the dirt and gravel paths.

For mom, try the women’s Calico mountain bike with Dual Sport tires on road bike wheels for good grip on any surface. She can take the Calico off the beaten path or do loops around the campground, no problem. For dad, the Trace finds its happy place on and off the pavement too. Go ahead and take that shortcut!




The little miss will love the Lustre 20 or Lustre 24 (depending on her size) complete with suspension fork to smooth out the trail. And for your little fella, the Cobra 20 or Cobra 24 youth mountain bike, also with suspension fork, will have him tackling the trail and riding circles around the rest of you.

Lustre 20

Lustre 20
Octane 20

Octane 20

Don’t forget your helmets, tire pump, multi-tool, tire levers, patch kit, extra tubes and water bottles!

4) Bike Rack
Every car camper needs a good bike rack—one that is easy to use and durable, and can also hold a heavy load of bikes for the fam. If your rig has a trailer hitch, the Kuat NV 2 is awesome, plus the 2-Bike extension allows you to take up to 4 bikes total. Easy on/easy off. The Thule 2 works great too, otherwise a roof rack or trunk rack will have to do.

Spring break

5) Safety & Emergency Supplies
Always, always, always, bring a good first aid kit. You never know when an emergency can hit. Sunglasses and sunscreen are also a must, as are hats, jackets and protection from rain and wind gusts. Remember a multi-tool or pocketknife and waterproof matches or a lighter for cooking and bonfires. Bring extra food and water, just in case. And don’t forget the toiletries (soap, toothbrush/paste, etc.). A simple way to make sure you have everything you need is to go through a typical day’s routine at home and adapt your supplies to what is doable on the road.

6) Light
Let there be light! Part of the fun of camping is running around in the dark with flashlights! Rechargeable lanterns are nice for the kitchen table or tent, and headlamps are great for reading or getting to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Check out these cute Critter Headlamps for kids!

7) Group Cover
In addition to the family tent, setting up a group tarp is a huge bonus. Whether you use it to house your outdoor kitchen, shelter your bikes, or simply use it for sun and rain protection, tarps increase your outdoor living space. Check out the MSR Rendezvous that comes in both a 120- and a 200-sq ft option.

8) Cooking
Think camp cooking and Coleman comes to mind. The classic two-burner camp stove works wonders and the stainless steel coolers are hard to beat (unless you’ve discovered the magic of Yeti coolers and drink cozies—what a way to chill). For camp cookware that can’t compare, check out the space saving MSR Flex 4 nesting pots, plates and mugs set and the Alpine Deluxe Kitchen Set complete with knife, spoon, spatula, cheese grater, salt and pepper shaker, folding cutting board, dish towel and more. And don’t forget Mallow Sticks for evening S’mores around the bonfire.

9) Comfort
Having a set of camp chairs in your quiver definitely makes outdoor living more comfortable. The Thermarest Quadra Chair packs up small, sets up quickly, and sits low to ground, making it easy for kids and adults to share (it also has a handy beverage holder). Looking for some serious R&R? Try the Slacker Hammock for naps, lounging, reading and stargazing. Another camp luxury (that also helps keep the inside of your tent clean) is bringing along a camp rug to place in front of the tent door. It serves as a place to put on/take off shoes without standing in the dirt or sitting on the edge of your tent floor. Get a piece of indoor-outdoor carpeting or roll up an old household rug you don’t mind getting dirty. Quick-dry pack towels are also a camping convenience. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

kids playing

10) Camp Toys
It’s time to bust out the camp toys, what will you bring? Some camp classics include the Frisbee, croquet and horseshoes. But don’t forget a set of cones and sidewalk chalk to create your own campsite bike course. Throw in some of Mother Nature’s bounty (rocks, sticks or small logs) to make the course more challenging. Consider bringing a blank journal for kids to reflect on their camp adventures and draw pictures of the wildlife they see (including dinosaurs). The Camper’s Dream Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball is also a hit with kids—don’t forget the ingredients and recipes!

And with all the gear above, you may also want to rent a semi-truck to haul it all. Or, at least get a gigantic roof box. Have fun out there!

About the Author: Lori Hinton is a freelance writer and Diamondback contributor based in West Seattle, Washington. She loves riding and camping with her family.