An Ode to the Car Camp Box: A Guide to Easily Pack Your Car Camp Essentials


Before I dive into explaining some essentials to take on the road with you when you’re car camping, let me just say that there is no right or wrong answer here. Everyone has their own vision and version. This is simply a guide I want to share as a baseline mechanism for what to take with you when you are car camping and more importantly, HOW to take it with you when car camping. 


back to June of 2017, weeks before my graduation from the University of Oregon’s journalism and advertising school. With no obligations after college, i.e. no immediate internship or job to run to, I wanted to make use of this time. Road tripping and photography have always compelled me, so I quickly developed a plan to go car camping in my car (at the time), a ‘97 dark green Ford Explorer, through the national park’s in Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah. Before eventually back tracking on new routes up to Oregon… all in the span of a month. 

Plans made, time to prepare. 

With plans in place, it was time to consider what I’d take along with me to make things convenient. Being on a college budget, I decided to find a quick, stocked and affordable option to shop at for my essentials: Wal-Mart. As someone already enticed by the compactability of backpacking, I wanted to find supplies that could all fit conveniently in a storage bin and limit the space that it takes up in the car.  This is a key part of this write up and one piece I highly suggest getting, so you can build everything around it… I’ll dive into this and the essentials I pack below. 

Essential to (HIGHLY) Consider 1: Camping Stove

 At Walmart, I scoured the isles, first looking for a camping stove. For about $45 I found a foldable Coleman 2-burner propane stove, about 4” H x 22” W when folded. 

Essential to (HIGHLY) Consider 2: Storage Bin for your Essentials 

With these dimensions of your stove now in mind, you can find a storage bin that allows for the stove to fit in and also leaves you a little extra space. I locked in a storage bin around 25” L x 18” W x 13” H that also had latches on the side and looked seemingly durable. Plan to spend somewhere between $10-$25 for this and you’ll be in great shape. 

*NOTE: This is not only a clutch pack because of how much you can pack in one bin, but also the bin doubles as a table, leg rest, card table…the possibilities are vast!*

Essential to Consider 3: Propane Tanks, Pots, French Press, Pans, Oven Mitts, Cooking Tools, Utensils, etc. 

Now that you’ve got a stove and storage unit for your essentials locked down, it’s time to consider all the related tools needed. 

  1. Propane: obviously this is crucial to make your stove work. Get two Coleman tanks about $5 each and you’ll be set for weeks. 
  2. Lighter: get a torch lighter or two so you can make sure you can start your stove and not look like an idiot in front of your friends with your stove set up and no way to start it. 
  3. Pots/pans: you can buy new ones, or, if you can just scour your relatives/friends stocks for any pots and pans they don’t use regularly and are willing to part with. You’ll want pots and pans that fit your stove, and allow for both to be on, so keep the size of the burners in mind. Also, if you’ve got a cast iron that’s always a quintessential camp bring along. 
  4. Oven mitts: no one wants to burn themselves. Get a couple oven mitts and you’ll be set. Inexpensive buy here too. 
  5. Water filtration system: although you should always have a few gallons of water with you in your car, having a filtration system will give you an extra piece of mind. You can find these anywhere between $30-$100 depending on which style you go with. 
  6. Spatula, ladles and tongs: I found a nice set for $5 at Walmart that had all of these on a convenient key chain like ring (You can also tap into stocks of your own tools or a relatives that they may not need) 
  7. French press: for coffee drinkers this tool is clutch, you can go this route and have unlimited flexibility in what coffee you bring. If you don’t want to pack a French press or don’t need coffee you can also pack single packet instant coffees or other drinks. I’ll dive into more below in the dry perishables to have section. 
  8. Plates/bowls/mugs/utensils: You can go reusable and just use normal utensils or get plastic/paper. Just make sure you dispose of these properly 😉 
  9. Cleaning supplies: You can get dish soap and a scrubber or get those SOS pads, or another route. Pick your poison here, if you’re camping multiple nights you’ll want to have your dishes relatively clean. 
  10. Hand sanitizer – 2020s favorite product, keep those germs off ya!
  11. Trash bags – clean up after yourself and keep nature clean + enjoyable. 
  12. Napkins/paper towels/rags: think about eating a meal and cleaning up after cooking when you’re not camping. Crazy thing is it’s the same so think the same.  
  13. Bug spray – trust me, you will need  
  14. Sun screen – see #13
  15. Hammer/Mallet – to knock them stakes in! 
  16. Batteries for your lamps

How to pack these in the bin ^ : to conserve space in your storage bin, I suggest bundling these like minded “camp kitchen” essentials in either a smaller storage bin that would fit in the box, or you can use a bag. Recently, I’ve just been putting these in a paper bag. 

*Note: the pots/pans may just need to be packed in the car separately depending on size / space in your bin.*

Essentials to consider 4: First Aid

You’ll want to have a first aid kit in your box, if you’re shopping new – you can find small ones that are already conveniently in a storage kit. Clutch! These can somewhere between $15-20 I’d assume. 

Additionally, you should plan to pack some things like a space blanket and also Advil/Tylenol, Tums/Pepto. I’d suggest just throwing the pills/tablets in zip locks and labeling them, so you don’t have to worry about the bottles taking up space. Once in smaller bags, you can throw these in a bag/large zip lock together and keep them conveniently together and compact.

Essential to Consider 5: Dry Perishables/Seasonings/Drink Mixes

Here’s some things I have, but you can pack to your liking, be sure to just pack these together. 

  1. Oatmeal – remember: boxes take up unneeded space. So get a few oatmeal packets out of the box and throw them in a ziplock together. Quick and easy breakfasts, inexpensive. 
  2. Instant coffee/drink mix/Tea bags: I like to have these handy when backpacking, but also are great for car camping and take up hardly any space .
    1. You can find single packets of a variety of coffee in any coffee aisle. Take them out of the box and throw in a zip lock together. 
  3. Lemonade/Hawaiian punch/Arnold Palmer: great drinks all just need some water and some stirring/shaking up.  
  4. Ground Coffee for your French press. 
  5. Mountain house meals: just add hot water to these, mainly use as a clutch backpacking meal, but nice to have some extra meals easy to pack in your car camp box. You can find these online on their website or at REI, Cabela’s, and other outdoor stores. If I’ve got a few of these in my box I like to keep them together with a rubber band. 
  6. Salt/pepper/seasonings you like: all up to your taste… but i’ve got small shakers with lids for salt and pepper.  Some other seasonings I have is this awesome chili-lime Tajin, and Montreal steak seasoning.   

How to pack these in the bin ^ : exact same way as the kitchen essential section. For these dry perishables, to conserve space in your storage bin, I suggest bundling these like minded dry perishables essentials bags in either a smaller storage bin that would fit in the box, or you can use a bag. 

Essential to Consider 5: Miscellaneous Items 

I’m gonna rattle off some more things you should consider packing in your camping bin if you have space. Note these are likely just things you’ll throw on top: 

  • Clorox wipes / any wipes to clean things with. 
  • Flashlight/headlamps/camping lantern  
  • Toilet paper And / or Multi use wipes for your business 
  • small foldable Shovel to deal with your biz
  • Hammock / straps – great for any camping trip and the camping ones are fit into compact bags. 
  • Bungee cords/duct tape – perhaps two of the most versatile creations man has made. 

Packing it all: 

With the stove on the bottom, throw each bag of essentials on top and then the loose items on top of those. Once you get all your essentials packed in the box throw the lid on there and get yourself a nice sharpie of your favorite color to write your info on it! 

Now you’ve got your very own camping box! So long as you keep your box bundled and stored in the right way after use, you can camp time and time again with piece of mind and a stern confidence that you’ve got your essentials all packed in one convenient camping box.  

Happy camping!