How to Build Your Perfect Car Camping Box

With everything in one storage bin, you'll have little excuse not to get outside

(Photo: Emily Reed)

The camping box is one of the best ways to organize your gear and makes it easy to get up and go. Just throw the box, plus your tent, sleeping bag, and some food, in the car and you have everything you need for a night under the stars. I made my first camping box several years ago after getting sick of packing and unpacking the same items trip after trip. There’s something liberating about knowing I have all I need to escape society, neatly packed in a 66-quart storage bin. I’ve also found that being more organized has made me go camping way more often.

Putting a box together is easy. All you need is your camping gear and a large Rubbermaid bin to store it in. For reference, this is everything I keep in my box. Use it as a checklist of sorts. Now get packing!

Hults Bruk Gran Splitting Axe ($90)

A hatchet is essential for splitting wood and other survival necessities in the woods. The Gran splitting axe has a beautiful hickory handle and feels sturdy in your hand. The head weighs a little over two pounds and easily cuts through gnarled wood.

Buy Now

MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set ($50)

I’ve had this stainless-steel pot set for years and it works great. Included are two pots, a lid and frying pan, and a pot holder—everything I need to cook just about anything.

Buy Now

GSI Water Carrier ($12)

Instead of a filling up a bunch of Nalgenes, I use this collapsible water carrier to hold a weekend’s supply of water. I love it because it gets smaller the more I drink, allowing it to fit into small areas of my car.

Buy Now

REI Flexlite Chair ($80)

This chair packs down small and is incredibly comfy to sit in. It weighs just over one pound, so it doesn’t add much weight to my box, and it has a small mesh pocket on the side that holds snacks or my phone.

Buy Now

Sawyer Stay Put Sunscreen ($10)

I’ve found this sunscreen to be unrivaled when it comes to holding up to sweat and sunshine. The 30 SPF provides the perfect amount of protection and isn’t as sticky as other sunscreens I’ve used.

Buy Now

Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent ($9)

Recent studies have shown that DEET-based repellents can break down your gear. Picaridin, a natural compound that works to repel bugs, won’t. I like this this lotion because it goes on easy and I don’t have to fuss with an aerosol can.

Buy Now

Light My Fire Meal Kit 2.0 ($30)

I’ve come across several of these kits at thrift stores and garage sales. In each kit are two bowl plates, two sealable containers, a collapsible coffee mug, a cutting board and strainer, and one spork.

Buy Now

Dr. Bronner’s Travel-Size Organic Liquid Soap ($3)

The holy grail of camping, this soap is perfect for washing my hair, hands, dishes, and pretty much everything else. The travel-size container holds a weekend’s worth of suds. The soap is biodegradable, but remember to follow Leave No Trace principles.

Buy Now

Leatherman Signal Multitool ($110)

The ultimate survival multitool, this Leatherman almost always goes with me when camping. With features like an emergency whistle, fire starter, diamond sharpener, and mini hammer, it has all the tools I need for random camp chores and repairs.

Buy Now

Morakniv Eldris Knife ($25)

This $25 knife cuts much like more expensive knives I’ve owned and has held up to years of abuse without losing its edge. The flat spine can be used as a fire striker in emergency situations.

Buy Now

UCO Sweetfire Fire Starters ($3)

I don’t use these fire starters regularly, but I appreciate having them in my box for wet or tricky fire situations. Each striker burns for seven minutes and is made from a natural sugarcane byproduct.

Buy Now

MSR WhisperLite Universal ($140)

One of the most versatile stoves on the market, the WhisperLite Universal can burn alcohol, gasoline, canister gas, or liquid fuel. The base is stable enough to place large pots on without worrying about tipping.

Buy Now

Sea to Summit X-Brew Coffee Dripper ($18)

I like this coffee dripper because it allows me to make a large amount of coffee without compromising taste. Plus, it collapses down to the size of a CD to minimize space in my box.

Buy Now

REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite ($10)

I always pack several of these towels to dry dishes, clean up spills, and dry off after a quick swim. Each towel absorbs up to eight times its weight in water and dries in minutes.

Buy Now

MSR Guardian Water Purifier ($350)

You never know what the water situation will be like, so in addition to packing my GSI water carrier, I always have this filter in my bin. It purifies 2.5 liters of water in a minute and has one of the smallest filter micron sizes on the market.

Buy Now

Adventure Medical Kits Me and My Dog Kit ($50)

I rarely need to use it, but it’s always good to have a first-aid kit handy. Besides products that you use for humans, like ibuprofen, bandages, and scissors, this kit also has dog-specific products, like a tick remover, splinter picker, and elastic bandages that won’t stick to fur.

Buy Now

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Sleeping Pad ($200)

This sleeping pad utilizes a dual-layer design, meaning there are two separate air pockets, so even if one pops, you won’t have to sleep directly on the ground. It packs down small and features a layer of synthetic insulation (it has an R-value of five), so it helps insulate against cold temperatures.

Buy Now

Kammok Roo Hammock ($100)

I love having a hammock with me while camping for general lounging and morning reading sessions. This Roo hammock is big enough for two people and, unlike most others on the market, is made from ripstop nylon to resist tears.

Buy Now

Outside Inside Magnetic Chess Board ($12)

This chess board has saved my sanity on many dreary days in the woods when it was too rainy to be out exploring. I love the magnetic pieces, which stay put even if there’s no flat surface to be found.

Buy Now

Outdoor Tech Turtle Shell 3.0 ($100)

In the event that I want to listen to music alone in the woods, this speaker comes in handy. It’s waterproof, shock-resistant, and floats on water, so it’s great for variable outdoor conditions.

Buy Now

Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy ($7)

One of the best parts about car camping is that you can eat real food. I mostly pack my cooler full of eggs and toast to eat in the morning, but I always have a couple of these Mountain House meals stashed in my box in case of emergencies. They’re by far my favorite dehydrated meal and won’t disappoint any food fanatics out there.

Buy Now

Luci Outdoor Pro Lantern ($35)

The Luci lantern is a car camping essential because it creates a nice glow around camp and deflates small enough to easily fit in my box. The Pro version has an internal battery, so I can use it to charge my phone after I’ve drained the battery from taking photos.

Buy Now

Filed To: Camping
Lead Photo: Emily Reed

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Outside does not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.