car camping packing guide

Packing Guide: Winter Car Camping Edition

You would think the alarmed reactions of friends and family members when I told them I would be car camping in Colorado in early January would deter me from following through, not quite. Maybe I decided this would be a good idea because I’ve always been a hard-headed cheap traveler, or because I’m a naïve Texan who had no idea what she was getting herself into. Whichever it may have been (preferably the former), I wanted a challenge and knew this would prove to be a good test of character. With that mindset, I packed up both my 35L and 28L backpacks, boarded my flight and sailed through the clouds to a winter wonderland up to 50℉ below that of my hometown. If there’s one thing I knew, it was that this trip would be an experience to remember.

Despite my plans being very unpredictable, my packing was very intentional. Having only 35L and 28L packs to take on the plane (being the cheap traveler I am, I only brought one carry-on), I had to be strategic with what I chose to bring along with me. Below, I’ve listed the things I packed along with key points I always consider when packing for my travels.

For reference, I had to pack for 8 days of car camping in snowy weather conditions with most nights falling below freezing temperatures. Having never packed for a trip like this, it was quite the guessing game as to what I would really need and what was unnecessary.


In my 35L backpack (carry-on):

  • REI 0℉ down sleeping bag
  • Lightweight blow-up sleeping pad
  • Small packing cube for undergarments (see clothing list below)
  • 2 packages of body wipes
  • 1 small cosmetics bag – toiletries (see toiletries list below)
  • Headlamp, Garmin GPS, reflective emergency blanket, micro-USB and USB Type-C chargers, a couple band-aids, female urinal (yep, no shame), and skin glue.
  • Backpacking stove and kitchen set
  • Extra pair of winter pants
  • YakTrax traction micro spikes
  • Wildway snacks


In my 28L backpack (personal item):

  • Medium packing cube for clothes (see clothing list below)
  • Wildway product for shooting (optional :) )
  • Camera, mini tripod, backup batteries and charger
  • Laptop and charger
  • Kindle (girl’s gotta read)
  • Wallet
  • Sunglasses
  • Insulated thermos for water

Things I carried on my person:

  • Scarf
  • Snow jacket
  • Patagonia down jacket


Clothing List:

  • Patagonia down jacket
  • Winter ski jacket
  • 2 pairs of gloves + 1 beanie
  • 2 thermal long sleeve shirts
  • 1 short sleeve + 1 long sleeve wicking shirts
  • 2 pairs of water-resistant pants
  • 1 pair of wool leggings
  • 1 sports bra, 8 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of wool socks
  • 1 pair of waterproof hiking boots


Toiletries List:

  • Travel toothpaste (2 tubes) + toothbrush
  • Contact case
  • Glasses
  • Retainer case
  • Deodorant
  • Travel contact solution, Cetaphil lotion, and travel sunscreen (purchased in Denver)
  • Chapstick

    Post-trip conclusion, I did a surprisingly phenomenal job packing if I do say so myself. Of course, I brought a few precautionary items that did not get used, but I was glad to have brought them in case of an emergency. The most essential item that I would not have been able to survive without was my sleeping bag. With each night falling between 8-15℉ I was snug as a bug in my sleeping bag and layered jackets. I ended up not needing the sleeping pad as the backseat was spacious enough for me to sleep on the cushioned seats.  

    For more details on my car camping experience, click here to read an in-depth article where I share how I chose my sleeping locations, the highest and the lowest moments, and more.