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One of the questions I get a lot from beginner car campers is: “What clothes do I wear camping?” In this post, I want to answer this question and share some of the key things that I consider when packing clothes for a car camping trip. No matter the time of year or location of a camping trip, the tips I share in this post are things I always consider.
This post is specifically for car camping, not backpacking.
Car camping is when you drive your vehicle up to a campsite. Backpacking is when you pack everything into a backpack and hike into the wilderness and camp.
In this post, we’re talking specifically about car camping!
How to Choose Car Camping Clothes
You’re going to hear me say this a lot throughout this post, but exactly what and how much you pack depends on a lot of different factors such as the weather, climate, and time of year.
The Weather and Climate
The weather and climate are some of the biggest pieces of information that are going to help me decide what to pack.
I look at the expected temperature highs and lows, the cloud cover and UV index, the wind, and if any thunderstorms are expected to roll in.
All of this information is important to consider.
I’ll make sure I pack hats and gloves if the temperature is expected to be cold enough to need them.
Lastly, will there be ticks and mosquitos in the area that you’re going to? If so, you might want to consider additional protective clothing.
You get to camp and it’s hot and sunny. Then in the afternoon, some clouds roll in and it gets windy and cold.
How will I be able to adapt to unexpected or changing weather conditions? That’s a question I’m always asking myself.
You have to be prepared for the weather forecast to be wrong and that’s where your layers come in.
Having layers available allows you to add on or take off clothes as you get hot and cold.
In general, you have base layers, mid-layers, and outer layers:
- Base layers are the items of clothing that are in direct contact with your skin.
- Mid-layers are all about adding warmth. A fleece and lightweight down jacket are great examples of mid-layers.
- Outer layers are going to be your wind and rain protection.
You can stack mid-layers as it gets colder and take them off as you get hot.
Even if it’s not forecasted to rain, I always pack my rain gear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been camping expecting it to be full sun and we get rain.
I always pack all three of these different types of layers when I go camping so I can easily adapt to changing conditions.
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In general, I try to avoid cotton clothing when I go camping.
Cotton holds onto moisture, so it keeps you feeling sweaty in hot temperatures and cold and wet if the weather cools down.
Instead, clothes made out of polyester, nylon, and merino wool are all great options for camping clothes.
These materials dry fast and move sweat off the skin.
When you see the term “moisture-wicking” in the clothing description, that means that the fabric is designed to pull sweat away from the body to the surface of the fabric so it can evaporate faster. That’s what you want!
How Much Clothing Should You Take?
Great question. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer because, yes you guessed it, how much depends on things like the weather, climate, and time of year.
Since I’m driving my vehicle up to a campsite (hence “car” camping), I typically have some extra room and I’m not shy about bringing extra layers in the car.
I would rather you pack too many layers than be miserably cold and wet on a camping trip.
The next thing I think about is: am I okay with these clothes getting dirty, ripped, or burnt with a hole from a campfire spark?
Camp clothing is going to get roughed up, dirty, stinky, stained, and ripped.
For this reason, I don’t wear my nice down jacket while I’m sitting around a campfire. A tiny little spark or ember from a crackling fire will burn a hole through a jacket like that so fast.
For jackets, Nick and I both have this Carharrt jacket and I absolutely love it! It’s a canvas material and so it’s super durable, warm, and I don’t really worry about a small spark ruining this jacket.
It’s a great all-around jacket to have for car camping.
For pants, I definitely wear yoga or workout leggings camping, but they get roughed up pretty quickly, so I wouldn’t wear your favorite pair.
You can also look into more durable leggings like the Carharrt “utility” legging that I show in the video below.
During the day at camp, you’re going to be outside getting dirty, sweating, cooking, eating, sitting around a campfire, getting toasted marshmallows all over your hands, and just having fun outdoors.
No matter what the day throws at me, I want to be able to get into my tent to sleep in DRY CLEAN clothes and socks.
I always make sure I pack clothes and layers for the day’s activities, and then a set of clothes to sleep in only.
I do not cook in my sleeping clothes and I do not eat in my sleeping clothes.
I will use the same pair of pajamas for multiple nights, I just take them off first thing in the morning so they’re clean and dry for the following nights.
Again, what you pack for pajamas will depend on the temperature at night, your sleeping bag, and your sleeping pad.
Car Camping Clothes (video)
Check out the video below for more details and examples of clothing that I wear camping:
Car Camping Clothing Examples
1) Base Clothing
There are so many options for the clothes you’ll wear around camp. As I mentioned above, I want my clothing to be moisture-wicking. In other words, I avoid clothing made of cotton when I’m camping.
- Carhartt “Utility” leggings – great durable pair of leggings
- Carhartt Rugged Flex shorts – durable shorts for hanging around camp
- Prana Mariel Jeggings – comfy durable pants
- Prana Alana Short – cute shorts that are durable and moisture-wicking
- Kuhl Splash Roll-Up Pant – great pants for hiking and camping
- Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoody – my favorite shirt for hot sunny days (budget version here)
- Patagonia Capilene cool t-shirt – great moisture-wicking material
2) Hats and Gloves
Depending on the weather, you might want to pack hats and gloves for hanging out around camp once the sun goes down. Also, on hot sunny days, I pretty much always have some sort of hat for sun protection.
3) Mid-layer fleece
I always pack a fleece as one of my mid-layers. Fleece is warm and moisture-wicking making it one of the first layers I usually reach for when I start to get cold.
Jackets can be used as additional mid-layers to add more warmth.
- My Carhartt jacket – so warm and durable! I bought a size M which is a little big so I can layer something like a fleece underneath if it gets really cold. Nick has this jacket in the Men’s version and loves it too.
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket – this is a warm packable jacket with a hood making it a great mid-layer. Keep in mind that this kind of jacket will easily get ruined around a campfire.
5) Sleeping Clothes
For sleeping, I usually like to pack wool base layers. Wool is moisture-wicking and I love it for sleeping.
6) Outer Layers
Lastly, we have outer layers for wind and rain protection. I will always pack rain pants and a rain jacket to protect myself. A poncho could work in a pinch, although I would not depend on that in an intense rainstorm.
Those are the main things that I’m thinking about as I pack clothes for a car camping trip.
Was this blog post helpful? If so, let me know in the comments below. I’ll also be there to answer any additional questions you might have.