10 Car Camping Essentials

10 Car Camping Essentials


In the realm of car camping, “essentials” might be a strong word. Think of this list more as essentials for comfort since the car is doing all the heavy work and the exit strategy is just a key-turn away.


Shelter – Nemo Wagontop 4P Tent
One of the luxuries of car camping is being able to bring a sizeable shelter. Even if you decide to sleep under the stars, having a tent that is spacious and easy to get in and out of, makes the trip that much more comfortable—especially in foul weather. The designers at Nemo used very clever architecture for the Wagontop resulting in a design that goes beyond the concept of vertical walls. They made walls that bow outwards to maximize the interior space. Add to that the incredible 78” highpoint that spans the length of the tent and you are living large. The only gotcha? Achieving this stable and spacious frame for the tent requires a pretty obnoxious pole configuration. Even after setting it up once, it will take a few times to really get the hang of it… but it never really gets any easier. Fortunately, once the tent is up, the battle is quickly forgotten. [For more car camping tents click here.] $450 | nemoequipment.com


Sleeping – Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed Duo 600
There’s no reason to sacrifice snuggling while camping. And while it has been done in a number of creative and often less-than-optimal ways in the past, there’s no longer a need to make any sacrifices. Sierra Designs has revolutionized the duo sleeping bag configuration with this bag. Zippers are completely replaced by an overlapping (rather, underlapping) comforter in a large entry. The underside of the bag can accommodate two standard sleeping pads, either 20 or 25 inch width or a combination of the two. Since the pad holders are only under the core of the body there is a chance that the pads will separate at your feet. But we never had them seperate where it really matters—under our snuggled bodies. $500 (down); $250 (syn) | sierradesigns.com


Power – Goal Zero Yeti 400 Solar Generator & Nomad 20 Solar Panels
This day and age, it’s not likely you will be able to get away with no power at all. Be it lanterns, cameras, GPS’s, tablets, or smartphones, any extended camp-out is going to need some juice. There are lots of little portable batteries out there and those do great while on the go, but for car camping, instead of wearing down your car battery, invest in some power storage everybody can tap into. The Yeti 400 holds 400 Watt-Hours of power. What does that mean? Smartphones take about 5-7 Wh, so you’re looking at 30+ charges. But that can all be extended by bringing some solar panels. The smallest size recommended for the Yeti 400 is the 20 Watt Nomad 20 foldable panel and you can get a few of them and chain them together. $660 (kit) | goalzero.com


Lights – Goal Zero Light-A-Life 350 LED Light
Goal Zero will not only collect and store power for you, they also have clever ways to use that power. The Light-A-Life, or LAL, is a chainable lighting system to illuminate camp as needed. The lights are adjustable to serve as area lights or spot lights. The configuration of each light neatly stores any excess cable and runs on 12 volts so they can be used with units like the Yeti 400 or can just be plugged into any existing 12-volt system such as a car cigarette lighter port. $40 (each) | goalzero.com




Laundry – Scrubba Wash Bag
Things can get grubby fast on car camping trips. Ideally, you have landed in the secret remote dispersed camping site that has been passed down through the generations of your family. The drive into town to run a load of laundry when who-knows-what happens (especially if traveling with children—or childlike adults) can really skunk the vibe that camp provides. However, the Scrubba Wash Bag allows you to do laundry in camp. Sure, it takes a little bit of elbow grease to agitate the soap and suds into your dirty togs, but you’re not driving to town! The Scrubba is basically a dry bag with a washboard built into it. Add clothes, water and some soap, then seal it up and start scrubbing. A quick wash only takes 30 seconds while a deep clean could take up to 3 minutes. Seriously, 3 minutes instead of a 1 hour drive each way down a bumpy dirt road to hit a laundromat? It’s a no-brainer. $55 | thescrubba.com


Chairs – Strongback, Eureka, & Ciao Baby
We have a few favorite chairs we like to bring along to camp. After running an extensive test, the ones that stand out are the Strongback Elite, the Eureka Curvy Chair with a side table, and for our little munchkin, the Ciao Baby folding high chair is a must. Strongback is by far the most comfortable folding chair. It’s designed to provide excellent lumbar support to the lower back, which prevents the standard folding chair slump that is so common with camp chairs. $80 | strongbackchair.com


Eureka’s Curvy Chair has a bit more recline and the little side table is brilliant for the inevitable meal that will be eaten around the campfire. $80 | eurekatent.com


And since there’s really nothing else like it out there, Ciao Baby’s folding high chair makes having a little one along for the adventure so much easier to manage when they have their own place to sit and eat. $68 | theportablehighchair.com


Fire – Base Camp High Output 2-burner Stove
One of the most annoying things about camp stoves is getting it started. If it doesn’t have an ignitor, you’re constantly patting yourself (or your camp buddies) down for a light of some sort. And if it does have an ignitor, it works great that time you set it up in your yard to try it out (or maybe you didn’t) and when you get to camp it just won’t start and you’re back to hunting for matches or a lighter again. Somehow the team at Base Camp has built an ignitor that lights the first time, every time. Ok, maybe not always the first time, but at least the second. While many other stoves have ridiculously sensitive high, low, and off settings, the wide range of simmer controls on this stove, make cooking a breeze. Dread these woes no more with the High Output 2-burner Stove from Base Camp. $60 | mrheater.com


Food – Great Grub Camp Food
Camping is not homesteading. But it can feel like it when you stock up on food. You have your menu all planned out and you only need a certain amount of this or that. But go figure, the container of this or that at the store is almost never the exact amount you need. So you’re either taking extra home, or you’re tossing it out, which is always a shame. The pre-packaged meals from Great Grub provide you with just the right amount of everything for each meal. You’re still mixing and making your food—they are not “just add hot water” backpacking meals but are delicious pre-measured car camping meals. Aside from simple convenience, part of the philosophy behind Great Grub is to help campers get away from the sodium-rich, over-preserved mixes campers often trend towards for simplicity sake. So, you’ll eat healthier, too. While the taste will impress you, you won’t believe the prices. You’ll be hard pressed to put these meals together for the same price (without any ingredient leftovers). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all covered but since they’re still getting started, options are limited. So grab a full set or two to help them grow and you will be rewarded with more tasty options down the line. $8.75-$10.75 | greatgrubcampfood.com


Cooler – Yeti Tundra 65
Don’t mess around with keeping things that need to be cold, cold. With two solid inches of Permafrost insulation, the Yeti is up to the task wherever you end up pitching camp. Add to that all the great built in features to ensure durability and this may well be the last cooler you ever buy. From the hinges to the handles, the base to the lid, Yeti has designed the Tundra series to take a beating, even a mauling from a hungry bear who will have to retreat in disgust if the cooler is properly locked. Brace yourself for the price tag, but remember, it’s the last cooler you’ll ever need. $400 | yeticoolers.com


Hatchet – Morakniv Outdoor Axe
Don’t be that guy. The guy who is throwing large rocks at logs trying to break them up to fit them into the fire, or only snapping the branches that are small enough to snap because you don’t have the right tool for the job. Even if you’re buying firewood at the gas station for your camp, you’re going to want to split it down to some kindling to get that fire started. And the right tool for the job is the Outdoor Axe from Morakniv. This lightweight and compact hatchet with a cover is easy to throw into your car camping kit. The plastic handle is comfortable to grip and even absorbs some of the impact shock from stubborn wood, while the boron steel holds an edge well into repeated use. I’d even pack this hatchet on a backpacking trip depending on where I was going. $70 | industrialrev.com


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