Congratulations, you are looking into taking a trip into the great outdoors. It could be spring, summer, fall or even winter camping! You are about to embark into a slice of the world where freedom and tranquility still exists. This article is going to appeal to the car camper mostly. You chose a place like KOA or Jellystone Park and now you need some gear to use on the trip. Maybe you have been on some trips and are just looking for some supplemental information on a different perspective. No matter how you made it here, from first time camper to expert, thanks for reading and I hope you find the information useful. So lets get down too it!
Your not going in a cabin, you planned this trip to get away from some everyday comforts! That being said, using a tent is not as bad as some people elude to it being. Some people are tainted by using bad tents. Which is why your reading this article, not to get a bad tent! Usually my family will not use one huge tent for many people. We did when our kids were smaller, but as they grew up we set them up in their own tent. As far as sizing goes, do not believe tent makers ratings. I repeat, do not believe it. If it says it is a four person tent, think of it being shoulder to shoulder. So for my wife and I we use a four person tent just for us. It is a decent amount of room with a double size inflatable bed. Our favorite tent is the Marmot Limestone 4P (6P if you want tons of room!). I actually did a video on it and called it "The Best Tent For Couples". It is rock solid and we have used ours easily 15+ times over a many years. Never had an issue.
For the kids when they were like 9-13 we had them use a two person tent since their small kid size meant the tent would provide some extra room compared to adults. Now with them being 15+ they use their own 2P tents each. Gives them privacy and room. My favorite smaller tents are the MSR Hubba Hubba NX, Nemo Galaxi 2P and the Kelty Gunnison 2. Make sure your tents have a fly. That is the cover that goes over the tent protecting you from weather. Some tents have tall ones. Always get ones that come down a few inches off the ground all around. When bad weather hits you want to be protected, not flooded out!
Mainly you should use the firepit at your campsite. I recommend buying a grill that goes over the fire. I have used a Camp Fire Grill for years now. Use it, clean it, pack it up. Super easy. The one I used had sides to it so food did not fall off. Like hot dogs rolling around! They make a few versions. Now you could cook all your food over the fire, but if you want a quicker and easier way than buy a two burner propane stove. I have used a Stansport and a Coleman Tritan two burner stove. The Coleman worked better than the Stansport and it is what we use too this day.
We use one of these for most breakfast items and cooking sides. Then we use the Camp Fire Grill for the proteins, potatoes, etc. My wife makes some great potatoes that she seasons potato slices and throws them in aluminum foil with butter. She seals up the individual packages and we put them over indirect heat for like 30 minutes. I move them closer to the direct heat the last 5-10 minutes. You can get stoves in many configurations. Some come with a single burner and a grill. But we never see a need for a grill since we do all the grilling over the fire. Bring some extra Propane bottle. For a weekend trip two canisters should do.
POTS & PANS:
This is pretty easy. Car camping lends itself to use stuff you already have for many things. This is one of them. I do recommend non-stick pots and pans. Just makes life easier. Along with the pots and pans bring a scrubber, dish soap and towel to dry the pots and pans.
PLATES, BOWLS, UTENSILS:
You can a few ways here. I always bring my backpacking plates and stuff. But you could do like above and bring things you already have. If you want a great option that can be used when backpacking as well, the Sea to Summit Delta Bowls and Delta Plates are awesome! They are made of strong plastic (Food grade Nylon 66 and BPA free) and keep hot food at bay from your hands when your holding your food. Another option, but not my favorite environmentally, is you could bring disposables. Just to throw away everything promptly after use if you are using disposables and to clean everything right after use if you are using non-disposables. You do not want to attract insects and the like.
Again, going car camping lends itself to lots of options for food. You literally could bring anything. One thing we do for ease of breakfast sometimes is individual cereals. They are under a $1 and all you do is add milk. Once done you throw it away. Some quick and easy breakfasts or oatmeal and cream of wheat. What we normally do though is have scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage and hashbrowns/home fries. For lunch we normally do an easy meal too. Burgers and hot dogs are easy. For dinner we make a more involved meal. Tacos, BBQ chicken and such some to mind as things we have done for dinners. My favorite though is Walking Tacos! Easy sides are those $1 Rice-a-Roni and Knorr noodles/rice packs. Add, boil, simmer for like 10 minutes and boom you got a cheap side. It could also be a meal. Sky is the limit here!
Water is your best friend, particularly in late spring, summer and early fall. You want to stay hydrated. Do not just drink water though. Sports drinks can be used in between drinking water. You do not have to drink sports drinks the whole time, you just do not want to only drink water. Again, whatever you want here. Bring some beer, sodas, etc. Whatever your family normally drinks. But make sure to bring a sports drink and some water bottles for each family member each day. I do recommend packing a true hydration solution for emergency cases of dehydration. Particularly with kids. I have always had awesome results with Drip Drop. Even seen it bring someone back from being so dehydrated their hand were cramped shut!
This one can get tricky. You hear someone way a bag is rated for 20 degrees. Well almost all sleeping bag makers push the limits with their ratings. If you see 20 degrees it probably means 30. Unless you are a super hot sleeper, always add 10 degrees to sleeping bag ratings. I have found the Vaude Arctic series of sleeping bags to be amazing. Light enough for backpacking, cozy and the insulation used warms you up quickly in cold environments. For those they are close to the ratings and I would say only add 5 degrees to their ratings. For a cheaper sleeping bag Kelty makes great bags. Their Callisto 20 Sleeping Bag is a good all around bag for like $60. The Eureka Cypress Sleeping Bag is great winter bag for kids priced at $55. It is rated at 15 degrees. The Coleman Trinidad Warm-Weather Sleeping Bag is awesome for late spring/summer/early fall at only $25! This is all dependent on the climate in your area.
SLEEPING PAD & PILLOWS:
We have used a tons of different types over the years. Big huge inflatable mattresses, smaller ones and the kids always use their own sleeping pads. The one we are currently using is Lightspeed Outdoors 2 Person PVC-Free Air Bed Mattress. It is smaller which gives us more room in the tent, but stays inflated for a decent amount of time. Now if you wanted to spend more money and get more comfort you could get something like the SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress. Up to you and your budget. For the kids they always use one of my backpacking sleeping pads. A cheap one to use is the Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest Sleeping Pad. Cost's like $20 and is decently comfortable. For a step up the Therm-A-Rest Trail Pro Mattress is the way to go. Packs up smaller and can be used for backpacking. I always go with the wide versions of pads. I like sleep and I like to sleep well. Normal sized pads are like 20 inches wide, which is like shoulder width. With the wide versions you get like 25" wide and it is more roomy.
Since you are car camping you could just bring your pillows from home. But if you need the space in the car a good backpacking pillow is the Browning Camping Fleece Pillow. Cheap at under $20 and they even have a pink one!
FIRE MAKING GEAR:
Your going camping, make a damn fire! Having some good gear will make this easy. For a start a fire each time lighter I would go with the UCO Titan Matches and a DJeep Lighter. I use the lighter when car camping as much as possible. I just have matches as a backup. I use Burner Firestarters under my tinder. I have used Burner Firestarters for years, given them to friends and family and they are a hit everywhere. It is a solution what is in plastic. So you light the plastic on fire and whoom, it starts to go. They are thin, light and fit anywhere and you can get a tub of 100 for under $15 normally. Make sure to have super tiny pieces of wood, shavings really. Build up to twigs and sticks. Make a nice birds nest so to speak. Then place the Burner Firestarter in the middle and light it up. Once it starts to burn cut the logs you got from the ranger station or camp store into 3-6 pieces. Places those on the fire and then once those get going place full logs on it. Always allowing airflow, do not smother the fire or it will go out!
I like to bring an axe. You can really make all the stuff you need from one axe. Tinder and beyond. Doing car camping means you can be a big sloppy with your firemaking. You have a camp store nearby for the most part if you need something or something is not working. You got some leeway. When it comes to axes I will not give you a budget option. They are a tool and I saw but a good one. Buy once and cry one. Wetterlings makes great axes and their Small Hunters Axe is a great option. It has a 19" handle. If you want a longer axe get the Husqvarna 26" Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe. If you want a cheaper 19" handle axe, the Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe will save you some money over the Wetterlings. Both companies make quality pieces.
Most likely you will want a canopy. We use it for shade and to get away from the weather at feeding time at the zoo. The Quik Shade Solo Instant Canopy is a great buy. Not only for camping but for cookouts and parties. They great part is how small it packs down too. So if you do not have a SUV or Truck then you will love it. Just make sure to bring some stakes to keep it stable. We have used ours for a few years now and would not like camping as much without one. It is a game changer in the comfort department.
Keeping you food and beverages cold is kinda important. Particularly the bacon and eggs! I always in the summer time move the cooler around the car to keep it in the shade. This helps with keeping the cooler out of the sun to bake your ice away. No matter what cooler you have, if it is in direct sunlight it is not going to last too long. Now if you want a buy once and cry once cooler. Something that is going to last your life, then get a Yeti Cooler. If you want to spend less and still get a decent cooler, the Igloo Marine Ultra Cooler is a good pick. I always want white coolers. Dark color coolers will absorb sunlight and bake your stuff, while a white one will reflect the sunlight off the cooler.
If you want a jolt in the morning but can't bring the coffee maker, check out the GSI Outdoors Java Press Coffee Maker. Throw some ground coffee in it, add hot water, press and pour! If you want an even smaller coffee maker for the wild, get the Snow Peak Folding Coffee Drip. Buy some #2 paper filters, add coffee, pour over hot water and boom you got coffee!
Bring some lawn chairs or purchase some foldable chairs. We use the ALPS Mountaineering Leisure Chairs. They are super strong and fold up relatively small. You can buy others but the design of the ALPS Mountaineering Leisure Chair is so much stronger and they last longer. We have gone through two other chairs while the ALPS Mountaineering Leisure Chair keeps on ticking!
I know, you went camping to get away from electronics. I agree! But lighting and some music isn't going to hurt no one. A light I just found and love is the Black Diamond Moji Lantern. This little guy is perfect for tent lighting or even while not in a tent to be hung on the canopy. It pumps out 100 Lumens and is like $15 bucks! Make sure to buy Lithium batteries. Alkaline ones will leak and ruin your electronics. If you want to charge your iPhones and Androids, etc. I say get some Anker Portable Chargers. They make varying sizes from giving you like two chargers to bigger ones that will charge your devices 10 times. I like flashlights for nighttime potty time. There are tons out there and Streamlight makes great options. For a large lantern that has four individual lights you can take off it the Coleman Quad LED Lantern is great.
There will probably be showers and toilets if you are car camping at a place like KOA or Jellystone Park. So bring your normal hygiene items, towels and wash cloths. I like to pack some wipes. Both for your booty and general wipes. They come in handy.
This wraps up the main things you might have questions on. There might be some odds and ends but you should be able to figure those out for yourselves. This covers 90 percent of camping. I hope this provided some good ideas or supplemented your camping knowledge you already have. Happy camping!