Getting ready for a car camping trip? Using this guide to help you pack your gear should help you relax, so you can wonder what’s for lunch, instead of scrambling around trying to find something to hold your coffee because you forgot to pack a mug.
Download the car camping checklist.
There’s room (literally) for almost anything. Yes, you can use your backpacking tent, but you can bring something roomier too, with no trouble, and save your expensive tent for trips where its compactness will be an advantage. There is a huge range of price on tents. The nicer tents will be generally more durable, and more pleasant to spend time in, since they will breathe better. Why should that matter? Well, each adult exhales about half a liter of water overnight, and if you have ever spent a night in a cheap tent you have had the unpleasant experience of the tent walls raining down on you. Not fun. The better tents also have aluminum poles instead of fiberglass ones. Fiberglass poles are not only heavier, but are more prone to uv damage and splintering. Think of your tent as a hotel, and suddenly it won’t seem so outrageous to spend $200-$400.
It may seem like a great idea to bring along the inflatable airbed: “Hey, we’re car camping! Why sleep on the ground?” And it can be nice to have that raised mattress-like bed. But it is important to remember the one big drawback: air mattresses are not insulated. That means you need to put extra insulation between you and the mattress to stay warm. Your sleeping bag will do that, but if it is going to be cool at night, bringing an extra quilt to throw on top of the mattress will keep you more comfortable. Bring a patch kit too, because a slowly leaking air bed is a sure ticket to a bad night’s sleep.
Insulated self-inflating mattresses made by Thermarest or Pacific Outdoor Equipment may not look glamorous, but they inflate by themselves, store compactly, stay warm at night, and lack that bouncy airbed quality that can be annoying if your partner is a restless sleeper. A “couple kit” ($15) snugs two mattresses together to make a pleasant camp bed for two.
Ice chests come in different grades. The least expensive ones are basically party coolers, which will keep your stuff cold for a day or two. For longer trips, or for places where getting ice may be a hassle, a more heavily insulated cooler is a good idea. Coleman Xtreme coolers come rated for 3-5 days.
Remember that everything in your cooler will be sitting in water. So getting a bottle for your milk, and a plastic container for your eggs will save you a lot of headaches. Nalgene bottles work well, but the collapsible Platypus bottles will save space as they empty, and you can press the air out to keep them at the bottom of the cooler.
One way to cut down on standing water in your ice chest is to use refreezable ice substitutes (chillers, blue ice). If you are buying ice, buy blocks rather than cubes (except for going to the beach). Blocks are bulky, but they last a lot longer than the cubes do.
Dress more warmly than you think you need to. It gets cold at night when you are just hanging around. Bring a warm jacket, light gloves and a beanie for sitting around the campsite at night. Maybe you won’t need them, but you’ll be glad to have them if you do.
Keep your food and scented items secure. You are visiting Mother Nature’s house, and she has some unruly children. Skunks, squirrels, mice and raccoons have learned that people hang out in campgrounds, and that we tend to be careless about leaving food around. By keeping food items and condiments put away in chests/vehicles/bear boxes you not only avoid having to share your bread with the squirrels, but you keep the whole area nicer by discouraging aberrant behavior in the wildlife. And don’t be fooled: they are not the least bit afraid of you. Yes, in some places bears and other large carnivores are a concern, but every place has squirrels, and they want your food!
Sleep peacefully. Ah! The wonderful quiet of the great outdoors! Away from the hustle and bustle city life! A chance to finally relax! Not quite. The woods, and campgrounds, are full of all kinds of rustlings, scrapings, and other noises (that lovely rushing brook, those coyotes, the guy in the next tent snoring), and all you have is those thin tent walls. Bring earplugs. You don’t have to use them, but you probably will. It’s better than listening to the drum circle that just started up at site #17. I like to bring along a Buff or bandanna to fold into a sleep mask too. Yes, you could wake up with the sparrows, but you don’t have to. It is a vacation, after all.
If you missed it the first time around, here’s that car camping checklist again.