Must-Haves for a Great Car Camping Trip

Car camping holds a warm place in the hearts of many outdoor-loving folks, and these days, with the proliferation of incredibly useful and fairly affordable gadgets and products to make camping more comfortable, it’s even more fun. Driving to a camp spot, unpacking your stuff, and taking a few hikes close to your camp is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors. If you have never been camping before and are concerned about what things you should purchase and pack, or if you have done it before and it wasn’t a raging success, fear no more. The list below has the top items that make quick weekend getaways on a car camping trip more enjoyable.

1. Your Tent Can be Spacious and Comfortable. Buy a larger tent that is easy to move around in. After all, you are driving to the area where you will be camping, so weight and size can be more than you would pack if you were going to backpack. Put the tent up somewhere like your backyard or a nearby park first before you go out so you know how it all comes together. It really is nice to have a big tent that you can put your bags, hiking gear, and other things in, as well as be large enough to stand up in. Many manufacturers make models that are not terribly expensive and readily available at most retail stores or online. It also comes in real handy for that clandestine poker game in the woods–or as a great place for folks to hang out in a downpour.

The large tent and the two-burner LP gas stove--must-haves for luxurious car camping.

The large tent and the two-burner LP gas stove–must-haves for luxurious car camping.

2. Buy an Air Mattress. Inflatable air mattresses are also readily available to buy these days. You don’t have to have a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, although if you have these items, you can use them–but why would you? It’s just that you are car camping, so why not take a mattress that is the same size as your bed back home and pack sheets, pillows, and blankets, creating a very comfy sleeping situation that you are more familiar with on a regular basis? It will help you sleep more easily on the camp out.

3. Bring a Power Inverter and An Extension Cord. Some campgrounds will have electricity at their sites, so an extension cord might come in handy for who knows what. But some places and camp sites will not have outlets. If you have things that need power, purchase a power inverter that plugs into your vehicle’s lighter port. This will come in handy for all kinds of things, from charging devices to perhaps even pumping up that fancier air mattress with the double height and electric air pump. There are all kinds of inverters available; most even have USB ports for handy phone charging. Plus, if you are planning that super-cool outdoor rave with light strings and a disco ball, you’ll need an inverter.

4. Buy Good Camp Furniture: Comfy Chairs & A Folding Table with Adjustable Leg Heights. These too are available to purchase at most retail stores, and come in very handy if you are camping somewhere where picnic tables are not part of the camp site offerings. The table can pull double-duty as a valise stand in your tent for your bags if you have a larger tent. Camping chairs are almost an art form these days–everyone has them, and everyone has one that they really want–you know, the one with the drink holding pockets and secret stash compartment. You can go cheap but you will buy again, sooner than later. Go ahead and invest in a nicer chair. It will get used more than you think, and last a lot longer.

5. Take Along a Second Cooler or Larger Box with a Latching Lid for Dry Food. Everyone takes a cooler with ice for their beverages and their cold storage food items, but usually no one takes along a second cooler or box for the dry food items, like chips, bread, mixes, cooking oils, or spices. This is actually a strategy to keep critters out of your stuff. If you are going to keep food in your tent while you are out hiking during the day, YOU MUST keep it inside a box with a lid or a cooler. Otherwise, savvy varmints like mice and squirrels will gnaw through your tent and tear into all the food bags–leaving you with a damaged tent and less food. Of course, you can keep it in your car as well, but it won’t be as handy, and if you are driving to a trail head, the food could sit in the sun for hours. That also is not advisable.

Cooking salmon fillets and shrimp on a car camping trip. It was excellent.

Cooking salmon fillets and shrimp on a car camping trip. It was excellent.

6. Cook Great Food. Look, you aren’t on a survival mission, nor are you backpacking. Take along awesome food for your meals, along with whatever kitchen items you need to prepare it–and the spices and oils to enhance it. Pre-prepare some items at home for quick deployment onto a plate that first night of camping–spaghetti sauce is a good example of that. Then all you have to do is heat the sauce and boil noodles. A stir-fry would also be a good example, just make rice and heat up the stir-fry. If you don’t have one, purchase a two-burner camping stove that runs on LP gas, and take along a small grill (a grill that runs on LP gas is also a good idea if there are burn restrictions in effect where you are going to camp) if steaks are on the menu. Be sure to put the grill inside a plastic bag for transport if you have cooked with it before. Also pack a small wash basin, pot scrubber, and some biodegradable soap for apres-dinner clean up.

7. Bring Your Own Wood. If you are heading to an established campground, chances are that sites will have fire rings and wood bundles will be for sale at the camp host’s site. I’m not trying to deny those folks some extra bucks, but if you have wood, bring it. Sometimes, the host is sold out, or it’s wet from being rained on, or they aren’t actually there to sell you the wood–and if that unfolds, you don’t want to be the jerk that goes out foraging for what little wood might be on the ground when it’s probably against the law to do that in the campground. Some areas of the U.S. may have fire restrictions in place at certain times of the year, which will have rules or outright bans on fires. Check with campground web sites, area ranger stations, or your camp host to make sure fires are alright.

To learn more about what to pack for day hikes, click here.

To learn more about packing a great first aid kit, click here.

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One Response to Must-Haves for a Great Car Camping Trip

  1. Jonna April 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    We think there should be a eighth item….A cooler full of beer!!!!

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