This story originally appeared as a guest post for Fresh Chalk.
Car camping is easy as pulling off the side of a road for a little shut eye, but the right supplies will mean the difference between back pain and that sun-is-shining free feeling. When you take the fam back to nature on four wheels this summer, you’ll want to have the these car camping essentials. So get your gear together, throw it in the trunk, and get out on that open road. Here are my favorite gear picks.
One of the best parts of sleeping in your car is that you aren’t carrying your bed on your back, allowing you to splurge on heavier, cushier mats, pillows and blankets. Fold your back seats down flat to create a bed space. In the Jeep, we use the inflatable queen mattress from Intex, which is a super affordable option that fits myself, my husband, and my young son. Pair it with sheets and blankets in the summer, or a sleeping bag in winter. For a smaller car and when it’s just me and my husband, we tend to use my camping set up of REI Co-op Stratus sleeping pads along with the Exped Dual Sleeping Bag, which perfectly fits the Stratus sleeping pads.
It’s always a good idea to have an extra blanket that’s insulated, especially when car camping. Sleeping in your car can fog up the windows, so you’ll often want to crack a window before bedtime to beat the dampness. Avoid any chilliness with this blanket from Rumpl. It’s also great for sitting outside to watch the sunset!
This doubled-sided insulation is a staple of vanlifers everywhere. It’s cheap, light, and remarkably effective at bouncing the sun’s rays skyward and body heat back to you. Press the Reflectix against the window, Sharpie the outline, and trim away with scissors until the fit is right. If your window doesn’t have a lip, you can use suction cups or magnets to hold it in place. The added bonus, aside from insulation, is privacy - no one will be able to see inside your vehicle.
Is it just me, or does all food taste better when camping? All it takes is a little time in the fresh air to work up an appetite. Another great positive of car camping is you can have perishable food. Keep eggs, meat, or anything else that might spoil for your meals inside a hard cooler to maintain freshness. You can also get a rack for $12 that allows you to separate any meat from the rest of the contents. Pro tip: pre-chill your cooler with ice to get the interior frosty before adding any food. If you’re not ready to invest in a RTIC, consider the Coleman wheeled cooler. It’s a solid option for those just starting out.
If you want home-quality meals in the wilderness, a two burner stove is the way to go. It’s ideal for families, large groups of friends, or multiple-day trips. You can be boiling pasta on one burner while stir frying some vegetables on the other. For a more compact option that’s ideal for single adventures of one-night trips, consider the Jetboil Flash cooking system. It’s fast and easy to use for those who would rather spend more time on the trail than in the campsite. Pair it with the summit skillet and 2.5L MSR cook pot that can be used along on the Jetboil Flash with a pot support adapter.
Don’t forget to be environmentally friendly when packing your food, ingredients, and snacks since if we don’t take care of the earth, we will not have these beautiful places to recreate in. We use the reusable silicone food storage bags from Ziptop instead of Ziplock pouches for snacks, cereal, fruits, etc.
We have 3 of the Fozzils plate cup and bowl sets—one for each of us. These reusable dishes fold flat, and then snap together to make a dish. In other worlds, they’re incredibly easy to store, as well as clean. Pair them with a spork (a spoon and fork combo) and you’ll have everything you need to eat your meals.
Cleaning up is just as important as eating, especially when it comes to taking care of the places we recreate in. When washing dishes, it’s important to minimize our impact. Unlike other harmful chemicals or plastics, bio washes pose little threat to existing ground vegetation or surrounding plant life. Just 1-4 drops of a concentrated soap like Campsuds is all you need. Then, dispose of the used water at least 200 yards away from natural water sources, like rivers or lakes.
When traveling, we’re usually also bringing along bikes, scooters, and more, so we try to keep our gear as compact as possible. These ultralight and affordable chairs are perfect for car camping. They fold into a small bag and can easily be tucked away during the day, and then brought out in the evening for a place to sit that’s not the ground (if your campsite doesn’t come with a picnic table, that is). Pro tip: If your site doesn’t have a picnic table and you’re in need of a table, your cooler can double as one!
After the sun sets, you’ll want to break out a light source. Luci Lamps are solar powered, waterproof, and collapse down to 1.5 inches, making them the perfect adventure lamp. Hang it on the roof of your car when you’re getting ready for bed for a hands-free setup. Make sure you also have a headlamp though - you’ll want something that’s easy to take outside with you if you need to take a midnight bathroom break.
Paracord is a lightweight nylon rope that was originally used in the suspension lines of US parachutes during World War II. Today, it has hundreds of uses, and is always great to have on hand when camping. It can be used to hang a bear bag, secure a tent flap, make a splint, and much more. You can pick up 50 ft for under ten dollars.
While a hammock isn’t an essential, it’s certainly nice to have. This double nest from Eno works perfectly for our family. We use it for a siesta during the day or when we want to be off the ground. It’s nice to have a spot in your campsite that is designated for relaxation, and then it folds up into a small bag for easy storage.
There you have it: My car camping essentials for summer! If not everything in this list is in your budget, check out used gear shops or ask a friend if you can borrow it for the weekend. Be sure to tag us @adventuretripr so we can see your adventures! Happy camping.
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