Our Car Camping Kit

Tent.

There are a lot of options for tents, but generally speaking, what you want out of a tent is:

  • it will keep you warm when it’s cold (but well vented so it doesn’t build up a lot of condensation)
  • it will keep you dry when it’s wet
  • it’s relatively easy to put up and take down
  • has enough room for the number of people sleeping in it and your gear.

Sleeping Bags

For car camping, sleeping bags are relatively straightforward — you don’t have to worry so much about weight or size within reason, just get one that’s rated for the approximate temperature it will be at night where you are. Pick one that has an inside material you find comfortable. Compression sacks of various sizes are really helpful for packing down sleeping bags and clothes. If you’re a couple, you want to get two bags that can zip together to make one big one. (Update: I found this absolutely amazingly well designed Kelty double sleeping bag. It has MANY nice usability features including separate blanket inserts and a pillow niche. My only complaint about it is that the material by itself is a bit slick, so you might want to pair it with an inner bag if you don’t like that.) Instead of getting a warmer bag, consider supplementing with a fleece or silk liner. These Coleman Stratus bags are nice and they also zip together. You’ll probably also want some sort of foam or inflatable mattress pad to go under them (I picked up a Nemo Roamer on sale for next year, but haven’t tried it yet). This will keep you warmer and more comfortable. Those also come in double sizes (if you can even find them — they seem to be getting more rare), but be careful about space — these can easily get very bulky. Bring something to use as a pillow, or actual pillows.

Comfort & Campsite

Most campsites come with picnic tables, but it’s nice to bring some extra chairs to sit around the fire on. I’m a huge fan of the Helinox One chairs — they fold up very small and are comfortable for most children and adults. They’re also great for smaller outings and beach trips (but take the rubber tips off first, otherwise they’ll get stuck deep in the sand and lost. I speak from experience. These replacement tips will fit.). There’s also a companion table. The knockoffs have started to appear, which are much cheaper, not as nicely constructed, but still sturdy and without the reliable warranty and support.

Food

Presumably you’re going to want to have some way to cook your food. The campgrounds we go to typically have fire pits with grills, so we don’t have to bring that. We bring a portable multi-fuel stove which is a real throwback to the 70s — it’s basically the same model my parents used when they took us camping, and my wife and I won it in a general store raffle on our first outing together. If we had to buy something new now, we’d probably get something more compact, but it’s a real workhorse and has served us well. The propane one is probably easier to deal with, and there are much smaller options if all you want to do is boil water or scramble a few eggs and you’re not cooking for a crowd. Regardless of which one you choose, it’s nice to have a some sort of burner even if it’s very basic. I usually just bring a regular small pot and a ceramic non-stick frying pan from home.

Cooking Kit

I love to cook, and I put together this portable cooking kit in a knife roll to supplement the things I often find missing in kitchens I’m borrowing. But it’s also really useful for camping trips.

  • Chef’s knife. I use ceramic knives extensively, and I much prefer the black blades. Be careful — they will snap if heavily flexed. But otherwise they’re very easy to maintain, easy to clean, won’t react badly if you don’t clean them, and don’t require sharpening.
  • Paring knife. Something small for trimming.
  • Micro-serrated utility/slicing knife. I love this knife. It’s so useful, I’d almost choose it over a chef’s knife if I had to pick only one. It’s fantastic for slicing anything with a skin, and it’s great for slicing sandwiches without tearing them apart.
  • Tongs. After a knife, the most useful cooking tool. Good for moving things around on the grill and readjusting hot logs and coals. If you have to choose, the longer the better. Get regular stainless.
  • Heavy shears. Useful for cutting meat and other tasks. They break apart for easy cleaning.
  • Extra-long wooden spoon. This is not really a camping thing, but it’s in the kit because most kitchens don’t have a stirring spoon that will reach to the bottom of every pot.
  • Peeler. Most people usually have a peeler, but it’s usually dull, and therefore useless. I bring a sharp one. The blades are replaceable.
  • Flat whisk. I like this flat ball whisk, but really any will do.
  • Kitchen twine. Wrap a bunch around a small piece of cardboard to fit in the kit.
  • Skewers / fire wires. I love these flexible skewers. I mostly use them for vegetables, and they make it really easy to fit in the empty spaces on your grill. They’re easy to use, easy to clean and they pack down small.
  • Salt & pepper
  • Silicone basting brush. Good for spreading bbq sauce or oil on food while it’s cooking. Silicone is easier to clean than a bristle brush.
  • Sharpie.

Utility Gear

I have a bag of gear that we bring with us. Not everything in here is critical, but most of it is useful. I started with a few things I needed and slowly built it up over time as I found things I wanted.

  • Rubber mallet. Useful for banging in tent stakes and general pounding tasks. Otherwise you’ll have to find a rock.
  • Flashlights / lanterns. You should have one flashlight per person, and it’s nice to have a little portable lantern or two for your table and tent. The orange one is a nice solar-powered LED lantern I got for free with my solar USB charger. These little LED flashlights are super cheap and great.
  • First aid kit. The basics include band-aids, neosporin/bactine, some kind of painkillers, and a tick puller.
  • Some sort of firestarter. I like that small portable lighter, and I have some waterproof matches as a backup. The longer fireplace matches are handy for lighting deeper into the fire.
  • Nylon cord. We picked up this roll in a marine surplus store in Provincetown. We’ve had it for almost 20 years and have barely made a dent in it. We’ve used it for a variety of things from making necklaces to hang glow sticks from to putting up clotheslines. This is basically paracord.
  • Duct tape. It’s strong tape.
  • Bug repellent. It keeps the bugs away. At least 30% DEET is recommended for tick control.
  • Multi-tool. Just generally useful for fixing things. Make sure you get one with pliers. You don’t need to go overboard on this. This probably has a sufficient knife on it for most needs, but a larger folding knife can also be useful.
  • Paper towels. We usually bring a few reusable dish towels, but for some things it’s nice to have disposable paper towels.
  • Assorted repair kits. I keep all of the repair kits I’ve accumulated (tent, hammock, extra chair parts, etc…) together in a large ziploc bag, so I always know where to look for them. Someone recently recommended Tenacious Tape to me, and it’s great stuff for minor repairs.
  • Emergency heating (mylar blankets and chemical heaters). These are small, portable, relatively cheap, and will keep you happy if it unexpectedly gets colder than you expected.
  • Emergency charging (USB solar panel + AA battery phone charger). You’ll be away from electricity for a while, and it seems like a decent precaution to have a way to charge your devices in a pinch.
  • Extra cutlery. Nice if you have friends join you, someone forgets theirs, or something breaks.
  • Small waterproof case. Good for cards / money / etc… while swimming. Also consider a dry bag if you’re going to be boating.
  • Baby wipes. I also take these on bike trips — they’re excellent for cleaning all kinds of things, and they’re good at getting oil and grease off.
  • Waterproof playing cards. Get two decks so you can play Spite & Malice.
  • Cyalume light sticks. Good in emergencies, and the kids love them.
  • Head lamp. Sometimes if you have to work in the dark, it’s nice to not have to hold a flashlight. The prices on these have dropped so substantially that I feel like there’s little reason not to have one even if you don’t end up using it much.
  • Solid fuel cubes / portable stove. I bought these to experiment with them, and discovered that in a pinch the esbit solid fuel cubes make excellent firestarters for both wood and charcoal fires, even without a chimney starter. Weber also makes some very inexpensive ones which work well.
  • Folding Saw / Small hatchet. Sometimes firewood you buy will be too big and you might want to split off smaller pieces.
  • Ping pong balls. Ok, these are just in there from some other trip we bought them for. There’s no super secret camping use for them that I know of. Please don’t do this.
  • Amazing tape. I don’t use it very often, but I love that this stuff exists. It sticks to itself and it’s reusable.
  • LED Light-up bracelets. Good for keeping track of the kids in the dark, and they love them.
  • Extra advil / tylenol.
  • A few extra ziploc bags. They’re waterproof, you know.

Personal Gear

This is a lot of individual preference, and you should tailor your clothing and accessories to what you’re going to be doing — hiking, boating/canoeing, swimming, etc… as well as the weather. Bring layers and be prepared for rain. Synthetics will dry faster and keep you warmer than cotton — and don’t forget that that applies to underwear as well. If you’re going hiking, get fitted for good boots and wear wool socks. Bring one more towel than you think you’ll need.

Locations

If you’re in New York State, this campground guide is extremely helpful (PDF download). We’ve visited a few state park campgrounds, and they’ve all been lovely, but they each have different amenities. Reserve America handles campground reservations across the country and can help you with local guides if you’re not in New York. If you live outside the U.S., maybe something like this will help.

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I am Co-Founder/Chief Engineer of www.graphika.com, this is my personal account. http://workstuff.tumblr.com * http://twitter.com/fields * http://adamfields.com

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