Our Favorite Car Camping Essentials
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Car camping brings a specific kind of happiness and comfort. Prepped meals, endless games, and as many blankets to cuddle as you could desire; it’s worth it to consider trading in your base weight for a loaded car. Though every thru-hiker will tell you there’s beauty in the suffering, there is also beauty in rolling out of your tent at 10 a.m. with a pair of slippers nearby. Plus, you can always create your own base camp and explore the most suffer-worthy day-hikes in the region.
In fact, my introduction to thru-hiking was on a car camping trip in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. As my friend and I day-hiked from Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass, we passed a thin, bearded man who looked as if he had some serious miles under his belt. He told us he was heading down to the campground to grab more food, and then returning to the trail. My mind struggled to wrap around this concept—extra miles just to be able to then continue hiking? Why couldn’t all his food fit into his pack? How did he get the food there in the first place? A little over two years later, I would find myself tracing his exact footsteps as I collected my final resupply for the John Muir Trail in Onion Valley.
Though the JMT stoked a new fire for thru-hiking, car camping still holds a special place in my heart. When facing day-to-day stress, all I desire is an escape into the woods. Seeking out local campgrounds with popular day-hikes in the area is a fantastic way to get a nature reset, while still being able to return to the real world refreshed. However, what truly separates car camping for me is the sheer amount of gear you can bring. From sinks to Spikeball, this list has you covered for your next trip.
REI Co-op Camp Bed Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
MSRP: $99.95 – $119.00
With an R-value of 7.6, this insulated sleeping pad will keep you comfy on any trip, and protected from extreme cold. No need to choose between the sound of potato chips as you move throughout the night or a thin mat.
Rumpl Original Puffy Recycled Blanket
Looking for a little extra warmth at the campfire? What about a few more feathers to envelope you in a cozy cocoon while snoozing under the stars? This warm, washable, synthetic blanket is the perfect addition to any adventure.
REI Co-op Camp Dreamer Self-Inflating Pillow
MSRP: $34.95 – $39.95
Complete your ultimate sleeping setup with a place to rest your head. This pillow self-inflates when unpacked, and packs down into its own pocket for easy storage. No more choosing between a rolled-up puffy or an extra few grams of base weight.
REI Co-op Flexlite Camp Chair
Sitting around the campfire just got so much more comfortable. This chair has been recently revamped to fit a wider selection of bodies, making it the perfect choice for all of our friends joining us outside.
Eureka Ignite 2-Burner Camp Stove
One of the greatest joys of car camping is firing up the stove and putting together a drool-worthy meal. The two burners can run simultaneously, allowing you to cook to your heart’s desire. Hello fresh veggies, goodbye dehydrated grains.
Light My Fire MealKit BIO 8-Piece Mess Kit
Allow yourself the luxury of morning oatmeal, without scraping it out of a well-loved JetBoil. Complete with one lid, one bowl, two packing containers, one cup, one strainer/cutting board, one spork, and one harness, you have everything you need to prep and enjoy your campsite gourmet.
Lodge Deep Camp Dutch Oven
Ready to take your campfire cooking to the next level? With this pre-seasoned Dutch oven, you can cook anything from a pot roast to cornbread. Check out REI’s guidebook to camp over cooking for inspiration.
To round out the complete car camping kitchen setup, this sink is a must-have. Clean dishes will ease the transition back out of the woods, or allow you to head straight to the next adventure. Plus, when not in use as a sink, the handles will turn this into an extra carrying basket.
ENO DoubleNest Hammock
Whether you’re seeking an afternoon nap, a perfect place to crack open a book, or a midday snuggle, this two-person hammock has you covered. Complete with its own setup system, once packed into its own stuff sack this hammock easily fits anywhere. Pro tip: bring this hammock on your next day-hike. Nothing beats complete relaxation from the best view near the campground.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set
Most commonly used for travel, these packing cubes are an organizational life-saver for any camping trip. With three different sizes, these gear separators allow the dirty to stay out of the clean’s way. After a day or two in the dirt, you’ll be grateful for an extra space for those dirty socks.
Spikeball 3-Ball Combo Set
This beats sitting around the fire playing “would you rather” for the thousandth time. This volleyball-esque game combines challenge with fun, and is sure to entertain every person on the trip. Raise the stakes and make it a tournament—losers do the dishes.
YETI Tundra 35 Cooler
Whether it lives in the back of the car or you have the muscles to haul it out around the fire, this is simply the best cooler out there. With technology to keep ice solid for days and a divider rack to separate the dry goods, your entire camping setup is covered. Plus, with two extra padlocks, it qualifies as a certified bear vault. Fresh veggies, dry sandwiches, and cold beer make the perfect camping companions.
Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium Portable Power Bank
Looking to escape into the woods until further notice? When fully charged and ready for adventure, this portable power station holds roughly 100 headlamp charges, 30 smartphone charges, or 10 laptop charges. Head out with the peace of mind of electronic back-up.
Just about ready to schedule in your next long weekend in the dirt? Head to REI’s Camping Project to explore local campgrounds, day-hikes, and climbing areas. You might just find a hidden gem in your very own backyard.
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