What to Bring Car Camping

Car camping isn’t as rigorous as backcountry hiking, but it still requires quite a bit of preparation. Below, you’ll find a basic list of what to bring car camping.

Delicious Food and a Reliable Way to Cook It

The luxury of car camping is that you can bring plenty of tasty food that would be too heavy for backpacking. Steaks, pasta, grilled chicken – there are plenty of options for delectable car camping food. In fact, if you have an independently fueled camping stove with a couple of burners, cooking while car camping feels very similar to camping at a traditional range. Or, depending on your comfort with campfire cooking, you may not even need a stove, especially if you’re only staying a night or two. Plan your meals out about a week ahead of time so you have enough time to procure extra items from the grocery store if needed.

Part of this preparatory sweep will be to make sure you pack a good set of camping knives and other kitchen items you will need. It’s smart for everyone in your party to carry his or her own multi-tool; that way none of you will ever be far away from your camping knives – they come in handy more often than you might think, even when car camping.

Emergency Items

Even car camping requires some basic tools and supplies in case of an emergency. Many of these items should be permanently kept in your car so you’re prepared for anything, year-round. These emergency items include:

  • First aid kit. Gauze, bandages, blister remedies, aloe vera (for sunburns), tea tree oil (for mosquito bites) and sunscreen are essential parts of a good hiking or camping first aid kit. You can simplify things by doubling up usability. For instance, check your multi tool camping knives – they may also have accessories for tweezers and other helpful medical tools.
  • Cell phone. Don’t forget to think about how long your batteries will last. There are now solar cell phone chargers that will charge a cell phone with a few hours of sunlight.
  • Extra set of keys, in case you lock your keys inside the car. There are magnetic key boxes available that you can stick to the underside of your car.
  • Flares and lights. If you get stranded, you will want something to attract the attention of emergency responders. An LED headlamp is a good backup if your main emergency lighting doesn’t work.
  • Extra water. Hydration is key in emergency situations. Carry an extra gallon or two of water in your car, in case you take a wrong turn and get lost on an isolated road.
  • Stash of food. Carry a few energy bars in your car.
  • Good maps. The couple that was recently stranded in northern Nevada was actually only ten miles from the town of Jackpot, a location where they could have easily gotten help. However, the Canadian couple had only their GPS to guide them. Often GPS systems don’t know best; they choose impossible routes or roads that are no longer usable. Plan your trip ahead of time, choosing major, reliable routes. Bring along maps to double check your progress.
  • Contacts. Tell your friends where you are going, and have a person to check in with periodically. If something happens to you, these people can contact law enforcement and have rescue crews sent.

Sleeping Setup

A sleeping bag is a necessity in car camping, unless you just plan to spread out ample blankets in the back of your SUV. Although some desert campgrounds are reliably dry enough to allow you to sleep under the stars, a tent is a good idea here in the Pacific Northwest. You’ll probably also want some sort of padding underneath your sleeping bag. A tip for newbie campers: Try not to touch the inside of the tent if it does rain – this brings the water into the tent via conduction.

Reliable Lighting

A campfire is charming, but it won’t provide enough light for playing games or eating dinner. Lanterns are better for these purposes. You will also want each member of your party to have his or her own LED headlamp. An LED headlamp is useful for trips to the bathroom, close cooking preparation work and much more. Emergency kits should also include an extra LED headlamp.

To conclude, remember that you have a full car of space, so you can bring plenty of conveniences to make your experience more comfortable. A couple of days before your trip, check that you have all the ingredients you will need for each meal. It’s also smart to lay out your cooking and sleeping setups, to make sure nothing is missing. Bring along the items listed above, and you’ll enjoy nature more knowing you’re prepared for anything the road or the elements could bring your way.

[ photo by: bpende ]

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