My Essential Car Camping Gear

by Kim on July 21, 2014 · 49 comments

Hello from the Smoky Mountains! As I write this it has been raining for 72-hours straight and Brian and I have been huddled at our campsite trying to stay warm and dry (it is July, right?). This current streak of lousy weather has got me thinking about how lucky we are to have such great camping gear. I’m not sure I’d survive the bad weather without it.

Below you’ll find a (long) list of my essential car camping gear. Most of this gear was given to us as part of our job with Backpacker Magazine (major job perk) but by no means was I asked to write about or review this stuff here on the blog. And some of the gear listed below is stuff that we’ve owned and used for years.

Also, “essential” is obviously up for debate. Some people can get by Bear Grylls style and camp happily with only a twig, a camel bone, a muddy puddle of water and a coconut husk. I can’t. This is my essential car camping gear because, essentially, it keeps me happy and sane while I live out of a tent for 7-months.

Essential car camping gear for sleeping

1. Our camping trailer

Okay, I should start with the big guy first. We love our SylvanSport GO Camping Trailer. It’s not ours to keep (unfortunately) but this thing has revolutionized the way we camp . The thing I love the most about our camping trailer is that it is roomy and comfortable. I also love that there is a table that folds down into the middle of the trailer providing a great place to eat and work. And the awning is a wonderful place to hide from the sun or rain. To learn more about the camper see the blog post I wrote about it here.

SylvanSport GO

Brian avoids the rain in the Smokey Mountains by hanging out under the awning of our SylvanSport GO.

2. Our tents

There are some places where we can’t set up the trailer, like walk-in campsites or when we are backpacking. So the tents we use and love are the Big Agnes Big House for car camping and the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 3 while backpacking.

I love the Big House because it is big enough to stand up in and -added bonus- when the morning light shines in it feels like you’re sleeping in a colorful circus tent.

Big Agnes Big House 4 Tent

Camping in Georgia in our Big Agnes Big House 4 tent. It even has a welcome mat!

I love the Copper Spur UL 3 because it is super lightweight for backpacking (only 3.4 pounds) and it has two entrances and two vestibules. The double doors are important because you don’t want to have to crawl over your tent mate when you have to pee in the middle of the night. The vestibules are important because they give each of you a place to store your gear.

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 tent

Camping at Acadia National Park with our Copper Spur UL 3 tent and our Camp One Helinox Chairs (more info on those below).  We had the rainfly off of the tent for stargazing.

3. Camping cots, sleeping bags, ground pads, and pillows

Before we acquired the camping trailer we were sleeping exclusively out of tents and our Helinox camp cots made the difference between a great night’s sleep and a bad one. I love these camp cots. I cannot stress it enough: I will never car camp without my camp cot again. These cots are lightweight (under 5 pounds), they pack down small, and they’re easy to assemble. Camping perfection.

Helinox camping cots

Our Helinox camping cots underneath our sleeping bags.

My Big Agnes Roxy Ann sleeping bag is wonderful. It is a modified rectangular shape which means that I have room in the middle to kick my leg out when I sleep. It isn’t a mummy bag (I hate mummy bags, I feel trapped) but it tapers a bit at the end. The Big Agnes Q-Core ground pad is insulated and slips into the back of the sleeping bag (the sleeping bag has a built-in compartment for the ground pad). This is a great design for me because I toss and turn a lot at night but I don’t have to worry about slipping off of my ground pad because it is attached to my sleeping bag. The insulation of the ground pad keeps me extra warm and my bag is a 15 degree bag which means I can stay comfortably warm overnight in temperatures as low as 15 degrees F.

Big Agnes Roxy Ann Sleeping Bag

My Roxy Ann sleeping bag is on the right and Brian has the man-version called the Lost Ranger (on the left).

We meet a ton of gear junkies while traveling around the country on the Get Out More Tour. One of those gear junkies swore by his Nemo Fillo pillow so much that he gave it to Brian, insisting that the pillow would get rid of his neck problems. You know what? It did. This pillow is so cool. It is tiny enough to take backpacking or on an airplane but inflates to sleeping-size. One side of the pillow has memory foam and the other has a grid of elastic cords where you can stash a sweatshirt to add height to the pillow. Brilliant!

Essential car camping gear for eating and drinking

1. Our cook stove

We use a Coleman two-burner stove that Brian has had since he was a teenager. It still works good as new. There are fancier options available but why mess with a good thing? The stove uses propane and we go through a can every two weeks or so.

Coleman two-burner propane stove

Our Coleman propane stove and our sticker collection.

2. Our cook system

We cook with the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Backpacker Outdoor Cook Set and the GSI Crossover Kitchen Kit. We LOVE this cook system. The pot in the Pinnacle Backpacker is big enough to boil a pound of pasta (we eat a lot of pasta) and the crossover kitchen set comes with a spatula, a cutting board, tongs, a serving spoon and even a spice rack. Everything fits into the boiling pot so it packs up nice and small and only weighs 2.2 pounds.

GSI Pinnacle Backpacker cook set

I guess we’ll have pasta for dinner tonight. Again. 

3. Our camping friendly coffee press

Brian and I both have a major coffee addiction and every morning the first thing we do is pull out our coffee press and make some fresh coffee. If I’m camping for a weekend I can stomach instant coffee but that won’t cut it for seven months straight! This coffee press is plastic which makes it perfect for camping. Mmmmm coffee!

Essential car camping gear: coffee press and mug

Enjoying coffee on a rainy Vermont morning with another cool piece of gear- my GSI Backpacker Mug.

4. Our camping “pantry”

We keep all of our food and cooking gear organized in a Rubbermaid container (clear containers are best so you don’t have to spend so much time digging!). We call our Rubbermaid container our “pantry” and our cooler our “refrigerator.” We’re still looking for a good cooler. I’ve heard the Yeti coolers are great but they cost a fortune. Suggestions?

Essential car camping gear for hanging out at camp

1. Our amazing little camping chairs

Hanging out at camp isn’t so fun if you don’t have a comfortable place to sit. Our Chair One Camp Chairs not only look cool but they are super comfortable and lightweight enough to take backpacking. We use them

Essential car camping gear: Helinox Chair One camp chairs

Our chair one camp chairs waiting for us to grab a beer and make a fire somewhere in Tennessee.

2. Our hammock

Our ENO 2-person hammock was a bit of a splurge but I’m so glad we bought it. There’s nothing better than hanging in a hammock and reading a book beneath a canopy of trees.

essential car camping gear ENO 2-person hammock

Brian hangs out at camp in Georgia.

3. Bug spray

As spring gave way to summer we officially entered mosquito season (and black fly season and noseeum season and…). Sometimes I feel like my full-time job is to keep the bugs away. We’ve sprayed all of our camping gear with Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent (including our tents and our camping trailer). Permethrin is a bug spray you put on your gear and clothing that binds to fabric. It works really, really well. We also apply DEET when we need to. This is not my first choice because I hate the way it feels on my skin and DEET is a plasticizer which means it can eat your technical gear. Still, you do what you gotta do.

4. A camping shower

One of my camping requirements is that we stay at campsites that have showers whenever possible. However, there are many campsites that don’t have shower facilities and that makes me very grumpy. So, we bought a Nemo HelioPressure Shower to solve the problem. The shower is pressurized by a foot-pump and the water comes out of a spray nozzle. You can boil water to make it warm (make sure to mix your boiled water with cold water) or you can set it out in the sun to warm on it’s own. This shower has been a lifesaver. And, bonus, it also doubles as a great way to wash dishes at camp.

Essential car camping gear: Nemo HelioPressure camp shower

Brian shows off our camp shower/ dishwashing station in upstate New York.

5. The coolest lantern ever

You can’t camp without proper illumination and our Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 lantern is probably one of the coolest pieces of gear we own. The lantern is super bright (250 lumens) and when we hang it in our camping trailer it’s almost like we have electricity. It can also be recharged by hand-cranking so we’ll never run out of light. And it’s so lightweight (1.1 pounds) that we can carry it with us into the backcountry.

Essential car camping gear: Goal Zero lighthouse 250 lantern

The Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 lantern.

6. Our headlamps

Our lantern is great for hanging out but our Princeton Tec Remix Headlamps are what we use when we read before bed or make a late-night jaunt to the bathroom. I like my Princeton Tech headlamp because it’s bright (100 lumens) but also has a low-light setting and a green-light setting which is easy on my eyes when I’m reading.

Essential car camping gear: Princeton Tec headlamp

Brian explores Fort Gorges off the coast of Portland, Maine with his headlamp.

Alright, that’s my (very long) list of essential car camping gear. What am I missing? What gear do you use and love?