What’s not to love about car camping? All the comforts of home rolled out into the woods, plus your favorite gadgets and techy tools to boot? You get breathtaking views, all the fresh air you want, and if the weather turns or things get weird, you’re only a car ride away from a Denny’s or Motel 6. And for most of us, car camping brings back all the child hood memories of camping with the family – both good and bad.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, of the 43 million people who camped last year, 38 million of those were car, RV, or backyard camping, and manufacturers are taking notice of this fact.
When I’m heading out for a weekend of climbing or paddling, car camping frees me to focus on the gear and preparedness for my sport, not my camping gear. With that, here are a few Blue Ridge Outdoors picks for some must-have car camping favorites.
Founded in 2002, Grand Trunk is making a splash in the travel market with its outdoorsy accessories, including an awesome new hooded travel pillow, a packable travel blanket (also ideal for picnics), handy utility pouches, and its popular hammocks — new this summer is a very cozy double hammock in updated prints, perfect for wet and uneven camping environments. The Parachute Nylon Double Hammock ($64.99) is 10.5 by 6.5 feet and holds up to 400 pounds. Material is stretchy and mildew resistant with triple stitched seams; rope and nautical-grade hanging biners included. www.GrandTrunkGoods.com
When it comes to lighting up your campsite – and digging through your vehicle looking for your wine bottle opener – you really don’t want to take any chances, which is why I recommend one of the most dependable and reliable outdoor brands in the world for your lighting needs, despite there being so many great options available. The BD Voyager ($39.95) lantern is simple, durable and serves the dual function of non-glaring camp lantern and flashlight, perfect for late night trips to the cooler or the latrine. For personal lighting, choose one of the new BD headlamps with PowerTap Technology for super easy brightness adjustments with just the tap of a finger. The proximity mode on the new Spot Headlamp ($39.95) is awesome for reading in your tent, cooking, etc., while 130 lumens are still available when the dog runs off and you need some real candlepower to find him. For ten dollars more, the Storm is the fully waterproof version. www.blackdiamondequipment.com
When it comes to comfort camping, few brands do it all quite as right as Kelty, from tents to packs, pads, coolers, lanterns, sleeping bags and camp furniture. Before your next outing, I suggest adding the folding Basecamp Kitchen ($184.95) to the car camping kit. It provides wind-protected surface area for food prep, cooking and playing cards after dinner if you like. Durable aluminum can handle up to 100 pounds and collapses into its carry sack at 8 by 32 inches. A fabric panty holds drygoods and pots and pans and it’s a cinch to accessorize. www.kelty.com
Slumberjack is another one of those classic family camping brands, still offering great value and comfort. For sleeping in comfort outdoors, the inflatable mattress is the go-to solution, perfect for unruly mother-in-laws or others insisting on a slight upgrade from the cold hard ground. The Slumberjack Haymaker inflatable bed is made for use outdoors and even has a soft flocked top and comes with a battery powered pump (twin $59.95; queen $69.95). Throw a fitted sheet on it or just a sleeping bag. www.slumberjack.com
Consider throwing the Therm-a-rest Vela Double ($279.95) down blanket over your air mattress or two sleeping pads pushed together. The 650-fill down is the perfect amount of warmth for Blue Ridge nights and breaths better than other materials. www.thermarest.com
In the “brands you might not have heard of yet” category, Ticla represents everything about car camping you already knew, but couldn’t find available at specialty outdoor retail. But now you can. Ticla offers car-camping specific gear including sleeping pads, bags, shelters and tents…all meant to be easy to use and store with an emphasis on functionality and aesthetics, not weight. Their new Tortuga (3-person $275; 4-person $350) is being called the quintessential car camping tent – featuring 360-degree views even with the fly on; kid and dog proof materials and construction; and oversized traditional architecture. The Besito ($100) sleeping bag has the same luxurious comfort and style. It’s available as part of the company’s GOOD Kit ($180) which includes the sleeping bag, the Tsubo sleeping pad ($90), and roomy storage bag, eliminating the hassle of trying to stuff a sleeping bag into a tiny sack. www.ticla.com
Speaking of comfort, nothing says luxurious car-camping comfort (or cabin, yurt, or condo) like a pair of down booties. If your (read, her) feet are warm, you will be warmer all over. This classic piece of camp gear has been revamped for men and women…men now get an easy-to-throw-on Moc ($65) and women get a plush and stylish mid-calf Bootie ($65). Both are extremely packable and still boast durable ripstop nylon construction, slip-resistant bottoms, clip/pull loops and 700-fill down. Rumor has it these booties will be discontinued so snatch them up. www.sierradesigns.com
Another great option for sleeping near the vehicle if you’re not into air mattresses is the classic cot. Well, now there’s a cot available that’s so light and easy to set up, you’ll be taking it canoeing and backpacking, not just car camping. The Helinox Cot One ($299.95) pretty much revolutionizes the very concept of the cot, bringing it down to about four pounds with next-generation materials and industrial design. And it holds up to 320 pounds of flesh. If you’re not looking to drop three-hundred bucks, settle for the Helinox Chair One ($99.95) – again, one of the lightest and easiest to set up and down folding camp chairs on the market. www.bigagnes.com
One of the most trusted names in camping and still family held, GSI is especially known for their durable camp kitchenware and innovative accessories. And once you have a set of dedicated and reliable pots, pans, dishes and utensils for camping, you’ll thank yourself every time out. One of our favorites is the new 4.7-liter Halulite cooking pot ($44.95), featuring dual locking stainless steel bail handles, integrated straining holes (no need to carry a colander), silicone thumb pads for handling, and a spiral-turned base that helps it stay put. The enduring Destination Kitchen Set 24 ($49.95) gives you everything you need to serve a family of four and stays put in a handy carrying case. You’ll also want to add the Vortex hand-crank blender ($99.95) to the gear box, because eating good food and making fancy drinks is really what car camping is all about. GSI even has a new line of campground games designed to be packable and durable, even for backpacking. New items include Freestyle Bocce ($30), Table Tennis, Kubb, and classics like Chess ($12), Checkers and Backgammon. www.gsioutdoors.com
Lowa Bahia Sandals
Often overlooked, Lowa makes sandals just as rugged and functional as Chaco or Keen. Their super-grippy outsole is lightweight and flexible, providing great traction on and off the water. ($110) lowaboots.com
Farm to Feet socks
These socks feel good—and not just because they are soft and comfy. Based in North Carolina, Farm to Feet sources 100% of their merino wool from U.S. ranches, and every stitch is 100% made in America. These socks keep feet dry and blister-free on creek-splashing trail runs and muddy mountain hikes. ($12) farmtofeet.com
It’s not just for Third World countries. Lifestraw is just as effective for campers needing to purify drinking water. And for each Lifestraw sold in the States, one child in the develping world receives clean water for a year. ($19) buylifestraw.com