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Hi there!  Tanya here. 

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Our 7 must-haves for car camping

Our 7 must-haves for car camping

Some links may be affiliate links.  This post was updated March 2017.

When it comes to car camping

It's the little things.  

The perfect sleeping mat for cold nights and a good french coffee press for the morning. The right portable grill and durable camp tableware.  

An affordable, comfy double hammock.  A great lantern that won't burn out or burn your camp down.  

And extra space to pack it all in.  

Nope, I'm not talking about sleeping bags and tents today.  Chances are you already own those.  (If you're in the market for new ones, I do mention some helfpful sites at the end of this article.)  Today, let's talk about...

How to enjoy car camping


Buy a good sleeping mat

The Exped Synmat 7 is just what I'd been groaning for all these past summers while backpacking with teenagers.  After one night's sleep on this baby, I wondered "Why did I wait so long?"  

It literally feels like you're sleeping on a bed.  Or close to it.  

It has an R-value of 4.9, which basically means it keeps you warm while sleeping on a cold ground.  The Exped Synmat 7 comes in different sizes and takes only a few minutes to fill using the integrated hand pump.  

Mine weighs just slightly over 2 pounds.  Sure, its not the feathery-light type for the avid backpacker, but quite light enough.  And the price is just right for a sporadic camper and backpacker like me.  

This French press will help you roll out in the morning

Once I backpacked an entire week minus coffee and a good sleeping mat... worst decision I ever made.  Now coffee is at the top of my packing list for car camping and backpacking, just after the sleeping mat.  

The REI Table Top French Coffee Press weighs just slightly over 2 pounds. Brewing 5 - 6 steaming mugs of coffee is uncomplicated:  pour in your course ground coffee and near-boiling water, let it steep for just 4 minutes, press the plunger and Voila!  

Heaven in a cup.  Don't forget to pack mini-creamers and sugar packets if you drink it like my Grandpa:  a little coffee in your cream and sugar. 


The grill that's on my birthday list

Okay, we actually don't own this grill yet, but my friends do.  And I was severely coveting.

The Coleman Road Trip Propane Portable Grill LXE  is super handy.

This grill boasts exchangeable cooktops for more meal options (griddle, full size griddle and stove grates all sold separately).  Matchless lighting makes for no-fuss heat with a simple push button ignition.  Also, its PerfectFlow technology gives off fantastic steady heat. 

Engineered with a collapsible stand and wheels that fold up nice and easy, this grill is easy to set up, take down, and take along anywhere.  The nifty side tables, that also slide away,  keep utensils and ingredients right where you need them.  The large cooking area, with quickly cleanable cast-iron and porcelain-coated surfaces, also comes with removable grease tray. 

This beauty has 20,000 BTUs of cooking power, 10,000 BTUs on each burner, and is powered by 16.4-oz. propane cylinders.  Great for car camping and tail-gating.  You're welcome.

I should also mention we own the Camp Chef Everest High-Output 2-Burner Stove.  This is also fantastic for out-door cooking.  Who doesn't love two stoves in the kitchen?

The trusty two-cup — classic, timeless, and ever useful. 

A bunch of these live in our kitchen camping tote.  They can be used all day long.  I fell more in love with a two-cup (aka classic blue stainless enamel cup) on a backpacking trip several summers back. 

Listen up minimalists: ,a trusty two-cup, a bandana, and a spork are all you really need for grub time. 

Slap on some duck tape and bless each two-cup with a Sharpie inscribed nickname so each person can keep track of theirs.  

Ramen, hot cocoa, coffee, and skillet meals can fill your two-cup all day long.  Wet items in your two-cup and dry items on your bandana.  Tie your spork to the handle with some paracord to keep it handy too.  

Camp ware cleaning tip 101:  Pine needles and dirt make for quick, easy, bio-friendly clean up of two-cups and all other eating/cookware for that matter.  Scrub it clean and wipe it out with your trusty bandana. 

Trust me, it works and works well.  

Hobo Hammocks are the best out there  

One of  my favorite parts of camping is hanging around camp with a snuggly kid or  a book in a Hobo Hammock. 

More bang for your buck than the famous Eno Double Nest, the larger Hobo Hammock is made from parachute material, holds more weight, and costs less.  I know because we’ve bought both. 

Initially enticed by a great price and free 3-day shipping, we soon learned there are many reasons to love the Hobo Hammock:  lifetime warranty, 2 ultra strength steel carabiners, and 2 10 foot long Hobo Straps.  The best part is one delicious meal is delivered to a hobo in your name when you buy a Hobo Hammock.  Gotta love it. 

I wrote a bit more about it here.


The ideal lantern 

For me, it's those middle of the night trips to the potty.  Also useful for all kinds of emergencies home or away.

We own the excellent Supernova 300.  Runs on batteries with lots of run-time hours.  The LEDs run cool and offer up to 100,000 hours of use! 

The Supernova provides excellent, pleasing, non-glaring light.  Great for playing games at the picnic table or for getting ready for bed long after the sun goes down.  

And waaay safer for kids to swing around than those old kerosene lanterns.  

Personal lights:  Headlamps for each person are additionally ideal if you can afford one for everyone.  Make your kids hang them around their necks when not in use so they don't get lost.    


Big families: the StowAway2 is a game-changer 

Now you're probably wondering "How do you pack your van with so much camping gear for a family of 6?"  Great question. We're asked all the time.

Introducing our StowAway2 Max Cargo Carrier.  So much to say about this rugged alternative to the hard-to-reach rooftop carrier. 

The StowAway2 is a lightweight, weather-durable, easy-to-access hitch-mounted storage unit.  Its one-of-a-kind SwingAway frame provides us full access to open up the back of our van.  Holds up to 200 pounds of gear. 

While car-camping, the StowAway2 becomes one large bear can where our food and cooler live overnight under lock and key. 

I share 10 reasons to love the StowAway2 here.

Bonus Item: Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair

Recently, we were in sore need of new easy-to-carry folding chairs for soccer games and car camping.  We've owned so many cheapies that have ended up in the trash can, we decided it was time to upgrade.

The Kijaro Dual Lock Folding Chair is just what the doctor ordered.  Basically, I love sitting up straight, and this chair helps makes that possible.  Comfy and sturdy too.  This is MY chair.  

What would help you enjoy car camping even more?

Guys, car camping doesn't have to equal sleepless nights, cold breakfasts, and sitting on the hard ground.  

What is the one thing you'll add to your birthday or Christmas list right now that would help you really enjoy your next camping trip?  If it's not something mentioned above, what is the one comfort you miss while camping?  

Research how you can make that one comfort happen while car camping.  And please comment below to let us know.  We'd love to hear!

Happy Camping!  

P.S.  Don't own a tent yet?  Here is a great article about the best car camping and backpacking tents out there. 

Do your kids need new sleeping bags like mine do? Learn more about the 10 best sleeping bags for kids here.

Do you need a new sleeping bag?  Adults learn more here.

All photographs belong to Tanya Raedeke, except the top opening photo (courtesy of Please do not use any of these photographs without written permission.

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