By Rachel Walker
Ahhhh, car camping—the traveler's embodiment of the "think global, act local" mantra. Unlike journeying to exotic destinations, which tend to require significant expense and loads of greenhouse gases, car camping is simple. Whether you're traveling five or 500 miles, all you need to do is throw your gear in the car, pick a destination on the map, and go.
Further sweeten your summer explorations by streamlining your gear system. Since weight doesn't really matter (this isn't a backpacking trip), car camping practically begs you to bust out the extra-thick camp pad, the cozy bag, and even the cast-iron skillet. While car camping's most luxurious perks are bound to be found in star-studded skies, al fresco dining, and sunsets, the below creature comforts will make your trip downright deluxe.
Coolers have come a long way from the days of the $5 Styrofoam box. Otter Box's Trooper LT 20 Soft Cooler ($250) keeps ice cold for days and doesn't leak. It's big enough to store several days' worth of provisions, yet small enough to fit on even the most jam-packed ride. Thanks to the cooler's wide-opening hinge top, loading it—and reaching in to retrieve deliciousness—is a piece of cake.
The best thing about the Big Agnes Big House 6 Deluxe ($400) is its ease of setup. As in a five- and seven-year-old recently erected one in their (OK, my) living room with minimal supervision. Once assembled, this tent is a spacious, shack-size shelter with room for up to six. Inside there's plenty of ventilation, a star-viewing mesh top (and a rain fly for stormy nights), and ample built-in organizers. With so many mesh pockets and shelves, your contact lens case will never again get lost among the kids' coloring books.
Sweet dreams are made of sleeping pads that do the dual duty of insulating campers from the cold, hard ground and eliminating lumps. The Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D ($180 to $210) does all this and more. But what sets this plush pad apart from the competition is how easy it is to inflate. Blow into the nozzle (versus engaging in the full-body workout required by the usual floor pump or pillow pump), and just a short time later, you're sawing logs.
The Homestead Twin sleeping bag ($119) from The North Face is a roomy, rectangular sack that comes in two temperature ratings: 20 degrees and 40 degrees. A modern twist on the classic sleeping bag, the Homestead has plenty of room for extra blankets, stuffed animals, family members, and even the dog. In other words, it's the opposite of restrictive.
One glorious aspect of car camping is tuning in to the day's natural rhythms. But sometimes, you still need artificial light. Whether you're pitching a tent in the dark, heading out on a nocturnal adventure, or cooking, reading, or playing Scrabble long after the sun's gone down, the indestructible Black Diamond Icon headlamp ($100) lights the way. It's water- and dustproof and comes with three different night-vision modes (red, green, and blue). It also has a removable battery pack to help preserve battery light and "brightness memory," which means you can customize its power.
It might be tempting to throw your kitchen cutting board and knife into the car, but don't. This compact combo from Snow Peak ($56) safely holds the knife in place when not in use and folds up for easy storage. Post chopping, cook dinner in the company's featherweight Titanium Mini Solo Cook set ($76).
Go gourmet with Camp Chef's Summit two-burner stove ($132) and cast iron skillet ($23). The powerful stove comes with two high-pressure, 20,000 BTU burners (boiling water has never been quicker), matchless ignition, and a locking lid and handle. It's strong enough to hold all sorts of cookware, including the company's durable, classic skillets, which come in a variety of sizes.
Keeping your car camping gear organized is a fine art. Luckily, the innovative, tough bags from Mystery Ranch Mission Duffel do wonders to sort and protect everything. Use the Mission Duffel 90 ($195) for tent and bedding, the 55 ($165) for cookware, and the 40 ($130) for clothes. These expandable workhorses convert into surprisingly comfortable backpacks, making for easy schlepping from truck to tent.
Naturally, car camping doesn't mean that you never leave the site. You're bound to hike and explore, and the Osprey's Skimmer 30 ($120) hydration pack is big enough to store multiple layers and food. Thanks to its ergonomic design, this pack can be worn all day, up and down mountains (or wherever you go) without complaint. Parents will love its myriad pockets and compartments for toting kids' various sundries; non-parents will appreciate this pack's versatility.
Hang the BioLite Powerlight Mini ($45) in the tent for evening illumination, or prop it on the picnic table if you need an outside light. This solar-powered lantern can also be charged via USB. Once fully charged, it runs for five hours on high or 52 hours on low. It's convenient, compactible and reliable.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.