Backpacking isn’t for everyone. Stuffing everything you need into a sack and hauling it around in the woods is a hell of a good workout but makes it difficult to take phone chargers and teddy bears.
We’ve cast aside the size and weight restrictions of a backpack and put together a list of some of the best car camping gear you can take out during any season. The best part? You can use these at home too.
Sleeping on the ground is so last year. Tentsile’s tents are the fastest way to set up a tree fort. Unroll the tent, attach the ratchets to three trees, and tighten. The new Safari series beefs up the materials so they can be left outside long term. Great for festivals, rentals, or a camp in the backyard, the UV-protective fly and floor can withstand the elements for months at a time.
Add a Trillium three-person hammock as a first story to your — I mean, your kids’ new favorite hangout. If you’re looking to go lightweight, go with the Flite+, a two-person Tentsile tent that weighs only 7 pounds.
The Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI Mat is a 4-inch thick foam mattress with triangular cores removed in the center. The self-inflating structure does most of the pumping work for you; just snap on the Jet Stream Pump Sack and finish to the desired firmness. The result? A camp mattress that might be better than your bed at home. The reversible one-way valve makes it easy to pump up and prevents re-inflating when you’re packing up. It also packs down to a manageable 7.8 pounds and 27 inches by 10 inches.
If the larger foam mattress doesn’t fit in your vehicle, try the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper Duo. This double inflatable mattress packs down smaller but still gives you 3 inches of comfort to sleep on. Each side inflates separately so you can set your own firmness and won’t bounce your bedmate off. The mat is permanently attached at the center so there’s no gap if you want to stay nice and close.
You haven’t truly relaxed until you’ve tried the Stargaze Luxury Recliner from Nemo. The super-comfortable chair swings like a hammock and reclines just by pushing it back. The aircraft-grade aluminum easily holds 300 pounds and flexes intentionally when you swing. The four legs and two arms pop together like tent poles and break down in seconds. Clip the one-piece seat onto the top of the frame and it’s ready for relaxing. A deep cupholder and tablet-sized stash pocket hold essentials.
The Stargaze comes in three versions: low, standard, and with the headrest. Do yourself a favor and spend the extra $40 for the headrest. And fair warning – you will be asked about the chair every time you have it out in public.
Bugs ruin camping trips. Fending off mosquitos at dusk and battling wasps at meal times saps your desire to be outside. Throw a Magnet Screenhouse from Tailgaterz around your chairs and forget about the bugs. There’s no floor so it just pops up over a picnic table. The two magnetic screen doors snap shut themselves when your hands are full of drinks.
Eat and Drink
Cooking tools are as important as a good cooler. The twin 20,000-BTU burners on the Camp Chef Summit stove crank out plenty of heat to get your meals cooked up fast. Simmer easily with the improved knobs and adjust for uneven terrain with the screw-out feet. A handle on the bottom lets you carry it easily, but grab the Carry Bag for an even easier packing option, including propane canister holders on each end.
Camping isn’t camping without a cold drink and Yeti makes some of the best coolers around. The Tundra 65 has a FatWall design which keeps ice colder longer than your parents’ coolers and the rotomolded construction is bombproof. Throw a lock on it and even bears can’t get in. It can hold 42 cans of beer with ice.
But with all those beverages, it can be a beast to lift. The Yeti Tundra Haul ($400) is slightly bigger than the 65 and includes NeverFlat wheels and a T-Bar StrongArm handle positioned so you won’t have a cooler on your heels. Drag those drinks around without pulling a muscle.
The Hydrapak Expedition reservoir holds 8 liters of water and packs down to nothing when you’re done. Snap in the included Plug-N-Play faucet and fresh water is just a “tap” away. The 63-millimeter threads fit many water filter attachments for easy filtering. The super durable TPU material is fine to freeze and can withstand up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Pro tip: Freeze the Hydrapak Expedition then throw it in the cooler for a few days of ice followed by fresh, cold water.
With many arduous tasks around camp, like whittling hot dog sticks and chopping onions for dinner, you’ll need a solid knife. Opinel has been making sharp-looking knives for over 100 years. The brand’s latest for outdoorsy pursuits is the No. 08 Outdoor. A strong 2.5-millimeter blade of Sandvick 12C27 modified stainless steel with at least 40 percent carbon keeps an excellent edge for cuttin3.3-inch.3 inch blade is kept open or closed by the simple Virobloc spinning lock. The first 1.3 inches is serrated and great for cutting rope or cord. The integrated pealess whistle let’s everyone know where you are if you get lost finding the outhouse.
Phones, cameras, laptops, Fitbits, watches, headphones. Everything is powered these days. We can’t get away from it.
Goal Zero makes it easier to take power with us or just capture it on the fly. A power bank on steroids, the Yeti 400 Lithium Power Station can charge your phone 20 times or more. At 17 pounds, it’s a little heavier than pocket-sized chargers, but it’s half the weight of the older lead-acid versions and boasts a better battery life. It has three USB ports, one 12-volt port, and two AC outlets, just like at home. The AC outlet has a 300-watt inverter with a 1200-watt surge rating so you can run a mini fridge for seven hours or even a 32-inch TV for three. Just don’t let your wife know she’ll be able to use a hair straightener while camping.
You can plug the Yeti 400 into a wall for seven hours to charge, or opt for the Boulder 100 Solar Panel ($250), also from Goal Zero. In clear sun, the Boulder 100 will juice up the Yeti in eight to 16 hours (we filled a test unit in 12 hours).
Nothing beats a good headlamp when hiking or camping. The UCO Gear Air headlamp is about as light as they come while being so comfortable you’ll forget it’s there. Weighing only .4 ounces, the Air packs 150 lumens into an easy-to-use package. Spin the dial on the outside and it cranks up the light from dim to blinding. One click the other direction and you have eyeball-friendly red light. No more fiddling around with AAA batteries. Just recharge the Air via USB for five hours of battery life.
When the sun goes down, the party doesn’t have to end. Sunset usually means finding all the batteries for the lanterns or blinding your friends with headlamps. Skip both of those with the BioLite PowerLight, which illuminates your campsite with its soft Edge-Lit lantern. With a 4400 mAh battery, tt can also serve as a power source for the SiteLight Mini ($20) string lights or as a USB phone charger.
Biolite’s NanoGrid Light Kit ($235) comes with both the PowerLight and the SiteLight Mini, as well as a smaller PowerLight Mini, a larger BaseLantern XL for sources, and the additional SiteLight and SiteLight XL string lights.
The evening also brings campfires, but wet weather can create an embarrassing situation for whoever is lighting the fire without a fire starter. Save the day with the Sweetfire. Strike the tip like a match and the vegetable oil and bagasse (a sugar-cane byproduct) will burn for seven minutes — plenty of time to get your fire going. The tips are stormproof, so even if they get dunked in the water, they’ll still light.
A faster way to light your campfire is to use the Bernzomatic Camp Torch. The trigger-start ignition lights quickly and the big control valve fine tunes your flame. The Camp Torch just attaches to the propane canisters you already have for your stove. Burn off residue on gear, fix frayed ropes, or heat up a few oak chips to smoke your drinks.
I don’t go far without my offline Spotify playlists. Hook up to the JBL Charge 3 rain or shine. Use the Connect+ feature to sync up to 100 speakers and play from up to three phones. The Bluetooth speaker is waterproof down to three feet for 30 minutes. Rain, puddles, lakes — no worries. Remeber, just because it’s waterproof doesn’t mean it floats.
Lifting the size and weight restrictions on your camping trip means you’ve got larger, heavier gear to carry. Unless you’ve got a huge vehicle, that means strapping some of your things to the outside. The Yakima LoadWarrior is an easy way to do just that.
The 25-pound basket easily mounts to most roof racks, giving you 143 square-feet storage on top of your car. It holds up to 140 pounds as long as your crossbars can support the weight. The extra LoadWarrior Stretch Net comes with hooks all around the outside. Pile up your gear, clip on the net, and you’re ready to roll — or get the LoadWarrior Extension for another 18 inches of cargo room and a second crossbar.
Article originally published June 23, 2015. Last updated by Ross Collicutt on August 22, 2018.