Van life is all the rage these days. The concept is nothing new, of course, but the latest wave of modern car camping gadgetry certainly is. Here is a roundup of our favorite car camping gear to ensure you have the same creature comforts as you do at home, no matter the season.
Keep Your Beer and Bacon Cold with the Pelican Elite Cooler
The traditional Coleman Cooler was fine for your grandpappy to bring his sixer of Schlitz to the campsite., but, if you’re looking for something more hardcore, more refrigerator-esque, Pelican is your man. For more than 40 years, the company has manufactured industry-leading gear for scientific, military, and emergency expeditions. The Elite Cooler line brings all of that same technology to keep your beer, bacon, and brats cold. It’s easy to bristle at the seemingly sky-high price tags, but keep in mind that, with appropriate ice management techniques, Pelican promises ice retention for more than a week. The Pelican Elite 30 QT model (a solid all-around size for car camping purposes) retails for $275 with a lifetime guarantee.
Keep Warm with the Rumpl Puffy Blanket
Sleeping bags have been an essential part of camping kit since man’s realization that “camping” could be a recreational sport. However, their heat-retention benefits (e.g., their closed design) also makes them more restrictive and a real buzz kill, particularly for couples sharing the back of a van. Rumpl’s Original Puffy Blanket changes the game considerably. The all-purpose blanket is crafted from 20-denier fabric (like many sleeping bags) with synthetic down insulation. So, it’s just as useful for keeping warm in the car, by the campfire, or in a hammock. Snag the original for less than $100 or, for $50 more, Rumpl’s Down Puffy Blanket upgrades to 600-fill down insulation good to 40 degrees Fahrentheit.
Stay Organized With the Mountainsmith Modular Hauler 4
Until you’ve lived out of a van or SUV for several months, you’ll never know just how chaotic your car camping gear can get. No matter how organized you are at the beginning of the trip, you’ll inevitably wind up with underwear in the cupholders, half-empty shampoo bottles under the seats, and loose change in every conceivable nook and cranny of the backseat. It’s just science. Keep your gear organized from the outset with a straightforward, purpose-built system like Mountainsmith’s Modular Hauler. The four compact, color-coded cubes are great for storing everything from food to clothes to emergency auto gadgets. Several major outdoor retailers offer the system for less than $60 online.
Sleep Tight With the Right Mattress
Most manufacturers don’t design the backseats of their SUVs for sleeping purposes. So, unless you’re an ascetic monk accustomed to sleeping on a pine platform, you’ll want to upgrade your car camping bed. If it’s portability you’re after, Them-a-Rest’s NeoAir Dream (around $250) is as good as it gets. The four-inch-thick air bed is half the size of a queen mattress when fully inflated, but packs down to a compact 10-inch by 18-inch cylinder for storing. If the idea of sleeping on a fancy pool float isn’t for you, however, a folding foam mattress like these from Lucid Mattress are great alternatives. They’re lightweight, super comfortable, and fold origami-style into a variety of positions useful for car camping (including a miniature sofa). At roughly $150 for the three-inch folding mattress sofa, they’re also cheaper than the NeoAir Dream.
Relax Anywhere With GCI’s Outdoor Everywhere Chair
Few gear-centric topics are more polarizing among campers than talk of the best camp chair. We like ours low, lightweight, comfortable, and preferably with a cupholder. GCI Outdoor’s dead-simple Everywhere Chair delivers on all counts. Although it weighs just over five pounds, the powder-coated steel frame is sturdy enough to support up to 250 pounds. The clever folding design also means that it collapses and unfolds with minimal effort. The best part? It’s available for less than $40.
Cook, Grill, Boil, and Charge with BioLite’s CampStove 2
Few companies understand the needs of car campers like BioLite. Every product in the catalog of stoves, power supplies, and lighting is, in a word, brilliant. For car campers, the BioLite CampStove 2 Bundle is a slick solution for grilling food, boiling water, lighting your kitchen, and powering your electronics from virtually anywhere. The only “magic” ingredient required is kindling wood. The entire kit folds up into the included KettlePot (about the size of a two-liter soda bottle). The $200 sticker price might seem high, but it’s well worth it given the all-in-one functionality and universally solid reviews.
Originally published by Austin Parker on June 23, 2015. Updated by Mike Richard on November 17, 2017.