Gear Geek: New Car Camping Essentials

Travel Galleries Adventure Gear
Share Tweet Submit Pin
Gear Geek: New Car Camping Essentials

This spring and summer your appetite for the open road is best accompanied with a few days in the easily-accessible wilderness. Car camping—drive-in camp sites scattered throughout the country’s regional, state, and national parks—affords a low-cost alternative to the anonymous highway hotel, with easy access to the outside world. Here are a handful of the latest and greatest to assure you’re doing it in comfort and style.

1. Therm-a-Rest Tranquility 4 Tent, $480; 2. Alite Sexy Hotness Sleeping Bag, $169; 3. Pelican 30 Quart Cooler, $275; 4. Leki Table XS Lite, $100; 5. Snow Peak Cast Iron Oven, $270; 6. Joshua Tree Citronella Camp Soap, $6; 7. LuminAID PackLite Max USB, $30.

Top photo by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock


Nathan Borchelt is a gear-obsessed travel writer and adventurer whose collection of shoes, backpacks, jackets, bags, and other “essential” detritus has long-outgrown his one-bedroom apartment (and his wife’s patience).

Therm-a-Rest Tranquility 4 Tent


Therm-a-Rest turns their attention from making award-winning sleeping bag pads to tents this spring, and the results are astounding. This freestanding four-person tent includes foot-wide integrated vestibules at each door to keep your wet gear away from the dry insides, an easy-to-handle rainfly that you can toss on if the weather gets foul, and one-person set-up thanks to a streamlined and simple five-hub pole structure. The near-vertical walls rise to a five-foot-tall pointed roof, offering plenty of headroom. And unlike most tents (which break down into awkward tube-shaped sacks when collapsed) the Tranquility folds neatly into an included backpack stuff sack, so it's easy to haul from your car to the campsite.
Photo courtesy of Therm-a-Rest

Alite Sexy Hotness Sleeping Bag


Several interesting product innovations combat for attention with this sleeping bag—but for couples or families looking to escape to the great outdoors, the dominate feature has to be its inclusiveness; the design lets you zip the individual sleeping bags together for a big ol' group slumber. The three-season bag is rated down to 20 degrees, and can be worn like a full-body suit thanks to a lower-center zipper that creates legs out of the lower section of the pack, with a kangaroo pouch pocket to keep the hands warm or to store a few must-haves like your cell phone or flash light.
Photo courtesy of Alite

Pelican 30 Quart Cooler


First it was Yeti, then Otterbox, and now Pelican has introduced their own high-end cooler, a natural evolution in the company's tireless pursuit to give customers hardcore ways of carrying…pretty much anything in the field. This 30-quarter model comes with freezer-grade steel latches; burly, mold-in handles; and a slopped floor that makes draining through the drain plug a snap. More importantly, it will keep food cold for up to 6.5 days and is guaranteed for life, which arguably lessens the sting of the high price point. And yes, it includes a built-in bottle opener.
Photo courtesy of Pelican

Leki Table XS Lite


Most car camping sites include a picnic table--which quickly becomes the place where you store everything, as well as where you also eat, chill, play cards, and wait as your companions tries to light the fire. Add a bit of HGTV-style open planning to your next campsite with this foldable table, which offers enough space to hold your kitchen goods away from the clutter of the rest of your kit. The high-strength aluminum legs offer stable, secure support, with rubber feet tipped with "teeth" to assure solid purchase on variable terrain.
Photo courtesy of Leki

Snow Peak Cast Iron Oven


Not to knock portable cook systems, but nothing beats the simple satisfaction of cooking with a cast iron oven. Just assemble your favorite stew, soup, roast, or bunt cake and nestle the vessel directly into the hot coals. Snow Peak's version is a stunner, a three-piece set that includes a skillet, 1.4-gallon pot, and lid, with a rounded bottom to increase cook time and the ability to use both cooking vessels on induction stovetops when not in the wild. But if you want a less spendy/stylish piece of cast iron, turn to Lodge . They've been in the cookware game since 1896.
Photo courtesy of Snow Peak

Joshua Tree Citronella Camp Soap


Leave the chemical-rich soaps under your kitchen sink. This olive oil-based soap takes its lead from the recipes used in the Castile region of Spain as early as the 1500s, employing coconut oil, olive oils, and—a nice add-on for the outdoor space—bug-deterrent essential oils. It's entirely biodegradable, and can be used for dishes (naturally) as well as laundry, washing the dog, or doing your hair.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Tree Skin Care

LuminAID PackLite Max USB


LuminAID's first products originated to help solve the low-light dangers prevalent in post-earthquake Haiti by providing a simple, affordable light solution. Now their solar-charged lanterns (which uses water to enhance the main light source) has become the go-to solution for legions of backpackers, sailors, and car campers. The brightest lantern in their line, the PackLite Max USB offers 150 lumens of light on turbo mode, providing a 200-square-foot lighting area with five brightness settings. The solar panel fully charges in about 12 to 14 hours, even in overcast conditions, but you can also use the USB charge to get a full charge in two hours.
Photo courtesy of LuminAID