One of the best ways to experience the outdoors is to head into the thick of it and spend a weekend amid the trees, wind, and stars. But just because you may not have all the required camping equipment or experience for a hardcore backpacking trip doesn't mean you have to stay in the 'burbs all camping season.
Car camping can be a great way to get out of the city with friends and family who may not be ready to take the ultimate plunge outdoors. Before you go, make sure you have the necessary gear to ensure that you and your guests have a great time.
One of the biggest differences between car camping and backpacking is the level of comfort you can achieve. Instead of sleeping on small, lightweight sleeping pads, you have the option of bringing inflatable air mattresses that can be blown up with either a hand-held pump or even an electric pump that runs on the power of your car.
Since you also won't have to carry your tent on your back for miles, it can be large enough to house several people more comfortably. If you've got room in the car, you can even bring along a real pillow.
Don't forget to take advantage of being able to pack camping chairs, either, as these are great for nights around the fire.
With weight not a concern, you can ditch the minimalist camp stove and bring a larger one—or even a small grill—to do your cooking, as well as any camping cooking equipment you'll need. If you choose to bring a grill, make sure to also bring charcoal and lighter fluid to get things going.
Pack a plastic bag full of kitchen items, such as utensils, can and bottle openers, biodegradable soap, and aluminum foil and stick it inside your cooking pots. Bring along a gallon of water and reusable plastic plates or bowls and you've got everything you need to cook, serve, and wash dishes afterward.
As for what you can cook, virtually anything goes, since you can bring a large cooler along with you. Burgers, chicken, pasta or any other food you would normally cook in the kitchen can most likely be prepared at a car camping site.
You may be car camping, but that doesn't mean you can shine your headlights to light your way all night. While headlamps will still be your best bet, camping lanterns can be set on tables or hung from trees to illuminate larger areas. This can be especially helpful if you're cooking after dark, cleaning up the campsite, or playing a round or two of poker with your friends before going to sleep.
For a traditional camping adventure, try a propane camping lantern. While these give off plenty of light, they also get extremely hot to the touch, so be careful when you're moving it. There are also several LED lanterns available now that provide plenty of light without the added heat.
One of the biggest draws to car camping is the many pieces of outdoor equipment you can bring along. Whether it's mountain bikes for trail riding, kayaks and stand up paddleboards for some fun in the water, or sports equipment like balls, rackets, and Frisbees, make sure to bring the right gear.
Bringing the right emergency care equipment is always necessary for a trip into the wilderness, but this becomes especially important if you're traveling with kids or large groups. Since you have the added luxury of space, choose and bring a first aid kit that that includes the basics—ace bandages, gauze, anti-itch cream, tweezers, and tape—as well as extraneous items. These may include specific medicines, extra bug spray, splints, aspirin, and a thermometer.
Because of the amount of items you can bring on a car camping expedition, you may find your campsite can get out of control quickly. Make sure to clean up regularly and organize chairs, coolers, cooking equipment, and sleeping gear whenever it starts to look less like the outdoors and more like your bedroom. As always, keep boots out of the tent to minimize the amount of dust and debris that gets tracked in.
A clean camp will also be easier to break down when the time comes, and you'll know exactly where you left the relics from your city life, such as your car keys. It may sound like a simple oversight, but losing your car keys on a camping trip is easier than you may think.
At its core, car camping is a balance between easy suburb- or city-living and backpacking. It is a great way to dip your toes into outdoor adventures and test out new camping gear, and it can also be a great way to relax in the wilderness with good company.
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