Camping is supposed to be about enjoying the wilds and roasting marshmallows, not struggling to cram everything in the car or figure out how the tent goes together. It should be easy, but camping can get complicated quick. Here are some tricks to keeping car camping simple, easy, and fun.
If you’ve ever backpacked, you’re already trained to bring the smallest amount of gear required to do the job: you have to haul it around on your back. The backpacker’s mentality helps car-camping enormously as well. The less you have to haul to and from the car, the the easier it is to set up and break camp, and the less time and energy you spent fussing with gear—which means you can spend more time on the trail or at the swimming hole.
Do you really need a headlamp and a lantern? Four kitchen knives and two cutting boards? Bring things that serve multiple purposes and leave the rest at home.
Know Your Tent Well
When I was a kid a friend and I blindfolded ourselves and put our tent together in under 5 minutes. It was a ridiculous camping stunt, but it proved a point: if you know your tent, you can put it together quickly in the dark and in the rain. That makes arriving at a site late quick, easy, and stress free even when the weather’s nasty.
Manage the Cooler
Keep the cooler organized and as small as possible. Freeze bottles of water to serve as ice, so you don’t have a wet mess in the cooler. When the water bottles thaw, you’ll have nice cold water to drink. Dry ice can work great for longer trips.
Keep a frozen stash of home-dehydrated food handy: pasta sauces, full meals, soups, and so on. That makes food planning easier: grab the dehydrated and dry food and grab some fresh stuff at the grocery store. Start rehydrating about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to cook.
Keep your gear organized in the car and in camp. Pack different gear in different tubs or, more portably, in inexpensive thick bags: kit for sleeping, kitchen, and hiking. They can quickly get hauled to different parts of the campsite and will save you the hassle of trying to remember where the coffee gear is.
Ditch the Electronics
Electronics are inserting themselves into our camping trips more and more. That means chargers, cables, batteries and other clutter has to get packed. I have a firm rule about electronics: the only ones that come along are those related to the experience: cameras, headlamps, and the occasional weather radio. Cell phones get shut off. No laptops, e-readers, or tablets: camping is about experiencing nature, not more screen time.
If this sounds like an austere car-camping experience, it’s not. Indulge in a thicker mattress than you’d haul on backcountry trips, a real pillow, and a folding chair. In fact, keeping the clutter down makes it easy to fit those luxuries in the car.