Western Traveler

Car Camping

While there are several levels of camping, ranging from backpacking to RV-ing, my favorite is car camping.  This allows you to take all the comforts of home, but still find some very wild and out of the way places.

My least-favorite outdoor experience is camping with a bunch of people around.  When I head into the wild, it’s to get away from people, not to socialize.  Improved campgrounds are the last place I’ll camp.  I’m also not a big fan of RV campers.  They tend to bring every noisy contraption in the world with them.  I’ve been to campgrounds where there are stereos playing loudly, generators running 24-7, televisions complete with satellite dishes, etc.  For me, it completely ruins the experience.  I’ve also run into RV campers who “homestead” at free campgrounds, taking the best sites and keeping them for weeks on end.  I’m very particular who I’ll go camping with.  I’ve invested in a full-size, 4 x 4 pickup truck.  This allows me to go places where the RV crowd can’t get to, a good investment for sure.  The more remote and isolated the better.

Back to the positive, the FALCON publishing company has several volumes dedicated to remote places you can go.  The title usually has the word WILD in it to give you a hint.  These books give detailed descriptions of how to get to these locations as well as activities and points of interests to investigate.  I have an entire shelf in my home library filled with FALCON GUIDES.  To date, these are the best books I’ve found for planning an outdoor adventure.

When I go car camping I take some specialized gear with me, all for the sake of making the experience more comfortable.  Keep in mind that the amount of gear you can take will be dictated by the type of vehicle you drive, as well as how you have it set up.

I begin with a large tent.  This allows me to store all my camping gear inside while day hiking or sight-seeing.  There are several types of good large tents (see SHELTER under GEARING UP) that all perform well in the wilderness.

The next “step up” in comfort is the type of sleeping equipment.  When car camping I utilize an Army-style cot, Therm-a-Rest pad and sleeping bag and/or blankets, depending on temperature.  Lastly, and certainly not least, I bring full-size pillows for a perfect night’s sleep.  There is nothing that enhances the outdoor experience like being rested.

Next on the list of camping upgrades is the cooking department.  While backpacking I use an ultra-light, single-burner stove.  When car camping however, I go a little wild.  I take a mini charcoal grill with me and a single-burner gas stove for the coffee pot as well as a two-burner Coleman gas stove for general cooking.  I have a “kitchen box” that is assembled containing all the cook wear, utensils and cleanup gear that I need.  I’d love to take credit for this ingenious idea, but my friends Jeff & Rachelle Campbell first turned me on to this concept.  In recent years I’ve started taking extra throw-away dishes.  I know the environmentalists won’t like this, but when you’re camping in area that is very far from potable water, it becomes a rare commodity and as such you have to use it sparingly.  Taking most of your drinking water to wash dishes just isn’t smart.

Here are a few items I suggest for your kitchen box:

  1. Large cookset which contains: pots, pans, skillets, cups, glasses, bowls, utensils, cutting board, can opener and grilling tools.
  2. Cleanup kit for washing dishes.  In my case I use a couple of small, Rubbermaid tubs for sinks.  I include: wash cloths, towels, scrubbing pads and Dawn detergent.
  3. If you’re a coffee drinker, I suggest the purchase of the old-style percolator for the morning cup of java.  Besides the fact that the coffee always turns out good, there’s nothing that makes the morning experience more enjoyable than the smell of fresh-brewed coffee.
  4. Matches and/or lighter.
  5. Small shovel to dig fire pit.

In addition to the aforementioned items, you may want to consider taking with you a canopy of some type to cover your cooking and eating area.  I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to stand in the pouring rain and prepare meals, not the best of times.  There are two basic types of canopies, one with mesh walls and the other without.  Personally, I prefer the ones without.  Even though the mesh models reduce the number of insects that may come around, it won’t eliminate them entirely.  Also, once they get inside your meshed canopy, you can’t get them back out.  I also prefer the freedom of movement that the non-wall models offer.  You’re not limited to entering and exiting in a single location.  Also, the walled models can make it hard to set up in the location you have available.  The door location may or may not be good for the layout of your campsite.

Camp chairs are always a good idea.  Think how comfortable you can be while sitting by a roaring fire at night, enjoying a beverage, snack, or just watching the wildlife around you.  I use the fold-up style that has arm rests and cup holders in each arm.  Though they’re too heavy for backpacking, they’re well worth the investment when weight is not an issue.

Speaking of fires, if you’re camping in area that allows campfires, there are a couple of things you should know.  First, ALWAYS make sure your fire is in either a pit, or within a fire ring. This is to contain the blaze, and to insure your safety.  When I go car camping I take my own firewood and fire logs to get it all going.  Fire logs can be purchased at most mass-merchandise stores.  They burn for up to four hours and will ignite any wood, no matter how wet it is.

The reason for hauling my own wood is simple; many times an area’s wood supply has been exhausted by previous visitors.  Though you can usually scrounge up some, it’s much easier to take your own.  Also be advised that the cutting of wood on most public lands is prohibited.  The only wood that you can burn is that which is already on the ground.  Many times you can purchase fire wood from local businesses, but it tends to be expensive.

In recent years many public lands areas ask that you don’t bring your own wood because of insect concerns.  If you do bring your own (and it’s not outlawed, at least not yet) make sure to acquire it from an area that doesn’t have any insects that kill trees (ash borers, pine beetles, etc.).  One important thing you can do to is to keep your firewood in your vehicle until you put it on the fire, just another layer of insurance to protect the environment from insect hazards.  This is a double advantage; first no officials will be stopping by to give you grief and secondly it keeps your firewood dry in the event of rain.

Lighting around camp is a very personal thing.  I know campers who set up several gas lanterns so they can see everything for 100 yards around camp.  To me this is a bad thing.  The artificial light runs wildlife away, makes a lot of noise and is generally unpleasant.  I do take one large flashlight with me, but usually leave it in the tent.  For moving around camp after sunset, I usually carry a small flashlight or headlamp.  With the improvements in LED lighting, small and bright light sources are cheap and readily available.

The last category of car camping gear is recreational equipment.  For example, I always take a 1970’s-vintage, GE Monitor 10 radio with me.  Please notice that I didn’t say a “boom box”.  My Monitor 10 offers me the ability to listen to: AM & FM stations, shortwave, public service bands, CB and weather bands.  While this particular radio has excellent sound quality, it isn’t particularly loud.  With the variety of frequencies that it can receive, I am assured of being able to get something anywhere I go.  I especially like the weather band capability as it helps me plan the next day’s events.  Though the radio is seldom used, it is nice to have in a pinch.

You may also want to take something to read with you while car camping.  If the weather turns sour, it’s a good backup.  I almost always take books related to the area I’m going to with me. Same goes for multi-pupose knives, when planing a camping trip I always look to SharpenedKnife.com for the right stuff.  It helps me plan my hikes, and gives me something to do after the sun goes down.  When traveling I also try to obtain local information materials, i.e., maps, flyers, brochures, etc.  Many campers carry a notebook and keep a journal of their travels.

One last thing, make sure to carry trash bags with you so that when you leave your campsite no one knows that you were there.  It’s also polite to clean out your fire pit (assuming the ashes have cooled down) and pick up around the area as well.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well some campers clean up after themselves, good for everyone.



Last modified on: December 21st 2016.
© Western-Traveler.Org • All rights reserved • 2004 - 2020