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10 car camping essentials for an epic camping trip

It's road trip time.

Canadian Car Camping Essentials Credit: Unsplash/Hoang M Nguyen

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There are as many styles of camping out there as there are campers. Plenty of adventurous souls prefer to make the journey part of their camping experience by hiking or canoeing their way to a favourite campsite. Many Canadians, however, prefer the convenience of car camping: drive right up to your campsite, set up camp, and start enjoying the great outdoors.

Car camping affords much more leeway in terms of gear you can carry than through-hiking or paddling into a campsite can. Instead of obsessively trying to hunt down the lightest pieces of equipment on the market to haul on your back to your final destination, you can trade ruthless efficiency for a few extra creature comforts that will make your camping experience much more pleasant.

To get you started, we’ve rounded up a list of the best car camping must-haves that will make your next car camping getaway feel like a walk in the park.

1. A three-season tent

MSR tent
Credit: MSR tent

Sleep soundly and safety in this top-rated tent.

While some opt to take the term car camping literally and convert their car into sleeping quarters, most car campers go the classic route and crash in a tent. MSR’s Elixir 2-Person Tent from MEC (also available in a four-person version offers a good blend of value and quality. Thanks to its handy colour-coded hardware system, setting up the MSR Elixir is a breeze. This tent boasts a generous vestibule, lots of headroom, and a roomy interior. It holds up beautifully in wet, cold, shoulder season weather, and its micromesh windows block out everything from hornets right down to no-see-ums. Get the MSR Elixir 2-Person Tent from MEC

2. A self-inflating air mattress

Thermarest
Credit: Thermarest

Sleep like royalty—even when it's cold outside.

Roughing it is a lot less rough with something cozy to sleep on. Your best bet: A self-inflating air mattress with a thermal foam core that will keep you from freezing on cooler nights. A favourite among car campers, Thermarest’s Basecamp self-inflating foam pad is warm enough for year-round camping, ultra-comfy thanks to its thick foam core, and inflates in a snap thanks to a special valve. Get the Therm-a-rest Basecamp from Amazon Canada

3. A reliable sleeping bag

MEC sleeping bag
Credit: MEC

This no-fuss sleeping bag provides moderate warmth and ultimate comfort.

You don’t need to go ultra-lightweight and high-tech for a car camping sleeping bag. This mid-range option from Mountain Equipment Co-op is fairly light, spacious, and rolls up into its accompanying stuff sack without too much of a fuss. Users say it keeps them pretty toasty until around the freezing mark – so you may want to pack a thermal sleep pad or layer up if you’ll be out in cooler temperatures. Get the MEC Creekside 0C° Sleeping Bag from MEC

4. A two-burner propane stove for convenient cooking

Coleman
Credit: Coleman

Never give up your favourite hot breakfast items—even at the campsite.

A good propane stove will let you cook reliably in any conditions – particularly important during hot, dry summers when campsites might impose fire bans. A two-burner option lets you get multiple dishes going at once (hello, bacon and eggs).

The Coleman 2-Burner Propane Camp Stove is a great choice from a company that’s been making camp stoves for over 70 years. This inexpensive beauty heats quickly and evenly and is designed to put up with a lifetime of abuse. Get the Coleman 2-Burner Propane Camp Stove from Amazon Canada

5. A portable mosquito repeller

Thermacell
Credit: Thermacell

Benefit from two full days of bug-free camping.

Citronella candles and bug spray only do so much – sometimes you need to pull out the big guns. Thermacell’s Mosquito Repellent hardware use a heat-activated, scentless repellent to keep bugs at bay.

The Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Camper's kit wards off mosquitoes, blackflies, no-see-ums, and sandflies with a 10-metre zone of protection. The kit comes with enough butane fuel cartridges and scent pads to get you through 48 hours of bug-free camping. Once these consumables are used up, replacements are easy to find. Keep in mind that these don’t tend to work in strong wind conditions since the repellant gets blown away, so you may want to bring a bug repellent with DEET in it in it as a backup. Get the Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Camper's Kit from Amazon Canada

6. A heat-proof (and bear-proof) cooler

Yeti
Credit: Yeti

It's the coolest way to store your snacks.

A sturdy cooler is a must-have for keeping your food cold all weekend long and to guard it against any unwelcome, furry visitors to your campsite. Yeti’s products are pricey, but they’re worth it. When secured correctly, the tough-as-nails Yeti Tundra, is as close to bear-proof as it gets. More importantly, the Tundra’s thick insulation will keep your food chilled for days at a time before you need to go off in search of more ice. Get the YETI Tundra 35 from Amazon Canada

7. A camp cooking set

Texsport
Credit: Texsport

Put dinner on the picnic table faster with this essential packable cookware.

A good cookware kit should be sturdy, scale up or down to feed a couple or a crowd, and pack down neatly. This five-piece anodized aluminum set from Texsport, which nests into a 17-centimetre cylinder (complete with storage bag) stands up to all kinds of outdoor abuse despite its lightweight construction. Get the Texsport Scouter cookware set from Amazon Canada

8. A rechargeable LED headlamp

Petzl
Credit: Petzl

Never stumble around for the bathroom at night again.

Headlamps offer convenient, hands-free lighting, whether you’re trying to set up a tent after dark, digging through the trunk for supplies or finding your way back to your tent after a bathroom break. The Petzl Tikkina, a no-frills hybrid option that accepts disposable batteries as well as an optional rechargeable power source, is long on battery life (with a runtime of two hours) and easy on the wallet.

At its brightest, this headlamp provides 250 lumens of illumination—that’s more than enough light to keep you from stumbling over anything in your campsite, in the middle of the night. Get the Petzl Tikkina from Cabelas Canada

9. A power station for all your gadgets

Jackery
Credit: Jackery

Enjoy the comforts of modern technology in the wilderness.

Being able to keep your smartphone, lights and other electronics juiced up can make a weekend away a whole lot more pleasant. This portable generator from Jackery has AC outlets, USB and USB-C ports to accommodate all your own devices, and can hook up to an optional solar panel to stretch your battery life even further. It even comes with a built-in LED light for illuminating your tent or picnic table at night. Get the Jackery Portable Explorer generator from Amazon Canada

10. A tarp (or two, or three…)

Stansport
Credit: Stansport

No matter what your camping trip has in store, you'll always benefit from a protective tarp.

As any veteran camper will tell you, you can never have too many tarps. Between rigging up shade from the sun and sheltering your cooking area (or yourself) from inclement weather, you’re going to want to throw an extra plastic sheet or two – and some rope to string them up with – into your car’s trunk. Stansport’s reinforced tarps are a favourite among campers for a reason: They’re inexpensive, available in a wide variety of sizes, and designed to take a serious beating. Get the Stansport Reinforced Multi-Purpose Tarp from Amazon Canada

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