Between last year and this spring, we’ve spent a lot of time using our Toyota 4Runner as a base of operations for car camping. We’ve learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and what makes our lives a whole lot easier on the road.
From better campsite cooking to clever car maintenance to cellphone-free communication in the backcountry, here are some of our favorite gadgets to seriously up your car camping game.
Best Gadgets for Car Camping
Tapplock one Smart Padlock
The traditional padlock could hardly be considered a sexy “gadget.” But, Tapplock is reinventing the classic security piece with a sleek, tech-forward approach. The Tapplock one is a clever, ultra-convenient device for locking up your goods while at camp or en route to your overnight spot. Use it anywhere you would use a standard keyed lock or combination lock — to secure your roof cargo box or your bikes/kayaks/etc. to their respective racks.
The padlock’s state-of-the-art capacitive fingerprint sensor allows you to access your items in under a second and features unbreakable durability. The Tapplock smartphone app can also be used to open the lock and give temporary, remote access to others (if you happen to be renting your house out on Airbnb, for example, while you’re traveling).
Coleman Extreme Cooler
When you’re car camping for days on end (without access to “luxuries” like electricity), keeping your refrigerate-able food cold is a challenge. Thankfully, there’s help in the form of an extreme cooler. Bait coolers have long been a thing for fishermen in the know. But, many outdoor companies have started marketing the same coolers as “extreme coolers” to the masses.
The Coleman 55-Quart Heavy-Duty Super Cooler definitely does the trick. To be sure, this is a big beast. It offers more than enough cold storage for one car-camping couple for an entire week. Plus, with proper ice maintenance (yes, that’s a thing), it’ll keep your Zima, bacon, and brats cold for up to six days even when outside temps hover around 90°F.
ICEMULE BOSS Cooler
Two coolers? Yep. Here’s why: we found that we always had plenty of stuff to keep refrigerator cold like bacon, meat, eggs, milk, and the like. But, things like sodas and beer were just fine to keep only chilled. For car camping, we pack a separate smaller cooler for things like this because it allows us to save space in our main cooler.
The ICEMULE BOSS is, well, the boss for our chilled goods. It’s portable, has great ice retention, and loads and unloads super easy. Plus, the backpack format means it’s easy to pack a gourmet lunch complete with ice-cold booze, ice cream, and even a couple of cheesecakes into the backcountry.
Coleman Roadtrip 285 Portable Propane Grill
One of our favorite things about car camping is campfire cooking. We love finding new recipes, then figuring out how the hell to make them over an open flame. Coleman had us covered there as well with the aptly named Coleman Roadtrip 285 Portable Stand-up Propane Grill. It features 20,000 BTUs of grilling power and a 285-square-inch cooking area which is more than enough for the two of us plus a few friends. It’s ultra-compact and lightweight but opens wide to include two side tables for utensils and other essentials while you’re cooking. Plus, the matchless, push-button ignition feels like a luxury at our campsite.
Swiss Diamond XD Nonstick Deep Square Grill Pan
Of course, having a great cooking surface to cook on is no good without a great pan to cook your food in. We pared down our camp kitchen substantially so that our entire kit fit in just two medium-sized crates. One pan that works with almost any food and any situation is the nonstick cookware from Swiss Diamond. The XD Nonstick Deep Square Grill Pan is a great, all-purpose pan that does the job. From cooking eggs to fried potatoes to casseroles, it works for just about any meal. Plus, the XD nonstick coating is super slick and easy to clean which, for car campers, is almost more important than how well it cooks.
FIXD Automotive Adapter
One of the most important components of car-camping is — wait for it — your car. Or truck or SUV. But, it’s easy to overlook the maintenance of your vehicle when your focused on buying the right cooler and making sure your grill has enough propane.
The FIXD diagnostic sensor does all the heavy lifting in this department, even if you don’t know your carburetors from your carbohydrates. It’s a tiny, matchbook-sized device that plugs into an outlet standard on most cars made after 1996. Just click it into place, sync it to your smartphone, and it’ll keep tabs on all your vehicle’s systems and sensors. Funky smells, cylinder misfires, car overheating — whatever the problem, FIXD can give you the low-down. The free mobile app provides an easy-to-read, user-friendly readout that anyone — even those with zero automotive know-how — can understand.
Motorola T600 Talkabout 2-way Radio
The most interesting and adventurous places to explore are almost always the most remote. We often find ourselves in areas without a whiff of cell service. The solution: a decent two-way radio set. The Motorola T605 Talkabout bundle is super affordable (can be had for under $100) and it offers a staggering 35-mile range. Plus, it boasts a waterproof construction and a water-activated flashlight.
Sustain Supply Emergency Pack
In the same way that two-way radios allow you to stay in touch in remote areas, a proper emergency pack allows you to stay prepared for almost any situation. Sustain Supply offers all-in-one bug-out style bags pre-packed with everything you might need in an emergency. Their flagship Comfort4 (above) provides everything four people could need to survive 72 hours off the grid. In addition to the obvious essentials (like food and water), there is a survival knife, LED lanterns, emergency space blankets, bath wipes, a portable stove … the list goes on. It’s the perfect solution for anyone looking to stay prepared on an adventurous road trip — especially one that might take far, far off the beaten path. If the Comfort4 seems like overkill, opt for one of Sustain’s more compact solutions like the Comfort2 ($199) or the Essential2 (just $99).
Some people are “umbrella people”. Others just say, “The hell with it … if I get wet, I get wet.” I tend to fall into the latter camp. But, we saw a lot of rain on our recent East Coast road trip. Eventually, Kelsey had enough. We learned that, if you’re planning to spend long periods of time outdoors, an umbrella is a good backup plan.
The Weatherman Umbrella is basically the umbrella to end all umbrellas. It’s lightweight, yet sturdy enough to hold up to 55-mph winds. Plus, it’s wide enough to shield you and a few friends from rain, hail, locust swarms, whatever. The lifetime warranty means it’ll likely be the last umbrella you’ll ever need to buy. And the built-in Bluetooth tracker means you’ll never lose — or leave home — without it.
Coleman 4-Person Dark Room Tent with Screen Room
More Coleman gear? What can we say? They make great, affordable camping gear.
We love the “camping in the car” aspect of car camping. But, sometimes it’s nice to get a little fresh air or have a separate space to use as your “living room.” For that, a second tent is never a bad idea, especially if you’re planning to camp out in one spot for an extended period of time.
Coleman’s 4-Person Dark Room Tent with Screen Room is just the trick. What we love about this tent over many others is the Dark Room technology. It blocks out 90% of sunlight, so you can sleep late or take an afternoon, post-hike nap in peace. That same lining also helps to keep the tent’s interior cool. The screen room adds a bit of bug-free lounge space and the WeatherTec system keeps the rain out in all but the nastiest conditions. Plus, you can score one for well under $200.
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