By: Brad de Vries
Campgrounds are opening up and we finally get to escape the homes we’ve been locked down in for the last 6 months! Ontario parks saw double the number of bookings for Provincial campgrounds this spring, and other states and provinces are reporting similar stats. Likely due to being restricted from leaving the country, many Canadians are taking up camping for the first time. As a seasoned camper in both back country and car camping, I thought I’d put together a blog post that helps new campers assemble all the right gear for a successful trip!
Above: Nicole making coffee and bacon & eggs on the Coleman Triton Series 2 portable stove.
Follow along below for a list of the car-camping essentials and read a little further for some extra’s that will take your camping comfort to the next level! This compilation is ideal for groups of 2-6, but much of it can be applied to any size group.
The Gear List
This is an area where less is never more. Always go bigger than you think you need for car camping. Tents are rated by how many people you can squeeze in like sardines, so they don’t account for any open space in the tent for getting changed, storing luggage, etc. Nicole and I use an 8-person tent like the one below, which allows us to take up slightly under half with our double high queen mattress , and the other half has a door mat to wipe sand off our feet, an area to store and access our bags, and enough floor space to stand up straight to get changed.
Above: Our Coleman 8-Person cabin style tent on our sandy Pinery Provincial Park dunes site - 2020
You’ll notice if you search around that there are a million options that all blend together. That’s because each year tent company’s release a new colour scheme for their tents, with very minor changes to the structure itself. Along with that, they’ll even change the name, making tent shopping a nightmare.
The cabin style tent like ours which is becoming increasingly popular. At $400 it seems expensive, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to spending 20k on a trailer! Keep in mind that this is strictly a car camping tent – the vertical sides aren’t meant to withstand strong winds! If you're camping on the coast or something and you know you'll be dealing with intense weather, opt for a dome tent.
One of the most common complaints about camping is not being able to sleep because you just can’t get comfortable! We upgraded from a single tier air mattress to a double high and the difference is substantial. This bed comes with a built in pump, so make sure you have a power converter to plug into your cars cigarette lighter. When it comes to staying warm at night, always keep a thick old blanket or quilt under the mattress. This prevents the cold ground surface from cooling the air inside the mattress and in turn, cooling you. We wrap ours in normal bed sheets with pillows and use a blanket/comforter that we don’t mind getting a bit dirty.
Tarp & Rope
Next up on the “I don’t like camping list” involves laments about past trips that were cold and rainy! A properly secured and sizeable tarp can be the make-it or break-it item of your camping trip. Tie a rope between two of the large trees on your site and drape the tarp over it evenly. Then tie another rope to each corner and pull on them to create a roof pitch that won’t hold water. Tie these above head height (no one likes being close-lined) to nearby trees. The best place I’ve found rope is actually the Dollar Store! They have a small camping section with the small essentials.
Above: Camping at Kearney Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario
One thing we discovered recently after using green or brown tarps for years is that a white tarp serves the same purpose but lets much more light through! 12x20’ like the one linked below is the perfect size; enough room for the picnic table, cooking area, and room to gather more camp chairs for a day full of rain!
Above and Below: Our last minute wedding decor and tarp to protect our reception from the storm! (Photo Credit: Erin Leydon Photography)
It seems logical to condense your food and drinks into one cooler for the trip, but it’s just not practical once you’re there. Try this – keep your drinks in one (a smaller size cooler), meats in another, and everything else in another that doesn’t need to be as cold as the previous two. Storing your drinks and snacks in the same cooler as your meats likely means that that cooler will be opened dozens of times per day... which means you're out of ice on day two.
We buy the 4L water jugs a couple weeks ahead of camping and put them in our freezer (take the lid off and drain some water out first so they don't burst). These last WAY longer than bringing a bag of ice, and they don’t leak so your contents stay dry! On top of that, ice cold water all week!
The cooler you’ll be accessing most! 70 quart is the perfect size. Even though you will keep your frozen meat meals in this cooler, pre-freezing them will make them act as ice blocks for the first few days until they’re thawed and ready to eat!
Open this one the least, this is where your bacon, steaks, burgers, chicken, eggs, etc are.
The fun cooler! Small enough to bring to the lake/beach, big enough for a few days of drinks on-site! Since this one is full of liquid and ice, it’s bound to be heavy so investing in one with wheels is worth it if it’s leaving your campsite!
If you’d rather not bring three coolers or just don’t have room in the car, opt for this 100qt Coleman to bring alongside your 50qt drink cooler!
About as reliable as they come, the Coleman Triton Series 2 is one of the most recommended portable stoves out there. It can be paired with the small 3-packs of propane cylinders (as seen below).
With a stove and table comes cleaning. Avoid bringing the spray bottles and pack a cylinder of Lysol wipes (just dispose of them properly!). Some people swear by just water, but any scent or grease left behind attracts the raccoons! Bring a few rolls of paper towel as well. It’ll help with cleanup and make great fire starter.
Table Cloth (x2)
Another great DollarStore find! Just make sure it’s wipeable.
Cutlery, Plates and Bowls
The Yeti Rambler is amazing. Yeti is without question a leader in outdoor products and this mug is no exception! Coffee by day, tequila by night!
For running to the nearest tap for water.
Stove-top Espresso Maker
Probably the best tasting way in my amateur opinion! This espresso maker is actually pretty cool to use.
We’ve tried the traditional camp chairs but find they are uncomfortable for long periods of time. The Coleman Outpost Breeze Portable Folding Deck Chair is better for your posture, flattens for transportation, and has a nice little table that pops out!
Flash Lights & Lanterns
We bring along a 3-pack of lanterns; two to hang off the rope underneath the tarp, and one to hang from the center of our tent. Call them pendant lights, if you will.
The kit above comes with batteries, but it’s always good to bring extra!
Lanterns are next to useless for walking around after dark. A flashlight that can light your path directly is much better!
Backpack for Hiking
We've been huge fans of DoucheBags by Jon & Janni Olson and for good reason. Their quality is second to none and look great!
We use 'The Backpack Pro' for all of our trips for camera gear, extra clothes, and drinks.
The following items definitely aren’t necessary and are climate/location specific. You may get teased for bringing them, but you can laugh along as you stay dry, cool, and mosquito-bite free!
Intended solely for keeping the bugs out. If you’ve been to Algonquin or further north before the middle of July, you’ll know just how intense the bugs can be. Mosquito spray helps, but the constant buzzing around your head is..well..a buzz kill.
This year we’re heading up to Lake Superior in June where the bugs are the worst, so we’re bringing a screened-in tent along to give us a break while we cook and eat. You can go without, but it’s one of those things where if you end up needing it, you’ll REALLY wish you had it. This one fits an Ontario Parks picnic table comfortably.
Hang this from the top of your tent to keep the air moving on hot summer nights. There’s nothing worse than being covered in campfire smoke, mosquito spray, and then sweat as you try to fall asleep!
Wait, before you judge, we bought this last year because we got married at a Campground! We needed to run string lights and make sure that the speakers kept playing all night! Aside from that, this power station is great for keeping your phone, laptop, or camera charged, though camping is always better if you can go without the first two!
Above: Nicole & I after a rogue wave hit us on the beach during our post-wedding photos.
If you have a tent like the one we linked above that has the room, having a table inside your tent makes keeping things organized so much easier! Often sand and dirt can be impossible to keep out of your tent, so having a high and clean space to organize your things, fold a shirt, layout your clothes makes life so much easier. Also, the hollow void when folded up is a great place to store your towels and blankets on the way to and from camping!
Honourable mentions that don’t require a photo:
Egg Holder – maybe don’t bring eggs camping without this. Things get rattled around in the cooler and I can’t imagine anything messier than cracked eggs on ice.
Large Totes – Using clear totes allows you to organize and see what's inside each tote. There’s nothing better than opening them up the next year before camping and seeing everything you need clean and ready to go!
Small Tote – For washing dishes. Double it's purpose by using it to transport other things!
Hammer & nails – To hang your keys, pots & pans on a nearby tree
Camera - The outdoors is the most beautiful thing on earth, so use photography as an opportunity to really connect and observe it.
Above: The morning after the wedding - a peaceful and serene walk on the pebbly Lake Huron shore.
To cap thing’s off, I’ve pasted my gear checklist from my notes below! Feel free to use it for yourself!
- Screened tent
- Nylon rope for tarp
- Camp chairs
- Power station
- Lighter (2)
- Garbage & recycling bags
- Bed sheets
- Collapsible table
- Door mat
- Blanket for under mattress
- Air Pump
- Air Mattress
- Ceiling fan
- Mini-propane cylinders
- Frozen jugs of water (X3)
- Cooler (X3)
- Lysol wipes
- Water jug
- Paper towel(X3)
- Cooking utensils
- Biodegradable cutlery
- Table cloth
- Espresso maker
- Egg Holder
- Yeti drink mug
- Dish detergent(organic/environmentally friendly!)
- Dish-washing tote
- Tea towels
- Plastic cutting board
- Flat grill for stove-top/fire cooking
- Marsh mellow sticks!
- Hiking shoes
- Bathing suit
- Beach towel
- Beach bag
- Sun-tan lotion
- Camera gear
- Water bottle
- Bug spray