From Backcountry to Car Camping: Moving into basecamp adventures

One geologic fact often overlooked by the scientific community: With each passing year, the ground gets harder. Just ask any aging backpacker.

A couple in their 20s, just out of college, usually find the thin, lightweight sleeping pads designed for backpacking more than adequate to keep them comfortable in camp. As they enter their 30s, though, that same couple frequently discover those thin pads fail to ‘soften’ the newly hardened ground beneath them. The effects of rapidly hardening ground, though, don’t seem nearly as severe closer to roads. Plus, camps set up near the car allow campers to add extra cushion to their ground-based beds.

The move from backpack camping to car-camping can be achieved easily, and families will find they may actually end up doing more hiking without the weight of all their worldly camp possessions riding on their backs.

We’ve got a few recommendations of gear to get you started in car camping comfort.

Orca Cooler – 40qt

Roto-molded coolers dominate the camp cooler world these days, and ORCA offers a great blend of affordability and performance. The big hard-sided Orca 40-quart cooler can be used as effective ice boxes for a week or more of camp use. This mid-sized ice box offers good internal space for a 3-day weekend, without being so big as to be unwieldy.

The interior height of the cooler is just over 18-inches, so wine bottle will fit inside, standing upright, even on a bed of ice. The 26-inch-wide lid can be used as a side table or even sitting bench – drop it into the front of a raft and it becomes a good seat/casting bench for anglers.

Orca large webbing-strap side handles make toting the cooler easy, and the net pocket on the cooler’s back panel is perfect for stashing kitchen essentials such as a sheathed knife and cutting board. In our use, the Orca 40 qt held ice for more than 5 days of camping with repeated daily openings. $320. Buy now.

ThermaRest MondoKing XL pad

One of the most common complaints lodged by casual campers is poor sleeping conditions. While many people focus on their sleeping bag to improve their sleep, the real key to good camp sleep is your pad. You need a quality product underneath your bag to protect you from that cold, hard ground under your tent.

Therm-a-Rest sets the standard for backpacking beds, and their MondoKing XL Pad takes that backcountry expertise and applies it to front-country camping. The self-inflating pad (basically, an air mattress with open-cell foam inside for insulation and cushion) swells to 4.25 inches thick when fully inflated. A memory-foam “pillow top” is affixed to the top of the pad. A plush stretch-fabric outer shell provides comfort and a non-slip grip to help hold your sleeping bag on the pad. The MondoKing XL measures 80 inches long, by 30 inches wide. 5 lbs., 8 oz; $230. Buy now.

Highball and Lowball Tumblers from MiiR

Sitting around a campfire, it’s nice to have quality cold beverage at hand. For this, the MiiR Tumblers prove ideal. The Lowball version is ideal for holding a good dram of Scotch on the rocks, or three-fingers of Stillhouse Black Bourbon (see below). The Highball, meanwhile, serves the needs of campers who prefer mixed cocktails. The insulated steel vessels keep your drinks well chilled, but your hands nice and warm as you sip your Scotch, or gin-and-tonic. Sip-through clear-poly lids keep the drinks secure while moving around camp.

We’ve tried a host of different tumblers, glasses, and cups, but the MiiR Tumblers provide the best comfort-in-hand and cocktail serving size we’ve encountered. Lowball holds 10 fluid ounces, while the Highball holds 14 fluid ounces. $25 and $30, respectively. Buy Now.

Stillhouse Whiskey

Distilled in Coral Gables, Florida, Stillhouse offers a good selection of whiskeys, served up in unbreakable steel containers that are ideal for active outdoor enthusiasts. We sampled a few of their offers and while all are high quality and enjoyable, two stand out from the rest.

The Stillhouse Black Bourbon is a mature bourbon that’s aged in contact with roasted coffee beans. The result is a smooth whiskey that brings a strong caramel front and finishes with a lingering coffee tang on the tongue. This is a whiskey that should be enjoyed neat, or over a small ice block, while gazing into a campfire.

The Original Stillhouse Whiskey, meanwhile, is one of the purest tradition bourbons we’ve sampled. Filtered through charcoal and aged in oak, the smooth corn liquor is ideal for sipping. Keep a small flask tucked into a fly-fishing vest to help celebrate those big catches on the river!

Stillhouse’s stainless steel containers provide unmatched protection without any risk of tainting the flavor of the booze. The slim steel cans hold a standard 750-ml volume but slip into camp kitchen boxes easily and efficiently. The steel cans also help keen the whiskey cool on hot summer days. $27. Buy Now.

Camp Meal Kit from Patagonia Provisions

One of the toughest challenges for new campers is meal planning. Patagonia Provisions eliminates that problem with their Camp Meal Kits. This box of provisions provides all meals for two for days of camping adventures. Campers will need to pick up a few basic kitchen essentials prior to heading out – things like fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, cheese, and baking supplies (baking powder, cornmeal, cooking oil, etc.). But once the kit is completed with those fresh add-ons, campers set for meals for two full days.

Patagonia Provisions features sustainably harvested seafood and organic grains. The kit includes a guidebook/menu guide, as well as these ingredients:

  • 1 pack Red Bean Chili
  • 1 pack Organic Green Lentil Soup
  • 1 pack Organic Mushroom + KAMUT Khorasan Wheat Savory Grains
  • 2 packs Organic Breakfast Grains
    • 1 pack each of Tart Apple and Creamy Banana
  • 1 can Roasted Garlic Mackerel
  • 2 cans EU Organic Mussels
    • 1 can each of Savory Sofrito and Smoked
  • 1 box Original Wild Sockeye Salmon
  • 6 Organic Fruit + Almond Bars
    • 2 bars each of Mango, Inca Berry and Apricot
  • 5 packages Organic Savory Seeds
    • 2 packages each of Mellow Curry and Chipotle Lime; 1 pack Classic Barbecue
  • 12- page Guidebook with recipes and menus

The kit’s meals are all easily prepared in a single pan. $89. Buy Now.

Princeton Tec Helix Basecamp lantern

History has claimed the use pumped-up kerosene lanterns, and even propane lanterns with the delicate ash mantles. Today, the best camp lanterns feature ultra-efficient LED lamps. The Princeton Tec Helix Basecamp represents the pinnacle of today’s lantern technology.

The Helix Basecamp boasts 250 lumens of light output, with upwards of 30 hours of burn-time using three standard AA batteries. The light is fully dimmable so campers can adjust the illumination of their camp from bright enough for a rousing card game or low enough for a romantic ambiance. There’s even a red-light setting so star gazers can have light in camp without ruining their night-vision.

The Helix Basecamp is water-resistant (IPX6) and weighs just 12.6 ounces. $60. Buy Now.