What do a heatwave battering the western United States and a flash flood in the desert have in common? We all want to get to higher ground, ASAP. Whether you’re facing a work week at home without AC or just the dolldrums of early summer, we can bet that your brain is kicking into trip planning mode. If you’re already using Gaia to search for backcountry meadows with adequate snowmelt drainages, you can probably ignore this post. But if your idea of a good time is backing your truck up to a mesa overlook deep in the high desert or cranking up switchbacks to a cool high-country valley, you may want to read our picks for the best car camping gear of the season.
The North Face
Wawona 4 Person Tent
Named after Yosemite’s Wawona Tunnel Tree, this four-person tent is ideal for your summer car-camping escape. With a roomy and durable architecture, simple setup and double-walled protection from the elements, it’s a perfect camping tent for families or large groups. Or if you just want to stretch your legs. We don’t judge.
Tiger Wall UL3 mtn GLO Solution Dye
Fine, you caught us. This is an ultralight backpacking tent. BUT. Some of the best camping gear out there is ultralight these days. That’s because it’s where companies spend the most on their R&D and the Tiger Wall 3-person tent is no different. Their eco-dyed fabric is not only green, but it enhances durability so you can buy it for life. And the ultra light design doesn’t skimp on comfort features like two doors and vestibules.
Passage 2-person Tent
Ultralight tent price tags stinging a little? We’ve got you covered. A simple design for 2 people (or 1 and lots of gear), the REI Co-op Passage 2 tent is your 3-season home. Whether you’re skiing in the Park or fly fishing on the river, ample vestibules will help you stash what matters.
Sidewinder SL 35° Sleeping Bag
Summer camping doesn’t have to mean waking up at 2 a.m. in a puddle of your own sweat. This summer-weight sleeping bad specifically designed for those who sleep on their sides(!!) is a lifesaver for those who run hot and like inflatable pads. Never wake up cranky again.
Tempo Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Coming in three different sleeping temperatures, dial in your summer with this Nemo bag. The 20° can be a four-season bag depending on where you live, the 35° hits the Colorado sweet spot, and the 55° bag is ideal for the East Coast. With opposite sided zippers on the men’s and women’s bags, you can zip them together if you need the extra warmth.
The North Face
Eco Trail Synthetic 35° Sleeping Bag
Get it while it’s hot! (Yeah, we’re not too pleased with that one either). This TNF bag is designed with eco-friendly, 100% recycled synthetic fabric and is the perfect weight for summer trips. Synthetic insulation will keep it warm while wet, and we dig the mountaineer-orange colorway. Probably not safe to take this one to Everest, though.
Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad
Put the days of dad’s old eggshell foam pad in the rearview. With an r-value of 4.3, Big Agnes’ new insulated Q-Core Deluxe pad is warm enough for summer nights high in the alpine and light enough for 14er pushes. The thick, 3.5-inch pad prevents any discomfort—no matter where you pitched your tent.
Organic Mini Travel Pillow
An open secret of car camping? It’s where we embrace being soft. Comfort items, coolers, whatever we can carry. Perhaps most important of all for the best night out under the stars? A real, bona-fide pillow. Made with 100% biodegradable materials, this eco-friendly plush travel pillow will let you sleep soundly through the night.
Original Puffy Blankets
Looking to cuddle up next to a campfire (in a specified metal fire ring only—sincerely, everyone who lives in the West), Rumpl blankets are purpose-made for the task. Comfy synthetic insulation that is 100% recycled, and a washable DWR outer make these blankets ideal for any camping mission.
Teton 2-Burner Stove
Here’s the thing, have you ever tried to make eggs and coffee on a little pocket rocket? It’ll do in a pinch, but when you wake up and really want to motor, a two-burner is the only way to go. Boil water on the right and scramble hash browns on the left, this Teton stove is a tank, and it’ll be with you for years to come.
Compleat Onyx Dining Set
On the trail, the most important meal of the day is the one you’re about to eat. Gerber’s ComplEAT tool has the bases covered with a fork, spoon, spatula, and 4 function multi-tool that nest for transport as well as snap together to convert into functional tongs.
10.25″ Cast Iron Skillet
There’s not much we need to say about this other than it’s basically the only pan you’ll ever need. Hell, we’ve boiled water in this in a pinch. Treat it right and you can flip an egg in it like a non-stick. Just feed it plenty of bacon.
1 Quart Bowl with lid
Ready to rough it, but sleek enough for the dining table—this personal sized 1 quart Bowl with Press-In Lid keeps food hot or cold till feedin’ time. The double wall insulation keeps hot food hot and cold food cold while shielding hands from temperature transfer.
10 inch Plate
Ready for a seat at any picnic table, campsite or truck bed. The 10 inch Plate with TouchShield™ double wall insulation keeps hands comfy, even when holding hot meals. Made with 18/8 pro-grade stainless steel to ensure pure taste, no flavor transfer and serious durability.
10 oz Rambler Lowball
Coffee in the morning and whiskey at night, get you someone who can do both. The stainless Yeti lowball is the perfect size for a morning brew or an old fashioned. Or, ya know, flip that and reverse it—we won’t judge. The point is that no tailgate is complete without it.
32 oz Narrow Mouth Tritan Water Bottle
Don’t know about you, but we’re dehydrated after reading that Rambler description. With a full day skiing suncups or fishing a river, it’s vital to stay hydrated, this 1-liter bottle will keep you from drying out in the sun, and the narrow mouth means you can sip on bumpy roads without spilling all over yourself.
Ever tried cooking a full meal for friends while squatting on the ground? Trust us, it’s horrible. Luckily with REI’s roll-up camp table, hosting around your site has never been easier. The sturdy table folds to almost nothing and provides a stable platform for a two-burner stove, cutting board, and at least four beers.
Venture 35 Power Bank
Designed with increased protection against the elements and more power than its predecessor, the new Venture 35 is ready for anything. Now dust and waterproof, this power bank can handle the lake, the river, and the desert.
Charge 4 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Normally at home in the park blasting “Hey Ma” by Cam’ron, these bluetooth speakers are perfect for a raucous, end-of-day desert party. With over 20 hours of playtime, this speaker is ready to go all night. Just be mindful of anyone else in a 50-mile radius.
MoonShade is a portable vehicle awning that offers reliable coverage, day or night, to your outdoor site. With a variety of anchoring systems, it sets up easily and attaches to almost any sturdy structure. The shade packs down tight and weighs only 8 lbs, making breakdown and storage ultra-simple.
Veggie Pad Thai
When we’re going on a big trip, we’re always thinking about how to best pack in a good calories/weight/nutrition/flavor ratio. That’s where this dehydrated Pad Thai comes in, keeping all our demands in harmony. Simple to cook and requiring no cleanup, this is our go-to meal in the back country.
30 fl. oz. Javapress
Enough coffee for the whole crew—well, at least for round 1. We love the simplicity and ease of cleanup of a French press while camping. Boil some water, toss in some ground coffee (GSI makes a great hand grinder as well), and wait four minutes. That’s all it takes for some killer brew.
The AlpenGlow 500 rechargeable lantern delivers a dusk or daylight feel inspired by nature. Featuring high-efficiency ChromaReal LED technology, accurately render the colors in your environment with the glow of warm natural light.