Remember the days when car-camping gear came from the Army-Navy store, affording you a degree of “comfort” somewhere between a cheap motel room and trench warfare? Luckily, today’s gear means you can live and sleep well, saving your energy for important challenges like hiking and overseeing s’mores production.
Unlike many car-camping tents, the three-season, four-person Big Agnes Titan 4 mtnGlo ($400) won’t crumple under the first strong breeze. It’ll also keep the rain out — and protection from the elements matters if you’re not strictly a fair-weather camper. The strong DAC exoskeleton pole system creates good interior space (56 square feet, with a 60-inch ceiling peak) and allows pitching the tent with or without the interior tent body, so it doubles as a daytime shade or rain canopy. Tiny LED lights sewn into overhead seams in the tent — and operated by a small switch with options for full and half brightness — cast enough soft light for playing cards (not enough for reading). They run on three AAA batteries or any USB power source. 10 lbs., 14 oz.
Don’t like the cramped cocoon feeling of traditional sleeping bags? Slip inside the Sierra Designs Frontcountry Bed 35 ($130). With a zipperless design and a spacious, rectangular shape that resembles your bed at home, it lets you throw off the integrated comforter in mild temps or pull it up like covers on a bed on cool nights. The synthetic insulation still traps heat if it gets damp (and keeps the price lower than down feathers), and the comfort rating of 37 degrees ensures you stay warm on chilly nights.
4 lbs., 6 oz.
There’s no reason to sleep uncomfortably when car camping, and with the fat Klymit Double V air mattress ($130), you won’t. At 47 inches wide, a plush 3 inches thick and 74 inches long, it offers plenty of room to spread out. Still, at barely more than 2.5 pounds and a packed size of 5-by-9 inches, it’s compact enough for backpacking — when you feel like roughing it. However, its R-value of 1.6 means no insulation: Use this only on mild summer nights that don’t drop below around 50 degrees. 2 lbs., 11 oz.
At 3.5 inches thick, with a self-inflating mattress core topped by foam, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir DreamTime ($200) sports several inches more width (30 inches) and length (77 inches) than many air mats — and still packs down to 26-by-10 inches and weighs fewer than 7 pounds in the large size. An R-value of 10 means it’ll insulate you against frozen ground. The removable cover is machine washable. 6 lbs., 11 oz.
You underestimate the importance of a camping pillow only until you don’t have one. With the Klymit Pillow X ($25), you get a plush headrest that inflates with two breaths to 15-by-11-by-4 inches, and then packs down to 4.5-by-2.5 inches to disappear in your gear bin (or sleeping bag stuff sack). Smart feature: The X pattern in the chambers cradles your noggin so it doesn’t slide off. 2 oz.
Few pieces of gear define car camping like a cooler, and the RoVR 60 Cooler ($399) is like the Mercedes-Benz of portable refrigeration. This 60-quart bearproof (watch the video at the company’s website) tricked-out ice chest holds ice for up to 10 days, thanks to high-density foam insulation. It also comes with unique features: an internal full-height dry bin that keeps perishables like meat and cheese out of the water; a retractable wagon bin for hauling stuff atop the cooler; and 9-inch all-terrain wheels. Optional accessories include an attachment for towing behind a bicycle, cup holders and a modular cutting board. 35 lbs.
From campsites to outdoor plays, concerts and youth sporting events, the GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair ($35) might be the perfect portable seat. Supporting up to 250 pounds, it adjusts to sloping ground, tilts for back comfort and has a mesh back panel to keep you cooler — plus, of course, it has a cup holder. It’s actually less expensive than many traditional camping chairs. 5 lbs., 6 oz.
No more clunky camp lanterns that run on fossil fuels. Measuring just 4.5-by-5-by-6.5 inches, the rechargeable Goal Zero Lighthouse Lantern ($80) is compact and packable with folding legs, and yet produces up to 400 lumens — bright enough to light up a campsite. The switch allows dimming as well as lighting both sides or just one side to save power. Plus, it will recharge a smartphone or boost a tablet’s charge. Recharge it from any USB source by using the hand crank or by plugging it into a Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel. The only drawback: Ghost stories aren’t as scary with a light this bright. 1 lb., 2 oz.