Family Vacations, Summer 1996
Since you can haul as much stuff as your car can hold (and even if you drive a Hyundai, that translates into considerably more cargo space than even the roomiest expedition pack), car-camping is pretty much the Ritz-Carlton wilderness experience. You can sit on chairs around a campfire, dine on fresh fish and designer veggies while the kids down mac and cheese and applesauce, and sleep in condo-size tents with cushy air mattresses and pillows. And it's because of all these niceties that people run into trouble. Inevitably, you remember the cocktails but forget the frying pan.
The key to successful car-camping is organization. Families who do it often have what they call their car-camping box--all the essentials stored and ready to be tossed in the back of the station wagon. This not only expedites the packing process, but leaves little fear of forgetting items. (One Martha Stewartesque tip is to use the dishwashing basin as the storage box.) Here's what your box should contain:
The Kitchen: skillet, pots, pans, or dutch oven, stove (go two-burner; portability is no object), spatula, pot holders, cutting board, sharp knife, paper towels, can opener, tongs (good for fishing aluminum-wrapped foods out of the campfire), grill grate (also for campfire cooking), matches, hammock (good for lounging and for drying dishes after meals), ziplock bags, large plastic garbage bags, water, water filter, aluminum foil, tablecloth (forest service picnic tables can get quite nasty), sponge and soap for cleaning dishes, dishtowel, cooler, cooking set with small bottles of oils and spices, mess set (kids seem to prefer these to plastic plates and silverware).
The Campsite: multisystem tool, lantern, flashlight, or headlamps, extra batteries, chairs, first-aid kit, duct tape, nylon cord and bungees (for jury-rigging things or hanging food), tarps, sleeping bags, pillows, pads, tent.
Entertainment: Frisbee, ball, travel versions of Guess Who and Sorry! en route, and Jenga (once you've arrived at your site).
Copyright 1996, Outside magazine