Like the rest of you, I constantly daydream about buying a Sprinter van. Alas, it’s not in the budget, but that’s okay: There’s a less expensive way to turn a normal car into an adventuremobile. All you need are a few smart add-ons. We used $3,300 worth of gear to trick out my wife’s Honda Element for a recent trip. And while that’s not cheap, it’s a lot less than you’d spend on a Mercedes.
Yakima Roof Rack ($459)
For starters, you’ll want a roof rack system like the one we purchased from Yakima (towers, $370; crossbars, $89). It lets you haul camping gear on your roof, leaving more room inside for other essentials. I like Yakima because it offers a giant selection of accessories, and because it’s easy to tie things down to the round bars (as opposed to the angular bars from other companies).
Tepui Kukenam Sky Tent ($1,350)
The Tepui Kukenam Sky Tent is the most expensive item on our list, but it’s well worth the investment. It attaches to any roof rack, sits almost flat on your car when not in use, and sets up in minutes (just unfold the canvas, lower the ladder, and set the fly). It’s also ridiculously comfortable, thanks to a three-inch foam mattress that covers the entire footprint, and the thick canvas exterior makes the tent well suited for mild winter camping. Heads up: Check your rack’s static load capacity (how much it will hold when the car is not in motion) to ensure it can hold both the tent and the people inside.
Yeti Tundra 50 ($380)
I think of the Tundra 50 as a mobile refrigerator: It’ll hold ice for up to five days if you’re careful. Yetis aren’t cheap, but they’ll buy you more time between grocery runs. We’ve found that they’re the best options on the market.
Coleman FyreCaptain ($160)
This full-sized two-burner stove lets you cook like you’re at home. You can saute, grill, and boil, which means real food on the menu instead of ramen and freeze-dried slop. Bonus: The FyreCaptain comes with telescoping legs that come in handy if you don’t have a picnic table nearby.
REI Camp Roll Table ($65) and Helinox Sunset Chair ($150)
Dinner tastes better when eaten on a real table like the REI Camp Roll. What’s more, the aluminum slatted top won’t melt if you need to put down a hot pan. And sitting around the fire is easier when you have a nice chair like the Helinox Sunset, which fits in your glove compartment but feels like your comfy recliner back home.
EnerPlex Comandr Solar Panels ($300) and EnerPlex Generatr ($350)
If you’re on the road long enough, you’ll need to power up your electronics at some point. You’ll have limitless power for your laptop, camera, and phone with the EnerPlex Comandr Solar Panels, which charge the 100-watt EnerPlex Generatr, even if you’re 100 miles from the nearest outlet.
Rubbermaid Bins ($12 to $19)
When you have a lot of gear, you need to keep it organized, and there’s nothing better, or cheaper, than Rubbermaid Bins. We bought one kitchen bin for all our cooking and cleaning gear and another for our nonperishable food. Take note: You need to keep these bins organized or they quickly become a chaotic disaster.
Reliance Aqua-Tainer ($20)
This four-gallon jug allows you to haul enough drinking and cleaning water for several days. Remember: Always get one with a spigot. Otherwise you’ll waste water trying to pour from a big opening.