tents car camping gear guy outside
A tent for everyone: Not necessary. A light but sturdy and family-friendly tent for last-minute car camping adventures: Very necessary. (Photo: ImpaKPro/Thinkstock)
Gear Guy

What Gear Should I Take Car Camping with My Family?

It's a long weekend, perfect for that family wilderness getaway you've been dreaming about.

tents car camping gear guy outside

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

To answer this question, I turned to Outside‘s executive editor, Mike Roberts, who spends his weekends exploring Marin County with his wife and two young boys. He’s tested some of the summer’s best car camping gear, and the following seven products really stood out.

MSR Papa Hubba NX 4 ($600)

cascade designs msr tent car camping outside families labor day
(Cascade Designs)

The Papa Hubba NX 4, big enough for car camping but light enough for short backpacking trips, is the perfect tent for families who do both, according to Roberts. The tent weighs 5 pounds 15 ounces and has heavy-duty zippers, reinforced seams, and MSR’s Mini Grounghog stakes, plus the guy-out points are built to handle rough backcountry conditions. Read: They’ll also handle toddlers. “My boys turned the Papa Hubba into their own Thunderdome, and we noticed no signs of wear,” Roberts wrote.

The only downside? The vestibules were a little small for changing kids in the rain.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream (From $200)

thermarest cascade designs car camping outside labor day families
(Cascade Designs)

Roberts raved about how comfortable this four-inch-thick foam-insulated air mattress was while camping. In addition to the pad’s extra cushion, Roberts loved the super-soft fleece top. Snap two of the mattresses together to make a single 50-inch-wide bed. This is key if you have young children, wrote Roberts. “Floppy kid sleepers have a way of slipping between mattresses and bonking their head on the ground in the middle of the night.”

Coleman Hyperflame ($170)

Coleman stove car camping outside families labor day

Roberts recently replaced his 30-year-old Coleman white-gas stove with this beauty. “Boils family-size pots of water rapidly and simmers well,” Roberts wrote. His favorite feature: the included griddles, which fit snugly on top of the burner and allowed Roberts to cook pancakes more efficiently than he can at home.

MSR Flex 4 Cook System ($160)

flex 4 system car camping outside families labor day
(Cascade Designs; )

With MSR’s Flex 4 System, “you get a ton of utility in a compact, nesting package with all kinds of smart design details,” Roberts wrote. Favorite design details included the plastic tubes on the handle that let Roberts pick up the pot without gloves, even when it was full of boiling water; the strainer lids that eliminated the need for a colander; and the nonstick technology that made the pot very easy to clean.

The system includes mugs, but Roberts suggests leaving them at home if you’re car camping because they’re too small for adult-sized hot beverages.

Stanley eCycle Nesting Food Containers ($10)

stanley containers cooking car camping outside families labor day

These Stanley containers are far more trustworthy than made-for-home Tupperware, according to Roberts. He found that the smallest container, which he filled with olive oil, didn’t leak once, and the nesting system proved easy to pack. Bonus: The containers are dishwasher safe, “making post-trip cleanup for tired parents so much easier,” Roberts wrote.

Stanley Classic Vacuum Mug ($25)

Roberts’ morning tea stayed piping hot for an average of three hours in this mug. The leakproof lid proved to be extremely kid-proof as well. “I could click the mug shut and leave it on the table with worrying about my two-year-old knocking it over and scalding himself,” Roberts wrote.

Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Double Hammock ($65)

hammock outside families labor day camping car camping
(Scott Regan)

To call Roberts a hammock enthusiast is an understatement. “I have owned a lightweight travel hammock since the late 1990s and used it to sleep in forests in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Fiji, and Northern California,” he wrote.

So when Roberts said that this model from Grand Truck is possibly the best hammock he’s ever tested, I didn’t take his words lightly. “The shape is perfect—it envelops you but doesn’t squeeze you, and you have zero fear of rolling out,” Roberts wrote. He loved how he could cocoon himself in the extra material. It was plenty roomy and comfortable with his kids crawling on him.

Tip: Spend the extra $20 on the Tree Sling Kit. “I used it to string the hammock between two very different-sized trees on an awkward slope and was blown away by how easy it was to grip the different trunks right where I wanted to and adjust height and tension,” Roberts wrote.