Car Camping 101 Turning Your Car Into Base Camp

While our heads swirl with ideas of new climbing ropes and that carbon-fiber paddle we need for our SUP, our cars may just be the most useful piece of equipment in our excursions.

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Get a rack

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Whether it be surfing, mountain biking, or even taking a high-altitude summer ski trip, a car rack is essential for hauling your gear. While it can be a pain to secure gear to the top of your roof, it’ll keep mud and grime out of the backseat and make things a whole lot safer when traveling on rough roads. And as for that dent in your noble steed’s MPG? Racks are more aerodynamic than ever, with companies like Thule introducing low-profile crossbars like the AeroBlade that not only sit close to the car, but also reduce drag to maximize fuel economy. A sturdy rack is a great starting point, but if you intend to install a cargo box or bike-rack attachment, make sure that your rack is compatible. Most are, but if they aren’t, that would really suck.

Insider tip: Learn your knots. You never know when a strap is going to give out or that fancy piece of plastic that’s supposed to hold your bike gets bent too far the wrong way. If and when that happens — Murphy said something about that, right? — knowing how to tie something down with a little bit of rope and a fisherman’s knot could save the day. It might not look pretty, but hey, it’ll get you home.

Keep your feet dry

Water might be a big part of our summertime regimen, but all that extra moisture can really have a negative effect on our sports equipment — especially our boots. Get your hiking boots, ski boots and climbing shoes dry while commuting to your next adventure with car-powered shoe dryers. The DryGuy TurboDry plugs into a car cigarette lighter and has your gear shipshape in a little less than an hour. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’ll keep the blisters and foul odors at bay for a little bit longer — something your feet and your passengers will likely thank you for.

Insider tip: Not a believer in the car dryer? Save some money and load up your shoes with crumpled newspaper. It’s not as effective as a dryer, but at least it will soak up some of the moisture — and maybe some of that awful smell, too.

Be your own medical tent

Enjoying a day out in the wilderness shouldn’t be a matter of life or death, but when crazy stuff happens, you need to be prepared. Enter the Sportsman Grizzly Medical Kit by Adventure Medical Kits. The Sportsman Grizzly is your own personal triage center, providing QuikClot to stem bleeding, splints for fractures, tourniquets and several other emergency supplies to treat any injuries sustained out on the trail or up on the rock. When your car becomes the nearest medical center for miles around, you’ll be thankful for a kit that can get you and your partner back to civilization in one piece.

Insider tip: Take a class! No matter how comprehensive your medical kit, it’s not worth beans if you don’t know how to use it. REI offers a 2-day intensive course on wilderness medicine for around $200, and many mountain-town shops offer their own courses as well.

Become an expert car camper

No, we’re not talking about camping from your car; we’re talking about camping in your car. Whether it’s bears, weather, or just a lack of natural terrain, sometimes sleeping in your car is the safest camping option. The only issue is that sleep space is often too awkward to get a comfortable bed going. Luckily for us, the geniuses over at Truck-bedz conjured up an air mattress that fits around asymmetric wheel wells, allowing the mattress to sit flat in most of our adventure vehicles. Perfect for a truck bed or most mid-sized SUVs (yes, even Subaru Outbacks), the Truck-bedz Expedition CSB T1 is an easy way to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep out on the open road. Just remember to park the car before inflating, please.

Insider tip: If the Truck-bedz option is out of your price range, just make sure to have some sort of layer between you and the floor of your vehicle. Just like outdoor camping, a remarkable amount of heat is lost through the bottom of a vehicle, turning a comfortable night into a shiver fest. Even if it’s a yoga mat, it’ll make a huge difference.

Get your water access dialed

It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are for a jaunt into the outdoors: When water runs out, so does your trip. It goes without saying that you need to be traveling with an overabundance of water — you’re not lugging it up the hill; it just needs to get to the car — but when that fails, you should have a water filter as a backup. Using a gravity filter like the MSR AutoFlow, pour water from any natural water source, hang it from the edge of your car door, and let gravity do the work. One minute will net you approximately 1.75 liters of life-sustaining goodness. Can’t afford the MSR? There are plenty of options around the $50 mark if you do a little research.

Insider tip: It might be a good idea to invest in a few chlorine-based water-treatment tabs in case your buddy forgets the water filter back at the house. Just add it to any bottle of natural water, wait 30 minutes, and voila, you can treat up to 12 liters of water per package of treatment tabs. Note: This will not filter water, so if your water is muddy, it’s going to stay muddy. But at least it will be safe.

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