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How to Make Dispersed Camping Not Suck

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Following my recent post about our trip to the Sequoia National Forest, a number of people have reached out to ask about some of the specific equipment Michael and I use to make our car camping trips, well, comfortable. It has taken us years and TONS of research (mostly on Michael's part), but we've managed to curate quite a collection of gear. Here are a few of the items we rely upon to make sleeping in the dirt not just tolerable but actually enjoyable.

This tent is admittedly WAY bigger than we currently need for the two of us and our dog, but we figured if we are going to spend the money on a quality product we may as well future-proof it. Hopefully someday we'll be figuring out how to squeeze a couple of little humans in there with us. For now, it's our mansion in the mountains. Bonus points for the HUGE window/moon roof that allows for bedtime stargazing and/or sunrise watching from the comfort of our sleeping bag.

The North Face Dolomite Duo sleeping bag is a new addition to our camp gear collection. We used to use regular bed sheets and a down comforter because, c'mon, we're using an air mattress anyway. (Don't judge. We are 38 and 41 years old. A sleeping pad doesn't cut it anymore.) We decided to switch to a double sleeping bag, however, after a camping trip in June where we were decidedly NOT prepared for how cold it got at night. This sleeping bag is actually three bags in one - it has two separate top layers that can each be removed depending on what temperatures you expect to experience. It worked like a champ on this trip. The first night we left both top layers on (PTSD from our June trip, I suppose), and we were both HOT. The second and third nights we removed the top layer, leaving the mid-temp layer on. It was perfect. And clearly our dog, Rosemary, approves.

There are few things in the world better than sitting in the middle of nowhere, far from the lights of civilization, and staring up at a sky full of stars. These camp chairs actually recline so that you can do just that without straining your neck. They are super light and easy to set up/break down, and the built-in cup holder means your campfire whiskey is easily accessible.

(Note: We got our Nemo chairs on Amazon a while ago. This particular model seems to be out of stock everywhere, so I've just linked to the Nemo website so that y'all can check out the particulars.)

The Solo Stove is another recent addition to our camp gear collection. We live in California - land of wildfires - and there are pretty severe limitations on building campfires during fire season (rightfully so). But camping without a fire just isn't camping in our book. So, being the environmentally-conscious rule-followers we are, Michael did a bunch of research and found Solo Stove. Designed to be self-contained and portable, this fire pit is pretty much an engineering marvel. I won't attempt to explain the science behind the design, but suffice it to say I'm impressed not only with how efficient it is but also the fact that it leaves no trace. Not a blade of grass under it gets singed, and the only evidence it was ever there is the small pile of ash you dump out once it has cooled. Although it's not specifically designed to cook with, we managed to prepare several meals over it using our Lodge gear (more on that below) and a fire pit grate.

(Note: We have the Ranger model, but we also purchased the stand and spark arrester, which are sold separately.)

5. Lodge Cast Iron Cook-It-All, 5qt Dutch Oven, and 10-inch Skillet

As I've mentioned previously, I believe that the keys to successful camp cooking are meal planning, prepping in advance, and having the right equipment. Other than a percolator (for making coffee and heating up water for dishes), these pieces of Lodge cast iron cookware are the only cookware I use at camp. Whether over the fire pit or on the camp stove, these are my workhorses, and I'm pretty sure I can cook anything using some combination of these few pieces. And when not in use, they pack up perfectly in their canvas zippered bag. They're heavy as hell, but when you're car camping who cares?

The MoonShade is yet another recent addition to our camp gear collection. We used to pack a big EZ-Up, which was great, but it just took up SO MUCH ROOM in the truck (or SUV). After (more) extensive research, Michael found this gem. It's got heavy duty magnets that attach to your vehicle (or a fence or anything else metal) and then it easily sets up into an 8x12" shade structure. When stowed away it is barely larger than a rolled up yoga mat.

It was about 80 degrees when we arrived at camp in this photo, so the MoonShade and the chairs were the first thing that got set up. It was solidly 8-10 degrees cooler under there, making that first frosty adult beverage much more enjoyable. Although we haven't tried it yet, you could also secure the MoonShade to a couple of trees if you don't want to attach it to your vehicle.

7. RTIC Coolers - the Soft Pack 30, the Soft Pack 40 and the hard side 45

There might be songs written about Yeti coolers, but we've got 3 sizes of RTIC coolers for probably what one Yeti costs, and they're amazing. We use the big white hard side cooler for food and either the Soft Pack 30 or the Soft Pack 40 (depending on how long the trip is) for beverages. Is that excessive? Probably. Do we care? Nope, because we're over here enjoying our (camp) gourmet meals and ice cold adult beverages.

While there are certainly other items in our camp gear that I could list here, these are the big ticket items that really have done the most to make our adventures enjoyable and comfortable. It's not "glamping" by any means, but it's not exactly roughing it either. And isn't that what life is all about - finding that happy medium that works for you?

That, my friends, is #abiteofgood.

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