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Building a kit for car camping offers more freedom than dialing in a typical backpacking loadout. After all, the only limiting factors are how much gear your car can hold, and your imagination. Here are five products that BACKPACKER readers have vetted for frontcountry adventures.
Decathlon Quechua 2 Second Easy Fresh & Black
At first glance, I was intrigued by the tagline of the two-second setup and the pull-cords that pop the tent up. On a trip to Tennessee’s Montgomery Bell State Park, I pulled it out of my truck as the dusk deepened and wondered if it really was as easy as it sounded. I felt a twinge of anxiety. But I quickly had the tent up and stakes in the ground. I not only felt relieved, I felt glad to be out camping again after a long hiatus.
I like that the instructions are simple and everything is included. The ease of setup is the reason to buy this tent: Once you see how it works, it is literally up in seconds and down almost as fast. For a two-person tent there is plenty of leg- and headroom, and helpful features include interior pockets and a roof clothesline. However, the zippers were a bit hard to use, and there are no tie-backs for the doors. I would still recommend this tent to someone who would like a car-camping tent that’s easy to set up and take down with plenty of room. – Bill Delvaux
GCI Outdoor Slim-Fold Cook Station
Once completely unfolded, this station is a sleek addition to any cookout. I could sense the sturdiness right away as I unhinged the tabletop features. This table is very durable. The center rack easily supports a small electric or small portable grill without a problem. Because the frame is constructed of sturdy, powder-coated steel and the countertop is made from heat-resistant aluminum, you can leave the table outside, rain or shine. I recommend it for car camping and tailgating, and the station would also make a great mate for your grill on the back porch. Though purposed for cooking, once done with dinner you can store all of your camping gear throughout the system. The bottom shelf makes a perfect drying rack for wet boots. At 19 pounds the table is heavy, and it would be hard to lift for someone who doesn’t have a strong back. Even though the table folds slim, it is still cumbersome, making it difficult to carry up and down stairs. – Libby Di Sesa
Helly Hansen Odin Stretch Hooded Light Insulator
The jacket is very comfortable and moves easily in working conditions. It’s comfortable enough for added warmth while curling up in a sleeping bag. I think it is ideal as both a midlayer on really cold days, and for wearing on those days when the weather is changeable and you’re in sun one minute and in cloudy, windy rain showers the next. I like the beading and moisture-repellent properties. It breathes and wicks well. I also admire the warmth-to-weight ratio. The elastic at the wrist seems a bit weak and on one of the sleeves it seems to be stretching out after only a few uses. Ditto for the elastic around the hood; I would have preferred a drawstring to cinch the hood tight around your face. I also would have preferred to see larger pockets, or an interior breast pocket for storing gloves, stocking caps, or other items. – Frank Michel
My first thought was that this product was going to be perfect for extending the carrying capacity of my two-door Jeep Wrangler. The back seats have been pulled out and I have a sleeping platform, so I anticipated the PAKMULE would free up a ton of interior space. I hooked it up and took it for a test drive with an empty cooler and I got really stoked for an upcoming adventure. I should note that it’s a bit heavy and awkward to hitch onto the vehicle. Other than that, it’s super simple to attach and use. Very intuitive.
The carrying capacity is beyond optimal. I was able to load a standard-size Yeti cooler, a 7-gallon jug of water, and another box filled with cooking gear. I could easily have added a spare gas can and even more water. With this light gear loaded in I drove up a dirt mountain road with ease. However, with a heavier load the next time I took it out the PAKMULE wobbled, even after I tightened it on the hitch. My hitch may just not have been the perfect fit, so I would advise users to check the connection before carrying a heavy load. – Morgan Sjogren
LifeStraw Go Stainless Steel
The bottle did a great job of insulating cold water, with ice still remaining 12 hours into a 95°F rafting trip on the Colorado River. The integrated filter functioned well, and the water tasted better than other filters I’ve used. In a side-by-side comparison with a gravity filter, this won out in terms of taste. What this bottle lacks in weight savings it makes up for in time savings since you don’t have to pump water or wait for a gravity filter. However, I found it was impossible to finish the bottle completely, with the last inch of water difficult to get through the straw. While hiking to the Doll House in Utah’s Cataract Canyon, I unexpectedly ran out of water because the internal filter couldn’t reach the last few ounces. Just be aware of how much water you actually have left. I think it would be the perfect bottle for international travel where water is abundant but questionable in quality. – Connor Boschert
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