My 10 car camping essentials. It’s probably not what you are expecting.

Hi there! In my last camping post (which you can read here) I promised I would give you the list of my 10 car camping essentials. As the name implies, these are the things I wouldn’t leave home without, (not on purpose anyway) no matter who is going, where we are going, or how long we plan to be gone. Without further ado: here you go.

Not my most glamorous photo, but I pulled these things straight from my truck box to show you.
  1. A blue tarp: Yep, the kind they sell everywhere. This thing can make or break a trip for you. You can put it under the tent as another layer against the ground, aka: “a footprint.” Use it as a simple shelter over your hammock or instead of the tent that just ripped…You can put it over the top of your tent for extra protection if its raining or cold. It can be a dining canopy over the picnic table, or a dry place to sit by the fire if the ground is wet. It’s an easy way to haul small branches you gather for kindling (only downed wood on the ground, and only if the park allows it, some don’t.) Need an easier place to change than in your 3′ tall tent? make a changing room. Find yourself near a beach? It will work as a beach blanket in a pinch. Camping with toddlers or babies? Voila! You now have somewhere to change that soggy diaper besides on your sleeping bag. You’re welcome. Ok, now you know. Throw a tarp in the back of the car today, you never know when it might come in handy.
  2. Bug Spray: Seriously. Nothing will make you miserable faster (well, except the rain, but you have your tarp, right?) than the mosquitoes trying to steal your s’mores and join you on your hike. Find some you like, something safe for kids if you have them, be sure the dog is protected too, and again, take it everywhere. If you are going into the woods somewhere where ticks are a problem, you need to be sure you take a product that will repel them, even if its more chemical laden than you are usually ok with. Ticks are nasty little blood suckers that carry disease. Just don’t fool around here or it will ruin your trip, and you might end up sick. Thanks.
  3. Ratchet Straps: Yep. The kind your dad uses to hold the lawn mower onto the trailer. Hear me out here… You want to hang a hammock, but the trees are too far apart, or too big around. Use ratchet straps. They are strong, don’t hurt the trees, and you can get them tight enough you won’t fall out of the hammock later. They can hold up a tarp, anchor an awning or tent in high wind, make a clothesline, or be something to put your tarp over to make a shelter when you realize you left the tent poles at home… again, these things are magical.
  4. Sun Block: Get something with at least SPF 30. For the next 3 days you intend to live outside in the woods. Your poor nose hasn’t seen that much sun since you waited in line to see Metallica in 1998. Often, we think to put sunblock on when going to a pool or beach, but you need to make it part of your morning campground ritual as well. If you are camping anywhere near bear country remember this is not the time to smell like a Piña Colada.
  5. Extra Socks: I know, it’s July, and you are a die hard flip flopper. But trust me on this one. One of the most used items in my truck box is the package of men’s white tube socks. We call them 4H socks at our house, because inevitably, someone would run out of socks at some 4H camp or event, or get their feet wet, or start getting blisters from their cute little pug socks… it’s always something. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I’m the sock mom. But seriously- dry warm feet can make any trip better. I recommend the tube socks with no heel, because they can work for anyone in a pinch. A few extra ways you can use them: (clean ones only please) as a water bottle koozie, as mittens, as a pot holder, as thigh highs to protect little knees if you have a crawling baby, and one plus some duct tape can make a sturdy cast without hurting skin when you add item number 6 on the list:
  6. Duct Tape: Yep. The silver stuff. Just like dad uses for everything. By now I’d think everyone knows to keep this stuff around, but here’s a few camping specific reasons I think it’s a “must carry” item. Besides the makeshift cast I already mentioned, it can be a blister band aid, or keep a cut clean. It can seal up holes in the tent when that hatchet you were using to hammer in tent pegs gets away from you… You can repair your friend’s flip flop, fix the hole in Jr’s beach ball, attach your flamingo lights to the awning. Literally a million uses. Get a roll and keep it in your car.
  7. Food you don’t have to cook: I know, we all have romantic ideals about catching a fish, and cooking it over hot coals- or at least cooking our s’mores over hot coals. Inevitably something will go wrong at some point: the fire won’t light, it’s raining, the camp stove runs out of gas, that 2 mile hike was really 4, kids are picky, adults get tired of how much more work it is to cook outside, there’s always something. A box of Pop Tarts, some Spaghettio’s, or some good old bread and peanut butter will make you really happy when the power goes out at the park 5 minutes after you check into your cabin. For example.
  8. Water: Even if the campsite has a hookup, or there’s a spigot nearby, throwing a few gallons of water into the back is a way to be sure you won’t be stuck if the park water tastes off, the drunk college kids from the site next to yours made the community spigot a biohazard last night, or if the people in the flooded tent let their kids make Nesquick in the bathhouse sink while mom grabs a shower, so you need some water to brush your teeth. It’s easy insurance that you will be having a better weekend than she is.
  9. Glow Bracelets: So this one may seem odd, but if you go to the dollar store, you can grab a couple packs of these, and they are surprisingly handy in a dark campsite. Kids getting whiney? Break out the glowsticks. Keep losing the little snot gobblers in the dark? Glowstick them. Do you have a black dog who disappears in the campsite and you keep tripping over her? Glowstick her collar (just be sure they aren’t going to chew on it, much like kids.) that tree root just outside the camper door? Glowstick. Stakes holding up the awning or your tarp-tent? Glowstick. Forgot your flamingo lights, or the site doesn’t have electric? some of the longer glow necklaces make great party lights, and will actually put off enough light for you to make those PB & J Sammies when you get back from the surprise 4 mile hike after dark. You’re welcome.
  10. Inflatable Beach Ball: So while you are at the dollar store picking up Pop Tarts and glowsticks, grab a beach ball. Inevitably at some point you will hear it… the whine of a 7 year old saying, “Mom, I’m bored!” You can save the day with a beach ball and a little air. This thing packs flat, is stupid cheap, everyone from 9 months to 90 can play, and it isn’t a big deal if the kid from 3 sites away takes it home. I have carried a beach ball in my car since our girls were tiny. We’ve broken it out to entertain kids at a friend’s outdoor wedding, at 4H shows when there is down time, the agents are busy, and you the intrepid 4H parent find yourself suddenly tasked with keeping 30 kids you don’t know busy and relatively clean in a dirt horse arena for 2 hours. I know that’s not a camping specific example, but it is legit. It is a way for you kid to break the ice with other kids in the park, or for adults to have something to do while the kids are on the playground. This is my #1 parenting secret weapon. (besides the socks.)
Water, pop-tarts, and the famous 4H socks. (used, but clean)

So there you have it. My unconventional list of what to keep in the car at all times so that you can always have a good camping trip, picnic, or 4H event! It’s seriously less than $50 to keep these things on hand, and can really salvage almost any trip. Maybe I’ll see you out there.

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