What to bring when car camping

Even though we got rid of our travel trailer and moved to the big city, we still love to go camping when we can. We’ve had to adjust to tent camping and have learned that since we usually only go for weekends now, we don’t need a ton of stuff (even though it looks like a ton of stuff).

We are each responsible for gathering and packing about half the list, divided along ye olde sexist gender lines, though there is some overlap:


  • Cooler: We gave away our cooler and got an insulated tote bag from Wal-Mart like this. It holds more than our cooler did and is a lot easier to pack.
  • Ice: We usually get a 10-pound bag of ice and put it unopened into the tote bag, which helps to keep everything inside dry. I have also had good luck with reusable cooler packs like Blue Ice, or even just freezing some small bottles of water.
  • Flashlight: We have a couple of small but bright flashlights from Target. Get the brightest ones you can find. We also have headlamps that make doing actual tasks, like dishes or peeing (not at the same time) in the dark much easier.
  • Batteries: Always have spares!
  • Lantern: We’ve tried a few different kinds, battery and propane without really liking them, so we will probably have to shell out some cash for a nicer one like this rechargeable Coleman.
  • Phones: OMG, we can’t be away from our phones!
  • Car charger: For our phones we can’t be away from!
  • External phone charger: There are lots of these out there now, including some solar-powered ones!
  • Foldable canopy, like an E-Z Up: Mike always groans at this one. It’s heavy, it’s hard to fit in the car. But we always use it and are always glad we brought it. It protects against sun and rain. We have this inexpensive one from Dicks. Or glamp it up with something like this.
  • Tent: Do not buy a cheap tent! If you want to have to tear it down in the middle of a rainstorm, throw it in the dumpster and sleep in the car, then get a cheap tent. Otherwise, get a good tent with a big and generous rain fly. We have this Coleman, which is supposed to fit three people. Right. If you want room to move around, you have to get a tent that “fits” one more person than is actually going to sleep in it. I’d actually rather have a four-person tent so there’s more room to glamp out.
  • Tent tarp: You don’t want to put your tent right on the ground. It needs a buffer so it stays clean and dry.
  • Sleeping bags: Sleeping bags come in a variety of temperature ratings. Be sure to get one that will keep you warm! We have the “Elk Hunter” (gross name) from Rustic Ridge. I don’t like nylon sleeping bags, so even though these fabric ones are heavy, they are more comfy and super-retro (plaid!).
  • Sleeping pads: Guys, your lady will win this one, so just go ahead and get the inflatable beds straight away, OK? We got these inexpensive ones from Target and they’re comfortable enough. Don’t forget to buy a battery-operated pump. The electric ones and the car ones are sometimes cheaper, but you won’t always be near electricity or your car. One day my glamping dreams will come true and I’ll have two cute vintage military cots, but till then, these beds work great.
  • Chairs
  • Tent light: Hey, it’s dark in the wilderness.
  • Tent mirror: Ladies? We used to keep one with our tent, but it’s lost. I haven’t really missed it, and trust me, we don’t look great.
  • Mallet, hatchet, knife, multitool, twine, other tools: You need a mallet to drive tent/canopy stakes into sometimes-hard ground; the hatchet helps with the firewood (for some reason, the bundles you buy at the store have logs that are way too big—release your inner mountain man and cut that wood down to size); knives and other tools, because sometimes, you need to cut stuff, tie things together, or bend something.
  • Firewood/charcoal and shovel for fire: Are you good at charcoal grilling? If so, you may be able to cook on a campfire. Always get more wood than you think you need. At least two bundles per fire. Some people like to use premade logs like these. Don’t do this. Learn to make a fire. Be sure the campground has fire pits with grates on them!
  • Camp stove: Or maybe you’re not Jim Bridger and want to just use a camp stove. I have my heart set on a cool old vintage stove, but they’re hard to find in good condition so we’re thinking of getting one of these Colemans. If you get something that requires propane, remember that, too.
  • Matches and a lighter: We bring both just in case. We experimented with emergency fire makers, but we couldn’t make fire with them, so …
  • Fire-starter sticks: I am pretty good at making a fire thanks to Martha Stewart, but we bring these anyway, just in case. I don’t really like to cook on a fire that was started with them, but will if we’re in a pinch.
  • Newspaper: To start the fire without having to use the fire starter sticks. Journalism!
  • Water holder/canteen: Ours has a strap so it’s a lot easier to carry than bottled water.
  • Fishing gear: Unless you don’t fish. Then you’re wasting your time bringing a tackle box with some Woolly Buggers.
  • Fishing license: Yes, you’ll need one if you’re going to fish. And some Woolly Buggers!
  • Rain slicker/poncho: It will rain.
  • Extra sneakers: It will rain.
  • Flip flops
  • Swimsuit
  • Sun hat
  • Extra socks: Nothing like putting a clean pair of socks on to make you feel human again. No lie. This is actual sincere truth. Putting on clean socks is heaven on a camping trip.
  • Cold weather: If it’s going to be cold where you’re going, also bring long underwear, a warm hat, sweaters, and a coat.
  • Toiletries: Don’t forget to bring your meds and a toothbrush. And some Chapstick.


  • Cash
  • Cast-iron skillet: Cast-iron cookware is the best for camping. You can cook over the fire with it, and it works great if you use a camp stove. It’s pretty much indestructible.
  • Cast-iron sauce pan
  • Tin foil: You can wrap food in it to cook in the coals, you can line the grill with it, and you can wrap leftovers in it. You can also fold it into a hat.
  • Skewers: We use the long skinny ones for cooking hots dogs and roasting marshmallows.
  • Tongs: The long heavy-duty ones for BBQs work great.
  • Large fork/spoon/spatula/whisk: I just use the ones from my kitchen. Whisk you say? Wellllll, sometimes I want whipped cream for desserts or hot chocolate.
  • Splatter screen
  • Mixing bowl
  • Oven mitts: Again, the heavy duty BBQ ones are best, but the kitchen kind are OK. You can move logs from the fire, too.
  • Trash bags
  • Tablecloth
  • Bucket
  • Dish soap
  • Sponge
  • Towels
  • Paper towels
  • Hand wipes
  • Broom/dustpan
  • Cups/glasses/mugs
  • Plates/bowls: Depending on my level of fanciness, I bring either paper, plastic, or the ones from my kitchen.
  • Utensils (knives, can opener, corkscrew, silverware, etc.)
  • Cutting board
  • Condiments
  • Salt and pepper
  • Beer, wine, whiskey: All of this. Preferably with screw-off tops. Some suggestions: Whatever local craft beer is in the area you’re camping; Old Grand-Dad bourbon, 100-proof.
  • Butter
  • Tea/coffee: I recently discovered coffee in tea bags, you just pour boiling water over them. It wasn’t half bad
  • OR Espresso maker: It’s really just a glorified percolator, good for using on the campstove if you don’t want to use the coffee bags.
  • OR plastic pour-over for hipster cred
  • Sugar
  • Milk/half and half
  • Cocoa
  • Groceries
  • Prepped meals: This will be a different post. Meanwhile, search Google for tons of ideas!
  • Large gallon jugs of water: One gallon per person per day for cooking, cleaning, and drinking
  • Small water bottles
  • Thermos
  • Candles: I got the battery-operated ones last time we went and they were great. They didn’t blow out and they weren’t a fire hazard. I even used them in the tent for max glamping ambience.
  • Battery powered fairy string lights.
  • Rain slicker/poncho
  • Tennies/water shoes
  • Flip flops
  • Swim suit
  • Hat
  • Extra socks
  • PJs/long underwear
  • Warm hat
  • Tote bag
  • Sweaters
  • Coat
  • Sunscreen/bug repellant: don’t leave this at home!
  • Umbrella
  • Toiletries
  • Meds
  • Baby wipes
  • Face wipes
  • First aid kit
  • Vitamins
  • Bath towels
  • Blankets, quilts, picnic blankets, throw pillows- optional for inside/outside/extra comfy/glampy
  • Door mat: Very important for keeping dirt out of the tent.
  • Toilet paper
  • IPad/charger
  • Camera

Yes, it looks like a lot, and it probably is. Maybe you don’t need everything on this list, but it’s a good place to start.

Camping at Railroad Bridge, Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado

We never did get to camping at Railroad Bridge after we said we wanted to. We moved to Chicago shortly after that post was made and haven’t been able to go camping much. But we visited Colorado Springs to get the rest of our stuff from storage a few weeks ago and decided to go then. Our friends Shawn and Chenelle (and Bert!) came with.

First things first: Donuts from Amy’s in Colorado Springs. Since the Donut Mill is so unreliable, and Amy’s is new, we thought we’d give her a try. They were good!

amy's donuts, colorado springs

On our way! Rain as per usual.

rain in colorado

As soon as we got there we set up the tent and the rain fly! Since we sold the trailer, we’ve been tent camping again- but we bought a good Coleman tent with a huge rain fly. So far so good.

waterproof coleman tent

Next up, some fishing for Mike. Be careful, that water is deep and fast moving!


While I lounged and took pictures.




Eventually Shawn, Chenelle, and Bert(!) showed up.

bert and shawn at arkansas river

Later Shawn decided to try to make a campfire with some high tech fire starters he was reviewing for his blog. I scoffed and made one the old fashioned way.


Still trying…

how not to build a fire

Mine is taking off.

me and my fire

The guys finally gave up and used my fire for some tasty hot dogs.

The guys finally gave up and used my fire for some tasty hot dogs.

campfire dinner






goodnight moon

The next morning we tried to make another fire so we could boil water for coffee since we didn’t bring a stove. It was not as easy as we thought it would be but somehow it worked out. This coffee in tea bags isn’t so bad.

coffee in tea bags

Found a nice spot to drink it.


arkansas river, arkansas headwaters, colorado

Then packed up, took a couple more pictures, and went for breakfast in Buena Vista.



Had some coffee and a yummy breakfast burrito at Buena Vista Roastery.


Buena Vista Roastery, Colorado

Also got to see my favorite Colorado phenomenon: raining while it’s sunny.



colorado weather

Hope to return soon.


We sold our cute little vintage Play Mor travel trailer last month, so here’s a repost from last year

When we got this beat-up little trailer, we didn’t know how much work it’d be — or how much fun! Every project seemed to lead to another project, and so on. We had to leave the trailer behind for now, but we’re by no means finished with it.

Here’s a quick roundup of the work we’ve done on it so far:

  • Painted interior
  • Painted exterior, bondo’d and filled holes and imperfections
  • Changed tires
  • Repacked / greased bearings
  • Replaced screen in door
  • Lubricated leaf springs
  • Upholstered cushions
  • Caulked and sealed exterior seams
  • Replaced exterior trim screws
  • Changed taillights
  • Replaced exterior outlet access
  • Installed bottle opener (probably among the more important upgrades)
  • Replaced wood under rear skin
  • Removed carpeting
  • Installed LED interior lights
  • Replaced exterior cord housing
  • Replaced fresh-water hose
  • Replaced drain on water tank
  • Replaced supply line on water tank
  • Installed flanges on exterior water supply / drain
  • Replaced all interior hardware
  • Replaced ice box with storage shelves
  • Made curtains
  • Installed interior trim / moulding
  • Shortened bunk bed for storage needs
  • Installed Ikea bathroom shelf and toilet paper holder
  • Purchased a portable toilet
I know a lot of you all out there are restoring and fixing up your old Play-Mors (and others). How’s it going?

Here she is on one of her very first trips — to Deckers.


And here she is on her final trip, somewhere in Wyoming.


A work in progress. We used Clark & Kensington exterior paint we picked up at Ace Hardware, and despite my reservations about its durability, it went on well and has held up so far.


The interior as it was when we bought it. Dark and panelly.


Cushions fresh from the upholsterer.


After some sprucing up, and with the cushions in place. Much lighter.


Now, with curtains and the bedding. Downright livable!


The best part of any project is napping in the middle of it.


The dining room, complete with chandelier.


In the dark of night, Blair Witch-style.


Getting the bearings out and lubed up.


After pulling up the nasty carpet, we find the original floor in excellent shape. Score.


When I said earlier that the best part of the project is napping in it, I was wrong. The best part is enjoying a beer in it beside the creek.


When it came time for the tedious interior painting, Adrienne got in and worked the tight spots.


Hard to believe this thing ended up looking as good as it did.


Some paint, some shelves, and it’s so much nicer.


Adrienne’s bedroom. Cozy.


This is typical of what the exterior looked like: Skin peeling off the edges, stripped screws, weird wires attached to the seams for no reason at all.


Part of what makes the whole thing work so well are the details, like this candle thing. This is Adrienne’s doing.


New paint, new reflectors, new screen door, and this old gal’s ready for travel.

So we’ve packed her away for a while till we figure out what we’re doing with our lives, and I can’t wait to get back to camping. There is beer to drink and fish to catch.

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado

While we were up at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, we went and checked out a few other campgrounds. Most of them were as unremarkable as Rincon, but there was one we really liked and will probably go camping at next summer.

Railroad Bridge is really neat. The camper/trailer/RV spots aren’t that great because they are set up in a parking lot type configuration. But the tent sites are really nice. Lots of plants and privacy.

Railroad Bridge trailer and RV area.

Railroad Bridge trailer and RV area.

Railroad Bridge tent site

Railroad Bridge tent site

Railroad Bridge campground is on the Arkansas River away from any major roads

Railroad Bridge campground is on the Arkansas River away from any major roads

Lots of fishing in The Arkansas River at Railroad Bridge campground

Lots of fishing in The Arkansas River at Railroad Bridge campground

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Railroad Bridge Campground, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Colorado

Might have to bring the tent!