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Gear for Cool-Weather Car Camping

Men's Journal logoMen's Journal 12/3/2020 Men's Journal editors
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It’s hard to beat camping in the fall. Temperatures in the mornings and evenings drop, luring you to longer, cozier sleep, while the days remain warm for comfortable outings. Destinations that were too hot to visit in the summer, like the desert, or too crowded, begin to feel welcoming again. And mountainous landscapes begin to emit that particular kind of magic only autumn can bring.

Spring and summer of this pandemic-defined year saw a boom in everything outdoors—from bikes to camping gear, anything to get people outside and adventuring—flying off the shelves. Don’t let the cooler temps and darker days keep you from recreating outdoors; here’s the fall car camping gear to keep everyone in the family healthy and happy, kids included.

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Eddie Bauer Carbon River 4 Tent

Talk about roomy. If you’ve got a growing family and need an affordable tent that’s going to fit you all comfortably, while holding up to the elements, this four-person option from Eddie Bauer should be at the top of your list. Set-up is so easy the kids can help pitch in, no problem. Mesh panels offer breathability and ideal stargazing views, and the 50-inch center height makes the tent feel even more spacious.

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Big Agnes Double Bag + Kids Bag If there’s one thing nights on the ground teach you to invest in, it’s a quality sleeping bag. A bad night’s sleep can derail any camping trip, especially if you’re just getting kids used to the idea of sleeping outdoors too. That means, split up: Try the Big Agnes Sentinel 30 double bag for the adults, and a separate kids’ bag for each of your offspring (check out BA’s Little Red option). It all comes down to being comfortable, and Big Agnes is known for proven quality and longevity. For maximum use, pick a bag that’s got a temperature rating that fits a variety of locales.

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Note the Vasque boots, a solid hiking boot option for both parents and kids—the perfect stomp-anywhere camp footwear—solid meaning high comfort and low break-in period. For stretching fall into winter, the Vasque’s Breeze WT GTX provides an extra layer of elemental protection with added insulation plus its integrated Gore-Tex laminate.

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Front Runner Table

Picking out a camp table is tricky. First, it needs to be in stock (pandemic demand=serious production delays). Second, it needs to be easy to tote, pack, and assemble. And then it must still do its one job: create a capable cooking and eating space without being too cramped. If you’re car camping with more room to work with, check out the Front Runner Table. It integrates with the Platform Rack, but can stand alone as well.

The table is reasonably lightweight, and easy to clean and store. At 44.5 inches long and desk height, it’s got plenty of room for prepping and eating camp meals, and is tall enough for adults and kids alike to share.

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Fjallraven Kanken Bags – Adult and Kids

Most of us camping with kids in tow won’t be going on seven-day ultralight backpacking trips. (At least, not for your first adventure.) So the pack you pick doesn’t need to be the lightest, or that technical. Consider the classic Fjallraven Kanken. In a dizzying array of colors, the backpack also comes in matching kids’ and adult versions. It’s got ample room, plus a handy pocket for stashing goods gathered along hikes. It also comes with a hidden seat cushion, which is worth its weight in gold on longer hikes with lunch breaks.

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Rumpl Blanket

Rumpl’s blankets are perfect for family camping for a number of reasons, the most important clean-up. For small spills, simply wipe and let air dry. For larger messes, throw it in the washing machine after the trip. It’s versatile, synthetic-insulated NanoLoft Puffy blankets can be used however: for cozying up next to the fire, adding a bit of warmth and padding to the tent, snuggling up to read a book, or watching the stars.

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Maven Spotting Glass

Although technically made for hunting, Maven’s Spotting Glass works equally well for stargazing. The key for checking out the night skies (or the wildlife surrounding your campsite) is stability. If you’ve got a tripod handy, great. If not, choose a safe and secure place to rest the Maven, and keep an eye out for shooting stars.

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Adventure Medical Kits

It’s never too early to start teaching kids the basic rules of first aid, or too late to learn. Since emergencies are never planned, Adventure Medical Kits make a variety of sizes to fit different needs, and they come stocked with the supplies necessary for most camping trips. I particularly like the Day Tripper—it’s the perfect size for kids to carry in their own packs, and gives them the autonomy to take first aid into their own hands.

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GSI Indoor/Outdoor Games

Gone are the days of a deck of cards being the only entertainment on a camping trip. Although I’m all for simplicity when it comes to outdoor adventures, sometimes it’s nice to bring along a game or two. That being said, don’t lug around the board games from home. Sorry Monopoly: too bulky, and too many small parts to lose. That’s where GSI Outdoors and its indoor/outdoor games come in. The magnetized checker board comes in clutch during long car rides (or bumpy ones), and the bocce ball set is so portable and lightweight you’ll hardly notice you brought it, until you start playing.

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