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As I was drinking my coffee I came across an article that promised to up my car camping game with just 6 new pieces of gear. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I opened said article and the total MSRP of the six pieces (a storage container, a chef’s knife, a folding table, a cast iron dutch oven, an axe, and ratchet straps) was a coffee-spit-take-inducing $1,157 before tax and shipping.
I love looking at high-end, quality camping gear lists as much as the next person, but not all of us have the net worth of Elon Musk and can spend $500 on a foldable camping table and $300 on a chef’s knife. A mortgage to pay for and diapers to buy shouldn’t prevent you from packing up your car and escaping into the wilderness every now and then, so here are some items that won’t break the bank and will still allow you to up your car camping game and enjoy every day spent out in nature.
To be fair, the Front Runner Outfitters Wolf Pack storage box that was featured in the article I read this morning wasn’t insanely expensive at $59 apiece, but for something that isn’t even advertised as weathertight, I wasn’t too impressed. These 30.6 qt weathertight storage boxes from Iris are just about the same size (19.7 x 15.75 x 7.75 inches), stack easily when full or empty to conserve space, and cost a whole lot less, though you do have to purchase a six-pack of them. They also come in different sizes to perfectly fit whatever your car’s cargo dimensions demand.
$300 is an absurd amount to spend on a chef’s knife when you’re cooking at a campsite. Sudden rain storms happen. You drop things. The last thing you want to be worrying about is your prized knife that was more expensive than your tent. That’s why I love this GSI Outdoors Santoku 6″ Chef Knife. The rubber handle and stainless steel blade are durable, it comes with a sheath when it isn’t in use, at 3.9 oz it’s light enough to take with you backpacking and it costs less than a steak, all while being backed by a full manufacturer’s warranty.
Most campsites that I’ve been to come equipped with their own picnic table that won’t blow over in a stiff wind, so I’ve rarely found the need to buy one. That being said, some more remote campsites don’t have these available, in which case bringing one along is a good idea. Jeep and Ford each have cool ones you can fit onto the tailgate of your vehicle, though this one is great if you want a standalone table by camp. It packs down to quite a small size and comes with a carrying bag, as well as a mesh basket underneath the table to put gear in or you can throw in something heavier, like firewood, to weigh it down in high winds.
The cookware in the aforementioned article was an 8qt dutch oven, so let’s go with that. This one from Lodge, a trusted cast iron brand with an incredible history, will set you back less than $80 and will make biscuits just as delicious as a $110 one. My go to cast iron for camping isn’t a dutch oven, but a skillet that I picked up at Goodwill for $3. It looked rough when I bought it, but after a few hours, some steel wool and a re-seasoning, I couldn’t tell the difference between the $3 find or the new one I bought earlier that year.
This post isn’t the first time I’ve brought up an axe. The one I use for car camping is this 14” version from Fiskars. It splits wood easily and it comes with a nice sheath that protects both the blade and you from any mishappenings. It came razor sharp from the factory, though, After a while, like any blade, it dulls. Thankfully Fiskars also sells a sharpener.
I’m a huge fan of ratchet straps. I use them all the time for all sorts of things, though most often it is to strap down paddleboards and duffels to the roof of my Subaru. These from Rhino are inexpensive, have a 1,823lb Guaranteed Max Break Strength, and are bright green, which is great for finding things in black storage bins at night while camping.
In some areas of the country, making a fire, especially in the summer, is a no-go. That’s where a stove like this comes in handy. I have a two-burner myself, but I rarely, if ever, use the second burner, so this one burner cuts down on space and money, all while achieving the ultimate goal: a delicious camp dinner.
There you have it, for $362.10 before tax (all of this can be had for free shipping if you’re a prime member) you can have everything that was in the article I was reading this morning, plus a gas stove. Sub out the cast iron dutch oven for the $3 skillet from Goodwill and use the picnic table that is already at your campsite and you’re under $210. Like I have previously mentioned, a lot of this stuff can be found at secondhand shops for much cheaper than that, though your mileage may vary. Camping is an activity that should be enjoyed by everyone, not just those who have a ton of money to spend on gear. Heck, even $362 is a lot of money, but by building up your gear over time, you’ll have an awesome setup that will make your time outdoors even more memorable.