Is COVID-19 camping a thing? Sure seems like it. People who haven’t ever strayed off the sidewalk are suddenly buying tents, camp stoves, and other camping gear. And folks who have always camped are going farther and staying longer. This isn’t a part of the so-called glamour-camping phase, but an effort to genuinely re-engage with the outdoors. We’ve pulled together a list of gear that seems designed for the times: Artfully made, quality down to the stitches, and suited for the truck bed or SUV—gear for the long-haul and the long-term.
Big Agnes Salt Creek 3 SL Tent
This backpackable three-person tent is so packed with creature comforts that it pulls double-duty as a sweet car-camping shelter. A hub-style pole system creates near vertical walls to max out the interior space, while the thre-person setup is perfect for two people who like to bunk down with extra stuff, be it duffel bags or dogs. The tent is rigged with a shade-awning vestibule to boost its usable size, and think of the giant front-entry drop-down entrance—one of three full doors—as a garage door for a tent. It opens up the entire front façade for ease of nesting when you first get to camp, and incredible venting on warm days.
HEST Sleep System
It’s neither small nor cheap, but it is comfortable. A fave of the overlanding crowd, the HEST is just what I was looking for in a sleeping bag for the Hotel Silverado. It’s a double-pad system: The inflatable lower pad has me floating on air when bunking down in the truck bed, and will bridge roots and rocks and divots when I snooze on the ground. On top is a two-layer foam pad that pairs a high-density foam bottom with a top foam designed to minimize pressure points. It’s built tough enough to double as a futon-esque camp sofa. I’ve slept on at least 30 different camping pads over the years. I’m not sure I’ll ever sleep on another one.
Slumberjack Roadhouse Tarp
It’s no fun trying to rig a standard rectangular tarp over the back of a vehicle. It seems like a great idea—sheltering the tailgate and truck cap so you can cook, lounge, and eat no matter the weather. But the geometry doesn’t work. The pieces don’t quite fit. Which is where this ingenious truck tarp comes into play. It’s designed and cut to fit the backs of SUVs and trucks with camper shells, and provides a dry space big enough for a foursome to cook and hang out. A strap attachment system cinches it down to the wheels, while two included steel poles hold the other end aloft. Tarp, straps, poles, and stakes all come in a single carry bag.
Camp Chef Everest Stove
It’s a lot to ask of a portable stove: In the mornings, I want a tailgate blast furnace that will convert half-frozen water into black coffee, pronto. At night, I need a touchy-feely backwoods gas range that will go from low simmer to a searing flame without putt-putting out or flaring up around the frypan and torching all the hair off my forearm. And I want to be able to do it all with the convenience of a 1-pound propane canister. The Everest handles those Jekyll-and-Hyde requests. Each burner roars to 20,000 BTUs, hot enough for a full-size crawfish boil, but dials down to a barely visible simmer.
It’s the little things that matter, and when those little things come armed with six needle-like mouthparts that saw into your hide and suck out your blood, little things matter a lot. Therefore, praise the little Thermacell Backpacker, which packs a bit smaller than Thermacell’s better-known models, but burns longer and is just as effective at turning away the biting hordes. Thermacell units heat up a small fabric pad impregnated with a synthetic insect repellent. The Backpacker version runs off small backpacking stove fuel canisters, and is more convenient than the strap-on models when placing on picnic tables, rocks, or elsewhere around camp.
This thing is a problem-solver. The grill grate at your state park campsite a corroded rusty mess? Problem solved. Camping somewhere that doesn’t have enough rocks to pile up as grill supports? Problem solved. Cooking a meal that requires deft temperature control? Problem solved. The heavy-duty stainless-steel grill easily adjusts up and down on a stainless-steel rod, and swivels 360 degrees and locks into place exactly where you want it. It’s held in place with an ingenious two-piece anchoring system that allows you to drive the anchor into tough ground without a mallet or hammer. Everything fits into a carry bag to keep dirt and grease off other gear.
Zeus Portable Jump Starter
Getting there counts. Getting home is nice, too. With this compact truck jumper I freed up space in my off-road box by dumping bulky jumper cables, and gained the security of knowing I could start the truck when I ventured deep in the dark scary woods and left the truck door open all day. Not that it ever happened. With 1,000 amps of cranking power, it’s enough juice to start even a big diesel engine, and the 20,000 mAh storage capacity means it can sit in the vehicle for months and months, and still bring a dead truck battery to life. There are two USB ports and a 12V port charger for phones and other gadgets. If it takes more battery power than this to keep you happy, you should probably just stay home.
GSI Outdoors Escape 3L Pot and Fry Pan
It’s a funky approach to saving space in the camp kitchen, but this collapsible pot and accompanying frying pan shave both square inches and ounces. The 3-liter silicon pot body squishes down to just 2 1/2 inches tall. It’s built with dual handles, a hyper-conductive base to cut fuel use, and a trick hard-anodized lid with strainer holes. The pot nestles into a 9-inch nonstick frypan with a folding handle. Add a spork and plate, and your camp kit is toast.
Streamlight Syclone Compact Rechargeable Work Light
This tiny dynamo packs 400 lumens of both spot and flood lighting and is about the size of weight of a large chicken egg. It will stand up on its own, attach to metal with a powerful base magnet, or hang from a tree branch or guyline. It has become one of my constant camp companions. From roadside flat tires to camp side fly-tying on the tailgate, late-night reading in the tent, I’m constantly pulling this little bugger out of the pack. Headlamps are super useful, but there are plenty of times a dedicated work light makes camp chores a lot less trouble. And being able to recharge from a vehicle or backup portable battery is a huge plus.
VSSL Survival and First-Aid Kits
The problem with most pre-packaged survival and first-aid kits are that the components are frequently junk, often unneeded, and are packaged in a cheap container. None of which applies to the ingenious VSSL line of pre-packed or custom kits. The container is a tough and sleek machined aluminum cylinder that’s perfect for stuffing into duffels and packs. Small separate tins of gear stack neatly inside, and they range from first-aid supplies to fix-it kits for gear, fire-starting kits to wire saws, insect repellant, fishing tackle, and water purification aids. You can customize with end caps featuring a high-quality Suunto compass, carabiner clip, or LED flashlight. Or build your own with a personal mix of the three-dozen task-specific tins. About $125 for pre-packed or custom build-you-own units.