02/07/2019
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Quick guide to packing your car for camping

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The amount of camping gear available these days is simply staggering. From carpets to air conditioning units, you can buy just about anything to make tent living easier and more comfortable.

As camping enthusiasts, we all love stocking up on new accessories. The problem is fitting it all into the car. Every family camper has to become an expert in car boot Tetris!

The reality is that most boots simply aren’t big enough to cope with the amount of kit you might want to take on a fortnight’s holiday for a family of four. Chairs and tables – and of course tents –  tend to be the worst culprits, Before you know it, you find yourself cramming kit in around the kids in the back seat (not recommended), then investing in a roof box and eventually buying a trailer. Not only do they require you to spend more money, but they can be inconvenient for driving and difficult to store on site.

It can all get a bit out of hand. Unless, that is, you are clever about it. We’ve looked out a selection of compact camping kit that will allow you all to pack everything you need for a long trip for a family of two adults and two kids, without using a roofbox or trailer – and without compromising on comfort.

Believe it or not, this little lot will all fit in the boot of a family car...  the key is to find gear that folds down as small as possible.

WHAT TO TAKE

1. FAMILY TENT The Robens Lookout 500 (£1,375) is a large, inflatable five-person tent in polycotton. Normally a tent of this size and style would be huge, but this packs down to a manageable 87cm by 43cm.

2. SLEEPING BAGS These four single bags – the Vango Nitestar Alpha 250, Outwell Celebration, Quechua Forclaz 10 and Robens Crevasse – are all more than suitable for summer camping and all pack down small, making them perfect for squeezing into corners of the boot.

3. SLEEPING MATS Self-inflating mats pack down smaller than airbeds and can be warmer and more comfortable and for the adults we’ve gone for a Robens Recharge (7cm thick) and the Outwell Dreamboat (12cm), which is almost as comfy as your bed at home! To make packing even easier, we picked out two Therm-a-rest sleeping mats, which roll up into a package smaller than a bottle of squash. These are designed for backpackers who are more concerned about size than comfort, but kids would have no problem using them for a couple of weeks.    

4. CHAIRS The Outwell Derwent and Vango Samson chairs are really comfy for adults but their folding design means they easily slot into the back of the car. The Pathfinder and Observer chairs from Robens fold up into tiny packages and are just the right size for youngsters.

5. KITCHEN TABLE The Heyfield Low table from Outwell is perfect for putting your camping stove on and folds completely flat so can slot into the boot with ease.

6. DINING TABLE Robens Trekker XL folds long and slim, so will fit lengthways behind the seats in most car boots. It’s easily big enough for a family of four to eat at.

7. PILLOWS In an ideal world, we’d always take real pillows on camping trips, but the reality is they take up a huge amount of space. The alternative is to bring nice compact pillows like these from Outwell (Conqueror and Constellation) and a couple of inflatable pillows we picked up cheap at Lidl and Tesco for the kids.

8. LIGHTING The Outwell Caph striplight rolls up into a tiny pack but provides enough light from its LEDs to illuminate your tent’s living area. The Opal, also from Outwell, is a small but powerful lantern, that also has a built-in wireless speaker. Two-in-one… now that’s space-saving!

9 THE KITCHEN SINK! The Collaps Washing Base from Outwell is fast becoming a campsite essential. It packs flat and takes up very little car space. Cheaper alternative versions are now widely available. 

10 WATER CONTAINER The Water Carrier is another brilliant Collaps idea – these are so good for compact camping and take up far less space than traditional water containers.

11 LAUNDRY BASKET This might sound unnecessary when space is at a premium, but keeping the tent tidy on longer trips is vital. The Outwell Caya folds completely flat so can sit at the base of the boot, barely taking up any space.

12 STOVE For most campers, a single-burner stove like the classic Campingaz Camp Bistro is perfect and it is easily stowed in the boot. It runs off a gas cartridge so there’s no need to take a bulky cylinder.

13 GRILL The Outwell Crest grill complements your stove, doubles up as a small barbecue, and packs easily.

14 COOL BOX Traditional coolboxes are large and bulky and take up loads of boot space. To save space, go for an inflatable version instead, such as the Outwell Pelican L or Quechua’s Ice Fresh.

15 KITCHEN BOX A good, solid kitchen box can store all your cooking and eating equipment without taking up too much car space.

16 POTS AND PANS Collapsible kitchen gear is now available in pots, pans, kettles, colanders and more, and many camping manufacturers produce their own versions. It’s absolutely brilliant for saving space.

17 WINDBREAK A windbreak can expand your outdoor living space and doesn’t take up too much room in the boot.


HOW TO PACK IT

  • You’ve got the gear and you’ve decided what you need to carry it. Now follow our advice for packing the car for your camping trips
  • Tempting though it is to just throw all the kit in the boot and hit the road, packing the car properly will save time – not to mention quite a lot of stress. Have a think and make a plan before you start.
  • Avoid all the “Who forgot the tin opener/bottle opener/airbed pump?” arguments with a handy checklist.
  • Think about which bits of kit you are going to need first at the other end and pack these last. Ideally, the tent wants to be nearest the boot entrance so you can reach it without unpacking everything else.
  • Try to secure heavier items such as stoves and barbecues with cargo nets and make sure that any gas cylinders are switched to the ‘off’ position.
  • Tough collapsible storage options for packing mean that your tent won’t be permanently cluttered – or your car for that matter. Cardboard boxes fall apart, get in the way and lack durability.
  • Tempting though it is to squeeze in gear around passengers, don’t do it. All that kit will be converted into missiles in the event of an accident.
  • Pack a coolbox with everything you need for a decent meal en route and your first meal on site. Being self-contained saves time, money and aggravation.
  • Drinks and snacks for the journey should ideally be packed separately and easily accessible in the front of the car.
  • Think about where the car’s spare wheel and jack are stowed and try not to cover it with mountains of gear which then needs to be decanted onto the hard shoulder in the event of a puncture.
  • Try to resist the temptation to pack your car to the limit. You probably won’t use much of the stuff you carry and it just creates more work and hassle.

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