The Drive‘s Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide, Car Camping Edition

Looking for that perfect gift for the car camper in your life? Look no further than this list.

byWill Sabel Courtney|
The Drive‘s Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide, Car Camping Edition

You learn a few things about car camping when you spend a week doing it out of a Lamborghini Huracan Performante: how to maximize the space available in a 2.47-cubic-foot frunk; the surprising versatility of all the tiny nooks hidden around the cabin; the virtues of using the front axle-lifting hydraulic system early and often. (Pro tip: If there's any question as to whether you should raise the nose...raise the nose.) But most of all, you learn that car camping and supercar camping, really, aren't the same thing. After all, one of the glories of camping out of an automobile is being able to make the most of its interior space, free electrical power, and in many cases, off-the-beaten-path capability...all things a pavement-scraping four-wheeled Gemini capsule equipped with a radar detector sucks at.

Camping out of a car, for most sane people, is about bringing an extra little chunk of civilization with you to the great outdoors. It's about never needing to worry about pitching a tent in the cold, or drinking warm beer, or having to find some way to pare down your possessions to whatever you can carry on your puny, trail mix-fueled body. It's for those who paraphrase John Muir and say, "The mountains are calling and I must go...but I still want to park my butt on a heated seat at seven o'clock in the morning while I'm there."

So, for those among you who may be planning your next automotive sojourn through nature—or for those who might be in the midst of their holiday shopping for such a person—take these six items ideal for car camping and move them to the top of your list. And if you're thinking about going camping in a Lamborghini out of 2019...I suggest the Urus

Car Camping 101: Get an Air Mattress


One of the biggest advantages to car camping over the traditional kind: You can sleep on an actual bed. Those who aspire to #vanlife may want to rig up their vehicles with Ikea futons or Sealys or memory foam Caspers, but for the rest of us, an inflatable air mattress is a far better choice. Fold down the back seats of your station wagon or SUV, plug the pump into the car's 12-volt outlet, and you're length of a crappy pop song away from a comfortable place to catch some Zzzs. Need the space back the next day to stock up on firewood? Deflate it, fold it up, and cram it into the corner of the cargo bay until you need it again. 

The Etekcity air mattress is designed for outdoor use, with plenty of ground clearance and a durable PVC skin that'll help keep it from accidentally tearing on any exposed trim pieces. If your car's on the smaller side, the twin-sized mattress is probably a better bet...but if you have the space—and since it's an air mattress, it'll fill whatever space you have—I heartily endorse going for the queen version for the extra sleeping room.

Car Camping 101: Get a Multi-Tool

Carrying a multi-tool or pocket knife is the sort of common sense move many of us know we should do, but fewer of us actually manage to practice regularly. Still, camping and driving are two occasions when having a set of tools literally at hand could mean the difference between safety and danger. And while there are plenty of reputable brands out there offering compact, well-made tools, it's hard to go wrong with a Swiss Army Knife. 

And if you're going to tote around a Swiss Army Knife, wouldn't you want one as versatile as possible? The beefy Victorinox SwissChamp may be a little thick for an everyday carry knife, but if you can pop it into your cupholder or car door pocket—or if you leave your cell phone in the glovebox and keep the knife in your jeans instead—that bulk ceases to be a problem. Its myriad tools (including a tiny pen, a magnifying glass, and wire cutters in addition to the de rigeur blade and corkscrew) mean Victorinox promises it's capable of 33 different functions—and you can probably think of a few hundred more.

Car Camping 101: Get a Plug-In Cooler


There's nothing wrong with an old-school Igloo cooler or its ilk—a big double-hulled plastic box designed to passively insulate the perishables within. But such arrangements are dependent on internal chilling mechanisms like ice or cold packs, which a) begin losing their efficacy the moment you throw them in alongside your tuna sandwiches, and b) take up valuable space that could be filled by more tuna sandwiches. If you've got the power supply available, why not go for something that can actively keep your food and beverages cool all by itself?

The Koolatron Voyager may sound like a spaceship named by a seven-year-old, but this 29-quart coolbox is actually a primo way of keeping all your foodstuffs crisp and unspoiled, knocking the temperature inside the box down by about 40 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the surrounding air inside the car. And if your plans for a bonfire get rained out, fret not: it also doubles as a warming oven, capable of heating food up to 130º F.

Car Camping 101: Get a Boombox


Now, you may be thinking: But Will, the Bentley Bentayga I go car camping in comes equipped with a 20-speaker, 1920-watt Naim stereo offering the widest range of frequencies of any car stereo ever offered from the factory. Why do I need a boombox? Well, first of all, bite me. Secondly, and more importantly, you're presumably going to want to wander at least a few hundred yards away from the car at some point during your camping excursion—at which point that weapons-grade sound system is of zero use to you. Or you may want to listen to music for a lengthy period of time without worrying about the battery charge. Or you might want to keep the doors and windows shut to prevent errant bears from wandering in and wrecking your lovely leather upholstery. Trust me, you're gonna want a boombox. 

The Demerbox portable speaker is built from a compact Pelican case, and it maintains some of the utility of its donor body; open the clamps, and there's enough space inside for a wallet and keys and whatever other knicknacks you have in your pockets. Pop the Port Plug into the orifice on the front, and it seals up waterproof-tight, so you can bring it whitewater rafting if you choose. (It'll float if it falls out.) It even has a USB plug, so you can charge up your phone while simultaneously blasting your favorite campfire mix through the Demerbox's clear-sounding speakers via Bluetooth. Bonus points if your campfire mix has the Zac Brown Band on it, because Mr. Brown is one of Demerbox's owners.

Car Camping 101: Get a Coffee Maker


You could score your morning joe fix the old-fashioned Wild West way while you're camping: grind the beans by hand, boil a kettle over a campfire, pour hot water over the ground and strain them out 10 minutes later. But, let's face it, if you wanted the old-fashioned outdoor experience, you wouldn't be camping out of an automobile. (Also, who wants to do all that first thing in the morning before they've had their coffee?)

Embrace the future; bring a Keurig. Specifically, bring the Oxx CoffeeBoxx, a rugged, heavy-duty coffee maker designed specifically for outdoor use at construction sites and campgrounds. It's strong enough to support three-quarters of a ton without being crushed, holds enough water to make seven full-size cups of coffee before the tank needs to be refilled, and can go from a cold start to coffee in 100 seconds flat. (It does require a 120-volt plug, but many cars and trucks offer one nowadays, so that's less of a problem than it used to be.)

Car Camping 101: Get a Jump-Start Kit (Just in Case)


It could happen to anybody: You spend too long listening to the radio or watching DVDs (or, more to the point for this list, inflating your air mattress and making coffee) and you drain the car battery past the point where it has enough juice to kickstart the engine. Annoying, if you're in the Costco parking lot. Potentially life-threatening, if you're on an off-road trail 50 miles from the nearest town. 

Instead of taking the chance, throw a jump starter in the car before you hit the road. (Just remember to charge it up at home first.) The Gooloo SuperSafe car jump starter packs enough electrons to bring a 7.0-liter V8 to life, while also including a pair of USB fast-charging ports to juice up iPads and smartphones if need be. It also has an integrated LED flashlight that includes strobe and SOS functions, in case things get really bad. Which they probably won't. But like the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared, right?