Packing Lists: Alpine Style Car Camping

Its springtime, and with spring comes the road trips - places near and far, for a day, a night, or a week. The longer I'm gone the more elaborate my car camping gets - the shorter the simpler, especially for overnights, when I've been known simply to throw in a sleeping bag and called it good.

Somewhere along the way in our culture/community/sport/lifestyle/whatever, car camping became complicated. REI is probably complicit in this - just take a walk through and look at all the modern conveniences of the modern world re-built for the camping life.

Yes, car camping can be luxurious. But I live in a city, without off street parking, so packing means filling up a collection of plastic bins and duffels. If I'm lucky I found a parking spot on the block in front of my house and I can simply move the bins/duffels to the door, and then out the door to the car. If I'm unlucky the car is parked all the way around the block on the other side. And then I get to repeat the process when I come home, usually to the excited barking of two 50 lbs dogs who want me to wrestle while simultaneously unpacking.

Its a pain in the arse. So instead I go without - I sit on a foam pad or stand instead of a chair. I get cold deli food from my local grocery instead of cooking. My stove is primarily to boil water for hit drinks.
So here, then, is my alpine style car camping list. I use it for a night out or a weekend.


  • Car coffee mug
  • Spoon
  • Fozzil Bowl
  • MSR Reactor Stove with a handful of half-used canisters
  • Via instant coffee or French Press with ground coffee. This really depends on the trip - if its a single overnight and alpine start, I'll go with the Starbucks. If its a longer, or more leisurely, trip then I'll use the real stuff.
  • Tea/Apple Cider for dinner
  • Pastries for breakfast
  • Fruits and bars for lunch
  • Deli sandwiches for dinner
  • Chips and salsa for appetizers
  • Adult beverage(s) of choice - I prefer something stronger than beer because it doesn't need to be refrigerated.
  • Tarp or tent. I actually prefer sleeping under a tarp - but if the fly's are bad a tent is a must.
  • Air mattress and a foam pad. My concession to comfort - and the foam pad doubles as a seat. Be warned: an air mattress and dogs do not mix well together, no matter how well behaved or intentioned the dogs are. A crash pad can be substituted if its coming along already.
  • Sleeping bag - duh! I prefer a 20 degree synthetic that I got years ago. I don't have to worry about holes, or stains, or spilled coffee.
So my Kitchen stuff (minus the coffee mug that already lives in my car), gets thrown in a bin. My tent, unstuffed sleeping bag (its going in a duffel, why bother?), pads and extra clothes get thrown in a duffel. My climbing or ski gear get thrown in a separate pack, and that's it. A weekend in three containers, I can be packed up in less than 30 minutes and a quick trip to the grocery.

One day, I'll reclaim my road trip mini-van and eliminate a lot of the packing list. Who wouldn't like a car pre-packed with the kitchen and bedroom already set up? Meanwhile, I know it can be fun to bring along the expedition dome tent, camp chairs, the big coleman stove, and an entire cooler of food.

But more often, I like this method instead:  grab your s#!^ and get going.

photo from the Model T Ford Forum, www.mtfca.com