With our epic National Park Quest beginning in just under a month, we’ve been busy preparing the setup for life on the road. Friends have asked us what kind of gear we’re using, so we thought to share 16 essential items we’ll have to make it happen. Truth be told, I’m super excited about downsizing and living with less for the next 18+ months. This information can help anyone interested in a nomadic lifestyle where car camping is your main lodging.
*Assumes basics like insurances and personal effects.
Car: Subaru Outback
We’ll be able to sleep in our car if worse comes to worst and we can’t find a place to camp. Or if there’s a blizzard. Believe it or not, we are both able sleep in the back along with our gear (thanks to a car top carrier). Yeah it’s a little bit of a squeeze, but we like cozy.
Grub Hub Camp Kitchen + Coleman Stove
Yes, we are taking a kitchen with us! The joke in our household is that I finally got my dream kitchen. Remember those little plastic play kitchens for kids? Well, I loved mine when I was a wee little one, and the Grub Hub Camp Kitchen is a super handy adult version.
A mobile camp kitchen will make long term road life more enjoyable if you like cooking from scratch. This is no problem for RVers, but Outbackers have to be a little more creative. Thankfully someone else realized this and designed the compact Grub Hub Camp Kitchen, which weighs only 32 lbs (empty) and measures 38” tall x 24” wide x 15” deep. How does it work? This video runs through the set up in less than 2 minutes:
The centerpiece of the Camp Kitchen is our Coleman Two Burner Propane Stove, easy to store and set up in seconds.
So it seems we can have a candlelight dinner after all. I can’t wait to share all the delicious camp recipes I’ve been preparing for the journey.
We decided a typical camp cooler just wouldn’t cut it. The heavy duty YETI Tundra Cooler will keep our food fresh longer and offers much more security. This thing is bear proof. With our plan to camp and make no trash, most of our food will be dried grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and roots. All those whole foods need a dry and cool place to hang out without bugs or excessive heat leaking in.
Wish our version was as versatile as the one in this clip (posted day before April Fool’s, last year):
Vortex Hand Crank Blender
That blender did look pretty sweet though, right? Okay, it might not be the most essential item compared to other things on this list, but as a smoothie addict, I fell in love with the Vortex Hand Blender the moment I saw it. You can be a nomad and still have green smoothies, how cool is that?? Check out the video:
Stay hydrated! Get a couple of large jugs to hold a day or two of water supply. Use public facilities to fill these up and you’re all set. An extra measure to consider is a portable water filtration system so you can improve the tap water.
We’re bringing along not one, not two, but three tents. This may sound excessive and you’re probably wondering where the heck we’re putting them, but here’s the breakdown:
- Eureka Amari Pass Tent for sleeping. We love this small yet hardy tent for its ability to go up and down in mere minutes.
- Field & Stream Wilderness 6 Person Tent for work. It may not be necessary for everyone, but if you need a place to hang out and get away from the drizzle, bugs, or sun, a larger tent is handy. This set up allows us to work on our art while we’re at camp.
- Backup tent. If you have the space, bring a third tent for those moments when your regular sleep tent got a tear and needs repair… or if you need to get away from your spouse :). Our backup tent is designed for backpacking and weighs about 3 lbs.
Being out on the road = spontaneous things happen. Not only are backpacks the perfect way to keep your personal effects in one organized system, they also allow you to go out on a trail for a couple of days and discover things away from the road. Our backpacks are:
Bad sleep = bad day, so we recommend not cutting corners on the sleep setup. Make sure you have a sleeping bag appropriate for the weather and don’t be shy about packing your favorite wool blanket along with a comfy (small) pillow. Hey, living out of your car affords some luxury.
Sleeping pads are essential. Although we have two self inflatable pads, we’re really excited about our Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Pad. This came recommended from Desk to Dirtbag, a great blog for inspiring nomads and those who dream of living on the road.
A hotspot is handy if you need internet beyond your smartphone. We briefly considered satellite internet and then quickly dropped the idea due to cost and slow speeds. Our next best option for price and convenience is a mobile hotspot with a data plan from Verizon. The nice thing about Verizon is that you can adjust your data needs on a monthly basis, so you can make adjustments depending on usage.
That said, we know from past experience that these hotspots suck up data real quick, especially with heavier tasks. Or the internet will inevitably fail is some regions. Plan work strategically by following these internet tips:
- Scout out local libraries for free WIFI. Services are typically for patrons only, but many libraries offer guest passes for out-of-state visitors with ID’s.
- Splurge $2 on a coffee or tea at place with WIFI and do your best to stay as long as possible while remaining courteous.
- Disconnect and turn hotspot off whenever not in use.
We look forward to testing out Verizon’s red coverage map.
Power set up
A hotspot is only good if it can stay charged, which leads on to one of the biggest challenges of this lifestyle: How do we keep our tools charged? With the help of trusted recommendations, we have the following set up to keep us going:
- Car power inverter to charge laptops, etc. (425 Watt Power Inverter)
- Solar panel + battery to charge whenever outside of the car, when sunshine permits.
We were nervous with just the car and inverter to keep us powered, so the solar panel + battery is a great second option when we’re not driving around much. Here’s how it works in five summarized steps:
- Choose a battery. We have the 12 Volt 35 Amp IT Deep Cycle Battery.
- Choose a solar panel. We have the Battery Charger, 12VDC, 0.3A.
- Connect solar panel to battery and charge (find sunny spot).
- Connect inverter to charged battery and use.
- Monitor battery charge with a voltmeter.
This looks like a future blog post all on its own – if you have questions just let us know!
Emergency + Safety Pack
These are must haves for emergencies, maintenance, and safety:
- First aid kit
- Small tool box with basics
- A good hunting knife
- Lights: Headlamps, flashlights, flares.
- Rope (never know when you might have to lasso someone. No really, a rope is helpful for all kinds of random reasons. Laundry line at the very least.)
- Small shovel
Pack up these three essentials to protect yourself on rainy days:
- GORE-TEX raincoat
- Rain covers for backpacks
- Tarp for beneath tent
Toll + meter change
Getting stuck at an unexpected toll booth without change is no fun. You’ll get charged a fee and have to pay by mail. Which travelers know is an extra annoyance. Keep a small bag of change in your dash, up to $20 if you can, and keep it stocked up for tolls and city meters alike.
Keeping yourself clean can also be a challenge without a bathroom around the corner every morning. Here are some tips to make it easier:
- Try to space out your paid camping sites evenly so you can utilize campground showers every few days. State park campgrounds are more likely to have showers.
- Truck stops. For many people those two words unfortunately bring up some scary images. Rest assured, truck stops are pretty awesome. Check out this review of one from Girl Meets Road: This Morning, I Showered at a Truck Stop.
- Dry bathing at camp.
Allstays iPhone App
All right, so you planned way ahead and know where you want to camp for the next month. But we all know things rarely go according to plan, which is more often a good thing. Of course there’s an app for that occasion. The Allstays iPhone App helps you find and filter upcoming rest stops, campsites, gas stations, and more.
Be sure to also keep an eye on these other two great camping resources:
A Road Atlas
Remember the good old days of paper road atlases when it took forever to locate where you were and you could barely keep the pages from flying in the windy car? This nostalgic artifact is a useful backup when your GPS gets confused and your phones malfunction. The next exit probably has some interesting person at a gas station just waiting to give friendly road advice.
What are your essentials?
As artists we have other essential gear (work tools, etc.), but this list of 16 are musts for maintaining a fun nomadic journey.
Stay tuned for next week’s post to see all these things in action! We’re going out on a little trial run through southern Ohio for about 4 days. Then it’s moving out of Cleveland and getting ready for the real deal on April 16th.
Fun fact: April 16th marks the first day of National Park Week to celebrate our national heritage, during which all parks are free to access. Maybe you can plan a little roadtrip of your own and get out there! Find a park near you.