Drive-in Camping Gear

As I get older I’ve realized that as much as I still love hiking and backpacking, by body is not as young and spry as it used to be.  Drive-in camping allows me to still get out and connect with nature but with more creature comforts to keep the aches and pains at bay.

I still do a lot of hiking and backpacking which means that most of my gear is compact and lightweight. Everything I need has to fit in or on a backpack. When I do decide to opt for the luxury of drive-in camping, there are a few items that just make the experience a little more like home.  Especially if I decide to boondock in the middle of nowhere. 

Best part of all is that it didn’t cost much (for the most part) to bring more comfort with me. Here is my list of drive-in camping gear…

10’x10′ Canopy

While I like looking up at the stars at night, I also like to be able to get out of the sun during the day. I also prefer to stay dry while I prepare and eat my food if it is raining.  Got this on an end-of-summer clearance sale at Dick’s for $50 a few years ago.

Drive-in Camping

The one thing I realized with this is if it is windy or rainy, you might want to get some sidewalls to offer better protection.  Just make sure you get the correct ones as there are slant leg and straight leg canopies.

Additionally, while it is free-standing, you should consider anchoring the legs to keep it from turning into a kite with the wind.  If you are camping you should be able to get by with using the stakes and ropes but if you are using this on a concrete or paved surface buy some weights to put around the legs to keep it in place.  There are many designed specifically for this purpose.  The most common are just fabric bags with straps/Velcro to attach it to each leg.  You supply the weight by filling the bags with rocks, sand, etc.

4-Person Dome Tent

This provides much more room for spreading out, relaxing, storing gear, or fitting more people in. A far cry from the 2-person backpacking tent or single person hammock.  This Coleman 4-person Evanston with screened in ‘porch’ was a Costco special that I got for $50 in 2015. Rainfly is not on in this picture.

Drive-in Camping

Inflatable Mattress

These are becoming more common.  I have a self-inflating pad I use but as I continue to age it is only a matter of time before I need to upgrade to something a little larger with more cushioning/support. Walmart has a selection from $10-25 depending on the size you get.

Drive-in Camping

If you get one of these, make sure to also grab an electric inflator/deflator.  You won’t be blowing this one up with your mouth. There are both standard battery and rechargeable battery models available for $10-20.

Collapsible Cargo Wagon

Yeah, I’m not carrying all this stuff from the car to the campsite if I can’t park next to my campsite.  I can fit a lot more in this wagon and make less trips back and forth.  Got this at Walmart for about $30 in 2018. I love the extra side pockets that hold smaller items.

Drive-in Camping

Moisture Resistant Totes

I prefer my gear and food to stay dry not just from the rain, but the dampness of the forest.  Oh, and there are those pesky little critters and bugs that seem to get into everything… not anymore.

These totes have a small foam strip in the lids that creates a seal to keep out moisture and bugs when the clamps are locked into place.  Cost varies based on size of tote. Mine are Ziploc branded, but there are no-name brands out there that work just as well.  Costco gets them periodically and their price can’t be beat.

Drive-in Camping

NOTE: These are NOT bear proof or designed for preventing scents from catching the interest of other woodland critters.  If you are camping in bear country or concerned about other wild animals there are storage containers specifically designed for that.

7 Gallon Water Jug

It is nice to bring along 7 gallons of fresh water that I don’t have to purify with a filter, straw or tablets.  These 7-gallon jugs are just $15 each at Walmart.  It comes with a spigot to make dispensing the water easy.  Just realize that filled each one weighs close to 60 lbs., so you are going to want to secure them while driving so they aren’t bouncing around and leaking or breaking.

Drive-in Camping

2-burner propane stove

The classic Coleman 2-burner propane stove provides more surface area for actual pots and pans, and I don’t have to worry about them tipping over like the backpacking stove on an iso canister. 

Drive-in Camping

Got mine for a steal on Amazon: $40. Also bought the carrying case to protect it and it holds 2 standard propane canisters.

Percolating Coffee Pot

While backpacking I use instant single serve packets that I can mix in hot water, no mess, no fuss. But making a real pot of coffee in the morning tastes so much better. When driving in I can bring whatever grounds I like and enjoy more than a cup if I want. I have had my percolator for over 30 years, but new ones today will run you between $15-60 depending on brand and size. Some use theirs over an open fire, but I just use on the propane stove.

Drive-in Camping

Cook Set

The ability to actually prepare food.  As good as backpacking food has become, it’s nice to make something that doesn’t just need to be reconstituted with boiling water. I have an old Coleman backpacking set from the 90s that is still going strong.  There are so many available, find one that fits your needs.

These GSI kits: Glacier Stainless Camper or Pinnacle Camper are 4-person kits that include a mess set with insulated mugs.

This Stanley Basecamp kit include pots, pans, utensils and a mess kit for 4.

Cooking Utensils

When you are doing more than just boiling water, you need gear to prepare the food with.  You can buy kits online or just head to Walmart or the dollar store and pick up what you need for cheap. Just keep in mind if you have non-stick pans to get plastic/wood utensils and not metal.

Camp Mess Set for 4

I don’t mind eating out of a bag. Keeps cleanup to a minimum, but when preparing real food it’s nice to have a plate, bowl and cup even if it is just plastic. It even comes with 4 sporks. Very durable and more that up to the task. Cost: $30 on Amazon

Insulated hot beverage mug

I’ve used the cups above for both coffee and cold drinks but on crisp mornings or evenings, you are going to want an insulated mug to keep your coffee, tea or hot chocolate hot while you drink it.  The example below is an Ozark Trail 12 oz. Stainless Steel vacuum insulated coffee mug.  You can find these types of mugs from dozens of other brands ranging in size from 10 oz to 18 oz.


Pancakes? French Toast? Grilled Cheese? Hash Browns? Bacon? Sausage Patties? Eggs over easy? CHECK! Could I make these in a pan? Sure, but nowhere near as easily and the larger non-stick surface spans both burners of the propane stove allowing multiple items to be cooked at the same time.  Cost: $16

Drive-in Camping

Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Not to be confused with your brightly colored enameled stove-top Dutch oven, a camping Dutch oven is bare cast iron designed for open fires and charcoal. It brings back memories of my youth camping with the Scouts.  I can’t tell you how many cobblers, stews and breakfast skillets I cooked in one of these. Makes for an easy one-pot meal or decadent dessert.

There isn’t anything I haven’t seen made in one of these, from pizza, to pasta, to casseroles, stews and stir-frys. Donuts? Yep, Cinnamon rolls? You betcha.  Prices can vary wildly on these depending on brand, size and quality.  I have another article that goes into all the details you need on Dutch ovens here.

Drive-in Camping

70 Qt Cooler

Have I mentioned preparing real food? The ability to have fresh/cold items in the forest is a major bonus to dehydrated foods.  It also allows for leftovers to be stored.  I don’t have one of those really expensive Yeti ones (yet), but this Coleman one has a 5-day ‘extreme’ rating and it only cost me $48 at Walmart.

Drive-in Camping

Wash bins

The downside to all that cooking? Dirty dishes.  Solution? Collapsible wash bins.  Got these for about $10 each on Amazon.  They are very rugged and can be used to wash dishes, hold fruits or vegetables, or create a tabletop ice bucket with cans or bottles in them.  When not in use, they collapse down to take up much less space.

“Normal” sized Folding Camp Chairs

Don’t get me wrong. I love my backpacking chair (below). It is way more comfortable than that rock or log you are sitting on. 

But if I’m driving in… I’m bringing the bigger chair with armrests and a cup holder, especially when they start at only $7 at Walmart. 

Battery Station w/ Solar Panels

There is no getting around it.  Our modern world revolves around technology.  It requires power. Having power off-grid can really up your experience. From being able to charge your smartphone or run a laptop to grinding your coffee beans and using that blender for some fancy drinks. Maybe you want to string up some LED lights. How about a small portable projector that you can connect to your phone via Bluetooth so the kids can watch a movie you downloaded on the side of the tent or a sheet you hung between two trees?

This gear item is on the more expensive side depending on the size you get but to power the bigger items you need something that can supply the juice.  Goal Zero and Jackery are two good brands that have a wide variety of options for all price points.  This Jackery 1000W battery with 2 solar panels will set you back $1500.

Don’t need something this big? They offer smaller battery packs at a lower price point.

Battery Packs

If you just need something to charge your cell phone try a battery pack similar to the one below. For $30-$40 you can get a wireless charging pad on one side, solar recharger on the other side, flashlight and 2 USB A and 1 USB C port on the ends.  There are dozens of brands in this space.  This one I got on Amazon in 2020 for $33.

LED Lighting

We just talked about power right? Having lights for your campsite at night is a big bonus.  From LED bulbs, tiny flashlights or headlamps to combo spotlight/lanterns that use 3 AA batteries you can get a lot of different lights to set the mood after dark. A two-pack of the lanterns will cost about $20 and a 4-pack of the LED bulb go for $10-15. The rechargeable headlamp runs about $15. Check out my article on portable lighting here.

Ax, Hatchet and Bow Saw

These items are becoming less necessary to have as the drought in the western US has all but completely banned any open fires due to the risk of wildfires. If I can have an open fire though you need something to prepare the firewood.

Camp Grill

If I can have an open fire, I love to cook over it.  A simple collapsible grill like this does the trick. 

It has two size grate openings…the bigger grate is for pots and pans…the smaller grate is for grilling or cooking directly over the flame.  Just remember to apply dish soap to the outside of any pots and pans before you cook over the open fire. Makes cleaning up the ash/soot/burn marks so much easier.


Need to shelter in-place but the power is out? Have to evacuate but don’t want to go to a shelter in a gymnasium?  All this gear can be used in the event of a disaster to help minimize the impacts and stress caused by the disaster and provide some peace of mind until things can return to normal.


So that’s my list of items.  Have something else you take with you? Let me know in the comments below.

Last Updated on August 30, 2022