The Tranquilo Traveler's 2017 Car Camping Gear Guide & Last-Minute Father’s Day Gift List
It’s easy to impress Dad—all he really needs is a crayon-scribbled Father’s Day card and his family sittin’ round a campfire and he’s fine. Well, that and some properly brewed pour-over coffee. And a new camp chair. That’s all he needs. And a new pair of work gloves to tend the fire. And some tactical pants. And a smartwatch. And underwear.
You get the picture.
I’m a Dad who camps. Here are some random last-minute gift ideas for yours. Pick a cheap item or mix and match from this list to make one very happy father, grunting and stomping his way through the campground.
Coffee & Campfire
Let's begin with the basics: a sturdy pair of gloves, always a good alternative to ties for Father’s Day. Let’s set the scene: It’s sunrise. Everybody is still asleep in the tent. Dad pulls on his Glovax adventure gloves ($15), made with “a revolutionary yarn material” that is abrasion resistant, blade cut resistant, and puncture resistant. He grabs the most ferocious, jagged log from the pile and gently places it in the flames. Of course, he started this fire with a single match—but just in case he couldn’t, he’s happy he has a backup brick of ExtremeStart Firestarter ($5.98 for a 12-pack) hidden in the trunk of the car (Note: be discreet if you give this gift, so he doesn’t get the wrong idea). A related gift, for either a campfire or fireplace, this Pine Mountain 4-hour aromatic Java-Log Firelog is made from recycled coffee grounds and will help make that morning cup a fully immersive experience.
Speaking of coffee, consider a proper pour-over system to replace Dad’s trusty old camp sock. Pour-over funnels start at $2.99 for a plastic one, and go up from there. For the boil, check out this surgical-grade stainless steel one-liter kettle from Coffee Gator ($38.97, pictured above), with a curved spout specifically for hand-drip coffee makers.
Dad waits for the coals to burn down then grabs the heavy Dutch oven—already lined with parchment paper and prepped with gooey cinnamon rolls—and places it just right. He not only has to properly time the varying temperature of his fire, but he needs to time the finished product with the first sleepy-headed pajama-clad campers emerging from the tent. Camp craft is a rare art form. If your Dad is ready for the commitment of campfire cooking, get him this Dutch oven kit from Man Crates ($99.99, below), which includes a cast iron Campmaid oven with lid lifter/kickstand, a Camp Chef Chainmail Scrubber, cast iron conditioner, cookbook, and Pit Mitt (cause you can never give him too many fire gloves).
There are plenty of camp chairs out there, but there is a great deal gong on this Pure Outdoor Camp Chair ($20), which folds up small (under 3 lbs), and gets you just low enough to the ground to be able to bark commands and point at stuff.
Of course "coffee and campfire" also means "whiskey." Adding a small (or large, it’s all relative) bottle of bourbon to any camp-related gift is always a nice touch. Wyoming Whiskey's Small Batch Bourbon ($39.99) is a good choice, a company founded and operated by 4th generation Wyoming cattle ranchers who use regionally sourced, non-GMO ingredients.
Minivan, schnminivan. Turn that family truckster into an Australian Outback–inspired overlanding adventure-mobile with one of these awnings from Rhino-Rack ($198–$749), an Australian owned roof rack brand that recently opened a base of operations in Aurora, Colorado. Their Foxwing awnings provide up to 270 degrees of refuge from sun and rain, and fit on four-wheelers, pickups, minivans, and small to medium sized SUVs. You’ll be a car camping hero with these things.
Since driving in Colorado can look like this (see above), we try to keep a minimum level of preparedness around our vehicles. My wife and I each keep an emergency multi-tool on our key rings that would allow us to slice a seatbelt or shatter a window if we ever needed to. I’m also getting this larger aluminum IPX7 autoXscape ($59.97), which should be easy to find in the unlikely event of a water landing, i.e. rolling said minivan into a river or lake. It slashes a jammed seatbelt, breaks side windows with two steel glass punches, and has a flashing SOS light. I’m mounting mine somewhere under the steering wheel.
As a self-described boot nerd, I’m a big fan of Portland-based Danner Boots, a long trusted company (since 1932) which is releasing the above super-lightweight-but-tough-as-nails Explorer 650 hiking boot this July. It’s a waterproof, Vibram-soled boot made of suede and full grain leather. I like its classic style. For mud-season situations around the campground, Kamik is another venerable, family-owned boot company with sustainable practices. I like a short-medium rain shoe, like the Larslo from Kamik ($69.99) or the Yukon ($89.99, pictured above, right). The former is made of “100% of rubber rejected in the manufacturing process for black rain boots” from their zero waste factory in Montreal, with boot liners made with recycled water bottles.
For the kind of Dad who gets up before everyone else and hits the trail, this Icebug Oribi running shoe ($149.95, middle above), named for an African antelope, weights only 230 grams for my size 9. Equally important are the tractor tire outsole and rubber compound that sticks to the single-track.
Another option is Keen’s “Daddy and Me” pairings, a cute gift ideao, maybe with a ticket for a Daddy-daughter hike as part of the gift. Pictured here are the men’s and child’s Oakridge low hiking shoe, ($76, $44) in different colors; there are many other combinations and sizes for kids shoes for all ages.
Got a camping dad but still want a traditional gift? Go full sock: there’s this Balitello “performance dress sock”; and you can never go wrong with a few double-packs of Hi-Tec Socks ($20) for that medium weight, wool-cushioned (Merino/polyester blend) hiker—one for hiking, one to keep in his sleeping bag for dry, warm tent socks. While we’re on our feet, if Dad has any issues, throw in a few items from the Silipos Active line to treat his corns, blisters, bunions, sprains, and general foot pain.
Packing & Luggage
This includes car-packing, which always begins and ends with an accessible cooler. This year, upgrade Dad to a Pure Outdoor Emperor 25 Cooler ($99.99) with extra-thick walls, tie-down straps to prevent sliding in the car, tight rubber latches, and steel-reinforced, lockable corners.
For the organized Dad (or less-than-organized), there are great gift ideas in the RuMe Travel Kit, another Colorado based company. They make an assortment of bags and tags, specializing in unique foldable, rollable, or compressible items: check out this compressible SAT Pack that reduces clothing space to half its expanded size; or these RuMeID Luggage Tags ($14.95 set of 2) with a registered QR code to help Good Samaritans reunite you with your lost luggage; or these reveal quart travel bags ($12.95), which I like to use in my First Aid kit and sun/bug kits.
For luggage, how about a classy hardside that can can double as both business travel and camping bag. Dad can pack his gear and organize gadgets in style with this classic white Genius Pack Aerial carry-on ($179.99). He’ll love the secret laundry pocket (steamy used clothes never have to touch your clean stash again), other helpful compartments, and crush-proof design.
For the Kids
Family Camping Tip: choose a campground small enough that you can view the entire driving loop, so that (1) it won’t be too busy with traffic and (2) you can send your little ones off on a few dozen laps before bedtime and still supervise them. Yuba Bikes, known for their high-end cargo bicycles, has a Flip Flop Balance Bike for 1.5–6-year-olds, in both giraffe and cow patterns. My 4-year-old loves hers, especially placing her dolls in the cargo rack and rear saddle bags. Another tag-on gift for new Dads, for the littlest one to cuddle during the car trip, these plush toys from Pebble by Kahiniwalla are Fair Trade and giving women in Bangladesh an alternative to working for the larger garment industry. They make a soft, round-corner, stuffed “Peace Campervan” ($22.95) that would be perfect for a few dudes I know.
Weaponry & Gadgets
Here’s a random one: the Pocket Shot ($25 plus ammo and extra pouches, pictured in action above), a circular slingshot which consists of pulling back a portion of latex holding a projectile. It shoots up to 350 feet per second and they remind the potential buyer repeatedly that this “is not a toy.” Unless you’re a tin can–dingin’ Dad off in the middle of the woods on a bro-cation, that is. Then it’s fire away.
This Keyport Pivot ($19.99) is a cool tool to organize important keys, tools, and tech in your pocket into one unit. It holds up to 8 keys and contains a low-energy Bluetooth locator, a pocket knife, and a 12-lumen flashlight. They have a few interesting combinations of items on each of their multi-tools.
One of the bigger ticket items for some lucky Dad out there: an LG Watch Android Wear Sport ($349). I'm a late adaptor to some of this newfangled wearable tech, still deciding whether it will complicate or simplify my life. That is, if it saves me from taking my phone of out my pocket more than a few times a day, it may be a benefit (checking weather, reading messages, using fitness goals). But if it’s just another damn screen to distract me from life, well, I’m skeptical. For the campground, I can see a few good uses: you can keep track of steps on the trail, set a timer for Dutch oven creations, turn OFF all calendar reminders, use the flashlight during night trips to the pit toilet, and the stopwatch to make your kids race laps around the loop drive another 20 times before bedtime.
I’m trying this piece of Android Wear, even though I have an iPhone and run mostly on iOS. So far, many things synced up easily, but a few big ones haven’t yet. I realize that for the full experience, I should be on an Android phone, rather than just using the Android Wear app on my iPhone. Still, after trying out a Google Pixel recently, I just may make the switch. I can report that it feels as cool as I’d anticipated to talk into my sleeve, James Bond–style, to check the weather or my step count. Built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, fitness goal apps, Google calendars, music streaming; this thing can make phone calls, send messages, and use many apps when you go for a run or hike and leave the phone in the car.
Clothing & Accessories
Start at the bottom: Swampbutt Underwear ($18.99) are made from 91% polyester and 9% spandex, and give full-area tactical coverage, as the name implies. I’ve tested mine in the dry climate of Colorado, but will give them a run for their money in Managua next month.
Camping/travel tip: to avoid mosquitoes and too much sun, I prefer covering up to lathering up. Either with lightweight travel clothes, or better yet, ones with Insect Shield, like Craghopper’s NatGeo–branded shirts and pants. It’s nice to know you have an extra layer of protection when bugs get bad. This NosiLife Prospect Long Sleeved Check Shirt ($90) is a must-pack addition to both my high-country and tropical packing lists.
Dad will also probably dig just about anything from Carhartt, maybe some Ribgy jeans or shorts ($34.99–$44.99) that are lighter weight than they look and add a hint of stretch to the material. For tactical tough-guy pants, check out these Stonecutters from 5.11 ($79.99), pair them with a Scout folding knife ($39.99) which has a 3.5” steel foldaway blade. Over in Kickstarter land, this Trailhead Adventure Pant from Coalatree ($89.99), has an elastic waist and is a little stretchier for those long hauls, very packable, and made from recycled Nylon.
For shades, these Rheos Floating Sunglasses ($50) do what they promise (i.e. don’t sink), are polarized, hydrophobic, UV protection lenses; available in your prescription for a bit extra. Accessories for the hiking Dad who may want to try adding a little arm support: get him some Pure Outdoor Carbon Cork Trekking Poles ($29.99 for a pair) to try out. Another gift option could be one of these “shelter umbrellas” from ShedRain ($25–90). When you roll up on a campground and it starts to come down before you’ve had a chance to set up the tent or tarp, one of these umbrellas propped over the picnic table can save the day—or at least get the kiddos out of the car while Mom and Dad save the day.
What’s a practical travel gift that’s also kind of a hint? An antimicrobial fold-up travel toothbrush from Mouthwatchers ($5.99). For even burlier car-camping warriors, get Dad a Goby rechargeable toothbrush ($50 with subscription service to get fresh brush heads every one, two or three months). This thing will hold a charge up to two weeks, so he shouldn’t run out during the trip.
Last but not least, give Dad a local guidebook and take him on a trip. For your region, start by browsing the list of titles at Moon Travel Guides, especially the Moon Outdoors series. For my fellow camping Dads in the Centennial State, I offer my latest book, Moon Colorado Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping. My family helped me research this newest edition of the book, which lists nearly 500 campgrounds across the state—public, private, tents, RVs, you name it. As seen below, the book pairs nicely with most local Colorado brews, including Dale’s Pale Ale or a fine UpSlope.
Related Article: “The Burly Dad’s Ultimate Camping Gear Guide”