By Dan Kidder
Managing Editor

For years I have loved packing my bag and hitting the trail to enjoy the deep wilds of back country camping. Now that I am in my 40th year, I have come to appreciate the comforts afforded the car camper. Those with small children also are going to be more likely to enjoy the camping experience when they can carry some more comfortable gear with them. Here is a run-down of some great items that will keep you comfortable while taking the family into the wilderness.

Coleman Instant Tent

Coleman Instant Tent
I can recall many times when trying to assemble a tent in the glow of the headlights of a truck, then sometimes hours later still trying to figure out the architectural monstrosity replete with enough poles to string a telegraph line from Boston to New York. Those issues are gone for good with Coleman’s Instant Tent. This roomy six person 10’X9’ tent literally assembles in less than two minutes. Simply spread it out, pop and lock the four attached poles, extend and stake it down. When the trip is over, it goes back into its bag in nearly the same amount of time. The tent features the integrated WeatherTec System, so it doesn’t need a separate rain fly. The material is a 150 Denier Nylon, which is twice as thick as many other tents. Its roomy interior, double taped seams, 5’ 11” height and innovative assembly make this a tent for the whole family to enjoy for many outings, large or small.

Alps Zephyr 2

Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2 Backpacking Tent
Once the tweens turn into teens, it is no longer cool to sleep in the big tent with the grown-ups and the little kids. To give the young adults a place of their own, Mom and Dad should consider the Zephyr 2 from Alps Mountaineering. While billed as a small, lightweight backpacking tent, the Zephyr 2 is a great getaway tent for two teenagers. It is easy to set up with only two poles. It features a free standing three season design, has a UV resistant rain fly and a 2000 mm multi-pass coating that keeps you bone dry. In warmer weather, pull off the rain fly and the walls are completely made of mesh. Extra large zippers make entry and exit a cake-walk and all of the seams are factory sealed to keep out falling and ground water. The 7×19-inch packed size and 4 lb. 12 oz. weight make this a tiny addition to what can already be a packed car, but if you have those who need their own get-a-way during the get-a-way, the Zephyr 2 is the perfect companion.

Kamp-Rite CCTC 1-in-1 Tent Cot

Kamp-Rite CCTC 2-in-1 Tent Cot
Kamp-Rite has developed and perfected the fine art of car camping with the use of their tent cots.  As the name says, it is a combination of a cot and a tent all in one.  These handy little items will fold up nicely and they will keep you out of the strongest of rains. It is 85” long by 28” wide and 40” high.  Folded, it is 6”x6”x42” and tips the scale at a mere 15 pounds. It is weight rated up to 260 pounds.
The Tent Cot is made with heavy duty 210 Denier Nylon fabric, powder coated steel frames and corrosion resistant zippers. The tent topper can be attached to the cot or used as a separate ground tent. Likewise, the cot can be used as a stand-alone cot or combined with the top to offer covering while keeping you off of the ground.

Kelty Goodnite Airbed

Kelty Goodnite Airbed
In my younger days, I would sleep on rocks under the open air or under trucks on the cold bare dirt if it were raining. Today, I enjoy a good cot or air mattress to cushion my bones from the ground.  Kelty’s Goodnite Airbed is a great way to end the jagged rock in the back or the ache that forms when you have lain on warmth sucking ground all night long. The Goodnite Airbed comes in both queen and twin sizes. What I most appreciate about the Kelty is that once inflated, it doesn’t require frequent adjustment in air pressure like many other air beds I have tried in the past. The queen sized bed is 10 lb. 5 oz. and measures 15x8x16 inches when packed in its included Binto Storage bag, along with an integrated foot pump.  My only suggestion for improvement is the included foot pump. If you get this bed, pick up an electric pump such as the Coleman Quick Pump because the pump that comes with the bed is very slow to inflate and will not work to help deflate the bed at all. Fortunately, the large, one-way valve in the Goodnite Airbed features a release valve that makes folding and deflating the mattress a breeze.

Portable Buddy Heater

Little Buddy Heater

Mr. Heater Buddy Heaters
Even in summer, camping in the high mountains can mean nightly dips into frigid temperatures.  Having a warm fire going in camp can help dispel some of the cold and the damp, but very few tents can withstand a major heat source like a raging fire close enough to transfer that heat into the tent. Mr. Heater has solved this problem with their Buddy Heaters.  The Portable Buddy Heater offers  up to 9,000 BTU/hr of heat that can be used right inside your tent.  The unit is small and compact, weighing in at less than 8 lbs, but it still cranks out plenty of heat over a 200 sq. ft. area. It can run on a single 1 lb. propane bottle or be connected to larger tanks with an optional hose and regulator.  The carrying handle gives you the ability to move the heater while it is running. Two major safety features: a low oxygen sensor and shut off and a tip-over sensor and shut off, prevents dangerous conditions so the heater can be used safely all night long.
The Little Buddy Heater sports the same safety features as the Portable Buddy, but in a smaller package. It attaches directly to a 1 lb. propane canister and provides  3,800 BTU/hr over 100 sq. ft. It weighs a mere 6.8 lbs. It ignites easily with a simple push button igniter/on button. Both units are CSA rated for indoor use. Rather than direct flame, the Buddy Heaters utilize a ceramic mesh that radiates heat outward to provide a safer and more effective heat source that will keep you warm in your tent on even the chilliest camping trips.

Coleman Northstar Dual Fuel Lantern
It gets dark earlier in the outdoors, so to extend your enjoyment, a good lantern is a necessity. The best lantern I have tested is the Northstar by Coleman. Being a dual fuel lantern means it will run off of liquid camp fuel or unleaded gasoline. Its single tube style mantle puts out serious consistent bright white lights. The Northstar uses Battery InstantStart to give you light without matches or repeatedly clicking manual starters. The lantern will run on high for seven hours on a single tank of fuel and a single gallon of fuel will power the lantern for the same amount of time as four, one-pound propane cylinders, meaning less weight to carry and less waste to dispose of. It also costs about a quarter of the cost of propane. The top and base of the lantern are covered in a porcelain enamel that prevents it from corroding or rusting, so you can use this lantern in all kinds of environments. The Coleman Northstar is made in America.

Coleman Northstar Dual Fuel Lantern

ThermaCell Mosquito Repellant Lantern

ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent Lantern
If you travel to areas where mosquitoes are a problem, place the ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent Lantern inside your tent.  Not only does it provide decent light, it contains a butane cartridge and insect repellent mats that drive mosquitoes and black flies away, offering 225 square feet of protection. We tested this technology on a recent trip to Louisiana by placing the ThermaCell atop a porch light swarmed by mosquitoes and within a minute there wasn’t a single bug within a 15-foot radius of the repeller. The lantern runs on four AA batteries and eight LEDs provide the light. Replacement butane cartridges and repellent mats are available and also fit in the ThermaCell Handheld Repellent Appliances. Far from just being pests and an annoyance, mosquitoes can be dangerous, as they are known to carry a host of diseases ranging from malaria to West Nile Virus. Protect your family with proper insect repellent and a ThermaCell repellent device.

Camp Chef Outdoor Oven and Stove

Camp Chef Outdoor Oven and Stove
For those of you who haven’t mastered the art of Dutch oven cooking, but would still love your fresh biscuits or pies while you are out on a hunt this fall, Camp Chef has come up with a solution in the Camp Oven.
The two burner stove top will get your coffee rolling while those fresh cinnamon rolls cook in the oven.  This well designed unit is no toy.  During a field testing experiment in Utah this spring, with outside temperatures in the teens, I was able to bake biscuits at 400 degrees which turned out nice and golden brown on the bottom and perfectly flaky and done on the inside.  The oven is the perfect size to take to any camp and with an inside oven dimensions of 16W” X 10H” X 10L” it will fit most any standard casserole dish.  During field testing, we used a disposable propane bottle which had plenty to spare after four days of cooking with oven and stovetop, but for anyone looking for a super extended stay, you can add the additional attachment which will allow you to hook up to a full size refillable propane tank.  The nonstick enamel cooking surface provided for very simple clean up.  The entire unit is made of stainless steel which will provide years of use with no rust and Camp Chef has also developed a padded cover which fully zips for easy storage of the thirty-five pound unit.  This unit is a must have for the camper who enjoys the comforts of home and it will surely go along on every trip I make from now on.

Camp Chef Propane Fire Ring
In the summer months in the southwest, dry conditions often make having a campfire a risky proposition, with many areas restricting campfires. The Camp Chef Propane Fire Ring gives you all of the benefits of a campfire with none of the drawbacks.  Using a standard barbecue propane tank, the Camp Chef Propane Fire Ring’s high output 60,000 BTU/hr burner puts the fire where you need it without smoke, wood or smell. Whether on the lanai of your high-rise apartment or the front porch of your deep woods cabin, the Fire Ring gives you the flexibility to enjoy a campfire wherever you may be. The Camp Chef Fire Ring comes with two extendable roasting forks, a carrying bag and 12 lbs. of volcanic rock and except for the propane tank, is ready to use right out of the box. The next time you desire S’mores, head into the back yard, turn the valve on and light a match. Anytime you need an instant campfire, this Fire Ring fits the bill to a tee. The Fire Ring is a great match to several other Camp Chef products such as their Campfire Popcorn Popper, and Round and Square Cooking Irons.

Camp Chef Propane Fire Ring and Rome Pioneer Camp Grill

Rome’s Original Pioneer Camp Grill
Cooking over an open fire is a great way to experience the outdoors. Many family campgrounds provide fire pits with heavy steel grates for campfire cooking. However, often these grates are damaged, filthy, or otherwise unsuitable for cooking. Also, if you are anything like me, I don’t always pull the family into established campgrounds and we have to make our own fire pit. For times like this, the Pioneer Camp Grill from Rome Industries is the ideal solution. The Pioneer Camp Grill is lightweight, adding less than a pound to your haul. It folds up small, but unfolds to an 11×16-inch cooking surface with 12-inch legs. Its chrome surface cleans up easily and prevents food from sticking. The crossbars on the grill are closely spaced to allow cooking of smaller foods such as hot dogs, but still allow plenty of heat to pass through for using pots and pans. We also found in our testing that the Pioneer Camp Grill is the perfect cooking companion for the Camp Chef Propane Fire Ring.

Rome Marshmallow Tree

Rome Marshmallow Tree
Another great companion to the Fire Ring is the Marshmallow Tree from Rome Industries.  This long, wood handled roasting stick features 10 prongs to allow a passel of S’mores to be prepared at one time. For every camping trip there is the one marshmallow roaster of such enviable skill that he or she manages to perfectly brown their marshmallow to a golden hue with the perfect internal texture to ensure maximum gooiness for the perfect S’more. Now, that person can take on the roasting of marshmallows for the entire crew, turning S’more production from a time consuming exercise into mass production.  When you have several hungry mouths to feed, the Marshmallow Tree is the perfect way to get the S’mores or weenies cooked and into their tummies quickly.

Buck Knives Cadet

Buck Knives Model 303 Cadet
When I turned 11 and had earned my Boy Scout Totin’ Chip Badge, my grandfather presented me with my first pocketknife, a Buck Cadet. Every young person should have such a time when they transition from childhood into young adulthood and the presentation of their first pocketknife is a great way to observe that transition. As far as first knives go, the Buck Cadet has all of the features that will make it appropriate for younger users. Its small size makes it ideal for smaller hands. Its three blades are made of 420 HC steel and do a great job of taking an edge and holding it well enough for younger users.  Far from being a wicked weapon, the Buck Cadet has all of the earmarks of a gentleman’s pocketknife. Charcoal Dymandwood and nickel silver bolsters lend a stylish air to this knife.  Combining a clip, spey and sheepsfoot blade into one package make this knife perfect for a variety of uses from whittling to opening packages. While not a locking blade knife, the strong internal spring requires a pound and a half of force to close the blade, which should suffice to prevent accidental closing.  The Buck Cadet is proudly made in the USA and carries the Buck name and logo which tells you the knife is the highest quality and a great value and also comes with Buck’s famous “Forever Warranty.”

Energizer Ultimate-AA Metal Flashlight

Energizer Ultimate 1-AA Metal Flashlight
As night falls, it may become necessary to leave the safe ring of light cast by the lantern. In those cases, it is good to have a quality flashlight to help you safely navigate, find gear or see if that cracking twig is a raccoon or a maybe a bear. Energizer has introduced a new series of flashlights that will withstand the harshest abuse while still delivering a bright white beam of light.  These darkness cutters use Energizer’s Lithium Batteries to achieve a consistent power supply for the bright LED bulb. The light I tested offered hours of use on a single AA battery. The LED Ultimate Flashlight features a clickable tailcap switch with enhanced microcircuitry that allows the user to ramp up or down the brightness to offer just as much light as you need or to preserve battery life. At full blast, the 65-lumen light was plenty bright to illuminate even the darkest night.