Some of my friends tell me they don't like camping and that makes me a little sad. I love camping so much and I wish I could share all the great experiences I've had with them. When I camp, I feel like I'm in my home-away-from-home or my cabin on the lake. I love the tranquility and feeling of complete freedom.
I think most people don't like camping because it can be a bit uncomfortable. But with a bit of practice, it doesn't have to be. For me and Chris, it took about one season of regular camping to get ourselves to a point where we had everything we needed to feel totally at home. Each time we went camping, we would think of what we needed to make our stay more comfortable, then we'd make those changes for our next trip.
Over the last 10 years, we feel we've perfected our car camping experience. I'm sharing our ideas here as I hope you can use them to make your own camping trips even better.
Lots of pillows: Chris and I use 4 pillows when we sleep in our bed at home, so I also bring 4 pillows camping. No point in having a sore neck just because we're sleeping outside.
Memory foam mattress: We sleep on a double-wide memory foam mattress topper that we put on top of two single-wide therma-rest mattresses. I'm talking about the 3" thick memory foam mattress you get at Costco that's extremely comfortable. And when we add the therma-rests underneath, we have extra padding and never feel the ground.
Sheets: I put a fitted sheet over our memory foam mattress. And unless it's extremely cold, we'll also use a flat sheet with the sleeping bags on top acting as blankets. This keeps me from getting tangled in the sleeping bag.
Quality sleeping bags: Though I don't like having to cocoon myself in a sleeping bag, if it's cold out I have a great sleeping bag that I can zip myself into and stay completely warm. It's one of those high-end backpacking sleeping bags you get from MEC or REI, not the cheap ones you get at the same place you buy groceries.
Extra blankets: I love having a couple of extra blankets available to use by the fire or in the tent.
Tall tent: I want a tent that I can stand in.
Tent flooring: I like to put a blanket on the floor of my tent to make it more comfortable on my bare feet.
Clothing: I keep my clothing in my tent. I organize it next to the side of the bed that I sleep on. I lay my PJs out on my pillow and my warm clothes I may want for the evening at the foot of the tent (for easy access when I just want to grab a sweater later in the day). I also keep a bottle of water next to my pillow.
Toiletries: Unlike my clothes, I keep my toiletries in the front seat of the car. Since I don't brush my teeth in the tent, I don't want to have to go in and out of the tent to get that sort of thing.
Morning/evening routine: We all have routines that get us ready for bed and wake us up in the morning. I like to keep these going while camping. I make some adjustments like bringing facial cleanser wipes instead of foaming face wash, but I still brush, floss, clean my face, and moisturize each night. In the morning, I still wash (either in the lake or using body wipes), brush my hair, put on sunscreen, and maybe a bit of mascara (yeah, even when camping...)
Organization: To make it easier to find everything while camping, we have 6 main items that we pack into our car: A large duffle bag filled with everything we need for sleeping including air mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, and sheets, a hockey bag filled with everything we need for cooking, cleaning, first-aid, games, etc., a cooler filled with most of our food, a tent bag, and 2 backpacks for my and Chris's clothes.
Ice and Coolers: Instead of dumping ice directly into our cooler, only for it to melt later and make everything soggy, we use ice blocks in containers. I fill a few plastic water-tight cereal containers with water and freeze them (usually takes up to 48 hours to fully freeze). Then I put those in my cooler. They stay cold all weekend and the melted water stays in the cereal container, keeping my food dry.
Food Prep: Unless you want to be doing lots of food prep at your campsite or you want to be eating hot dogs all weekend, I suggest preparing your food ahead of time. I'll make one-bowl casseroles and put them in a Glad container the night before we leave. During the trip, I keep them in the cooler (next to my ice blocks!). When we want to eat, all we need to do is move the contents into a pot and heat. No prep and super easy!
Rain protection: I love a tent with a proper fly and vestibule area. The fly keeps the inside of our tent dry and the vestibule area gives us some extra protection when getting in and out of the tent. It also provides a small area to sit with protection from the rain (and a great sun-shade as well, as we discovered when we were in Utah's Canyonlands). A few tarps with ropes are also great to put up over the picnic table area and give us tons of space to move and sit while staying out of the rain. For when I need to leave the protection of the tarps and vestibule, I wear a Goretex rain coat, rain pants, and Goretex trail runners.
Bug protection: We're fortunate not to have too many bugs/mosquitos where we camp, but we keep bug spray on-hand when needed. We also have mosquito netting (it's actually tulle I picked up from a fabric store) to put up around our vestibule so if the bugs are extra annoying, we can take refuge in there while still staying outside.
Picnic table: Most sites come with a picnic table, but I like to make it feel cozy. I put a fun table cloth over the top. Then I put blankets on the benches to give them a bit of padding. Chris and I also like to add stadium seats on the top of the blankets so we have some back support when we're playing cards or eating.
Chairs: I have to say that even after ten years of camping, I'm still struggling to find compact, comfortable chairs. I've looked everywhere but for some reason I haven't been able to find a plush sofa that fits into my car. So instead I'll use a log as a foot rest and bring some extra blankets to cushion my chair. Blow ups are also comfortable, but they aren't safe around a campfire.
Water: I like to have a large jug of water that I can open and close like a faucet. This way, I feel like I have plenty of easy-to-access water to re-fill my water bottle, wash my hands, cook, and do the dishes.
Lighting: We keep a small lantern on the table as it gets darker out. I also have a flashlight with a rope that I keep on me in the evening.
Water floatation: If you're on a lake or other calm body of water, it's nice to have something to float around on. As we're usually in colder waters, our floating mattress keeps us above the water. It also has room for a small, soft cooler that we can fill with beverages and sunscreen. We often also use a long rope tied between us and something sturdy in the lake (like a tree branch) so we don't float too far away from where we want to be.
The above list definitely took some work to put together. You may be asking yourself why bother when you can just stay at a nice hotel. I guess it comes down to what you like. I love waking up in the morning to fresh air. Getting out of bed and seeing the trees around me feels amazing. I prefer to camp with my own stuff instead of sleeping in someone else's hotel bed. It feels like my vacation home, outfitted exactly the way I want, and I crave going.