By Brody Leven
I don’t live out of my car. I don’t own some built-out truck, a restored 1974 VW bus, or a 4×4 Sprinter with a matte black vinyl wrap. I don’t have a sweet sleeping platform, a sink, or much of anything except backpacks “organizing” gear in my car. In fact, I kind of suck at car camping; all of my camping gear is super lightweight, specialized, and fragile. It’s hard to cook for a group on a small canister stove. It’s annoying to set up a tent every night and take it down every morning. I don’t have an organization system dialed. And I still don’t know what to do with my dirty underwear, or when to even consider it dirty.
My friend Dave’s bachelor party in Jackson, Wyoming turned into me to sticking around for a few days of mountain biking in the Tetons. A few days of mountain biking turned into a week of climbing. And a week of climbing turned into two weeks of living out of my car, working in coffee shops, climbing mountains, bathing in rivers, and finding free campsites.
My friends that live in their vehicles always seem to have everything dialed. They know how to wash dishes without using much water and how to sleep at the right angle so it feels like a full-sized bed. They have solar arrays on their roofs and only as much clothing as they need.
But I’ve realized that, for me, it isn’t about being a car-camping expert. It’s just about car camping. It’s usually not hard for me to find the motivation for light-and-fast missions, or human-powered endeavors, or expeditions on the other side of the planet. But for some reason, the notion of car camping 300 miles from home is a bit daunting for me. In my mind, doing it “properly” requires so much stuff. And whenever I think about going for a road trip, I get a little overwhelmed, and then I sigh. I have to pack so much stuff. Where will I sleep every night? How will I carry enough water? Should I bring my computer? Won’t it get too hot in the car during the day, melting the hard drive? Will I ever have wifi so I can drop a ‘gram?
Through my weeks in the Tetons this summer, though, I learned that I don’t need all that stuff. I got a basic-yet-fancy Yeti cooler, which is nice to keep fruit and yogurt cold. I got two Yakima bike racks on my roof, so I don’t always feel like “I wish I had my mountain bike!” but can still ride around towns on my commuter. I have a small, basic Goal Zero solar setup that lets me go days without starting my car, while keeping the podcasts playing and Snapchatting device (aka phone) charged. I don’t sleep in my car, but in a super easy-to-set-up Black Diamond tent. It’s not seven feet tall, doesn’t mount on top of my Subaru and pop up at night, and isn’t outfitted with Mexican blankets (okay, there’s one) or girls in down jackets. But it’s comfortable and I can stare at the stars through its mesh walls.
Heck, I don’t even have camp chairs. And that kinda sucks when you’re trying to hang out. But for me, car camping isn’t just about hanging out. Instead, it offers a comfortable way to spend extended periods of time away from my small condo in Salt Lake City. It allows me to stretch out weekend trips, deciding to stay in the Tetons, or the Sierra, or City of Rocks, or Moab a bit longer than “until I need to shower.” Because really, the shower can wait.
Or you can ask one of those people living in a Sprinter where the nearest bathing river is; they were probably there last week.
With a climbing pack, a duffel of mountain bike gear, a small carry-on of clothes and running gear, a backpack of electronics, and a toothbrush that I always keep in the door pocket, I can stay anywhere a little longer than I expected. And to me, that flexibility is the appeal of car camping.