I used to think that car camping was for soft people from the suburbs that lack the chops to be “real” backcountry travelers. As an egotistical backpacker with a superiority complex based in my own insecurities, car campers were the people to step on to make myself an inch taller.
Then I moved to the Eastern Sierras. Backpackers here are given a golf clap with a “wow, you managed to walk down a trail for a while? That’s impressive!” deserved sarcasm. I’ve learned that backpacking is a component of mountaineering, an umbrella term that includes all the disciplines necessary to safely and effectively traverse mountains throughout all seasons.
Smashed in the face with a 2×4 of humility, I’ve come to grips that enjoying yourself is important. Whether on a portaledge, cowboy camping, or in a developed campground I’m going to take advantage of opportunities to make things a tad more civilized when possible.
A Screen Tent to Cook and Eat Meals
Sometimes you can have bug-less campsites but generally that’s not the case. Mosquitoes, flies, and yellow jackets will all want to have a piece of you and/or your food. Cooking in a tent is widely regarded as terrible and dangerous, but with big screens and a tall ceiling I’m fine with it.
I’ve grown tired of hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches on my little piece of crap Coleman green flip-up stove. I now have cast iron skillets that I can cook eggs in. I have a dutch oven. I’ll throw together quick stuff when needed but I enjoy making real meals as a challenge. That requires a lot of time to prep and cook: doing that early morning and late evening (when bugs are at their peak) is absolute torture. Within the confines of my awesome Clam screen tent I get peace and quiet.
A Real Stove
I’ve used little tin can alcohol burner, my MSR Dragonfly, a cool titanium alcohol burner, and of course the ubiquitous green Coleman flip-top stove. They each have their place in the world, but they all basically suck at doing anything other than the obtuse application of heat for small meals.
I opted for the Trail Chef Explorer (stainless).
As a nascent trail chef I need the following:
- Large and stable cooking areas. With 12″ cast iron pans and a big dutch oven, they weigh a ton and take up a lot of space. In the picture above that 12″ / 6 quart dutch oven looks downright dwarfed on the stove top.
- A ton of heat. 30,000 BTU’s per burner. Most everything in cast iron land is cooked at low or low-medium, but future recipes may ask for real heat.
- Lots of fuel. These stoves take bulk propane tanks, not the chincy disposables. Way-oversized, I grabbed the 30lb unit that sits next to our house’s generator.
- Space to do stuff. The wilderness is particularly devoid of kitchen counters so one must bring horizontal work surfaces and ways to hang utensils.
Similar to the green coleman stove, disposable flatware, cups, and utensils tend to be a stock of camping as well. It’s kind of sad watching people “get back to nature” and generate massive bags of trash which then get hauled away by a truck burning diesel and thrown into a landfill.
Living on a sailboat, I used foot pumps in the galley. You needed your hands and pressurized systems were noisy and expensive. I may actually get a marine foot pump and mount it to a piece of wood: pumps like the Whale Gusher Mark 3 are dope as hell. But in the meantime I’ve got my $23 oversized bulb pump that I can push with my foot.