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Out & About / Ventura County | Shoptalk

Into the Woods

Preparing for a car camping trip requires getting the right gear.

July 10, 1999|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For some folks, getting back to nature means stocking a state-of-the-art RV and parking along a coastal highway. For others, it means grabbing a knapsack, some beef jerky, water and a blanket and heading for the hills.

But for many, the experience is more middle of the road, an adventure that involves loading up the family car with a tent, sleeping bags, a stove and food and driving to a woodsy forest spot.

Though getting back to nature is intended to have a calming effect, it can be quite the opposite without the proper equipment. And getting the right gear, in itself, can be stressful for the novice camper. To help, we contacted some local camping retailers to find out what a family of three or four would need for its inaugural car camping experience.

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By definition, car camping is just that--driving the car to the camp. That being the case, the weight of the equipment you are bringing is far less important than if you were backpacking the gear miles to a campsite. That is good news for car campers on a budget, because the lighter items are generally more expensive.

Tent prices range from less than $50 for a tent suitable for the backyard to about $1,000 for a top-of-the-line model. As with most retail items, you get what you pay for, so it makes sense to determine your needs first.

The lower-end tents may suffice for camping in calm, summer weather when the elements are no threat. As the conditions get wet, windy or cold, the higher-priced, higher-quality models will be needed.

Assuming summer conditions for the first-time family campers, Frank Flores, a manager at Big 5 sporting goods in Thousand Oaks, said he would recommend Coleman-brand tents that range in price from about $90 to $160. White Stag manufactures a two-room tent, with a divider between rooms, that retails at Big 5 for about $170.

At Sport Chalet in Oxnard, we were directed toward Colemans starting at $50 and going up to $300 for a three-room, divided tent.

"It's wide open with car camping since weight is no object," said Steve Everson, a sales associate at Patagonia Great Pacific Iron Works, a Ventura-based manufacturer and retailer of outdoor gear.

"Most car campers like something they can stand up in. Eureka! [brand] is one; Sierra Designs is another," he said. Cheaper tents, Everson said, "are very minimal, just made for fair weather. They don't keep you dry when it rains, they don't stand up in the wind. They're good for once-a-year campers who don't want to make the investment."

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Like tents, the more weather-resistant and durable a sleeping bag is, the more it is likely to cost.

At Big 5 in Thousand Oaks, Flores suggested a Coleman bag for about $33 that can handle temperatures down to 40 degrees. For harsher conditions, Flores said, campers can expect to pay $45 to $90 for a more versatile bag.

At Sport Chalet, the brands to look for include JanSport, Coleman and Slumberjack. Sleeping bags range from $20 to $200, but prices start at about $55 for a model that can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees.

"There are two kinds of sleeping bags--synthetic and down," said Patagonia's Everson. "If you're car camping, you'll probably go with synthetic, since the weight is not an object. They are about half the price of down bags and twice as bulky."

Top-of-the-line sleeping bags, which can handle 20-degree temperatures or lower, can get into the $300 range, Everson said, with the average higher-quality bag going for $150 to $175.

"At the very top end, you'd be looking at Western Mountaineering [brand]," he said. "Mountain Hardware is a very good middle price."

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As for stoves, there are single-burner and dual-burner models from which to choose. Backpackers will use the single burners, because they are easier to transport. For car campers, dual burners are preferred.

At Sport Chalet, Coleman two-burner stoves start at about $40 and go up in price based on durability, the level of heat they can produce and various other features. Most run off propane with some using unleaded fuel.

Big 5 sells dual-burner stoves, made by Coleman and White Stag, priced at about $48 to $80.

"Coleman is still the standard," Everson said.

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