Our camping and van life equipment

We’re the kind of guys who do a lot of research when buying camping equipment so that we buy quality gear that will last. Here’s an ongoing list of gear we’ve owned and loved.

The North Face Northstar 4 dome tent

There are countless tents on the market and it can be hard to know where to start. You first need to determine your style of camping: backpacking requires a light and therefore small tent, while car camping or basecamp camping affords you more weight and therefore a more spacious tent. Within both of these categories, tents come in all sorts of shapes and designs. Most tents are double-walled, with an inner structure (often featuring lots of mesh for ventilation) and a waterproof outer fly. On less expensive tents, the fly doesn’t come all the way to the ground; this can be fine in nice weather but will offer less protection in heavy or driving rain, and offer less wind protection in the shoulder seasons.

Tent sizes are based on how many people they can accommodate in a cramped, shoulder-to-shoulder configuration. A two person tent will fit two people, but it will be tight and only accommodate minimalist sleeping pads without extra gear. Car and base camper couples will be more comfortable in a 3- or 4-person tent.

After extensive research, we decided to purchase The North Face Northstar 4 tent(and are embarrassed by how much we love it). The tent is based on a geodesic dome structure. The North Face first released a geodesic dome tent in 1975 and has offered the Northstar tent since 1979, continuously improving it since then. Being a geodesic dome (along with many staking points and guy lines), it’s incredibly sturdy and has stood up to 100km/h gusts of winds while barely moving. It has doors on 3 sides (one with a vestibule) so it can be easily accessed from all directions. The 3 doors and 3 lower vents combined with 3 ceiling vents allow for maximum ventilation and comfortable nights even in 30ºC+ weather. These can all be closed to keep in as much heat as possible in the shoulder seasons and winter (so far we’ve slept in 0ºC nights while waking up cozy warm).

The North Face Homestead shelter

Assembling The North Face Homestead camping shelter over a picnic table
Assembling The North Face Homestead camping shelter over our picnic table

During bug season or in late fall when you’re expecting frost or a dusting of snow, a dining shelter becomes an invaluable piece of equipment. Most dining shelters are cheap and flimsy, or simply uninspiring. We love our North Face Homestead shelter for is stylish and practical design. It has 1 solid wall for privacy (with a vent) and 3 mesh walls for bug protection and ventilation. Each mesh wall can be unzipped and rolled up. Six guy lines allow you to secure the structure reasonably well, but you’ll need to take care in extreme weather conditions (as you would with any shelter of this shape).

MSR Rendezvous Sun Shield 120 wing shelter

In the middle of the summer on a sunny campsite, it’s nice when you can create some shade. Tents and dining shelters do the job, but a tarp or wing shelter block the sun without blocking the breeze or view.

The MSR Rendezvous Sun Shelter comes in two version: the smaller one creates 120 square feet of shade, perfect for a solo camper our couple, and the larger one creates 240 square feet of shade, great for a small group. The unique shape of the wing with the 2 poles and 7 guy lines creates a very sturdy structure that can withstand strong winds and rain (we know from experience!). The wing fabric is equivalent to SPF 50 (so you will still tan).

Goal Zero Nomad 50 solar panel

A Goal Zero Nomad 50 solar panel hangs in the side door of a compact cargo van
Charging my iPad Pro with a Goal Zero Nomad 50 solar panel

While camping is about getting away from city life, I enjoy sharing my photography and blogging while camping, so I need to charge my electronics. Solar has come a long way and is a reliable way to power small electronics. You just need to scale the solar panel according to your needs.

Goal Zero is an established leader in solar and battery technology geared towards van life. They offer rigid solar panels for permanent installation (including on van roofs), while their folding Nomad series is perfect for camping and portable use. We got a Goal Zero Nomad 50 solar panel (the largest in the portable Nomad series) which can charge an iPhone in a couple hours or an iPad Pro in half a day with good sun.

Primus PrimeTech isobutane stove system

Boiling pasta in Gaspé in the Primus PrimeTech camp stove set
Boiling pasta in Gaspé in the Primus PrimeTech camp stove set

Our main stove system while on the road and camping is the Primus PrimeTech stove system that uses backpacking-style isobutane fuel canisters. We find this to be a great Goldilocks stove: compact enough to be easily portable while being large enough to be stable with larger cookware.

The set comes with 2 pots that nest together along with the stove itself, inside an insulated storage bag. The stove has a built-in windscreen and one pot features a heat exchanger for super-fast water boiling and fuel efficiency. The stove base is also large enough to accommodate large posts and pans.

Coleman PowerPack propane camp stove

Cooking pasta on the Coleman PowerPack propane camping stove
Cooking pasta on the Coleman PowerPack propane camping stove

Like tents, camping stoves tend to fall into 2 categories: lightweight, compact stoves designed for backpacking and larger, heavier stoves for car and base camping.

While our Primus PrimeTech stove system is our primary camping stove, we picked up the Coleman PowerPack propane stove during the isobutane shortage of summer 2020 caused by COVID-19. It’s a basic stove but it’s solid (mostly metal with only a few plastic bits) and has a large, stable pot support that can easily accommodate 12-inch pots and pans. We continue to pull it out for camping trips when we’re planning more elaborate cooking using large, heavy cookware.

Lodge 12-inch seasoned cast iron skillet

Cooking pancakes on a Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet
Cooking pancakes on a Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet

Cast iron cookware is great because it will literally last forever. Cast iron skillets and pots can take the abuse of camping and van life. They also have great heat distribution and retention. The only downside is they’re very heavy, so they’re only good for basecamp cooking.

A standard skillet is 10 inches, but I love my 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet because it can double as a small griddle, perfect for cooking pancakes. I never use soap on my cast iron cookware since it will remove the seasoning; while camping I scour the pan with kosher salt and wipe clean.

YETI Roadie 24 hard cooler

The YETI Roadie 24 hard cooler on the grass in a campground
The YETI Roadie 24 hard cooler

We held out on a cooler for so long since most of our camping resolves around scuba diving. When we come back (tired) from diving, we prefer quick, easy-to-make meals with minimal prep. We plan those meals around dry and canned goods that don’t require chilling.

But a recent camping trip was 100% camping and we wanted to make more elaborate meals that required chilled ingredients, so a quality cooler was required.

Yeti makes hands-down the best coolers on the market. They’re expensive, but they keep things cold/frozen for days. We chose the Yeti Roadie 24 hard cooler for its unique dimensions: it’s a smallish cooler that’s taller than it is wide/deep and accommodates wine bottles. It’s perfect for chilling white wine for hot summer days!

NESCAFÉ GOLD Origins Indonesian Sumatra instant coffee

A jar of Nescafé Gold Origins Sumatra instant coffee on a picnic table
Good strong coffee made easy with Nescafé Gold Origins Sumatra single-origin instant coffee

Some people love their elaborate coffee rituals. I’m happy to make a solid cup of coffee with minimal effort and equipment. That’s why I love the Nescafé Gold single origin instant coffees. Forget your parents’ instant coffee. This is bold, delicious coffee that requires nothing more than a pot to boil water and a spoon. I prefer the darker, smokier Sumatra, but a brighter Costa Rica instant coffee is also available.

UCO Original candle lantern in brass

UCO Original candle lantern on a picnic table at night
The UCO Original candle lantern burns 9-12 hours on a single candle

This was a product we didn’t know existed, much less needed. I accidentally learned about it when researching tents and found a Reddit thread on reducing condensation in tents. Somebody recommended burning the UCO candle lantern through the night to fight condensation.

We gave it a try given that it’s relatively inexpensive. It’s a very low-tech piece of camping equipment that works incredibly well. The UCO candles designed specifically for the lantern burn clean and last 9-12 hours. A spring in the base of the lantern keeps the flame cantered in the glass and minimizes drips. Available in brass (like ours) and aluminum, they also have a smaller using a tea light (3-4 hours burn time) and a larger version that uses up to 3 candles. In addition to the standard paraffin wax candles, UCO also offers citronella candles and beeswax candles. We light the candle each night around 6pm so that it provides light in the evening and burns through the night, going out just before we wake up.

Nanuk hard cases

A Nanuk 960 hard case storing food at a campsite
Using a Nanuk 960 hard case to store food while camping

My first hard case was the Nanuk 930, and I still use it for my camera and accessories. They’re made in Canada, waterproof and nearly indestructible.

For camping and scuba diving, we purchased several Nanuk 960 hard cases. These are one of Nanuk’s larger cases, and the largest case that meets airplane checked baggage requirements without being oversized (who wants oversize fees?). They’re great for scuba gear because the waterproof cases keep in the water from wet gear after a dive. We also use them for dry food on a campsite because the four secure latches keep critters out. For extra security, they can also be locked shut. Finally, they can also double as extra seating or stack to make a standing desk.

IKEA SLÄKT folding mattress

IKEA has so many things that aren’t necessarily designed for van life, but do the job perfectly at a fraction of price. We use the SLÄKT folding mattress for our van conversion. They’re 24” wide, so two fit side-by-side in nearly all van, and they fold up to be a stool or a chair with back cushion. They’re 6’4” when extended, so they’re great for tall sleepers too!

Nite Ize Figure 9 carabiners

Using the Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner to set up a clothesline on a tree
Using the Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner to set up a clothesline on a tree

A clothesline is often a critical part to camping. When we’re scuba diving, we need to dry our wetsuits or drysuits between dives. When they’re wet, they’re heavy and put a lot of strain on a clothesline, so it’s important that we have a taut line. We’re not knot experts, so the Nite Ize Figure 9 carabiners make setting the line fast and easy, and much more taught than we could otherwise.


Do you have any of this camping equipment? What other equipment do you user and love?

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