Camping is a relatively cheap way to travel. If you like being in nature, hiking, and being outside it can be an enjoyable way to spend the weekend. This is our tent camping setup with lots of room and plenty of comforts.
We camp with two people and a dog. I always camp with electricity and refuse to sleep on the ground. Maybe that makes this “glamping” instead of camping, but I’m ok with that.
Previously, we camped in a Ford E350 we “built out” and use a lot of the same supplies from our van. We sold the van for a few reasons, but still wanted to go out on weekend camping trips. I did love our van, but there are a few advantages our current setup has:
we can stand up fully inside
significantly more room
don’t have to strap everything down to move the vehicle
cheaper with no van maintenance
I’ve linked items that we use while camping as a resource, some of them we purchased for camping and others we already owned. A lot of items we got for camping we’ve used for other things as well. Many of these are affiliate links, and I appreciate any income from them. But you don’t have to buy a ton of new stuff to have a fun camping experience. Get creative with your tent camping setup and think about what you already have you can use. Just because something works well for us, doesn’t mean something else won’t work better for you.
This post contains affiliate links. I make a commission for purchases made through those links.
Tent Camping Setup
The most important part of tent camping is arguably…the tent. My biggest criteria was being able to stand in a tent. Tents are significantly cheaper than vans so we went big. Really big with this 12 person Core Equipment tent. The LED lights are Core’s big selling point on this tent, and they are quite helpful. As an instant tent, there aren’t poles or places to hang a lantern off of on the inside. Being able to press a button for lights (there’s levels of brightness) when taking the dog out to pee in the dark is very convenient. A removable pack with D batteries powers the lights so an electric hookup isn’t needed to have lights inside.
The tent sets up easily with poles that are already integrated. As with all tents, staking down the footprint, tent itself, and rain fly are what take the most time. Since the tent is so big, it isn’t exactly light or small when folded up, but does fit in the back of our Expedition with enough room for the rest of our gear. Our first weekend out with the tent, it absolutely poured rain. For hours. The rain fly did its job and we didn’t get any water in our tent.
Size wise, this thing is HUGE at 18 feet x 10 feet. We haven’t used the room dividers, but for a family with kids or multiple couples camping together, they could be helpful. One side of the tent fits our queen air mattress, the middle works as a living area, and the other side has a small table, fridge, and toilet. Our tent really is a small studio apartment.
We use a queen air mattress and linens we already owned. I find air mattresses pull warmth away from my body, so layering a comforter or quilt under sheets helps insulate me more. This also protects the air mattress from our dog’s nails if he happens to get under the covers. For nights colder than the mid 50s I would want a sleeping bag instead of traditional bed linens. Packing all of the bedding takes up a lot of space. Compression bags help smush and flatten our pillows, comforter, sheets and quilt for better packing in the car. These bags also work great for bath towels, washcloths and dog towels.
Camping with cold food expands the options of what you can safely eat & cook. This 42 quart fridge has the ability to run off of a cigarette lighter plug when we’re driving, then off of a regular plug in the tent once we’ve set up camp. It’s slim for packing in the car and sturdy enough items can stack on top. Coolers will work as well, but I prefer the convenience [and dryness] of not dealing with packing food in ice. I usually plug the fridge in a few hours or the night before we leave (although it does cool quick enough you don’t have to) then pack it soon after. To give you an idea of how much the 42 quart size holds, this is what I typically pack for a weekend:
breakfast stuff – four eggs (carton cut to size to protect them), a small Pyrex with cooked sausage patties, old spice jar filled with salsa, bag of shredded cheese, maybe a few yogurts
two mason jars with coffee (these lids are awesome because they don’t rust)
coffee creamer in an old liquor bottle – 200 mL glass bottles are slim for packing and can be run through the dishwasher
30 oz. Yeti with ice – the ice lasts all weekend for cocktails/iced coffee
sandwich makings – deli meat, sliced cheese, small container of pickles, mustard bottle, maybe jelly if we want the option of a PB&J
dinner – pack of sausages, zucchini, bell pepper
beverages – another small liquor bottle with liquor, 8-10 cans of soda/beer/seltzer/mixers
chocolate for s’mores
PACKING TIP: Taking large containers that items come in isn’t always feasible. Raid your recycling for smaller containers to pack with. Paperboard boxes from crackers work great in a crate to keep smaller items organized. Washed out cream cheese tubs can pack sausage patties, cut up veggies, or even pickles for sandwiches.
Chest of Drawers
A plastic chest of drawers utilizes vertical space and the top surface can be used to set stuff. In two of those drawers we take the rest of our kitchen supplies:
cleaning – dish scrubbie, travel bottle with dish soap, roll of Chlorox wipes, hand sanitizer
two bowls & two plates – Corelle is known for its durability and can be found cheap at Walmart
aluminum foil for campfire grates, grilling tongs
utensil pouch from Beego Homemade with two forks, three spoons, a butter knife, and a steak knife
coffee supplies – water kettle + cord, filters, (the water kettle can be used to make oatmeal or ramen too), Chemex (with kitchen towel wrapped around for protection), thermos
mug/Yeti for beverages – some parks do not allow the consumption of alcohol publicly, plus lids help keep bugs out
electric skillet + cord, spatula – cooking over a fire is great unless it rains, efficient way of cooking breakfast before a morning hike
plastic cup to collect small items – chapstick, carabiners, s hooks, spice jar with salt & pepper, grocery bags folded like paper footballs (for trash)
The final drawer holds toiletries, hats, games, and anything else that needs a place.
Milk crates are awesome. When not in use camping they can be stored under the bed. When it comes to packing, they’re easy to tote to whatever room you’re packing from, then they stack nicely in the car.
We use one crate for dry food. This keep all food items together to store in the car when not in use. (Food can attract animals into your tent). Any food that doesn’t go in the fridge goes in here – bread, tortillas, coffee grounds, olive oil spray, s’mores supplies, dry dog food, chips, snacks, etc.
If you’re prone to being hangry, take my advice: Use a meal prep container as a snack box. Fill it full of jerky, dried fruit, nuts, etc and keep it handy while driving. Setting up camp when you’re starving is the worst. This also saves space if you want to take a variety of snacks that come packaged in large containers.
We use two more crates for clothes and shoes. I pack our clothes in the same compression bags we put linens in and they sit in a crate for easy toting. We each get a bag for larger clothing items, and a small one for socks/undergarments. Organizing it this way helps us find things without having to unpack it all. By the end of the weekend, any still clean clothes can be combined, leaving an empty bag or two for dirty laundry. The clothes crate lives under the table in the tent, and the shoe crate is by the door for shoes to be dropped in as we enter the tent.
The final crate we’ve dubbed “the camping crate”. This holds sunscreen, bug spray, newspaper for fires, a lighter, toilet deodorizer, rope, a knife, a hatchet, duct tape, solar lanterns, and a flashlight. A dog tether, extension cord, and power strip lay coiled on top for easy access when we pull into our site.
Boring [But Useful] Tent Camping Supplies
While not the most glamorous items in our tent camping setup, these make our weekends more enjoyable. Having a toilet in your tent, means you don’t have to walk to the bathhouse every time nature calls. If you’re having morning coffee or enjoying a cold one around the fire, popping [POPping, I said POPping] in your tent real quick is way easier than walking to the bathhouse every 30 minutes. Bathhouses are often rather stuffy and humid anyway (and potentially not clean, although we’ve had very good luck with VA state parks).
A camping toilet has two sections – a reservoir on the bottom that waste goes into, and a tank at the top and can rinse water down. We have not had any issues with leaks or smells in the tent or in the car. Add a little toilet deodorizer to the reservoir and some water to the tank and it’s ready to use. Be sure to have toilet paper, trash bag, and hand sanitizer nearby in the tent. Keeping any solid matter like toilet paper out of the reservoir will make it much easier (and less gross) to clean. The reservoir can be dumped out, rinsed in the tub, and left open to dry when you get home.
This folding table packs slim in the car and operates as our counter space in the tent. The legs adjust to make it a comfortable height to cook off of. I always take a few s hooks to hang a grocery bag off the support pieces on the table legs to hold trash. The other side is a good spot for a hand towel to hang.
I’ve found having a dust buster in the tent super handy. No matter how diligent you are at dropping shoes at the door, debris gets tracked in. Dogs do not help with that either. As long as it’s charged before we leave, we have enough battery to vacuum up leaves & dog hair once or twice a day. It also means the tent is “clean” on the inside before we pack it up.
Most of our items we use around the campfire travel on our roof rack and are secured with a cargo net. This double camping chair was an awesome wedding present. Often I’ll use both sides myself to stretch out and read. It’s also nice for sitting two people since each side has a cup holder. We pull the chairs in the tent at night for comfy places to sit. Gimli can wander our site using his tether and has his own foldable bed to relax on.