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At Home on the Road

Roughing it on the road is smoother with some creature comforts.

July 15, 2020 Equipment

Certain things make life easier on long trips to wild locations. Even though I've broken one of the Nature Photographer's Commandments -- Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Friend's Camper -- I find tent camping is my best option for now. Here are some of my choices for my style of roughing it.

Most of my camping gear fits in the roof-top cargo box with room to spare. The cooler, groceries and kitchen kit go in the middle row of seats. Here's my loaded Highlander at Bosque del Apache NWR.

MOUNTAINSMITH MORRISON 4 EVO 4-PERSON 3-SEASON TENT: It's quick to set up and take down alone, has two doors and vestibules and comes with a ground-covering footprint. It's spacious enough for two to live in when the weather works against you.

SLUMBERJACK WHEELER LAKE 20 Sleeping Bag: It's a rectangular 20-degree bag that's filled with a synthetic insulation. Its clever design has plenty of shoulder and foot room, but zips into a mummy configuration around your head when you need the extra warmth. (Recently discontinued, but still available at a few retailers.)

KLYMIT STATIC V LUXE XL Sleeping Pad: This pad is wide and deep for comfort and warmth. I stack two of them for more comfort. This makes it easier to get in and out of bed, but also assures I won't be flat on the ground, if one deflates (which they never have, knock wood).

HARBOR FREIGHT HAUL-MASTER 40 in x 72 in MOVER'S BLANKETS: I use one or two under my sleeping pad for extra comfort and insulation and one on the floor next to my sleeping bag -- it's like having an area rug for more comfort and warmth under foot. A couple coats of Scotchgard spray helps them repel water and stains.

ALVANTOR/LEEDOR 10 ft x 10 ft SCREEN HOUSE: This pop-up screen house is my retreat from bugs and sun. Its screen walls are attached to fiberglass loop frames that collapse like a reflector or diffuser with a few quick twists. It springs open quickly for easy set up. I added the six optional sun shade panels that attach inside for protection and privacy. It's water resistant, but not waterproof, so I don't use it if I expect a downpour. A cheap tarp is a good option for a ground cover, but most of the time I set it up on bare soil. Two folding chairs and several folding camp tables make it a comfortable retreat for two for eating, reading or computer work.

THULE PULSE M Cargo Box: The 14-cubic-foot roof-top box adds much-needed storage space for camping gear, rubber boots, a back-up tripod and assorted things I don't want inside the car. It's light enough for one person to mount it on the factory roof rails on my Toyota Highlander and many other vehicles. Its quick-mount clamps tighten securely by hand and require no tools. I chose the medium size since it allows the SUV's rear hatch to open fully while the front end doesn't stick out over the windshield. This reduces wind resistance that would drop my gas mileage and put stress on the cargo boxes clamps and water-tight seals at highway speeds. The lid is lockable and water tight. I've driven through torrential rains at interstate highway speeds without even a drop of water making its way inside.

IGLOO MAXCOLD LATITUDE 62 QT ROLLING COOLER: This cube-shaped cooler can hold ice for up to five days, though I usually add some after three days just to keep the temperatures cold enough. Unlike many coolers, its lid is insulated, too. That helps a lot. It has a convenient drain plug, large wheels and a retractable luggage-style handle. I can pack four or five days worth of iced food in it easily.

These choices will evolve as my habits and needs change and, of course, as technologies and products change. But I'm a creature of habit, so once I find a thing I like, I stick with it until I'm convinced that the next thing is better. For creature comforts, the test is always in the field in different seasons. And only in three out of the four of those, at that. My days of winter tent camping are just a frosty memory.


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