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Tent Advice? Boondocking Across The West

Looking for recommendations on gear for a camping trip my wife and I plan to take next summer with our son who will be one. We have a Honda CR-V with a Yakima Skybox so we have room for gear but need to be smart about what we bring. Our plan is to boondock (free camp) across the west as much as possible, so every campsite will most likely be primitive and we may not have a lot of room to setup a tent with a huge footprint.

We currently have a Eureka 4 person dome tent and a Coleman 8 person lodge tent. The Coleman is definitely out. I'm mostly looking for tent recommendations. I want something freestanding and probably quick to put up. The Eureka isn't bad and does not take up a ton of room when packed up but I was thinking about getting a backpacking tent. Would take up little room in the car and would be quick to assemble. Also we don't currently have one, so if we backpack in the future we would be ready. I was looking at the REI Passage 3. But the trade off would be very little room. We certainly don't have any weight issues with taking a larger, car camping tent. Anyone have an experience with a similar trip? Any other gear recommendations are welcome. We need to buy a child carrier pack for this trip. I've heard a changing table mat makes for a great toddler sleeping pad.

In summary, car camping across the west, a new primitive camp site almost every night with two adults and a one year old. Thank you!

3 Replies

@RobCam Car camping across the west and finding free “sites” is relatively easy to do. There is so much public land in the west that it makes it easy to find a place to park although sometimes you may have to drive a little out of your way to get off the main path. I’m typically at a new site each night so fast set ups/take downs are important.

I don’t know anything about camping with small children so I can’t speak to that aspect but I’m assuming you’re talking about 3-season camping/backpacking. For a general three season camping/backpacking tent (without getting into the topic of lightweight cottage manufacturers) I really like Big Agnes. I’ve had numerous tents from many manufacturers and for general three season use (with occasional snow loads) for car camping I would typically use my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2. Quick to set up, reliable, and relatively lighter while still being able to stand up to wind and low snow loading. Literally hundreds of nights spent in mine over the years in the American west and Canadian Rockies. Big Agnes has a good product line that finds a nice balance between car camping and backpacking.  Just do some research with any brand within the different models because there are differences between a $300 tent and a $400 tent even within brands. 

Oh, there’s a really nice app for iPhones that I use sometimes that will show you where a lot of National Forest campsites are. It is called Allstays Camp & RV. Hope this helps some.

Same advise. I recently bought the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4 tent and it's great. 

- packs light apprx 5 1/2 lbs

- easy and fast set up (color coded)

- roomy inside: Head room and floor room

- spacy vestibule for gear

- 2 zipper doors for easy in/out

Just one trip with it so far. We had 3 grown men and no one felt cramped inside.

I went with the footprint and happy with the decision. The tent clips into it.

Hope that helps.

For more than a decade now, we have camped out in multiple national parks (via car) with the REI half dome 2 plus.    Make sure you look for the "plus version" as the extra inches make a huge difference.  My wife and I sleep comfortably in it along with our 90 lb lab.   While I cannot speak to camping with a child, this tent's design allows you to sit up comfortably with a vestibule and zippered door on each side of the tent.   The tent sets up in less than 5 minutes, and the fly has kept us dry during a 3 day rain event with more than 14 inches of rain.    On nights where you want to see the stars and little chance of rain, remove the fly and you can gaze at the stars and feels as though you are sleeping outside with the impressive view.      Also, we have used this particular tent for 5 years running, and have yet to have a failure.   It has an impressive array of pockets inside along the roof and along the sides of the tent, where you can store various items,and the doors as well if you want a breezeway.

Wish I could offer more advice regarding a child...

Good luck!