Gear Reviews,

Tent Camping: A Few Essentials

June 07, 2017

A tent, a dog cot, and a stove

My family tent-camped at Interlochen State Park over Memorial Day weekend. It was everything you’d expect from one of Michigan’s many state parks – S’mores, bikes, beaches and hikes, we had a blast. For the past several years we’ve experimented with RV’s, trailers, pop-ups – and found each to have their merits. There’s something though, that brings us to love tent camping. Unlike the aforementioned digs on wheels, tents don’t require annual registration, there are no bearings to pack, tires to replace, retractable awnings to repair, or tanks to drain. Sure, you forego some of the comfortable amenities, but there are a handful of tent manufacturers making quality products to help narrow this comfort gap. They’re making it enjoyable to take the entire family camping – and for a few hundred dollars, rather than thousands. Here’s a short list of items we brought along.

nemo wagontop 8p

Nemo Wagontop 8P. The largest of the wagon top series (4p & 6p also avail) this tent’s what some refer to as the “tajmahal”. Space abounds. Comfortable for our family of 4 & Golden Lab. Inside we had a queen size inflatable, a camp table, 2 kid-sized cots and a Cooleroo dog cot. Setup & teardown took about 20 minutes each.


  • Bathtub-style floor & fully taped seams (ours survived a 2 hour-long afternoon deluge without a drip.)
  • Friendly design: Ample head space (I’m 6’2,and felt like the boys in the film Step Brothers – “So much room for activities!”)
  • A cool screened-in garage feature.
  • Convenient placement of storage pockets and ventilation.
  • Beefy pre-bent aluminum poles.nemo wagontop 8p interior
  • Dual zippers at both sides of either entrance means you can keep kids inside by simply closing zippers up high.
  • Big front vestibule for the dog & her food next to the 100 qt family cooler.
  • Everything fits easily into the storage bag, no two-person “tent origami” required to re-pack this beauty.

Cons: We couldn’t find any glaring flaws, but it’s somewhat pricey (around $700) so we can nit-pick.

  • We’d love to see a couple more loop enclosures for the drop windows. I’d be curious to test for weatherproofing in a sideways rain.
  • The chrome barrel, which slides over the center cross-pole to ease friction from the rain fly/vestibule – was gone after one outing, though that falls on us – it was really easy to lose…but then again, so are my car keys.

coolaroo elevated dog cot

Coolaroo Elevated Dog Cot. What an awesome invention. A way to keep fido comfortable, dry, cool and clean!  A camping must-have. Click here to purchase Coolaroo Dog Bed


  • Easy assembly & disassembly make it easy to fit along with all the other camping gear.  4 Phillips head bolts go directly into the frame.  Everything slides together in under 2 min.
  • Affordable ($25-$60) & available in several sizes.
  • Strong, steel tubes & woven nylon fabric has no problem holding up to Maupin, our 75lb Yellow Lab.
  • Easy to clean, just hose it down & wipe it off.

Cons: None.

camp chef explorer two burner rangeCamp Chef Explorer Two Burner Range. I learned about these while cooking for our rafting group the Central Deschutes several years ago and intended to have one. Now that I do, it hasn’t disappointed. Click here to purchase Camp Chef Explorer 2 Burner Range


  • Camp Chef has been around awhile. They make good stuff for cooking outside. They make it durable with steel and iron, with high quality coatings to handle the heat. They also make it here in the US. There’s a lot to like.
  • Easy to assemble, slide in the legs, tighten the set screws.  Plug into propane and you’re ready.
  • Adjustable height settings on the legs.
  • Generous heat ranges. I can bring 2 gallons of cold water to boil on one side while sautéing veggies or cooking an egg to the other.
  • Modular design makes it easy to add features to your setup.  For example – we purchased the aluminum pot which fits perfectly on this setup for hot water at the ready – washing up dishes or little sticky s’mores hands.
  • The grill feature. Awesome.

camp chef explorer stove packedCons:

  • Weight proves restrictive. Most of this stuff belongs on a car camping trip, pack mule, or raft. Inherently heavy stuff, obviously.
  • Explorer stove and grill top don’t come with a carry bag, although they’re available.

Different Strokes

Tent camping might not be for everyone, and you can obviously enjoy yourself regardless of your preferred accommodations. The gear we used for this family-friendly camping experience has proven to be a great fit. What matters most is getting out there, or “taking your medicine” with friends, family, and fellow adventurers. If you have any questions/comments, please get in touch! Don’t forget to subscribe to the Adventure Deficit podcast on iTunes.

tent camping with family



  1. Luke says:

    Good insight. I agree first hand on your choices…
    I do like the tent because of ease of setup and just throwing it in the car but I’ve never had a good night sleep camping till I was on a foam mattress in a camper. Any thoughts on go to products for sleeping in a tent. I’ve done the air matress and ended up on the ground in the morning

    1. Drew De Vries says:

      The Intex Dura-Beam series is a great common air mattress, suitable for car camping or state campground. My wife & I comfortably slept 4 consecutive nights without any issues. It comes with a built-in electric pump which has both an inflate/deflate valve. Cost for the queen size was $70.

      Another option is to go with a cot. When coupled with a foam camping pad, these can make for a comfortable setup. Check out the Cabelas Outfitter (XL series is what I’d look at). Also, there’s a company called Disco-Bed that makes bunk style cots. I’m intrigued. Seems to be an innovative use of limited space in a tent. Around $400.

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