When we car camp, we don’t take a fancy chuck box or anything like that. Instead, our “kitchen box” consists of a single 18-gallon storage tote. We take a second 18-gallon plastic tote for non-refrigerated food, and a cooler for items that need to stay cold. This system keeps all of our food separate from other items, and makes it super easy to put away food and utensils at night (to avoid attracting critters). It’s also really easy to pack for a trip since the kitchen box isn’t really touched outside of camping. We give it a quick once-over before we leave to make sure we don’t need to top up any supplies, but other than that we just put it in the car and go!
What’s In The Box
The items in our “kitchen box” fall into four main categories: cooking, fire, hygiene, and comfort. Where possible, I’ve included a link to the same or similar item we carry in the box, for your shopping/wishlist convenience.
If you’re more interested in how we pack so much into the box, you can skip to the end of the post.
- Countertop Oven Rack
- BBQ Tongs
- Chef’s Knife
- Cooking Utensils
- Lidded Saucepot
- Stanley Stainless Cook Kit
- Can Opener
- Mess Kits
- Enamel Mugs
- Reuseable Lexan Eating Utensils
- Coffee Granules
- Salt & Pepper
- Roasting Sticks
- Wood Skewers
- Butane Canisters
- Camp Stove
A lot of our camp kitchen comes from the thrift shop; it’s not precious and we won’t be sad if it gets lost, stolen, or ruined (see also: my guide to spending less on outdoor clothing and gear, the rules of which also apply to kitchen supplies). The countertop oven rack fits perfectly in the bottom of the storage tote, and is great for using over campfires to roast kabobs, potatoes, corn, etc. A set of salt + pepper shakers stays in the box at all times, as does a jar of instant coffee granules, because forgetting to bring basic seasoning or coffee on a camping trip is the absolute worst.
We have a single-burner camp stove that takes easy-to-find butane canisters for fuel — it’s pretty much a portable gas stovetop! Having the stove makes it really easy to boil water or cook meals that don’t involve a whole campfire.
Our mess kits are Ozark Trail kits from Walmart, but you can build your own with melamine dinnerware and a lingerie bag. We also have some of the classic Coleman stainless steel kits, but they’re a little awkward for car camping.
We keep a box of matches handy, as well as back-up matches in other containers, lighters, and plenty of fire-starting material. These Duraflame fire-start cubes work pretty well and are pretty cheap, but we also carry some homemade fire starters made from dryer lint, candle wax, and a cardboard egg carton that work even better. We also carry some classic Bic lighters — for extra protection, they fit well in waterproof match cases.
- Biodegradable Soap
- Hand Sanitizer
- Trash Bags
- Toilet Paper
- Wet Wipes
You expect to get a little dirty while camping, but when it comes to food preparation, things need to stay clean. We keep a squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer in the box at all times — it used to be a pump bottle, but that was messy and hard to close, and there’s less chance of accidental mess with a squeeze bottle that can snap closed. The kitchen tote also has its own box of trash bags, so that we’ll never forget to bring them along. And while toilet paper isn’t necessarily a kitchen item… do you ever want to risk running out of TP?
Remember, you want to bring along biodegradable soap for camping. Detergent-based soaps can be harmful to the environment and pollute local water supplies. Remember to pack out any toilet paper, wipes, etc you bring into the backcountry, even if they say “biodegradable” on them! If you’re at an established campground or RV park, dispose your used dishwater at the campground’s “gray water” dump station.
Duct tape is great for fixing all kinds of things — you can patch a rip in a tent or canopy, re-attach a snapped handle, and even use it as a makeshift band-aid. We always buy the Duck Tape brand, because of it’s consistent quality. We also keep a dedicated bottle of ibuprofen in the kitchen box, since I suffer from sinus headaches that can easily turn into migraines if untreated.
One of my all-time favorite pieces of outdoor gear (seriously!) is this Luci LED solar lantern by MPOWERD. Leave it out in the sun all day to charge, and it provides hours of very, very bright light at night! It’s also very light, and collapses down to a very small size for extra portability.
The glow sticks are useful for marking where things are in the dark (so you don’t trip on guylines or run into your camp furniture) — we have the bracelet kind so that I can easily loop one through the leash attachment on my dog’s harness at night to keep track of where she is in camp. We also bring along extra batteries (AA for our two-way radios, AAA for our flashlights), some solar-powered string lights, and a solar-powered device charger for our cell phones.
How We Pack The Box
How does everything fit in one box? Whenever possible, we nest items inside of other things. The largest, heaviest items go the bottom (except for the stove, which goes on the very top because it is the first thing to be taken out), and space is filled in along the way. We really manage to pack a lot of stuff inside the box this way.
The countertop oven rack fits perfectly in the bottom of the storage tote; after that we add in the BBQ tongs (since they’re large) and chef’s knife (since it’s sharp — although we should really replace it with a knife that has a sheath). Utensils fill in the bottom of the tote, along with the sauce pot (with matches, duct tape and ibuprofen inside). Then we start stacking larger items around the edges, before filling in the gaps in the middle with more malleable or squishable smaller items.
Finally, there’s just enough room left on top for our camp stove — which is okay, because it’s usually also the first thing that needs to get taken out of the box. We usually leave the stove out of the box for the duration of the trip; it has its own case and is relatively uninteresting to critters. It is very handy to have it fit in the storage tote, though, because that way we never lose track of the stove at home — it doesn’t disappear into a corner of the garage, never to be seen again, if it’s always with the rest of the kitchen.
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