Perma-camping kit: What the heck is it?

I’ve mentioned the term “perma-camping kit” on and off on various posts over the years.

So what does that term mean?

In essence, the “perma-camping” kit is merely the gear we have permanently packed in our vehicle for quick camping or road trips.

With the purchase of a new-to-us Tacoma, and realizing it’s not just me anymore on quick trips, I updated this perma-camping kit for the new vehicle and the many trips Joan and I went on together over 2020.

With approx 90 bag nights together in 2020, getting out quickly for trips is of high importance.  Having everything staged and ready to go adds to these bag nights.

Even on backpacking weekends, we enjoy a quick camp on a Friday because we enjoy spending the night out, and it allows us to spend more time on the trail backpacking vs. driving on a Saturday. We could use our backpacking gear, but that means packing and repacking gear vs. having it ready to go first thing in the morning.

Sometimes, a planned backpacking trip turns into a  partial camping trip when it goes quicker than expected, we change plans, or just because.

Hence the perma-camping kit:  The kit maximizes outdoor time and lets us make the best use of timebank funds and the “gift of time.”

It is a kit I’ve accumulated, tweaked, and used over two decades spent outdoors. In part, I think it is a reason why we can get out so often.

An example of a quick camp not far from our home in Moab.

We use our Honda Civic that gets 45 MPG for in-town and pavement driving. But the Tacoma ends up as our full-time outdoor vehicle. Mostly I do not do much in-town driving, and I WFH many days.

The Tacoma works well for us here in Utah, where access to many areas involves traveling along a rutted dirt road where 4WD and good ground clearance make life a lot more pleasant.

We find it efficient to keep the vehicle packed with some essentials more or less permanently.   We are off to a trip in well less than an hour when we get the “gift of time.”  We often travel to more isolated areas, so we often have some extra supplies and some emergency road equipment, too.

We find ourselves prepared for basic auto issues, quick trips, and even extended road trips without much packing. It’s all there and ready to go.

The first part of the perma-camping kit is organizing and rigging up the Tacoma for quick nights sacked out (esp during winter) or even a weekend of car camping when we prefer to use a tent. See that article for more details.

A quick overview of the equipment packed above:

Tucked behind the wheel wells are:

  • (2) camping chairs
  • A basic auto repair kit (details below)
  • A stuff sack with (2) fleece blankets and (2) poncho liners.

In front of the tote area are:

  • Lifetime table for holding up a water jug
    • another tarp and a dustpan and whisk behind it
  • Small patio-style folding table and a step stool for getting in and out the truck easier for me and my 5’6″ height.
  • A cheesy, homey, but ever-useful large kitchen mat for the tailgate area.
  • 5-gallon bucket for trash storage.  It helps keep the back of the truck clean and any rodents from getting into the trash at night.
  • And our small cook kit (details below)

Additionally, we have (2) mesh cargo nets velcroed to the side of the shell for storage at night, (1) Luci Light, and a carabiner velcroed to the roof. In the cab lives the Globe lantern that we often hang from the liftgate esp when it is dark out, and we need a cooking light.

On top of it, all is a full sheet of 1″ gym foam cut and shaped to the truck bed. The foam provides insulation, comfort when kneeling in the truck, makes for some durable material, and is easy to remove or clean.

Our cozy winter camp. I think this set up is the “dialed-in” configuration after months of using the truck for camping. Quick to set up and break down and efficient in use. Esp for quick trips.

In more detail…

  • The quick cook kit fits into a simple duffle bag.  Nothing special about this tote bag; it’s one you can find anywhere. The one we purchased is inexpensive and durable.  In this duffle bag are:
    • A one-burner propane stove and two propane bottles.
    • A four-quart cooking pot
    • A non-stick frying pan with handle removed—just a dollar store special.
    • The nesting Stanley “Adventure Cookset.”  An ingenious design that cost less than $25 at the time when I bought it in 2017 but now closer to $40. Contains two eating bowl with lids, a 1.5-liter pot (perfect for making two mugs worth of hot drinks), and a ladle.  Joan did not like the included spatula, so I swapped in a dollar store spatula perfect for flipping eggs or mixing food.
    • Paper towel
    • Various sizes of Ziploc bags.
    • (2) Small twist-lid Tupperware containers for leftovers.
    • (2) mugs.  I almost always have my Contigo mug on me for my coffee, but I forget it more often than not. 🙂  Joan likes having a mug in the kit for her, too.
    • A small ditty bag containing – (2) spoons, lighter, a microfibre towel,  a “scrubby”, a can opener, dish soap, and a  pot grip.

This kit is very modular, meaning it works well with the larger stove kit we use for road trips or extended base camping.

As for the basic auto kit, I should say that I am not a mechanic by any stretch.  But I did work on an old Jeep I used to own back in Rhode Island.  And we often go to out-of-the-way places. Being able to clean and tighten battery terminals, adjusting an alternator, clamping hoses, and other minor repairs came in handy over the years. I consider a basic auto kit part of the camping kit with no doubt.

With that in mind, in a similar basic duffle, I have:

  • A simple OBD-II reader
  • A metric and SAE socket set
  • A ditty bag with a vise grip and a toothbrush (For cleaning terminals. Any soft drink with carbonic acid works great. We often pack seltzers. Ask me how I know about this trick…)
  • Small compressor for emergency use.
  • Since we are often by ourselves, a battery jumper makes for an essential item. I bought a newer one that’s compact and still has enough cold cranking amps for our vehicle—smaller and more compact than older ones.
  • Small folding shovel
  • A set of work gloves, yellow safety glasses, a quart of oil, a funnel, and windshield wiper fluid

In the tailgate area, the Tacoma contains (2) semi-hidden accessory storage areas.  Just large enough for (1) recovery strap and (1) D-ring for a total of two each.  The 2.7-liter engine Tacoma is not made for towing beyond 3000 lbs, but nice to have these straps if someone has to tow us out in a pinch. Or we need to jury rig something.

I am a conservative driver with 4WD and would rather walk if I think it is too muddy, snowy, or technical. If it takes as long, or even slightly longer, to walk…we are walking!

A well-known example near me of something I’d rather walk, from Wikipedia.

Moving to the cab area:

We have an access cab with the seats folded up. The cab’s large enough for our duffle bags and squirreling away other items, too.  Among these items are:

      • We have the “sh** kit” with hand sanitizerwet wipes, trowel, TP, and plastic bags in one door.  We pack out TP. In some areas, such as Grand County (Moab), we have to pack out the solid waste. We have some sunscreen in this same door, too.
      • The other door has garbage bags and one extra-large Opsak. 
      • Tucked next to a seat is a multi-use metal avalanche shovel.
      • We have two more of the cargo mesh pockets velcroed to the folded-up seats.
        • One pocket contains some paper towels, a cleaning solution (more of Joan’s influence 😉 ), and the appropriate Benchmark Atlas or similar.
        • A couple of extra hats are in another mesh pocket. I’m bald, so I absolutely can not forget a hat.
        • A pocket behind the passenger seat contains an extra rain jacket, gloves, a warm hat, rain pants, and an umbrella.
      • We also have shopping/tote bags, a first aid kit (leftover from the Kia), and (2) old foam pads for various uses.
      • Being Utah, we have a sunshade in the car.
      • In winter, there is an ice scraper/brush and some snowmelt.
      • Finally, the grey bag contains bank line, carabiners, zip ties, bungee cords, duct tape, and a Bacho (Mora) knife.  After taking this photo, I realized it made more sense to have this bag “live” in the Sterlite tote listed above.

When it is time to go on a trip, we quickly grab the pre-packed “pantry tote” containing dried goods, canned food, spices, hot drink mixes, granola, dried milk, nuts, dried fruit, etc. Oh, and some medicinal rum. 🙂

After every trip, we restock it right away. It is in the gear room and quickly gets placed in the truck the night before or the day of a trip.  The tote has a locking lid that helps keep out rodents in camp. We find some small plastic screw-lid jars perfect for storing the hot drink or Nido powder.   Bears aren’t typically an issue in the dispersed campsites we favor. And we can store items in the truck when backpacking.  

Storing rum or olive oil makes another great use of corporate water bottle schwag giveaways.

Once we are about to depart for the trip, we fill the cooler (with ice packs also ready to go), our pre-packed duffles, a water jug (always in Utah!), and even backpacks or daypacks pre-staged (puffy clothing and quilts excepted), and throw in the appropriate sleeping bags. Our season-appropriate hiking clothes get organized on the shelf in our gear room, and our hiking shoes are by the door. We quickly throw it all in a flyers kit bag that we each own and place it in the truck cab.

On an extended trip such as Hovenweep this past Christmas or even an extended road trip?

Very simple.

In the shed, we have a pre-packed tote that contains utensils, dish cleaning supplies, an eating kit better suited for the food we like to cook when in base camp mode, a two-burner stove to cook this food, and a five-pound propane tank and adapter.  We use a larger roll-up table in conjunction with this kit. The two-burner stove allows more versatility and ends up more fuel and cost-efficient than the one-burner stove.

PCO Joan. Our friend, another Tacoma owner, brought his two-burner stove on the trip as well.

On-road trips, in particular, we find we are eating so well when traveling we don’t crave town food. A shower, some laundry, and another night out seem better than a hotel room and take-out.

Our backpacks and sleeping bags go on top of the totes.

And before we head out the door we consult one final checklist.

In well less than an hour, we can get on a backpacking trip with a bonus night of camping with little last-minute packing of the gear. Or other types of trips as the system’s versatile.

In the Blue Mountains. We camped out here the night before a backpacking trip. PCO Joan

Time is an outdoor person’s most precious commodity. And the perma-camping kit helps make efficient use of that time. Being able to take off quickly and efficiently is, and will always be, a priority in helping to get in many outdoor trips.  And the perma-camping kit reflects that priority.

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Todd Anderson
Todd Anderson
5 years ago

Like 🙂

Jim Austin
Jim Austin
3 years ago

Having a pack ready to go, or nearly ready to go, is key in my opinion to making the most of hiking and backpacking opportunities. If you have to begin the organizing and packing routine from scratch each time, those opportunities begin as a chore/drudgery and sometimes don’t even get started.

I always have both a daypack and a multi-night backpack ready to go–just add food and water! This means I don’t properly store items like tents, pads, bags, etc. but it’s never caused any gear to fail. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

3 years ago

One thing I like to keep in my truck is a come along and some rope in case I get stuck somewhere. But that seems like it’s not necessary for your use case because it seems like you try hard to avoid places you’d get stuck.

Joan Jarvis
Joan Jarvis
3 years ago

One possible.pre-made treat since you already have rum. Mix up butter, brown sugar, and spices to taste (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves–your choice). You can find recipes online. Scoop it.out into serving sizes and freeze in individual baggies. Grab a couple.of servings as you leave. At night, heat water, add butter mix, and stir in rum. Blissful.

Colorado Jones
2 years ago

Thanks again for another great article, Paul! I’ve been referring to this one periodically over the past year as I’ve sought to refine my own perma-camping system. Two questions: (1) Have you had any issues with storage of propane in the back of your truck in the desert heat? And, (2) do you keep the self-inflating mattresses permanently stored in the tote or do you roll them out somewhere between trips? At this point, I currently keep both of those items pre-staged in the house or the garage. But maybe that’s a bit overkill.

Colorado Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

A very illuminating and informative link on propane. Looks like I need to rethink how I’m doing my outdoor storage . . . Thankfully, no mishaps yet!

Colorado Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

I do keep a couple of 20# canisters around so, yes, that’s a much bigger concern. I’ve been storing the 1# containers in my detached garage for years, which gets pretty darn hot during the summer. Probably not the best idea in theory. But it’s never been a problem either.