The list of items you need for car camping absolutely does not include a protective mat, but since when was car camping about need? Unlike backpacking, and definitely like river rafting, the ideal car camping kit is more about want, comfort, convenience, ax throwing, and stylish reclining, and for the last ten years or so all my car camping trips, whether van-lifing or overlandia-ing, have included the CGear sand-free mat.

The CGear mat is both simple and a bit genius: It’s a two-layered mat that allows dirt and sand to pass through in one direction but not the other—it works a bit like Gore-Tex, but for granular stuff, not moisture. That means you can lay it down on a beach or a dune or a dusty camp spot out on Moab’s Sand Flats Road and whatever’s on the sunny side is going to stay clean.

First developed to reduce sandstorm brownouts caused by helicopter rotor wash during the first U.S. conflict in Iraq, the mats make a seamless transition to civilian life. They’re marketed mostly as products for hanging out on the beach, but I’ve used mine most frequently as a ground cloth under a tent or just under my bag when I’m sleeping under the stars. And actually, yeah, I have to say I’m pretty stoked on my tentless setup—layer one is the 6X6 CGear mat. Layer two is a three-inch mattress topper. Layer three is my sleeping bag and pillow. The aluminum box that I carry it all in serves as a “headboard,” and with the square format of the mat there’s another room on either side of my bag for shoes, headlamp, book, water bottle, whatevers, and nothing gets dirty.

Actually, scratch that. A year or two ago, I bought the 3X3 version of the CGear, and this is what gets used the most. In fact, it’s in my truck at all times. I stand on it when I’m wrestling in and out of my wetsuit, when I’m putting my bike shoes on and taking them off, and as a entrance door mat when I’m sleeping inside the truck, so I can stand outside in bare feet or socks without getting manky.

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The CGear mat does what it’s designed to do exceptionally well. The only dirt I’ve seen get through is super-powdery red dust that has the consistency of flour. Even then, so long as you aren’t jumping up and down on it, you’ll be fine. Does it have flaws? Well, not that I’ve found (though I’ve read some online reviews that complain sand gets stuck between the layers), but it does have a few qualities that might limit its use. The weave is a little stiff, so you probably wouldn’t want to sleep directly on it, and yoga is a little uncomfortable. On the other hand, nothing sticks to it short of mud and it dries almost instantly. But it’s not light. Definitely not light. The 6X6 is three pounds and the 12×12 is about 12 pounds. Nobody would consider this a backpacking product, but if you were, well…don’t.

But backpacking, smackpacking. We’re talking car camping here, and for that the CGear is ideal.

$30-$130 • BUY