Getting out into nature gives us a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. However, it doesn't take to long to begin to miss many of our modern conveniences. Some as simple as a table can add to our experiences in nature and make the difference between existing in the outdoors and actually enjoying it. Buying the right kind of table for your camping needs can be a little tricky, so we've done the research for you. Read on for a few ideas to find the best table for you.
Types of Camping Tables
Exactly what do you like to do outside? Are you a car camper? A backpacker? A river rafter? A beach bum? A National Park visitor? Maybe you're all of these and more, or just some or one. When it comes down to it, what you do is connected to what kind of table you should buy. Basically, there are four types:
How do you use your kitchen or dining table at home? Camp-dining tables are designed for the same types of activities. They are either rectangular or square, and the better models allow you to pull a chair right up to it with ample legroom. They are best for serving or eating food or playing games. Here are some pros and cons of this table style:
A closer look: Imagine yourself walking along the beach looking for the perfect place to have a candle-lit dinner with the one you love. How about mountain air, a crackling fire, and a group of friends playing cards into the evening? This type of table is ideal for what its name details: Dining and enjoying the company of loved ones and friends in an outdoor setting.
Please don't imagine slamming down a 5-gallon jug of drinking water onto this table right next to the large camping stove and dutch oven. If you need a table that can handle more use and abuse, then a dining-type table may not be your pick.
In short: Dining tables are for people looking for a table used primarily for food, good company, and games. They tend to be straightforward with a modest weight and an easy setup, but might not be incredibly versatile.
These are traditionally more complicated, bigger, heavier, and are designed for preparing and cooking grub, as well as providing organization for your camp kitchen needs. They also provide the most storage for cookware and other items you might want handy. The Camp Chef Sherpa is our favorite example of this type of table. Here are some key advantages and drawbacks within this subcategory:
A closer look: If your camping adventure involves finding a road less traveled, pitching a tent, and enjoying a place few people go, a cooking station is not your best purchase. They are heavy and limit your ability to easily move your camping supplies from your car, down the path, and across the river to that perfect spot. Besides that, if this is your idea of camping, you're probably more minimalistic and don't need or want your entire kitchen at camp.
However, if you enjoy your RV or travel trailer and like to set up shop at a campground, having a cooking station is a perfect accessory to your camping gear. They are also great for multi-day stays in one spot. These types of tables allow you to organize your food and cooking supplies with a little more luxury. They also allow you to cook away from the main eating table, which is safer if you're with children or animals and makes for an overall great mealtime experience.
In short: Cooking tables are for (but not limited to) tailgaters, public campground lovers, people who do a lot of cooking outdoors in areas more unique than the backyard; people who have less space restrictions (fifth-wheel owners) or people who just like cool gadgets. They aren't for the rare-occasion camper, free-range campers, or car campers who own a small car.
Small (Backpacking?) Tables
These tables are small, compact, and lightweight. Standing around 15 inches high, they are best used as end tables for a camp chair or for more extreme outdoor adventures like short backpacking trips, river rafting, or cross-country motorcycle journeys. Here are some things to think about:
A closer look: While sitting at camp in your camp chair, you need a place to place the book you're reading — ideal time for a lightweight table. It's the third night on of a five-day river trip and you're getting ready to eat a freeze-dried meal. Just as you open your meal, a fellow rafter strolls a little to close and crop dusts your meal with a healthy coating of riverbank sand — another fine time for a small table. These scenarios are two of many uses for these types of tables. They are great as an accessory to your camp furniture or as a table for backpacking or other backcountry activities.
Small, lightweight tables tend to consist of less durable materials, which by default makes most of them fragile when compared side by side to a heavy-duty table. They also often have a soft fabric top, which isn't designed as a cooking surface.
In short: Lightweight tables are an accessory, a friendly helper to hold your sandwich while you get up to grab a drink from the cooler or a flat surface for card games. They are also a great luxury item for backpackers who want to carry along a few comforts from home on short trips. They are not intended for regular, abusive campground use, nor do we recommend them as a cooking surface.
These models can be cooked on, dined on, gamed on, or stacked full of camping gear. Utility camp tables have taken the place of the old square card tables your parents used to use. Inherent in their name, they are useful far beyond just campsites. Here are a few things to ponder:
A closer look: Utility tables have a basic design and are suited for just about any camping situation near your vehicle. These tables are versatile enough to be an extra back up Thanksgiving Dinner table and then be thrown into the camper the next day for a Fall hunting trip. They usually have a more industrial design.
If you desire that a model that has the "I am a cool camp table" look, a utility table may not be for you. They are basic and industrial-looking. The utilitarian look reflects its all-around function.
In short: Utility tables are for people who love to camp but don't want to buy another table just for camping. This type is a jack of all trades, which makes it very appealing to some — but not to those who desire that camping table look. The utility table we reviewed is applicable in the widest variety of situations, from tailgating to banquets to backyard parties to events to so much more. Oh, and camping. They are great for camping.
Other Factors You May Want To Consider
If you plan to carry your table often from car to camp or if you are willing to seek out the best camp spot at all costs, including walking hundreds of feet or more, then portability is a crucial factor to consider. In particular:
- Study the item's specs and find the listed weight. Anything more than 10 pounds crosses over into the less-portable category.
- Does the stuff sack have a shoulder strap? This feature can make a huge difference if you are carrying multiple items at the same time.
- What are the table's packed dimensions? Portability isn't only how easy is it for you to carry, but how easy the table is for your car to transport. Many larger tables aren't small-car friendly when considering all the other camping gear you have stuffed in your trunk.
Of all the tables we studied, the REI Co-op Camp Roll Table meets all three of these considerations without sacrificing dining or cooking experience. It's relatively lightweight, compact, and has a great shoulder strap. As you would expect, the three small, sub-three pound tables are the most portable but know they sacrifice functionality as a trade-off.
Let's face it — these tables are made for the outdoors, so they should be built to last. More than that, they should be able to withstand the rigors of outdoor use. Some things to consider:
- Is the table you're interested in backed by a decent, understandable manufacturer's warranty? In our opinion, a 2-3 year warranty is preferred.
- Does the table you're looking at have any weak spots or areas of concern that may break down or wear out sooner than reasonable? Ideally, the table's top is a solid surface. A solid surface leaves less to wear down and break. More moving parts and complexities in design tend to lead to more points of a potential breakdown.
- Can the table withstand accidents, being blown over, or having something dropped on it? Does the table have a frame adequate for its intended use? The trade-off for ultimate durability is heavier metals like steel, which produce a heftier product.
Quality and Strength of Materials
When it comes down to whether you select an aluminum table, a steel table, a plastic table, or a steel-plastic-aluminum table, you have a lot of choices. Here's our opinion on how these types of materials compare side by side:
- Steel-framed tables are more durable but also heavier and generally less portable, which makes them less desirable if you plan to walk a lot from car to camp. So if you want lightweight, go with aluminum.
- Aluminum framed tables are much lighter and portable, but they don't recover as well from direct impact. If you want greater strength, go with a steel-based design. However, if you value lightweight and portable, then stick with aluminum and accept its limitations in the durability category.
- Aluminum top tables can fold down compact and are very lightweight, but they dent, bend, and they rely on elastic cords to stay together. If the cords rot out, are cut by a knife, or sever on the aluminum's sharp edge, the table is useless. So it's either durable and easy to clean plastic or lightweight and easy to fold aluminum.
- Solid plastic table tops respond to blunt force better than aluminum. They are much easier to clean and use a knife on while preparing food. They are also better for board or card games (no gaps for items to fall through). However, plastic doesn't fold down that well and can be heavy, which limits portability. You also can't put a hot pot down on a plastic tabletop without a heat-resistant layer of protection in between.
We're going to lay it all out on the table: There is no perfect camping table for everyone. It's critical to consider how you plan to use the table, what you are willing to pay, and what type of construction materials best suit your style of planned outdoor use. Buying a camping table is not the most important decision you'll ever make. That said, you still want your money to acquire the best value. We hope that after reading our review, you're a few steps closer to buying your ideal camping table.