Camp Tables

One of the most obvious camping equipment purchases we all make and hope will be our last – is the table. You could be excused for thinking that this purchase is rather straightforward but in reality, it is not that easy. In this article we look at the typical camping scenario and outline practical situations where you might use a table on a camping trip with buying considerations.
Article By: Michelle Martin & Damian Baker
Created: June 2008
Revised: May 2013
Latest Feedback: May 2013

Selecting a Camp Table

One of the most obvious camping equipment purchases we all make and hope will be our last – is the table. You could be excused for thinking that this purchase is rather straightforward but in reality, it isn't so easy. If you look at the typical camping scenario where the table is setup in the outdoors, then issues such as leg stability, table height, leg room, surface texture, size and portability are all very important factors, however not all tables are created equal.

Obviously, the choose is personal and it will depend largely on your packing space and how you intend to use the table. Some people place a high degree of importance on the table, whilst others are happy with any elevated flat surface that will do the job. So each of the following sections looks at practical situations where you'll use a table on a camping trip.

Tables for Meal Preparation

Food preparation is something we all do a couple of times per day. Even something as simple as spreading margarine and vegemite on a sandwich needs a work-table of some sort. Depending on your particular campsite and vehicle configuration you'll probably need a place near the fridge and tucker box in which to set down the items you've selected for each meal. Then you'll need to layout your cooking implements, cutlery and plates. And finally you'll chop, slice, spread, or mix ingredients ready for either laying onto plates or transferring to a cook top or campfire.

Some people will setup their gas cooker ontop of this table, and if you're doing that, then there's not much room for all the ingredients etc. Perhaps you need more than one table? Perhaps you have a tailgate or a fold-down table attached to the rear door of your vehicle?

Whatever you choose to use, it needs to be stable, washable and practical, and as we'll mention later in the article it needs to fit into the space you've allocated for packing the rest of the camping gear.

Dining Tables

Do you anticipate that you will sit around your table for eating? You may need to test that your chairs fit under the table and that there is sufficient table space for the number of plates and cups/glasses.

Is the height right for the kids or do they need their own table (eg. an integrated chair/table picnic set); is it stable enough to cut a steak without the wine glass falling off; can the legs be adjusted for uneven ground; is it waterproof?

If you don't plan to eat your meals at a table be sure that all family members can balance plates on their lap or have a chair with integrated side table attached. (see Other Table Options)

Filleting Tables

How have you planned to fillet the fish you hope to catch? Is there a filleting table at the fishing site or will you need to supply your own? Will the main camp table be suitable - can it be washed down? Is the height adjustable? Filleting a large fish may take an hour and this can be become uncomfortable if leaning over a low table. There are specific filleting tables available from tackle shops to do the job properly.


You can use an old ironing board if you have the space and feel your fishing success will warrant its use.

Activity Tables

Do you need a table for playing cards or writing? Do you have kids that might need their own table for messy activities or require more room to spread out colouring books, etc. You may want to consider a table specifically for activities.

Card and Picnic Tables

These tables are useful due to their compact size, foldable legs and lightweight features, however they are rarely considered suitable for use in the above applications. So a decision needs to be made as to whether you can afford the space to carry more than one table and if not, then your choice of main table will need to allow for various applications - perhaps using a little ingenuity.

Roll-Up Tables

These versatile and innovative tables are designed to be rolled up and stored in a convenient carry bag. They have segments that are similar to slats usually made of aluminium, plastic or timber. They are extremely space saving because many of them occupy space of less than 5% of its set-up size. Those that are made of aluminium, provide a strong, yet light table that is surprisingly sturdy.

Washing Up Tables

Some tables come with integrated wash basins to make the washing up chore a little easier. Whether you need this or not comes down to personal preference but don't forget that simplicity of packing up and unpacking can make or break a trip. Don't go overboard but if you've got to have it and it fits - go for it.

Multi-function Tables

Be prepared for when you enter a camping store to see a wide range of tables with all the bells and whistles. You can buy tables that integrate a holder for your gas cooker, pantry boxes with shelves and zippered doors etc. Obviously size and practicality will dictate what is right for you but if you are starting out buying your first camping equipment take a look at these options as they may not be as over the top as they first appear. You will need a washing up tub (but can it double as something else rather than a built-in part of your table?); you will need food storage boxes (but do the soft pantries need repacking into tubs when travelling?); and you will need a place to setup your gas cooker (lightweight cooker stands can be purchased separately for around $20 but have long, non-retractable legs that may make packing difficult).

Other Table Options

Most people find that it is difficult to find the perfect table that meets all the desired criteria so having an additional table built-into the vehicle can solve some of the issues. Obviously, if you have a camper trailer with a slide-out kitchen you would use that for your roadside stops, but if all your food and equipment is inside the vehicle then consider modifying your backdoor.

  • If your vehicle has a tailgate, then it can be covered with a vinyl tablecloth to create an instant table that can be used for all sorts of roadside stops (baby nappy changes, food preparation, etc).
  • If you have 2 barn-style doors then a popular modification is to install a small fold-down shelf to the inside of one door. These options are great to backup the main table around camp and are more than sufficient for the morning tea stop instead of getting out the main table.
Some camp chairs also come with small side tables attached, if these suit you, then perhaps this will negate the need to use your main table for eating and therefore free up your main table for other uses.

Packing Considerations

Once you've found a table that seems the right size/type to do the job, how well will it pack away? If it needs to be carried on the roof rack - lightweight features and waterproof construction would be ideal. If packing inside the vehicle cabin then look at how small you can fold down the table including legs. And if you've decided you need more than one table - where will they be packed? Often you'll have to compromise here - because not only does the table have to fit, but you have to be able to get a table out easily for roadside stops throughout the day before setting up camp.

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