Camping Buying Guide

Camping Buying Guide

 

Fresh air, blue skies, sleeping under canvas, all of us feel the need to get away for a few days, and camping is a perfect way to enrich our outdoor experience. This guide is split into three sections covering car/family camping, wild camping and ultralight backpacking.

 

Please note this guide is very general and you will need to make informed choices based on your personal requirements, destination and the likely weather conditions. If you have any specific questions, please give us a ring for advice 7 days a week on 0191 413 6848.

 

Car & Family Camping

 

Camping in style with all the luxuries! Thick mattresses and pillows for a good nights sleep, BBQ + beer with your mates, introduce the kids to nature, camping out the back of the car can be great fun.

 

  1. Tent – Space is the primary concern when choosing a family tent. Tunnel style tents are a bit smaller and pack down relatively small, but there is generally not enough room to stand up in. Larger dome and frame tents have plenty room to stand up in, but don’t pack down very small. Don’t be tempted to go for too large a tent as you might struggle to find space to pitch it on a busy campsite or on uneven ground. Features to look out for: a separate porch for keeping out the rain and for cooking in; dividers in the sleeping areas will keep you and the kids separate for some privacy; windows.
  2. Sleeping bags – Nothing too warm or expensive is required, a bag rated at +10°C or above will be fine for summer use. Synthetic fillings are preferable to down as they will stay warm even if they are wet. Inevitable someone always feels the cold or you get a cold night, so take a blanket or spare duvet for extra warmth if it is needed. Double sleeping bags, or sleeping bags that can be zipped together are available, but due to the limited space inside them they are not a great idea unless you are both very small and don’t move a lot whilst you sleep. There are a wide variety of sleeping bags for children available, get one that is a bit too big so they can grown into it and tie off the bottom of the bag with a belt or strong string to make it the right length for their height.
  3. Sleeping mat – Traditional foam mats are cheap, but not very comfortable. Why not treat yourself to a super comfy inflatable lilo, or for the best nights sleep a self inflating foam mat is hard to beat. Look for one that is at least 5cm thick. If you are going somewhere that the ground will be cold, then a thick mat will keep you a lot warmer as it insulates you from the ground.
  4. Pillow – A bundle of clothes stuffed into the sleeping bag stuff sac is OK, but a camping pillow or pillow from the house is a lot more comfortable.
  5. Stove – Double burner stoves with a separate LPG gas bottle will give you the most versatility when cooking for a few people, but a couple of small camping stoves can also be used providing they are placed on a stable surface.
  6. Pans & kettle – Stainless steel pans are probably better than non-stick pans as they are easier to clean if the campsite washing facilities are not up to scratch. You can use pans from home, just make sure they are not too big for the stove burner. Dedicated camping pans are normally a better size for use on camping stoves and a lot of them have a hinged lid so they can double up as handy storage.
  7. Cutlery, plates, mugs – Plastic or stainless steel are best, some people prefer choosing different colours so that everyone can have their own colour.
  8. Coolbox – keeps milk, freshly caught fish and beer cool!
  9. Water carriers – A collapsible water carrier will save you having to go to the tap everytime you need water. 4-6L is ideal.
  10. Torch or headtorch – Makes it easy to find the toilet at night, or cook dinner when you get back late.
  11. All purpose soap – Clean food, pans and you!
  12. Insect repellent or head nets – Keep the bugs at bay.
  13. Pack towel – Ordinary cotton towels are great at home when you have a heated towel rail to dry them on, but on a campsite they can take a bit too long to dry out. Packtowels don't have that lovely soft towel feel, but they do dry very quickly.
  14. Knife – A Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman will provide you with every tool you are likely to need whilst camping, and allow you to prepare food.
  15. Map & GPS – Essential if you are going to venture from the campsite out into the hills. Don’t forget to take spare batteries and/or a compass.
  16. Solar panel charger – For your mobile phone, iPod, GPS etc.
  17. Table & chairs – For a bit more comfort and ease of eating.

Wild Camping

 

Camping out in the wilds, with no one around for miles and total responsibility for your actions, and mistakes, is an exhilarating experience and can be relatively comfortable with the right clothing and equipment. Just remember, whatever you want to take, you will have to carry on your back. And please, bring home anything you take, don’t leave rubbish.

 

The following list is for guidance only. You will need to understand the terrain and climate of the location you are visiting. Taking an ultralight tent to the wild and windy Torres del Paine will only result in trouble.

 

A practise run to the park or not far from home/the car is a good idea to ensure you have everything you need and that you know how it works. Putting up a new tent for the first time in a storm is not a great experience!

 

  1. Tent – There are three basic designs that you might consider. ‘A’ frame tents are very strong, but also very heavy, generally too heavy to split between two, between three may be acceptable. Tunnel tents are reasonably strong, can be relatively light and tend to be low cost, but they will not stand up to high winds and do require careful pitching if there is a chance of a storm. Geodesic domes are the strongest tents if you want something for ‘whatever the weather’, but they can be more expensive and heavier than tunnel tents. There are a myriad of tents available which blend all three of these basic designs. Please come in store and see the tents, especially if you are tall and need to check the length of the tent. We are happy to put any tent up for you to try it out.
  2. Sleeping bags – You can chose down filled bags which are very light and pack down small, but lose all their warmth if they get wet, or there are synthetic bags that maintain a lot of their warmth when they are wet, but can be relatively heavy and bulky. Ensure you pick a temperature rated backed that is suitable for the temperature of the place and season where you are going to be camping. It is better to get a bag that is a little too warm. Also, camping in a Scottish mountain hut, especially if you are sleeping on a concrete floor can be a lot colder than in a tent, but large huts with bunks and lots of people will be warmer. Features to look for include: a full length zip for easy access or a short zip to save weight (note short zips make it very difficult to regulate your temperature if you get too hot); neck baffles for extra warmth; shaped hoods for a closer fit; mummy shaped bags are warmer, but some people find them too restrictive; extra filling or features in the foot area to keep your feet warm. Note, to improve the life and insulation in your bag, keep your sleeping bag in an old pillow case or mesh bag in the house, not in the stuff sac. Out in the hills, use a dry bag or plastic bag, in addition to a rucsac liner, to keep your bag dry in your rucsac.
  3. Sleeping mat – Once you get your head around the high cost of self-inflating mattresses and sleep on one, you will find it is just like sleeping on your bed at home, they really are that comfortable. If you find it a bit soft, blow a little air in, or if it is too hard let a little air out. They are also smaller when rolled up than a foam mat. A mat that is 3 or 4 cm thick is normally enough, but a thicker mat may be required in colder climates. Lighweight mats (with cutouts in the foam) save a bit of weight and pack space, but are not quite as comfortable.
  4. Pillow – Try rolling your clothes up and putting them in the sleeping bag stuff sac to make a pretty decent pillow. Compressible camping pillows can also be used for a bit more comfort.
  5. Stove – Your main choice is to either gas or liquid fuels. Gas is light, easy to ignite and easy to simmer but if you are going to a remote place it could be difficult to get replacement fuel and if you are away for a long period of time (e.g. 5 days or more) then the amount of gas canisters can be quite bulky. Liquid fuel stoves often will run on a variety of fuels, making them very versatile to take on trips as it will be easy to get more fuel if you need it. For longer trips the amount of fuel required will take up less space, and they also tend to be more wind resistant than gas stoves so water will boil faster. New to the market are the Jetboil type stoves. These pack down very small and boil water or melt snow very quickly, but the ‘pan’ volume is very small making them only really suitable for one person’s food, boiling water for dehydrated food or a brew up for lunch on a winter’s day.
  6. Pans & kettle – Aluminium pans, preferably non-stick, are very popular because of their light weight but stainless steel is a lot more robust and doesn’t mind being dented or cleaned with whatever kind of pan scrub or coarse grass you have to hand. A lid or frying pan to use as a lid is normally a good idea to keep heat in to save fuel.
  7. Cutlery, plates, mugs
  8. Torch or headtorch – chose an LED model for good battery life and if you don’t need a lot of light, chose a halogen or LED/halogen model if you are likely to need a bit more light e.g. for walking or climbing at night. Don’t forget spare batteries, kept in a sealed bag to keep them dry, and a spare bulb for halogen lamps (LEDs can’t be replaced).
  9. All purpose soap – Clean food, pans and you!
  10. Insect repellent or head nets – Keep the bugs at bay.
  11. Pack towel – Ordinary cotton towels are great at home when you have a heated towel rail to dry them on, but out in the wilds they can take a bit too long to dry out. Packtowels don't have that lovely soft towel feel, but they do dry very quickly.
  12. Knife – A Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman will provide you with every tool you are likely to need whilst camping, and allow you to prepare food.
  13. Map, compass & GPS – A GPS provides a reassuring backup in case you get lost, but your map and compass skills still need to be good. Don’t forget spare batteries.
  14. Solar panel charger – For your mobile phone, iPod, GPS etc.
  15. Food – Try and pick a balanced diet with food which is high in carbohydrate and protein. Good camping food can be found in the supermarket, look for quick to make/cook foods like quick boil rice and pasta, avoid ready meals as the portions are not big enough and they are nutritionally lacking and try to avoid food in tins and jars. An alternative is camping specific ready meals. These are nutritionally balanced to replenish your body at the end of a long day. The taste of these is a lot better than they used to be and they are definitely worth a go. The self heating meals are fab for lunch on a cold winters day when you can’t be bothered to set the stove up.
  16. Water filter – Picking up an illness or parasite from contaminated water can really wreck a trip. Water sterilisation tablets are a cheap effective way to sterilise water, but leave a nasty taste in the water. Iodine is the most effective, but should not be used for more than 20 consecutive days. Boiling water is also very effective (you need to boil it for a few minutes to kill everything), but it wastes a lot of fuel. Water filter pumps are relatively expensive, but they produce a lot of clean water very quickly and don’t leave a bad taste in the water.

 

 

 

Ultralight Backpacking

 

After a few wild camping trips, you will start to get a feel for what equipment you actually need and what you can get rid off so you don’t have to carry all that extra weight. And then you can start looking at the equipment and clothing you are actually carrying and if it can be replaced or modified to reduce weight.

 

Taking the classic toothbrush example, chop part of the handle off to save a few grams. If you are only out for one night do you even need a toothbrush?

 

  1. Tent – There are many lightweight tents available, with the compromise often on space, robustness and durability. Some models use trekking poles as the tent poles. Please come in store and see the tents, especially if you are tall. We are happy to put any tent up for you to try it out. A good alternative is a bivi bag.
  2. Sleeping bags – Down bags are the lightest. You could save some weight by choosing a bag that is not rated to such a low temperature and wear some clothes in your sleeping bag. Beware though, if there is a sudden cold snap you could spend a very shivery or even dangerous night out.
  3. Sleeping mat – Ultralight ¾ length self-inflating mats are fairly light and comfortable, you can use your rucsac or clothes under your lower legs and feet. Thermarest Z-Foam mats are a little less comfortable, but not a lot and they are very light.
  4. Pillow – You are joking!
  5. Stove – A lightweight gas stove will save a lot of space and weight. Pick the smallest size gas canister that you will need. (You will need a lot of experience with your stove and how much gas it burns before you should consider this.)
  6. Pans – Consider lightweight non-stick aluminium pans. One pan between two will be fine and you can also eat out of the pan saving the weight of a plate. A sheet of tin foil can be used as a pan lid to keep the heat in.
  7. Food – get rid of the stove, pans and plates and take self-heating pouch food that you can eat out of the pouch. In winter, or cold conditions, a stove is probably a sensible precaution to take in case of problems.
  8. Torch or headtorch – LED headtorches are robust and have good battery life. There is negligible weight difference between models with 2 and 4 LEDs, but 4 LEDs give a lot more light if you need to travel at night.
  9. Insect repellent – Personal preference, but long sleeve clothes and a head net are more effective and lighter than a bottle/tube of liquid.
  10. Pack towel – Ordinary cotton towels are great at home when you have a heated towel rail to dry them on, but out in the wilds they can take a bit too long to dry out. Packtowels don't have that lovely soft towel feel, but they do dry very quickly. To save some weight chop a standard size in half.
  11. Knife – A Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman will provide you with every tool you are likely to need whilst camping, and allow you to prepare food.
  12. Map & compass – A compass is lighter than a GPS and doesn’t require batteries.

 

 

Outdoor sports are potentially dangerous. This guide is offered for guidance only and you should seek advice from a qualified person if you are unsure about any aspect of your equipment or outdoor skills.

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