Choosing camping accessories

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Dress your tent to make it feel like home!
Dress your tent to make it feel like home!

Really it is going to be impossible to advise anyone other than myself as to which accessories to buy, choose or take on a camping trip. This is a very personal decision and one that every individual should always make for themselves.

However, it isn’t always necessary to ‘buy’ everything – or to buy everything from those expensive camping gear shops. Especially if you’re not backpacking or going ultra-lightweight!

These days most couples, families, even those who prefer to camp away from the hurly-burly on their own – they all usually take their tents and other camping stuff in a car to the campsite. And if they need to walk any distance with that stuff they’ll probably use trolleys with rugged wheels etc. This is the angle from which I am going to come from in this article… Take In Car…Use Trolley or Carry (smaller bits) to Site…No Problem therefore with Too Many Restrictions on What Will Be Bearable for One’s Back!

Once you have your tent, and I’m hoping that you’ll have by now chosen a canvas bell tent – you’ll want to start collecting accessories to take on those camping trips that will make your life both comfortable and relaxing, not to mention easier. You can walk into any camping store and see compression bags, airbeds, plastic or metal plates and mugs, other new gizmos etc. But you may not need to buy all of these – ‘found’ or recycled things that have lain unused in an attic or garage for a while can also be put to good use – and these bits and pieces are more likely to have much more ‘character’ than lots of new kit bought from a camping shop. In fact ‘retro’ is a very popular theme currently!

OK so you may have to buy some stuff. For example, what to sleep on? Forget the airbed. Personally I hate the ‘bouncy castle’ effect. And how infuriating is it when the mattress refuses to inflate (or insists on deflating?) We now have SIMs. No, these are not something that you slot into your mobile. These are Self Inflating Mats. And they are much better than when they were first introduced a few years ago – and there are no ‘bouncy castle’ issues either. Current SIMs pack down flat, can be full size double or single, and they self inflate. What’s more they are comfortable. And when packed in the car they take up relatively little space. OK, so that’s one thing you should buy. Any old throw or length of fabric can then be thrown over the bed to make the tent fell cosy, welcoming and home-like.

No matter what you have on the floor of your tent for example on top of the groundsheet, you may want to place something underneath you for added insulation (though the SIMs are usually adequately insulated already). It’s worth trying some of that silver reflective wall insulation material that you can get from a builders merchant – gaffa tape a piece together so it’s the same size as your bed, and place underneath. Alternatively, or additionally, place coir matting on top of your groundsheet, with any additional mats, rugs etc on top of that. You need to insulate yourself from the ground. Sheepskins are also useful. Warm duvet goes without saying!

So you will need some lighting. There are a lot of solar powered lamps around, along with rechargeable lamps that work off small chargers (including solar). But there are also weatherproof battery-run lamps (which double up as torches) that can run for 170 hours or more on one batch of batteries. So all you need to take are a few rechargeable batteries. It’s worth noting that you can buy a small solar panel which can be placed just outside of your tent. This will allow you to charge your batteries, mobiles etc. Alternatively you may prefer to hang some LED tea light chandeliers inside your tent. These work perfectly when suspended from the centre pole of a bell tent. I will never advocate using real tea lights or any other sort of candle or open flame, inside any type of tent, although I know that people do sell these and do use them.

OK, so let’s say you’ve got some coir matting down on top of your groundsheet – you’ll still want some soft rugs or mats. These will make it softer underfoot, and will give the space a bit of a Bohemian feel – well, depending on your choice of mats! Now these can be really quite inexpensive (lightweight) rag rugs, beach mats or similar – they do not need to be expensive. I would also suggest that you use something like a 2m x 1.5m coir mat outside the entrance of your tent especially if you’re using an awning – these can just be hosed down when you get home, and they make great outdoor entrance mats as well as interior mats.

Well, as for crockery etc – just buy some cheap bits from any large store, or find stuff hiding in the back of the kitchen cupboards. It’s much nicer than using plastic or metal kit from those camping stores. Just take an eclectic approach to collecting things to add to your camping collection – things can be one-offs, they can be odd or strange, they do not need to match or cost a lot of money – you’ll be amazed at how comfortable it will make you feel!!

Storage can have character too. I have a few small wicker hampers that someone has sent me Christmas Fayre in! And there is nothing wrong with using old wooden wine boxes or similar. These can be stacked (storage) and also upturned and used as tables. Old or vintage suitcases and trunks are also useful.  A few cheap colourful cushions – and you’re there!

Making camping easier.

Making camping easier.

 

Your first few camping trips with your new bell tent will probably be your least smooth, in that you most likely won’t be totally sure what you’ll need once you’ve arrived at your destination. I always say a good idea is to set up camp in your garden first, leaving the bell tent up for a few days. And then actually spend several evenings and nights out in your tent. This way you’ll start to understand what you like to have around you in order to feel happy, at home and comfortable, and conversely what you absolutely need to have close by in order to have a good and relaxing break (corkscrew!)

 

My worst nightmare is packing bags and boxes on the day of departure. Panic always sets in, it’s never quite clear what has been packed by the other half (or what hasn’t been). The kids are getting in the way, everyone’s getting tetchy and the car is packed, unpacked and re-packed several times meaning the whole scheduled departure time (not to mention arrival time, tent erecting time and evening chill time at the other end) goes hugely out-of-the-window. Nightmare before you’ve even started!

 

Create definitive lists of what you’ll want or need on your trip. Break the lists into categories such as ‘kitchen stuff’, ‘kids clothes’, ‘lighting’, ‘first aid/medicines’, ‘dog stuff’, ‘bedding’ etc. Then find and/or collect boxes or containers, preferably ones that are uniformly packable/stackable – and which can also double up as low tables if covered by a cloth or something similar, once inside the erected tent. Lightweight containers or boxes is also a must, as are containers that are easy to wash and wipe clean. Compression bags for duvets and pillows are a great space saving idea. Don’t forget to take some bags to be used for waste/rubbish, as well as perhaps some lightweight cotton bags for used clothes/laundry.

 

Pack each category on the list into its own box or bag. I would even go so far as to suggest that for those items such as kitchen gear, which can also be washed before packing up to return home, that you leave them permanently packed in their boxes until the next camping trip. In fact between camping trips keep as many boxes as possible permanently pre-packed. And keep them always in the same spot in the garage, trailer, shed etc. That way, by keeping ‘camping stuff’ clearly separated from ‘house stuff’ there’ll be no (or minimal) confusion or cross-over. Everything can be kept entirely separate. Well, almost everything!

 

One way of avoiding the afore-mentioned ‘panicking’ on the day of departure, is to finalise packing all of the boxes/bags the day before in a calm, collected fashion, checking contents of non pre-packed boxes against lists. And then pack the car up the night before – preferably while the kids are asleep. This quite neatly stops children from getting in the way and under your feet. And it means you can be properly focused, hopefully packing all of your pre-packed boxes into the car as neatly as possible. I always try to pack things into the car in the same order – if a system works, why break it?! Of course the first few times you’ll need to work the most efficient car-packing strategy out – so larger items/boxes in first, smaller items fill up the nooks and crannies, and softer items only (such as duvets and pillows/cushions) placed higher up above the tops of the seats in front. This makes a lot of sense from a safety perspective, as you do not want heavy or sharp objects ramming into passengers’ heads and necks during an unscheduled emergency stop. When first working out your packing ’system’ try laying everything out on the ground, and then pack the larger, heavier items in first… it will only get easier! One very important point though – always pack your bell tent in such a position as to ensure you can get it out of the car first (or almost first) – you don’t want to have to empty the car in order to access the tent, especially if it’s raining!

 

Perhaps one of the few items to pack in the car on the day of departure would be the coolbox, fresh foods (for which you have left space), and of course the kids and dog.

 

Camping is something to be enjoyed! Make life easier for yourself and enjoy the experience!

 

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