We all have our favourite bits of kit that we always seem to pack when we go camping, especially the shiny, expensive bits. But what is it that you always take with you no matter where or how you’re camping?
Chris Walbank has camped and over-nighted in some fascinating places – on a glacier, high in the Pyrenees, in an alpine flower meadow in the French Alps, atop a mountainous rocky outcrop in a remote part of British Columbia and in a hammock in a rainforest. Plus, we mustn’t forget that most arduous and extreme type of camping: the busy family campsite in the UK, where you have to fight to keep your pitch and the neighbours keep you awake until 5am. Here, he tells us what kit he likes best.
Bird song, but no noise!
No matter where, there always some bits of kit I never leave home without and it’s about time I shared these with you. Why is it that we camp? For me, one of the key things about being outdoors is the sound – bird song, moving water as the gentle breeze makes ripples on water, swaying trees, rustling leaves….Poets have written about such things for centuries. It’s the romance of it all, being at one with nature.
But just stop there and think about that for a minute and ask yourself what happens when at the end of the day and you’re under canvas, resting your head on that oh so soft pillow, ready to dream of the next day? I tell you what happens, every single sound is amplified 100-fold! As the sounds of the day fade, the hum of traffic, farm machinery, aircraft overhead, whatever it is that makes this world so noisy, slowly fades away to reveal the true sound of nature. But just as you’re dropping off every sound you hear seems to be just the other side of that thin canvas wall next to your ear.
A blackbird that weighs less than your mobile phone walks past your tent with a gentle hop, wings outstretched as it skips past the tent. Suddenly, in the quiet of the night it sounds like a herd of wildebeast just about to trample through your tent. As for the snores, sniffs and bottom burps of those in the same tent or the tent two feet away? Well that can have you hiding your head under the pillow begging for morning.
No matter where I camp, the very first things I reach for and pack are earplugs! For the price of a few pence, you can have a good night’s sleep. The ones I get are from outdoor fishing and shooting shops, where you can normally get a handful for a few quid; some chemists also sell them. The ones designed for outdoors tend to be orange or another fluorescent colour so they don’t get lost too easily when they fall out during the night. The next thing I consider is what to sleep in and on.
A comfortable night
What I sleep in varies with the weather. It’s no good having a summer sleeping bag when the snow that’s just fallen on top of the tent is starting to freeze, or having that so expensive winter sleeping bag, whose natural habitat is the Arctic Circle, in the middle of summer. I always pack a sleeping bag according to the predicted weather, remembering that summer nights can get cold, I often take two cheap summer bags knowing that I can add it as a second layer if required. Adding an extra layer can increase the warmth of most sleeping bags. I spent a comfortable night on a glacier tucked up inside two average-priced sleeping bags, whilst a friend in a sleeping bag that cost a few hundred pounds had a cold, restless night.
You can read about the sleeping bags we recommend for all-round camping,
What I sleep on is simple. I have one favorite sleep mat – a Multimat self-inflating mattress that, whilst only being half an inch thick, keeps my body off the ground no matter what the terrain, pebbles, rocks, grass (which is sometimes as hard and uneven as rocks). The one I have is a full body length and, whilst I’m a renowned cheapskate, it’s the one relatively expensive bit of kit I’ve bought. It’s lasted nearly ten years, only having one puncture that was fixed using a self-adhesive bicycle puncture repair kit nearly two years ago.
We recommend some comfier options in our review of sleeping mats too.
My only addition I have to my sleep kit is a hat! I have a woollen, Peruvian style hat that covers my ears, packs away in the sleeping bag and comes in handy when the temperature drops. With a good sleep mat, sleeping bag, hat and earplugs I can – and have – slept just about anywhere in any conditions.
And when the weather keeps you trapped?
What else do I take? Not so long ago, I went camping with some friends up in the northern part of Scotland. It was remote, wild and windswept, and most of all it was absolutely stunning. It was a simple campsite, just having the bare essentials but it was home for a week whilst we took in a few mountains and walks. Towards the end of the week, weather and tiredness confined us to camp. We were all in separate tents, unable to communicate due to the volume of rain falling on the canvas and wind trying to lift the tents and throw than across the field. Being a basic site, there was no communal area we could sit and we had no car. Luckily I had my ‘never go camping without’ bit of kit with me, something to save me from this prison sentence – a good book is like a gift from the gods, keeping the devils of boredom at bay.A long spell in camp due to weather or injury can be made bearable by having something to read, something that doesn’t rely on batteries or reception capabilities.
I often choose to take a book linked to where I’m camping: a local poet, a local history book or a collection of short travel stories. I would also recommend that you add in a notebook and pencil so that you can write a diary or notes of what you’ve been doing, draw a picture, play word games, write a book, poem or song a letter to a loved one or to yourself. It costs nothing and can keep you occupied for hours.
What do you take? Now let’s hear your essential kit tips. You can also look at the Campfire team’s European summer camping pack list here.
Chris Walbank canoes, sails, cycles, climbs and camps (though you’ll never see him running!). He loves maps, adventures and photography and is writing his first book about the wilderness. Find him @CWalbank and chriswalbank.wordpress.com