I get asked this a lot so here are my five key elements for a successful camping trip, suitable for basic backpacking, festivals and weekend camping with friends or family.
We'll keep updating this, please do add your favourite tips and hacks!
Your first consideration is what am I sleeping under, on and in. Are you using it for months or just a night? How many people? How big? Or small?
- A tent is the most usual shelter - something with a ground sheet, that you'll want to use again and again. Think about weight - how far do you need to carry it, and whether it's all year round use or just a few festivals. You can always hire one, then think about whether you want one like that!
- Alternatives to tents include hammocks, fast becoming popular for woodland camping. Just make sure you put insulation below you and you'll have the comfiest night's sleep ever. Not an option for two people though. Double and king size hammocks are for afternoon lazing, not overnight sleeping. Unless you have a tentsile.
- Another option for super lightweight is simply taking a tarp or a bivvy. Our Netil Market neighbour and champion bike builder DB Cycles took one of our £35 DD tarps last year, and was super super comfy. Definitely worth considering. Probably not with small children except as a sunshade though!
- A sleeping bag - I'd suggest you go for best you can afford, 3 or even 4 season usually in the UK, and think about whether you usually sleep cold or hot. If you wear socks in bed in April at home, you will want a warmer sleeping bag than your friend who gets rid of the duvet in May!
- A sleeping bag liner will add a couple of degrees and keep your bag clean (cotton, silk, nylon or thermal)
- A pillow! if car camping i bring my own, if backpacking just a pillow or stuffsack to fill with a jumper or two!
- Frankly I often bring my duvet, or at least a light weight blanket, but I sleep very cold.
- A sleeping mat. this is ESSENTIAL uness you are under 25, male and probably are drinking. A good self inflating mat (like the Thermarest Neo-Air) that states it is good down to 0 degrees C at least will be enough. However if you have a cheaper one then get a basic mat, a yoga mat or a blanket to go underneath) And avoid those awful blow up lilos! they are like sleeping on a fridge.
- A light (head torch and/or some sort of lantern). It is dark away from street lights!
Remember to put more under you than over - the ground will radiate cold on the hottest night. That is something many first time campers - and indeed more seasoned ones - only remember/find out at 4am. AThis hilds true for hammocks too - a but of insulation below and they are the best night's sleep EVER.
Key to comfort is layers. Even in summer dress warm, but bring sun tan lotion and a hat! Camping in the UK I have literally been in hail, rain and then burnt my nose. A common saying in Wales is
If you don't like the weather, wait half an hour.
So with that said this is my list...
- Thermals - double up as pyjamas and fine for wandering round the site or doing yoga. M&S do my favourites, though when I can I go for merino wool.
- Hat, gloves, scarf, warm socks. Maybe you won't need them, but they don't take up much space.
- Waterproofs - at least a waterproof coat. Waterproof trousers essential for kids and a huge bonus for adults (having just got soaked in a 5 minute cycle ride and wishing I'd pulled mine on!). For small kids I'd highly recommend those all-in-one waterproof dungarees, especially with woollen underlayers. NOTHING stops kids having fun outdoors as much as getting cold, but keep them warm and they will LOVE it.
- pro-tip - DON'T stuff waterproof trousers into boots or socks. Doh.
- gaiters are weird loooking at first, but they are one of my favourite things. I kick mud up my legs otherwise and even if its been super dry, if you go off for a walk in woods, mountains or valleys it will probably be muddy.
- A mid-layer coat (I swear by my Arcteryx Atom and Paramo Velez Adventure Smock, but a good fleece or woolly jumper works)
- Layers!! more layers!!
- Festival/walking/hanging out/swimming stuff (delete as applicable!)
- Underwear and at least two pairs of socks. If you are going backpacking, technical pants suddenly become very cool!
- Wellies/boots. Assume it will be muddy.
- Sandals or flip flops to wear in the shower/around site/in the evening.
- Boots or trail shoes for the long distance. Wearing running shoes to hike 12 miles was a huge revelation to me, but I'm not getting rid of the boots if I'm going to hike a mountain!
3) Camping comforts
- Something to cook over - this can be as simple or as technical as your pocket will take. Consider if it is just for tea and coffee or is to cook for a large group. super lightweight or a huge fire pit for a large group to enjoy? Even at festivals, cooking or at least making your own tea/coffee can save you a fortune. A friend of mine realised at the end of Glastonbury he'd spent over £2000 on food and drink. That could have got him a helluva nice stove and ingredients! Take a look at our cookstove collection to see how easy woodburning can be, or whether gas is more your style. And don't forget the Storm Kettle!
- Matches or lighter - or a fire steel. Fire steels don't care if you drop them in water, something i've appreciated many, many times. Good for gas, meths and wood fires. But no good for lighting candles!
- Lightweight chairs for the campsite. If you can carry them your back will thank you.
- Waterproof pouches or plastic bags to wrap everything in - just in case. We like these Dristore ones from Lifeventure and for bigger pieces these Seal Line BlockerLite DrySack
- A water bottle is essential. I like the 532ml reflect for every day, and take a large 3 pint one wide-mouth bottle for carrying water to the tent.
- Yoga mat (doubles as extra layer under your bed!)
- First aid kit - pain killers, plasters, sun tan lotion and bug repellent/afterbite, and any other medications you might need. If you are going travelling think about taking extra, you know someone else will forget theirs and you will have a new best friend.
- Are you going to the wilderness? A steriliser for water will MASSIVELY reduce use of plastic bottles. Also think about taking a couple of hypodermic needles, anti-histamine, tiger balm and bandages. A good first aid kit can be collected, stashed and hopefully never used. But if you need it, you need it.
- A hammock to laze in! If you are going near mosquitos or midges add a mosquito net.
- Vacuum flask - hot coffee/tea/green tea, and useful for wine/G&Ts in the evening
- A camera! you want to turn your phone off right? If you rely on that to take photos you won't be able to switch off. So take a camera.
- Games! A pack of cards or another pack game makes you friends and gets everyone off their phones. You won't regret it!
- There is usually one thing that makes it for you. Down booties? A hot water bottle? A sunshade? Good to decide what you extra comfort is, or if you wil do without.
- And finally for festivals there is one other essential - glitter!
Always think about how far you need to take your gear. Will you be pulling it out of a van or carrying it for several miles or even days? We are always happy to advise on the right kind of bag for you but these are some key items to consider:
- Long distance hiking means you need the comfiest, lightest backpack you can get. Try it on. 10 miles in on a full load you will regret going for the red bag that looked pretty. No it won't break in. Go for comfort. Do your research. And if you are a woman this goes double. You wouldn't expect men's jeans to be figure hugging. Why do you think a man's rucksack will fit you? It might, but try it out. And try some women's fit ones, or ones recommended by women.
- Backpacking? Look for sturdy. You know how those baggage handlers will treat your bag! And you want to sit on it in train stations.
- Going to a festival? or a campsite which doesn't allow cars? If you are taking a bell tent or heavy kit, consider a trolley. I got a great sack truck from B&Q for £15 nearly ten years ago and it is still going strong.
- Suitcases can work too, no one says you can't take one camping. Especially if you are in a bell tent! They make a gresat camp table with a sarong over them. And we are certainly not telling you to buy anything you don't need. However do just remember, those tiny wheels won't work across grass!
The Scandinavians famously say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
A bit of preparation can make the camping a whole lot comfier, and then every moment of sunshine will feel like a blessing...
If you'd like me to curate your camping kit, or to have a 1:1 consultation on what you might need, then do get in touch. Half hour 1:1s are free, then other services can be costed on a case by case basis, with profits going towards helping make the outdoors easy for everyone!
Check out our camping kit for some inspiration, or pop by the shop to borrow a book about camping from the library.
And do share your adventures with #OutdoorPeopleStories!
*IMHO - In My Humble Opinion!