With darkness closing in and the wind picking up, your first trip away is not the place to learn how to set up even the most basic tent.
The transition from camping novice to ‘old salt’ can be a bumpy and uncomfortable journey paved with incidents (or accidents) that are either never talked about, or more often, form the basis for campfire discussions. Some throw themselves into the camping ‘deep-end’ armed with little if any knowledge, and vow never to do it again. Starting out on the wrong foot is not the ideal way to build camping confidence, If you’re a beginner consider these basic strategies.
Keep it simple
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should replicate every comfort of home on your camping forays. The vast range of camping gear available these days allows travellers to virtually set-up a home away from home, and while this is a good option for experienced campers (who know exactly what they want and need) it can be overwhelming for beginners.
Buy the basics:
- sleeping mats
- sleeping bags
- portable stove and,
- cooking utensils.
Leave all of the fancy stuff until later – even a cooler box or fridge is best selected down the track in your camping career, after you have a better idea of the style of camping you prefer. Keeping it simple extends to the products selected too. Try to purchase tents with minimal poles or guy ropes for ease of setting up, and choose basic chairs and tables, initially at least, over those with multiple hinge points and fiddly bits.
Practice at home
With darkness closing in and the wind picking up, your first trip away is not the place to learn how to set up even the most basic tent. Assemble all of your gear at home and get the kids involved. Ideally do a practice set-up for a night spent at home and pretend that you don’t have any additional resources than what you’ll have when away from home. That way you’ll see whether the sleeping bags are warm enough, the tent pegs strong enough, lights are bright enough and if the gas cylinder is empty!
Short trips are good
Initial camping trips are best spent relatively close to home, over a weekend or short break such as the Easter long weekend. Itemise your own list of essential items to take, and then travel and set-up at one of these nearby camps (preferably one with a shopping centre not too far away). There is no doubt that additional gear or an improved vehicle set-up will be required, and usually sooner than later, a number of short trips will soon highlight this! The need to buy extra products or change your set-up isn’t an indication of failure but, rather a process of refining your camping style and set-up– that will continue for years into the future.
Talk to others
Campers are enthusiastic teachers and are usually more than happy to dispense advice to inexperienced participants. Information on equipment suitability, and handy gear or tips is shared around the campfire or virtually anywhere that travellers gather out in the bush. Ask plenty of questions of the old timers and listen to their ideas and anecdotes – not all advice will be relevant, but some will come in handy. One day you too will pass on your thoughts on the best camping practices.
Prepare for the worst
Just because you are heading to the beach in summer does not guarantee that warm days and dry nights will be the norm (especially in Northern Australia!). Inclement weather is one of the most testing situations to confront campers and preparation is the key to dealing with, and making the most of it. Make sure that your tent is adequately proofed, you have plenty of clothes in reserve, and you carry a few spare tarps just in case. Carry raincoats, good lights, extra pegs and canned food for those testing times.
Like other decisions in life, there is always more merit in choosing quality over quantity. Camping places considerable demands on equipment and being able to rely upon good tents and sleeping gear is paramount to enjoyable trips. Quality zips, sound stitching and good materials are worth the initial investment as failure of key items out in the bush will make everybody’s life miserable. When buying products, the key is to look closely at products, read reviews and ask others for advice. Compromises on safety are equally foolish – lightly engineered camp chairs are risky and poor quality stoves potentially hazardous. My advice is to buy the best you can afford and don’t scrimp on safety items.
Containers are good
Use a square re-sealable container for most items you camp with. Sealable containers keep the contents in and dust, moisture and animals out. Square and rectangular shapes allow for better packing possibilities and more efficient use of space. Clearly label all containers with what their contents should be, and avoid using glass containers as much as possible. Strong plastic will survive many trips, is lightweight and generally transparent. Clothing is best packed in soft bags, which can be jammed into irregular corners of the car or trailer. Where possible, store regularly used items in locations where you can access without unpacking other items first, and use water impervious bags for tents if you are touring.