Gear - Equipment

 

The following are just a few very basic ideas/information about the type of gear you may need if heading off camping.  A lot of it comes down to personal opinion as to what is necessary and what isn't and everyone has their favourite brand of gear.

Tent, Caravan or camper trailer?

This is very much a personal choice.  If extended trips are planned and accessibility isn't a problem, then a caravan may be the best option.  You'll have all the comforts of home, albeit on a smaller scale, and you can stop just about anywhere.  Caravans aren't cheap though and regular usage is required if you're going to get your money's worth.

Canper trailers are great, and now the choice of models is extensive.  You can buy 4WD or 2WD camper trailers, trailers with fridges and 12V electrical systems for lights, with kitchens fitted, hard floor or soft floor - the choice and upgradability is almost endless.  They are not cheap, however, with some top of the range off road models pushing $50,000.  I own a very basic, el-cheapo version.  It is rated as an off road trailer, with all terrain tyres and beefed up suspension (leaf springs of course) but looking closely at the workmanship, I don't think I'll be dragging it over any extreme 4WD territory.  I reckon it would fall apart.  But I have used it on several occasions now, mostly short trips, and a bit of off-roading in the Flinders, and it pulled up OK.  The bed is comfortable and the tent is made of heavy duty canvas, which makes a change from the nylon tents that flap about in the wind. 

With camper trailers, storage is a major advantage as you can put a lot of your gear in the trailer underneath the folded down tent.  Jerry can and water container holders can also be fitted to the sides of the trailer to save carrying them on or in your car.  Likewise with gas bottle holders.

The only disadvantage is you have to tow them.  This means extra fuel costs. 

The humble tent is a good option for most camping situations.  They are extremely portable, easy to erect (most times anyway), and you don't have to tow them or pay registration and insurance costs.  If you don't go camping very often, the nylon, dome style tents are great.  They are light and cheap and last for quite a while if you look after them.  Canvas tents are more expensive and weigh heaps more, but they don't flap around in the wind so much.  You can buy anything from a one person hiking tent right up to the huge 12 person or more tents with 2 or 3 rooms. 

Contemplating a trip along the Oodnadatta track, I think a tent would be the best option.  We would be staying in one place for one night only and then moving on.  The camper trailer is a pain in the you know what to put up just for one night and I didn't fancy towing the trailer that distance along that road, what with the extra fuel costs.  I was also confident the corrugations would kill the trailer.  The solution - those two person (there would only be my son and I on this trip) dome tents that fold down flat into a semi circle.  You take them out of the cover and release the velcro and it springs up.  A few pegs around the sides and that's it.  No poles, no ropes.  Ideal if only stopping for one night.

There are quite a few things to consider, and all have advantages.  A bit of thought will have you choosing the right one.  More likely you'll eventually end up with two of the above, especially if the camping bug really bites.

A good nights sleep.

This is one of the most important aspects to sort out.  Whilst camping, if you can't get a good nights sleep it can ruin your trip.

If you have a caravan or camper trailer then you are laughing.  A nice comfy mattress will be waiting for you at the end of the day.  If your'e in a tent then it's not so easy.

A friend of mine is perfectly happy sleeping in a tent on an inflatable mattress.  He sleeps like a baby with no ill effects at all.  I can't.  No matter how big the mattress is, I'll roll off of it.  Most are not particularly well insulated either, so in almost all weather, the mattress will become wet underneath you. 

You can forget those cheap foam mats that roll up.  They are very uncomfortable and cold and you may as well sleep on the tent floor. 

Camp stretchers are not a bad option.  They are a bit more expensive (ranging up to ridiculously expensive), but they keep you off of the floor.  The main problem with them is they are cold and also become wet in cold weather.  In hot weather they are great as the air circulates around you.

I think the best option is one of the insulated, self inflating mattresses.  Once again, they are not cheap, but they are quite comfortable and don't let the cold through.  They are available in single and double (king and queen size also), and are easy to inflate.  Just remove the valves or caps and wait until it inflates.  They don't inflate much obviously, not like an air mattress, but enough to be comfortable.

Of course, if on a solo trip, then a swag is by far and away the best bet.  Easy to set up (basically you just have to unroll it), very warm and comfortable.  I own one of the three hoop models that erect like a mini tent, although they look more like a cocoon.  If it's too hot for the canvas, you can unzip it and just leave the mosquito netting zipped up, so you receive the air flow without the mozzies (or anything else) getting in.  I have been caught in a few downpours too and, with the canvas zipped up, have been kept completely dry. 

The only downside to a swag is that they are quite large and take up a fair bit of room when packing.

No matter which option you choose, it is important to lay down a ground sheet under your tent or swag.  This helps with insulating from the cold ground and makes whatever bedding you have more efficient.

Sleeping bags

The choices are extensive, but just make sure you buy one that is warm enough for the job.

I remember camping during winter in Port Lincoln National Park.  I was younger then and was hopelessly underprepared in the sleeping department.  I had a new sleeping bag, but it was rated at 5 degrees.  I was sleeping on one of those horrible foam mats.  The sleeping bag was my only bedding.  The temperature dropped to minus 2 that night.  I didn't get much sleep and was up before dawn running up and down the beach so I didn't freeze to death.

Now I have a cosy minus 5 rated sleeping bag, but I've still got the 5 degree rated one.  I use one in winter and the other in summer. 

I don't think brand is overly important, but you can spend quite a bit on a sleeping bag.  Just buy the best you can afford with the appropriate temperature rating.

Tables

A table may not seem like a very important part of your campng set up, and I did without one for years, but they can make life so much easier.

For food preparation, washing up (dishes and people), and just for placing items in a readily accessible spot, they are unbeatable.  I used to have my esky or fridge in the back of the 4WD and just prepare meals on a tray.  If I was on my own it was no problem and even with just my son and I it was easy enough.  For family groups of three or more people you are going to need a table of some sort.

There is an extensive range of camp tables available.  Some have bench seats and fold up.  Others have shelves or storage areas fitted to them.  Some camp chairs even have a fold out table bit attached.  For me, the simplest and most effective has proven to be a folding table (no chairs or benches attached).  They fold up flat, so packing is no real problem, and they are quite stable.  Card tables are OK, and would be fine if placed on a nice grassy or concrete area, but they can be a bit wobbly on slightly uneven ground.

I have used the aluminium tables that roll up and slip into a nylon carry bag.  (They look like a camp chair when packed away).  They are very light and, after a bit of use, tend to bend out of shape.  They are not particularly stable either.

At the moment, I have a folding table with a heavy plastic top.  It has two legs that fold down, a little like an ironing board, and it is quite stable.  It folds flat and lives in the camper trailer.  It measures about 4ft by 2ft and has plenty of room for food preparation etc.

For washing up, I have a folding wire stand with two "shelves".  A large plastic bowl sits on the top shelf and any soap, detergent, towels etc sit on the bottom.

The main considerations when contemplating a table are size, how stable is it?, and is it easy enough to pack and store?

Insect Repellant

I have come to the conclusion that the more time you spend out and about, the less you are bothered by annoying insects.  Flies don't irritate me like they did, but I admit, if the mosquitoes are thick, they drive me nuts.

My late father was a classic when it came to flies.  He would stomp around and use some colourful language in an attempt to scare them off, but would flatly refuse to use any type of insect repellant.  My son, the poor bugger, has inherited this stubborness.  He too hates flies, but will not use repellant.  Very strange.

I don't mind the stuff though, but it has to be said, every brand I have tried will work....for a very short time.  After a few minutes the bugs return, so it's either cover yourself with more repellant or put up with them.  I have found that brand is not particularly important.  I'm currently using a cheap brand availble from major supermarkets and it works very well.  Apparently you can buy wrist and ankle bands now that supposedly keep insects away.

Repellant is often overlooked, and I tend to forget it at times, but a recent trip to the Riverland during some hot weather reminded me how important it is, especially if you have children.  In the warmer months it is just about a necessity.

Portable Gas Cookers

I have found these little stoves to be invaluable and they certainly save a bit of time when it comes to setting up for cooking.  I used to prefer the larger camping cookers - you know the ones with two burners that connect to a small gas bottle.  This necessitated lugging a gas bottle around, as well as the cooker itself.  Whilst it's certainly not a big deal (and I still carry the two burner cooker/gas bottle combination on some trips), for shorter camping trips, I take the portable cooker.  The gas comes from a small cannister.  These can be purchased from camping and outdoor stores, and also from major supermarkets - so there is usually no problems finding them.  They are cheap to buy and a single cannister lasts me the best part of two days and I use the cooker an average of 4 or 5 times a day. 

They are very handy for day trips as well, enabling you to quickly whip up a bbq for the kids or boil some water for tea or coffee without having to drag out the gas bottle and connect it to the gas cooker etc etc.  The portable stoves/cookers come in their own plastic case.  

The only time these things are frustrating to use is during very cold weather.  They will start, but the flame remains very low and it takes forever for anything to cook or boil.  The little gas cannisters become cold and it effects the flow of gas.  you can try removing the cannister and giving it a shake to get things flowing, but ultimately, if it's still cold outside, it will slow down again. So, if it's going to be cold in the mornings and evenings, it would make sense to take the traditional camping stove.

On most occasions though, the portable stoves are much easier and quicker to use.  Thye can be purchased in outdoor and camping stores as well as major discount stores.