Helpful advice and
information for families heading for
the campsites or the camping shops.
Section Index (this
is a big page!!!)
There is something
about camping. Be it in the Baden-Powell
style or amongst the luxuries of modern
equipment, there is much satisfaction
to be gleaned from this soft adventure.
No hotel or B&B regimentation and
no hostel-style communal living; just
you and your tent in the outdoors. Although
principally a backpacker I do enjoy
the comforts of camping in large tents
when staying in an area for any length
of time. Utilising campsite facilities
and the capacity of a car to carry home-comforts
always ensures a civilised end to a
good days walk. With feet gently throbbing,
my friends and I sit back to enjoy a
river-cooled beer while the day's supper
sizzles on the Bar-B-Que... bliss!
see, camping is as cheap as you want
to make it and, being brought up in
Britain where accommodation is fairly
expensive, we had to camp. In fact,
it is still the least expensive option
to explore both the UK and the Continent.
Yet you do not have to forgo comfort.
Top campsites offer superb facilities
for a family, and modern gear makes
up for those sites lacking in this department.
A little thought and investment will
equip one with gear which, with appropriate
care, will provide years of use.
The basic questions
for someone just starting out are what
to take and where to go. The where is
easy; choose an area or country that
you would like to visit and contact
the relevant tourist boards. Most produce
literature which lists many of the sites
to be found around their area. A visit
to a good bookshop should also pay dividends
for many stock site guides published
by organisations such as the RAC. Some
sites are luxurious and even boast their
own bar and restaurant on top of the
normal shower, shop and laundry facilities
offered. Some even bring electricity
to your tent so that you can watch television
while drinking your 'fridge-cooled wine.
Many sites cater
for families by providing children's
playgrounds. And the price for all these
services? A family with two children
would expect to pay around £10-00
to £15-00 a night in high season.
At the other end of the scale are sites
that offer the barest of facilities.
Unlike the larger sites, these sites
only cater for a minimum of visitors
and this may only warrant the provision
of a toilet and running water. It is
not unusual to find yourself sharing
such a site with only a couple of other
campers. With the right gear these sites
can offer very comfortable and peaceful
havens at only around £3 to £4
Given cheap site
fees and pleasant site locations it
is not surprising that camping is popular.
It certainly pays to book your pitch
in advance especially in peak season.
In fact, larger sites often demand this
and ask for a minimum booking of three
days. Yet it is still possible to pack
the car on the spur of the moment and
find an empty, small site on which to
pitch. These are rare, joyful finds
and should be jealously guarded from
Having chosen where
to go and found an appropriate site,
it is now time to choose the equipment
to take. The minimum equipment needed
covers shelter, sleeping and cooking;
thus the basic items taken should be
a tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear.
Of course, if you just took these items
life would be Spartan indeed and there
is no need for that when there is a
wealth of equipment to choose from and
First, let us consider
cost. Obviously many items serve a dual
purpose and can probably be found at
home. Pots and pans can be taken from
the kitchen - as can cutlery, condiments
and food. Nearly everyone has a torch.
Deck chairs and collapsible picnic table
can be taken from the garden shed. You
will also find uses for items that you
have to purchase. Gas lamps will provide
you with emergency lighting in power
cuts; coolboxes can be used to protect
food when de-frosting 'fridges and freezers.
Use sleeping bags as emergency bedding
for the unexpected guest. Even frame
tents have uses other than for camping.
I have used them as a covered outside
eating area at parties.
You can obtain enough
camping gear for between £500-00
to £1000-00 to equip a family
of four. This may seem expensive until
you break it down. With care, you should
expect your investment to last around
10 years. This gives you an outlay of
between £50-00 to £100-00
per year for your accommodation! Even
if purchasing mid to top-end gear and
using it only once a year, you could
still take your family for a seven day
holiday, staying at a top campsite,
for around £170-00 plus food and
Now, the costs talked
about so far may still appear high to
beginners; especially if they are unsure
about the thrills of camping. The answer
to this problem is to borrow or hire
the necessary equipment. Once you decide
to make the investment, talk to your
specialist retailer for there may be
special re-payment schemes available
on expensive items in order to soften
the financial blow.
Over the years the
faithful ridge and pyramid tents have
lost their popularity to the more spacious
continental-style frame tent. Now even
these are under threat. The introduction
of hoop technology into the larger tent
market has produced some very popular
and radical designs.
So what do we look
for? Unlike their lightweight brethren,
these tents are carried from car boot
to camping ground where they are pitched
and left. They do not have to be light
- just roomy, comfortable and hard wearing.
No matter the design all share a common
feature; the division of the tent into
separate living and bedroom accommodation.
Position of doors and windows (Yes,
windows!) are dependent upon design.
frame tents offer the luxury of room
which makes them ideal for families.
You can stand up and walk around in
them. Large bedroom apartments, stretching
from floor to ceiling, mean that you
can dress standing up. There is room
for hanging wardrobes; an eating area;
even small kitchens, with flame-retardant,
easy-clean window and walls, which allow
you to stand and cook in comfort. Typically,
frame tents are constructed from water
and mildew resistant cotton. The lower
wall of the outer tent is made from
a wipe-clean material to protect it
from mud and dirt. There is often a
large front facing door complete with
windows. Windows also appear in the
side walls. All this is placed over
a spring-connected metal frame and pegged
out. Once up, lightweight cotton sleeping
compartments are suspended from the
ceiling and their groundsheets pegged
Frame tents have
definitely improved over the years.
Frame designs are more "user friendly".
They are more stable. Unfortunately,
they are still heavy and require at
least two people to pitch them with
ease. Although cotton treatments have
also improved, these tents still require
a bit more care and take longer to dry
than the man-made fabric alternatives.
A new cotton tent requires "weathering"
i.e. getting it thoroughly wet and then
allowing it to dry naturally. The best
thing to do is practice pitching the
tent in your garden and then leave it
there for a few days.
Hoop and dome-style
tents offer plenty of ground area for
the weight. However, headroom is limited
with the highest part of the tent occurring
along its centre line. These tents tend
to be constructed from man-made fabrics
and have either fibreglass or aluminium
poles. The design is normally kept fairly
simple to keep costs down and make pitching
easy. Ideal for a couple, the lack of
headroom will make them snug for larger
groups. It is the hybrids that are of
most interest. Designs which were once
associated with ridge tents are now
being applied to hoop and dome amalgamations.
One example of this is the Vis-à-vis;
a design that puts sleeping quarters
each side of, and in line with, the
living area. Hoop and dome equivalents
are popular tents.
notable tent manufacturer is Kyham Leisure
Ltd. This company produces a range of
self-erecting tents. These tents have
self-locking poles inserted through
the outer tent's sleeves. The inner
tent is attached to the outer. All you
need to do is open the tent out and
it all lacks into place - just like
an umbrella! Speeds for erecting these
tents are incredible. It is claimed
that 2 people can pitch the largest
tent in the range (the Ultradome) within
120 seconds! The Ultradome is based
upon a very large dome tent. Trefoil
like in appearance, half-domes spring
from its wall to form 2 three-berth
sleeping compartments and entrance,
equally situated around the central
living space. This excellent family
tent will certainly attract attention
from fellow campers.
The final tent to
consider is the toilet tent. This tent,
with its portable toilet, is vital when
using sites without facilities. They
are also a godsend for parents with
small kids - at night it is far more
convenient to use your own toilet than
having to walk children across the length
of the campsite.
Good camping practice
will help prolong the life of your tent.
For a start, get to know your tent and
learn how to pitch it correctly. Incorrectly
pitched tents can cause damage to the
seams and zips. Do not use guy ropes
or rubber tensioners to remove tent
pegs from the ground. Use the proper
peg extractor. Before pitching the tent
clear the ground of anything that may
damage a groundsheet.
Do not pitch under
trees. These may shed branches or drop
sticky sap onto your tent. Further they
can attract lightening strike and also
drip water long after a rain storm finishes.
Dismantle the tent carefully. Push poles
through sleeves - do not pull out. Try
to pack tent dry and clean with the
zips closed. If you have to pack the
tent wet then DRY IT OUT AS SOON AS
YOU GET HOME! If you do not do this
you run the risk of permanent damage
from mildew. Pack the pegs and poles
separate from the tent to avoid damage.
Once home and the
tent is dry, store it clean and loosely
folded in a dry, well aired place. Store
the pegs and poles separately. Lightly
oil metal poles. Clean off when re-using
them. Damaged poles can either be repaired
or replaced using easily obtainable
spares. Major fabric and zip repairs
can be undertaken either at home or
by a specialist repair company such
as the manufacturer. Dirt and stains
can be removed either by brushing or
by gentle washing with a mild soap solution.
Do not scrub or use detergents. Rinse
well and dry thoroughly. If necessary,
re-proof using a good proprietary product
such as those produced by Grangers and
Nikwax. Mildew is a curse. Stop small
patches from spreading by treating with
a weak solution of Milton. Dry the tent
thoroughly, brush carefully and re-proof.
Unfortunately, I do not know of anything
that will remove the stain. Where severe
damage has been done it may be necessary
to patch or replace panels.
Early morning mist
will soon sap away the heat, and cold
nights can be experienced in summer.
The moral is do not skimp on your bedding
for there is nothing worse than waking
up feeling chilly. Do not worry about
overheating on hot, balmy nights; good
bags will provide ample ventilation
- just concentrate on keeping warm.
Luckily, you do not have to look at
expensive lightweight bags designed
to give optimum heat for low weight
The door is open
to look at some of the less expensive
bulkier bags - remember you have a vehicle
to carry your equipment. A good two/three
season sleeping bag should be adequate
to service the summer camper's needs.
Features and fillings will be the deciding
factors when buying a bag. Look for
a large bag that gives ample head protection
through the use of a drawcord. It is
great to be able to snuggle down into
your bag (pulling it tight around the
ears) on a cold morning. A two-way zip
running the length of the bag will provide
ample ventilation on hot nights. Further,
this should allow you the facility to
zip two bags together - just remember
to make sure that your partner has a
bag with a zip on the opposite side
to yours if you want to enjoy night
time snuggles! A sleeping bag's filling
will either be one of the numerous synthetic
fibres or down. Down is renowned for
its warmth to weight ratio, however,
being so delicate it requires special
care. It will loose its properties when
wet and many people are allergic to
will take more abuse. They are less
expensive when compared to down and
this makes up for their shorter lifespan.
They have a psychological warmth to
them which arises from their bulk; a
feeling enhanced if your bag has a brushed
cotton lining. Synthetic bags will retain
heat when wet. This fact, and their
relatively easy maintenance, make them
ideal for the rigours of family camping.
There are a number
of companies offering children's sleeping
bags. These are a good idea when camping
with younger children for the bag size
prevents them from slipping to the bottom
of the bag at night. If you cannot buy
a children's bag then use an adult's
bag and limit its size by tying it off
in the middle. Being smaller, children's
bags are easier to wash and dry. Once
you have bought your bag consider what
you are going to sleep on.
Look at pump-up
beds such as lilos. These come in various
sizes and are very comfortable. They
also double as an emergency bed for
visitors. Remember to purchase a footpump
or an electric pump to inflate your
bed. If you are going for comfort then
buy one of the camp pillows that are
on the market. These are as comfortable
as your own pillow, pack into a small
space and are easy to maintain.
Down sleeping bags
are notoriously difficult to clean;
synthetic bag's only slightly less so.
The shared problems are the sheer volume
of the things, their weight when wet
and drying them. In fact, don't get
them dirty. This may sound impossible
yet using a sheet sleeping bag will
help greatly in keeping the sleeping
bag clean. These are simple bags that
tie into the sleeping bag. They are
made out of light cotton or a man-made
fabric like Pertex.
You can purchase
both single and double size sheet sleeping
bags; or you can make your own. Not
only do they keep your body from dirtying
the inside of your bag but they will
also double as a sheet sleeping bag
for hostelling. When the sheet sleeping
bag gets dirty just remove and machine
wash. The easiest bags to maintain are
pile sleeping bags manufactured by Buffalo.
They are warm and comfortable...and
very hard wearing - a fact appreciated
in extreme conditions. Their ability
to withstand abuse is legendary. Mud;
dirt; spilt coffee; baby's dinner; just
wash, squeeze out and put out to dry.
When washing bags
never use detergents. Use either soap
flakes or a proprietary cleaner purchased
from a specialist retailer. Try to wash
bags by hand; rinse well and gently
squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
Place on a sheet of plastic and move
to the drying area. Do not remove the
bag without such support or the weight
of the filling could ruin the internal
baffles. Dry the bag on a level clothes
horse in a well aired position (synthetic
bags can be dried in a large commercial
tumble drier). As a down bag dries break
up clumps of down by hand. Once more
dry than wet shake the bag regularly
to distribute the down and aid drying.
This process can take days!
Specialist dry cleaning
and down cleaning services are available.
If you have a bag cleaned this way then
MAKE SURE THAT THE BAG IS WELL AIRED
BEFORE USE TO PREVENT BEING OVERCOME
BY FUMES. Store bags by loosely hanging
them in a warm, dry place.
This is a subject
dear to my heart. When camping I will
often purchase a disposable Bar-B-Que
to recapture the delights of outdoor
cooking which, alas, has become harder
to enjoy with the increasing prohibition
of campfires. However, the practicalities
of gas or petrol fired stoves are appreciated
- especially first thing in the morning.
Features and fuel are the main considerations
when in choosing your stove.
couple going camping can get by cooking
on a small picnic stove. Families will
probably prefer the ease of duel ring
burners and a grill. Grills tend to
be fairly inefficient; a griddle and
toasting rack, purchased with a plain
two ring stove, being far better buys.
Many packed twin burner stoves have
the appearance of an attaché
case complete with carrying handle.
The top folds back to reveal the burners;
two wings unfold from either side of
the top to complete an efficient windbreak.
The fuel container is connected to the
stove and, hey presto, you are ready
to cook. But wait! What fuel should
be used? Well, both gas and petrol stoves
are equally matched when it comes to
initial purchase price and safety.
Gas stoves are simple
to use and the fuel is safer to store.
Unfortunately, gas stoves appear to
be more expensive to run than petrol
for they have slower cooking times,
have pressure problems as the fuel runs
out, and gas costs more than petrol.
Petrol vapour pressure can be maintained,
no matter how many rings are burning
or if the fuel is getting low, by manual
pumping. In use petrol is not as clean
as gas, it certainly smells and you
can run the risk of contamination from
spillages. So there you have it.
efficiency. No matter what stove is
used it pays to invest in a proper camp
kitchen to stand it on. Camp kitchens
provide stable cooking and washing facilities
at a safe height. They also keep everything
to hand. It also pays to invest in two
good water containers. Use one for waste
water; making sure both are colour coded
to avoid confusion. Although expensive,
you can purchase drum-shaped water carriers
designed to be rolled between tap and
tent. They certainly take the back-breaking
work out of fetching water.
and Care of Stoves
It must be noted
that the care and use of both stoves
and lanterns are similar. For safe and
efficient use, keep both items clean
and maintained in accordance to manufacturers
- Always use manufacturer
- Always use the
recommended fuel and allow the unit
to go out and cool before re-fueling
or servicing it.
- Always refuel
outdoors, well away from any source
- Always operate
the unit in a well ventilated area
to avoid the risk of fatal carbon
monoxide poisoning - this is a very
Do not use if you
suspect the units are faulty - seek
have a torch. They are vital for those
nocturnal wanderings around the campsite
in search of the toilet block. A headtorch
is also useful to illuminate jobs that
require both hands, such as changing
gas cylinders. Electric lamps are a
safe source of general illumination
but are expensive to run; far better
to use either gas or petrol. Both fuels
produce a bright light; petrol being
the brightest of the two. Both types
of lamp should incorporate anti-flare
features in case the lamp is toppled
Size and style of
lamp is dictated by the area to be illuminated.
You can get gas standard lamps where
the lamp unit is mounted on a tube that
acts as the gas delivery pipe. This
screws directly onto the gas cylinder
to place the light source at an ideal
level to provide soft general illumination.
Twin mantle petrol lights produce a
very bright sharp light. I prefer this
type of light source when reading or
doing jobs like cooking. Coleman produce
the Companion lantern; a small electric
light in the shape of a Coleman petrol
lamp. These are excellent for bedroom
lighting and use by the children. These
lamps also convert to a torch.
Use And Care
use of pressurised fuel lamps is similar
to stoves. Remember that, in use, they
burn oxygen so always ensure adequate
ventilation. Always carry spare mantles.
These are the delicate white globes
that glow when subjected to the burning
vapours. A damaged mantle should not
be used but replaced immediately - always
carry spares! They are easy to replace;
only becoming delicate once they are
burnt in. Once burnt in they should
not be touched for they are easily damaged.
My own family camping
equipment with rough prices (1996) follows;
(Family consisting of two adults and
- Lichfield 6 berth
- Sleeping bags
and mats £200-00
- Footpump £7-00
- Coleman 2-burner
Petrol Stove £69-99
- (As above but
without Peizo ignition £49-00)
- Coleman Thermo-electric
- (Standard Model
- Coleman Camp
- Coleman Petrol
Light Twin Mantle £42-99
- Camping pots
and pans £22-00
- 2 Water Carriers
- 1 for waste £8-00
- Plastic Plates
And Cups £15-00
- 3 Coleman Companion
- (For the children)Lichfield
Toilet Tent £24-00
- and a Portable
Taken From Home:
- Clothes inc Wellington
Boots, Wash gear etc
- Books and games
- Deck chairs
- Picnic table
- Radio Cassette
- Cutlery, tin
opener, bottle opener
- Food and drink
- Pan scourer,
washing up liquid, tea towels, kitchen
- Petrol with funnel,
gas cartridges, spare mantles for
- Mallet for tent
- Repair kit
- First aid kit
- Walking gear
Most items carried
in boot of car and roof rack. Trailer
Given the cost of
camping gear it is worth taking out
an insurance policy to protect your
investment. Try to get the best policy
available. This should, at the very
least, cover you against loss, damage
or theft on a new for old basis.
Unlike a couple
going camping, it will be rare for a
family to be able to carry all their
gear inside the car. Roofracks and trailers
are the answer to the problem of moving
heavy, bulky gear.
A roofrack will
happily remove bulky items from the
car, however, do not overload the weight
carrying capacities of the car or roofrack.
Use racks for lightweight items such
as plastic jerrycans. Ensure that items
are well covered and tied down to prevent
weather damage and loss when traveling.
protection is a priority then consider
purchasing a roofbox. These are aerodynamically
designed polyethylene boxes that attach
to the rack and offer the security of
a locked lid. Camping trailers are normally
made from wood and mounted on a galvanised
frame. Again, watch the load carrying
capabilities of trailers - some can
carry heavier loads than others even
though they look identical to the inexperienced
There are some trailers
designed around the roof box. These
have locking lids and do away with tying
tarpaulins over the load. A good trailer
will carry most of your gear. To stop
trailers being stolen when left unattended
use either a wheel clamp or lock the
Happy Camping. Clive