Escape the drudge.
A guide to camping by Phil Goodchild, twice-around-the-world camping extraordinaire!
As a camping fanatic man and boy, I still struggle to see the attraction of being cooped up in stuffy hotel rooms for a couple of weeks in what masquerades as some people’s idea of a “holiday”.
Being open minded I do see the point of some of those maid service lovers. Sure camping can become a little bit testy come the rain and the high wind. ‘Hey Phil, why should I have to cook my own breakfast or make my own bed when I could get someone to do it for me?’
Maybe, but the fact remains, if you have the right camping gear, none of that needs to be a headache. Because, when the warm summer weather comes, there’s simply nowhere better than sitting out in front of your canvas castle, a glass of your favourite tipple close at hand as you watch the sun slowly slipping behind the peaks with nothing to interfere but birdsong.
But I’m not here to argue the merits of camping versus the hotel thing. For me camping is about freedom. Throw a tent in your backpack, the pannier of your motorcycle or the boot of your car and you’ve an instant licence to go anywhere and do anything. You’ll answer to no-one, won’t have to be anywhere on time and you’ll have the great outdoors at your fingertips, 24/7. In a world of 300 odd days a year nose-to-the-grindstone nine-to-fiving, there must be no better contrast to the drudge that we’re bound to. For me a change is as good as a rest and camping is that rest – a true holiday!
Dispelling the myths
There are myths a plenty when it comes to camping. ‘Hey Phil, you roughing it again? You’re only doing it ‘cos you’re tight!’
Wrong I’m afraid. Yes there was a time when camping was roughing it. I remember in the early days, dragging a huge frame tent out the boot of my Ford Escort in the dead of night (we were waylaid by the local hostelry on the way in) and wrestling this thing until the early hours in an attempt to piece it together. In fact we only managed to get it into any kind of shape thanks to a pack of scouts whom we’d woken during the kerfuffle!
That was rough. In those days tents weighed in at half a tonne (at least!) and took a good couple of hours to erect (without the hostelry stop). Even when they were up, they flapped noisily in the breeze, zips jammed and water spurted from every dodgy seam come a downpour.
But the fact is, in the name of progress, design and advancing materials technology, tents and camping equipment have evolved since then. Buy a tent in 2007 and you’ll have three assurances. It’ll be light and relatively compact, easy and quick to erect and it’ll effortlessly protect you from the elements.
What’s more it’ll be up to the minute. Waterproof naturally and packed with lots more; windows, canopies and a host of optional tweaks such as electric hook-up inlets, tent tidies and adjustable vents. In fact, get yourself a reasonable mattress (such as the ultra comfortable, ground insulated self inflator) and you’ll benefit from one on the best nights sleep you can get. Stuffy hotel rooms, cooled by noisy, moisture sapping air-con units? Who’s ever slept well in that environment?
And whatever George down the golf club might say, camping isn’t the cheap option. Sure, you can still find pitches for around £4 or £5 a night (some of them extremely quiet and secluded if not wanting for a few facilities).
But if you’re looking for a top quality continental family pitch with all the extras, you could pay around £40 a night. Granted for that sort of money you’ll get a lot more than a postage-stamp acreage of grass.
Electric hook-up, individual barbecue area, secluded and spacious pitch and glorious high pressure hot showers are all up for grabs. And you’ll never see the kids, because the minute you arrive, they’ll have their bikes off the car and will be bee-lining to the campsite swimming pool which, with water slides, water jets and wave machines, has enough to put Centre Parcs to shame.
That in my book is where camping really wins out. Kids. Go away with them on a hotel trip and invariably they’re moping about switching channels on the bedroom television, to a constant ‘we’re bored’ monotone. Give them a campsite, a bike or a pair of rollerblades and they’re in heaven. Leaving you with that peaceful glorious view and nothing to worry about except where to position your relaxer chair to make the most of the sun.
Get your equipment right and you’re half way there. Personally I’ve always been a fan of Gelert where camping gear is concerned. And I don’t think I’ll be breaking too many secrets if I divulge exactly how they do it. Obviously they’re big, so they have massive buying power (helping to keep the cost per unit down) but probably more importantly, they look at other people’s tent and camping equipment designs, take what’s best and make it themselves. This way they dramatically cut design costs. Also as many Gelert products are actually made in the same factories as other manufacturers, there is no difference in quality. The result: The same or better product at a much lower price.
When selecting equipment for a given trip, I have a few basic pointers. As a guy who likes space, I normally try and take a tent that’s twice as big as I need (unless boot space is at a premium). So if there are just the two of us, we’ll take a four berth, four and we’ll take either a six or an eight. It works pretty well with enough space to spread out, dress and store everything (particularly if there’s bad weather forecast).
Secondly, I split the packing piles into three; sleeping cooking and leisure. For the sleeping pile that’s sleeping bags (or a good quilt if you have the room), mattresses, pillows, and a night light. For cooking, it’s a stove (usually a two ring with a grill – great for cooked breakfasts), regulator and cylinder, camp cook set, crockery set and washing up bowl. I’ll also put in a cold box and an electric hook-up cable to power it (also useful for an electric kettle, music and a lamp).
Lastly for the leisure side, it depends on the trip. These days we take at least one continental and one UK camping trip a year. If it’s continental we’re normally touring maybe spending three nights in each of three locations (usually mountains, beach and a ‘surprise’ location) if it’s UK we’ll normally spend a week in the same place and plan excursions from there.
Normally a bike is high on the list (a must for exploring and meandering down to the local bakery in the morning) as is my relaxer chair for those evenings around the table with friends and a bottle of wine. That’s it really. Forget portable televisions, computers and the rest of it – they’re too much of a reminder of what we’re escaping and there’s never time to use them anyway!
- Sleeping bags (or quilts)
- Waterproofs (just in case)
- Spanner for regulator
- Crockery and Cutlery
- Cold box or portable fridge
- Water carrier
- Hook-up cable
- International converter (most campsites hire/lend them)
- Four- gang extension (phone chargers, etc.)
- Lantern or light
- Windbreak (useful for marking territory)
- Portable barbecue
- Mosquito repellent / candles
- Radio or music
Better to plan
Out of all holiday options camping offers the most in terms of freedom. Sure caravanning or motor-caravanning come close but, in the main, they’re slow, cumbersome and, in my experience, more difficult to secure on a pitch if you’re arriving without a booking. However whilst camping spells freedom with a capital ‘F’ and offers the most opportunity (we’ve always managed to find a pitch), planning is recommended.
In the early days, we’d take off into Europe with nothing but a cheap ferry booking (Speedferries is worth a look for value) and a pile of Francs or Pesetas (remember them?!). But this often led to longer than necessary drives followed by a last couple of frantic hours searching for that elusive last minute campsite. The results, as can be imagined, were often not the best in terms of pitch quality or in-car atmosphere (‘Can you read that map, or what?)!
But all that’s changed now thanks to two wonderful advancements in technology – sat-nav and the good old Internet. Now it’s easy to spend a few nights Googling places to go and campsites to stay. Then simply book them up over the web and programme every destination of the tour into the sat-nav. No maps, it’s easy and completely stress free, just as camping should be!
Probably what’s most endearing about camping is, as my granddad used to say, ‘it’s character building!’ And it is. Because the fact remains, if you’re camping, sooner or later, you’re going to get caught in the rain. Not pleasant admittedly.
But in those instances, just when the downpour shifts to storm-force and when all around you sags and bows to breaking point, I reflect in three ways: First, a good sense of humour always gets you through, second the thought that soon the sky will clear, the birds will sing and all will be well again and third, somewhere not very far away at that precise moment, there will be another couple or family cooped up in a stuffy hotel room with a choice of watching either the rain lashing their window or good old crap ‘we’re bored’ daytime television (often in a foreign language). Now where would you rather be?!