Camping equipment buying guide
If it's fresh air and green fields you're looking for, make the most of your trip by going prepared. From family camping to weekend festivals, the right equipment can make all the difference.
Tents are essentially your home from home while you're out and about, so it's good to get the one that's right for you. Size will be your first consideration, and whether the tent can comfortably sleep the number of people as well as being transportable. If you plan on spending considerable time in your tent, a tent sleeping more than required can add storage space or more room for activities.
The design of the tent can also make a difference to its functionality and portability. The main tent styles are:
Both provide different arrangements of space to suit your needs.
If you need a place to stay overnight when cycling, trekking, motorcycling and other traveling activities, a small, light, 1 or 2-man tent will do the trick. If your tent is any bigger than this, it is likely to result in it being too large and heavy to carry with you. Pop-up tents are great for quick-pitching when caught out under bad weather.
When you have transport such as a car, you can afford to take a larger tent with you. Bigger tents take slightly longer to pitch, but have the advantage of giving you a more comfortable stay if you intend to stay-put longer than a single night. These too come in a pop-up variety to save on time when pitching.
If space is your main priority, the larger tents offer storage, privacy and room to live comfortably for as long as you need. These tents are more for holidaymakers with larger groups or families as opposed to shorter stays.
Features to look for
- Waterproof rating
Consideration for the kind of weather you and your tent will have to endure will lead you to looking at its waterproof rating. The rating is usually given in millimetres (mm) or its Hydrostatic Head (hh) and refers to the amount of water the fabric will hold before leaking. An entry-level tent with a rating of less than 1000 is only suitable for showers, and for true waterproof classification, a tent must have a hydrostatic head of at least 1200. Premium tents with a rating of 2000+ will keep you dry in anything mother nature can throw at you.
The insulation of a tent influences how warm you will be at night. Most tents are double-skinned, meaning there is an extra layer between you and the outside air, reducing condensation on the inside of your tent, and offering greater warmth.
If you plan on camping near water or other wild areas, mosquito nets on the bedroom doors improves air circulation while preventing insects from getting in.
Sleeping bags have long been a staple of camping trips, but there's a lot more to them than meets the eye. Their key features are explained below.
Insulation keeps the heat in and the cold out. Different types of insulation have different benefits. Insulation is measured in gsm (grams per square metre), also written as g/m². This number tells you how much filling has been compressed into a given area. The higher the figure, the denser the insulation is and the warmer the sleeping bag will be.
- Comfort rating
The comfort rating is based on the lowest temperature at which an average man or woman can expect to sleep comfortably in a relaxed position.
- Extreme rating
The extreme rating is the minimum temperature at which an average woman can remain for six hours without the risk of death from hypothermia (although frostbite is still a possibility). The extreme rating does not mean this is the coldest temperature at which the bag may be used. It's an extreme survival rating only and you shouldn't rely on it for general use.
Out of the two ratings, the most appropriate one to look at is the comfort rating, which consists of two temperatures, one for an average man (the lower temperature) and one for an average woman (the higher temperature). The extreme rating is the absolute limit for survival.
What else should I be looking for?
The shape of your sleeping bag can determine how warm you will be, from regular rectangular sleeping bags, to mummy-style with a cowl hood tapering towards the foot, and even a shoulder draw cord to maximize warmth inside the bag while keeping your head and face free. Some sleeping bags are even supplied with a compression bag which enables you to condense the bag smaller than it would normally go, proving highly useful for travellers.
Rucksacks are invaluable for carrying your essentials, whether they contain everything you need on a trip to necessities you'll need on a hike. A few features can make a rucksack comfortable and highly functional.
- Extra compartments
Whether keeping items separate or simply making them easier to find, additional compartments in your rucksack organise your essentials. If you have dirty items, you'll probably want to keep them separate from the clean ones, with some rucksacks having a dedicated 'wet' compartment to keep damp items away from everything else. Some even have an extra compartment which turns into a second, detachable mini rucksack.
- Integrated hydration
Rucksacks with integrated hydration either contain a water reservoir, or have an inside pocket that holds a drinking bottle. A drinking hose runs from the water supply to your mouth so you can stay hydrated without having to stop to take a bottle out of the rucksack.
- Air flow back system
Air flow back systems prevent your back from getting hot and sweaty by placing a tensioned mesh back onto the rucksack to create a large pocket of air. This helps to keep your back cool and dry so you can focus on enjoying yourself.
If you're going camping, a bright, reliable light source is essential when the sun goes down. A wide range of torches will do the job well, from wind-up lanterns to LED head torches. They are often waterproof and shockproof, and if you choose one that can be wound up or recharged, you won't have to worry about having to buy new batteries either.
When roaming away from home, a waterproof jacket and trousers are always useful to have with you, but sturdy walking boots are just as important. Hiking boots are waterproof and have built-in shock absorbers, not to mention excellent grip.
Swiss army knife
Containing a screwdriver, scissors, nail file, tweezers, corkscrew, can opener, toothpick and, on some models, even a USB memory stick, Swiss army knives make the ultimate multi-purpose tool. It's an easy way to bring several items in a single compact tool that could otherwise easily get overlooked or forgotten.