If the idea of camping conjures up memories of cold baked beans, unstable A-frame tents and tormenting drizzly weather, then you haven’t been camping 21st century-style. New campsites with onsite facilities are popping up all over the country, equipment is now high-tech and hassle-free, and it doesn’t take a genius to pitch a modern tent.
Peter Frost, author of The Camping and Caravanning Club’s New To Camping website and Kevin Hodgson, a camping connoisseur for the last 15 years, give WideWorld the low-down on how to making camping effortlessly enjoyable for newcomers. So much so, that the only recollection you will have of your childhood camps will be left in nostalgia.
Opt for a Pod
If you haven’t camped before and want to see if it’s for, Frost recommends trying a Camping Pod. Camping sites across the UK offer these wooden domes, housing up to four people. You can soak in the forest air and get to grips with the great outdoors before parting your cash on a tent (www.thepoduk.co.uk).
Find your perfect location
The Camping and Caravanning Club has a list of over 4000 UK camping sites catering for a range of camping needs: from larger sites with lots of facilities to off-the-beaten-track camping. Frost recommends joining the club to gain access to this list and find out which site might best suit you, whether on a fun family weekend or a more serious expedition in the heart of nature (www.thecampingandcaravanningclub.co.uk).
Choose the right tent
After pod-life, it’s time to find a tent of your own. Choosing one can be a chore these days, coming in every shape, style and colour. To decide which tent is best for you is, determine what your needs are first.
“Do you want separate sleeping areas, or would you like one big room? How much space do you have to store your tent? If you can really think about what you want, you will be able to look more discerningly when you purchase,” says Frost.
Hodgson believes, “Personal recommendation is the best way to choose all equipment. Otherwise, find out the weight of everything. Every manufacture claims its stuff is ‘lightweight’ but how light is it really?”
Do a test run
If you’ve never set up your tent before, have a ‘practice rehearsal’ in your back garden before setting off.
Frost agrees: “You don’t want to get to your chosen site and find that you can’t put up your tent! Doing this also gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with your new purchase and practise the best way to use it so that you feel comfortable when on site.”
Don’t try to be Jamie Oliver
Hodgson advises to leave behind expensive cookware as a great space saver: “One pan, one spoon and one mug is fine for most camping meals. Forget trying to be gourmet – what exactly is wrong with dehydrated chill con carne?”
Dehydrated food has come a long way over the years and comes packed with energy, perfect for fuelling yourself for a long walk. Hodgson’s best food tips are: “Custard, for puddings and breakfast. Add dried cranberries or chocolate chips for extra energy. Supermarket pasta or noodle meals are great. Instant spuds, gravy and soups also go very well. Take a bag of nuts to replace salts after a hard day walking.”
If you camp near local amenities, Frost urges to take advantage of the local cuisine: “Indulge in delicious Devonshire scones served with Cornish clotted cream or feast on Bakewell pudding.”
Calor, the UK’s leading provider of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders together with The Camping and Caravanning Club have produce the Eat Local Guide, listing the very best food hotspots across the UK, as selected by its members (www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/eatlocal).
Take the Essentials
There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the elements without your essential equipment.
Make a list of everything you need, purchase quality kit with advice from an outdoor retailer and remember to pack it. Frost recommends the following as basics: 1) A tent – including the pegs! 2) Something to Sleep in – Make sure whatever you choose is appropriate to the time of year and location of camping. 3) Something to cook on – pans, stoves, and of course matches. 4) Something to eat/drink from – don’t forget the cutlery. 5) Something to Light your Way – a torch is a must when camping. There’s nothing worse than getting lost on the way back from the loos at night and trying to find your tent in the dark!
Hodgson’s most recommended items involve a trusted pair of spare socks: “Plastic bags are a must so that dry socks stay dry when you have to put your wet boots back on.”
He also advises that lightweight items such as zip-less sleeping bags, small canister stoves and ultra-light tents save a lot of weight and space. However, Hodgson insists one article you shouldn’t minimise is the sleeping mat: “Never try to save money or weight by using a foam sleeping mat. Always buy an inflatable one. It will be a long night otherwise!”
Choosing where to camp can be as difficult to the amateur as actually assembling the tent. Hodgson’s first tip is to find flat ground: “Stomp the area to find stones, lumps, heather stems etc. Check you have the right type of ground for pegs – not too soft, not too hard, and not too shallow. Look for features such as little outcrops to sit on while cooking and eating, or as wind shelters for your stove. Lastly, pitch near a stream, but too near for the noise to keep you awake.”
Play it Safe
Frost advises: “Follow advice and local signs, and be prepared for the unexpected. Our actions can affect people’s livelihoods, our heritage, and the safety and welfare of animals and ourselves.”
Being prepared always entails keeping safe and clean. Hodgson suggests washing in salt water or bringing alcohol gel with you. He tells WideWorld: “The first priority is to go on a first aid course. Second is a first aid kit. Be careful with your stove, especially around the tent.”
If everyone takes precautions, Frost believes that we will be able to enjoy the countryside for many years to come.
Join a Club
Camping can appear daunting for the amateur; not knowing where to go, what to take and indeed, what to do.
Frost recommends joining a group to help ease you into this new hobby. Offering advice, activities and accommodation, they cater for those looking for a weekend away to those wanting to camp in the Outer Hebrides (www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk).
Hodgson believes the best way to get truly involved in camping is to. His biggest tip is to “Keep doing it. It only gets easier when you know what to expect. Oh, and buy an inflatable mat.”
With thanks to Kevin Hodgson, Peter Frost and The Camping and Caravan Club (www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk).
Visit www.newtocamping.com for more information.