If, like giving birth, your last experience of camping has become nothing more than a misty memory, it may be time to read our staunch anti-camper's guide before you dust off your groundsheet and dig out your tent pegs…
While some hardy souls seem born to the outdoorsiness of camping, others struggle with the distinct lack of creature comforts. (We’re not talking glamping in yurts here – we’re talking the proper under-canvas, living-with-every-bug-alive experience…) So could you be a happy camper? Here are some things to consider before you commit…
1. Tents do not ‘pop up’
There is no such thing as a truly ‘pop-up’ tent for camping in. The very description conjures up an image of one of those kiddies’ play tents. In reality, even if yours comes with a built-in groundsheet, you’ll need to allow a couple of hours to wrestle it into position. Remember, the more ‘pop-up’ a product claims to be, the more vulnerable it’ll be to inclement weather conditions, too, so make sure you have plenty of tent pegs with weights for securing it properly.
2. ‘Two-man’ tents aren’t
A ‘two-man’ tent is usually just about big enough for a kid under 10. Always go for a bigger tent than you think you’ll need. A ‘four-man’ will be more suitable for a couple camping unless you want to leave all your other paraphernalia in the car (which will often be parked some way off), or spend your nights with your nose pressed into a backpack. And don’t expect to be able to stand up straight unless you splash an awful lot of cash. Remember, the maximum height of the tent only applies to the apex in the middle…
3. Blow-up beds are for toddlers
Oh, sure, the manufacturers may make wild claims about how supportive and cosy they are, but a blow-up bed almost never provides a comfy sleep all night long in camping conditions. They are very prone to slow air leaks, and you may well find yourself getting closer and closer to the cold, hard ground every time you turn over. A fold-out cot-type bed might be better – but it will probably be just about the same width as you are when lying down, and flimsier models may well tip you out when you turn over if the canvas hasn’t already ripped and dropped you out of the bottom. The best solution (if you can get it in the car and lug it into your tent) is a lightweight ‘real’ mattress. You could use a waterproof, fitted sheet on the underside for extra protection from damp.
4. The weather does matter
It’s all very well taking to a tent if you’re guaranteed calm, warm, camping conditions by night as well as by day, but if the nights turn chilly, you’ll find the tent dripping with condensation on the inside, and if they’re hot, you’ll probably need to sleep with the tent flap open – at the same time welcoming every species of biting, stinging bug and other assorted wildlife, not to mention tent-crashers – or you’ll feel stifled and claustrophobic. Call us old-fashioned, but it’s not everyone who loves the smell of over-heated or damp canvas and galvanised rubber…
5. Most camping ‘facilities’ are a bit rank
There are very few really nice camp showers and toilets when camping – and, even if they start off nice-ish in the morning, by lunchtime the floors are splodged with trodden-in sand or mud, water spillages and streamers of loo roll. They smell. You have to share them and queue up for the privilege. You usually have to bring your own toilet roll. They’re easily blocked. The showers are about as strong as a half-turned off tap. They usually run out of hot water. They’re hard to find in the dark. They attract every type of insect known to man… Just no!
You’d better love the sound of industrial-strength zips being tugged down and pulled back up, because your whole camping trip is going to be punctuated by it – mostly at night when you’re trying to sleep. This is when the urge to make an early-hours trip to the ‘facilities’ usually grips every camper. Couple this with the need to shine a torch to find your ‘loo shoes’ and then exit – and then find the entrance on the way back – and you may not be in for the most tranquil of nights.
7. Tepid food and warm beer
OK, if you have a fancy camping fridge that runs off your car battery, go for it. But it won’t be much bigger than a coolbox, and, chances are you don’t – or, as mentioned before, your car is some way off from your pitch. In this case, any food you can eat without cooking will be room-temperature (or tent temperature, which can range from sweatily warm to Arctic). And anything you do cook will take forever to get to piping hot over a camping stove. So stick to things that can’t poison you, like tinned beans and sausages (yum!) or fried eggs (but where’s the toast? Well, you have to start a campfire for that, no matter what the outdoor temperature!). Fancy a cold beer? Get yourself to the nearest pub. The only drinks you’re going to ‘enjoy’ under canvas will be tepid or stewed. (Unless you’re a fan of red wine or whiskey, in which case, enjoy!)
8. False jollity
OK, so you’ve sung every camp-fire song you know, nearly Ging-Gang-Goolie-ing yourself to death in the process, the warm beer is gone and darkness has descended. But just as you thought it was safe to retire to your half-deflated, musty mattress, some bright spark starts up a game of ‘truth or dare’, or suggests everyone tells a scary story – and you have to go along with it, or be thought of as a humbug. So out comes the tiny saucepan, camping stove, enamel cups and cocoa. And hell, why not incinerate a few marshmallows into the bargain? Camping’s not camping unless you have a few burns, bites and stings after all…
Still hell-bent on sleeping under the stars/rain/fog? Then go for it! All we can say is Happy Camping, you brave, foolish souls!