We often refer to a learning experience as “school fees”. Be it through experience or observation. Over time I have learnt a great deal when overloading and camping. Yes, I have made a few mistakes and also observed a few. All of which taught me something. Planning is key to avoid mistakes. There are many factors to consider if you want to brave the outdoors.
Let’s look at a few of the most common errors and how to avoid them.
Key to the experience is your shelter in the form of your tent. There is nothing better than watching a sunset in the bush knowing that your campsite is established and ready for the evening.
But what if you have chosen the wrong tent? This can happen for many reasons. But it will affect your camping experience. Although you do not want to spend a great deal of time in the tent bad weather could force you inside. You need to be comfortable and have space. My first tent was bought in a rush en-route to the Richtersveld. It came from a specialist camping shop, I did not even question their advice. It was barely adequate. Our three air mattresses filled it and one had to crawl in and sit to dress and undress. And it was around one metre high. I gave it to a friend on my return and acquired a larger canvas tent and at a later stage a lighter more technical tent. The two options allow me to consider size and weight should they be an issue, especially if hiking. Both are weatherproof and spacious. The only problem I experienced with my air mattress was overinflation. The first night I used it was extremely uncomfortable and I woke up with aches all over. An air mattress is not a lilo and only needs around 60% inflation for a comfortable nights sleep.
Sleeping bags are an area where people err. I was advised correctly, my sleeping bags are all suitable for extreme cold. In warm weather, you simply unzip them. Not much you can do if your bag can not cope with icy temperatures. Do not just buy off the shelf at a local hyper. Consider size, shape and weight as well as the fill. Down is slightly warmer than a synthetic fill but it is not moisture resistant. Synthetic fill does not compress as well as down but it resists moisture. Lately, environmentalists frown on down as not being eco-friendly. A good bag will have a temperature range, be sure to discuss this with the supplier. Before going further let’s touch on a classic error. Not testing your gear before a trip. Erect your tent to understand how all the bits and pieces come together. You may arrive late at night and have to erect the tent after sunset. If you are familiar with it it will be much easier. You’ll hate having to battle with poles and ropes when you could be relaxing around the campfire. Do not forget torches, lamps and headlamps, if you arrive after dark you will need them. Pack spare batteries and chargers for the torches.
Getting to the campsite late often means that you may not get a great spot so plan to arrive early and look for a prime spot. The wrong campsite can spoil the trip. Not all sites are equal. Ideally, you would like to be near some trees for shade and shelter, but you will also need a flat spot for your tent and cooking area. Try to stay away from the ablutions as they can be noisy with people using them through the night with a fair amount of traffic. Avoid camping near any water and keep clear of the roads into the camp as they could be noisy and dusty if not tarred.
If you know that you are going away start laying out your equipment in a spare room or garage for packing and at the same time check everything.
Layering is crucial to warmth, you can not control the weather but you can stay warm and dry. So no matter what the weather forecast is slip in waterproof jackets for everyone. In that way, you won’t be wet in the tent at night. Which would be uncomfortable. Spare shoes and boots are also important as you do not want to spend a few days in wet shoes.
Meal planning is key, if you are running a portable fridge you can take enough perishable food for gourmet cooking. But a standard cooler with ice blocks is generally only good for around two days.
A classic mistake is planning to cook all your meals on the campfire, if the weather is inclement you will need a backup stove for cooking unless the facility has a dedicated indoor cooking area. So don’t forget the camp stove and a tarpaulin to rig a shelter. Never leave food out at night, I have seen steel-belted cool boxes shredded by hyenas attracted to the meat inside. Even if you are in an environment free of wildlife you can still attract small animals.
Most of these points are comfort related, so don’t forget the insect repellent, flies and mosquitoes can be irritating and bites are uncomfortable. Especially if they get infected. You do get environmentally friendly citronella soaps which double as shampoo. Add a small bottle of citronella oil and a candle which you can burn whilst you eat.
Whilst sitting around a campfire is timeless it comes with responsibility. As people make their way to bed ensure that the campfire is put out. An unattended fire is not only a risk, it is dangerous. Douse the fire with water, then check to see that the embers are not smouldering. Repeat with water and spread the embers. In this way, if the wind picks up at night there will be no risk. If you are in a group designate someone to be in charge of this aspect of fire safety.