Packing order – camping

It’a Autumn here in the UK and a mighty fine time to go camping.

Especially if the days are cool, crisp and bright, allowing you to get miles under your feet if you’re backpacking in the camping sense of the word or if you’re using a campsite as a base for either work or exploring a particular area. It’s great when it’s like this, but if it’s raining, then it’s not so great.

I love camping in the Autumn and spent around six weeks doing so in the Dales when I first moved down to Yorkshire. It was a cold October and I was pleased to have a good tent and a few good sleeping bags around to deal with the colder conditions (it was a fluke that I’d been asked to do a three season sleeping bag review for a climbing magazine, so the bags were given a good run for their money!).

I’ve had wet weekends in the Lakes and a spectacularly wet week in Norway when it rained every day until the one where I was leaving Voss behind and heading back to Bergen for the flight home.

It is possible to pack light to deal with such conditions. There’s loads of lightweight kit out there – tents, tarps, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, stoves, cookware, plates, mugs and cutlery that can deal with most eventualities.

Some are reasonably priced and readily available whilst others are aimed at more niche markets such as mountain marathon usage. I’ve used tents by Terra Nova, The North Face, Crux and Macpac, packs by OMM, Berghaus and POD, sleeping bags by Terra Nova, Rab, PHD, The North Face, Anjugilak and Snugpak and stoves from MSR, Primus, Coleman and others. All of my stoves are gas ones – simple and reliable.

Sleeping mats have ranged from a 36 year old Blaxmat to a good ol’ Karrimor Expedition foam mat to self inflating mats from Therm-A-Rest, Gelert or Millets.

Cookware on carry everything trips is usually a small Tefal pan set (there’s a larger one for car camping), the mugs are Aladdin insulated ones and cutlery can be from Spork or MSR depending on whether I’m going for plastic stuff or titanium (good, but a bit more expensive…). The plates? 4 for £1 in Tesco’s end of picnic season sale!

Cooking tools have come from GSI or MSR – cutting boards, folding spoons or spatulas etc and the sharp knife is either a Swiss Army Knife in the UK or whatever blade I can pick up cheaply and ditch elsewhere – I’ve had a pack sliced open before when someone in an airport decided to open up my bag to take a look inside it and didn’t do a good job of repacking it afterwards… I did get a new pack out of the airline though!

Water bottles are either Nalgene or Platypus and as I’m more likely to be filling these in lower risk areas, I use sterilising tablets or droplets to clean up any water taken out of streams. The roll-up Platypus bottles come in useful whilst travelling too and the Nalgene items can be used to rehydrate food on the move too.

Camping food is whatever I can get from a local store before heading off. I don’t read or speak Norwegian, but even I can understand what to do with the local version of a Pot Noodle or open a can and scoop tuna into said noodles or empty a can of burgers, hot dogs or other identifiable fodder into a pan and warm it through.

Yes, I did use the word can there. Although I use some dehydrated foodstuffs and bags of wet rations that can be eaten cold or heated up, I still carry cans around, largely because of something that resonated with me when reading accounts by Hamish Brown of his walking exploits here in the UK.

His reasoning for taking cans was that the weight of carrying canned food was offset by the amount of stove fuel that could be used to ensure that dehydrated food was heated up and cooked though properly. My use of cans is also down to student days as canned food is much cheaper than specialised fodder and the portion sizes are usually bigger too.

My wash kit is a basic one – bottle of shower gel bought locally, a small travel size toothpaste or a combined toothpaste and mouthwash mix and a plastic encased roll-on anti-perspirant. Insect repelling is usually taken care of with Avon Skin So Soft moisturiser and yes, it’s okay to wear sunscreen…

As ever, the ubiquitous travel towels are packed too, but not a comb or brush as I usually get a number 4 cut before heading off on a trip – dries quickly and needs no maintenance!

Clothing choices depend upon the conditions I’m likely to be facing and apart from what I’m wearing, there’s usually two spare base layers in the bag, two pairs of undies, two pairs of socks, one of trousers and a pair of Ronhill Tracksters – great for mooching around in or for use in the sleeping bag on cooler nights.

Emergency kit is simple stuff – first aid kit, Petzl Tikka Plus head torch, big orange survival bag and a whistle. My paper maps are in an Ortlieb A3 size map case, as is a Silva Expedition compass. The only tech that goes along is the Kindle as most of the places I get to have little in the way of 2G phone reception, never mind 3G, 4G, 4G+ or 4.5G…

What you take along and pack is up to you. There are those who pack as light as they can for trips, even if it’s not a mountain marathon. My own choice may surprise you as it’s what is appropriate for the trip and the conditions likely to be encountered.

I’ve spent 36 hours in a Gore-Tex bivvy bag or a battened down the hatches tent when the weather’s changed and slept in a survival bag when a thunderstorm hit and it would have been a daft move to start playing with metal tent poles. So I pack for the unexpected!

I’ve still not carried more than 14kg – and that was in the early 1990’s before some of the lighter, more technical stuff came along. Nowadays I reckon that it can be done on a lot less, without compromising on the comfort factors or the ability to cope with any unforeseen circumstances weather wise…

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in both the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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