Favourite Camping Items
By Blair Paterson
The most expensive products don’t always provide the best quality. With a little imagination and inginuity, sometimes the most humble items offer far broader applications than might first appear. In Issue 1 of OT Camping Product Review, Blair chooses 6 go-everywhere articles he packs for his adventures – 6 simple, even insignificant items he reckons add enjoyment and value to his outdoor experience.
The items are listed under different categories and are accompanied with some functional uses and anecdotes from past experiences. There is sure to be discussion and debate opened up among campers about their own favourite items, and maybe even some practical tips offered too.
1: Item of extravagance: Trangia Cook Set
I enjoy the random creativity of cooking on outdoor expeditions and not much frustrates me more than cooker malfunctions or running out of gas.
Recently I purchased a ‘Trangia’ and find the product most reliable and functional. It is well designed and engineered, easy to operate and packs up neatly with the components stacking inside one another.
The burner is fuelled by methylated spirits and except in windy conditions, works very effectively and economically; and metho is a cheap and easy fuel to obtain. Trangias are safe to operate if the manufacturers instructions are followed, however extra caution must be taken in daylight as the metho (alcohol) flame can be hard to see.
I know a person who recieved third degree burns on her arm by refilling the burner with fuel while the flame was still burning.
When packed, my Trangia weighs a shade over 1kg (including my broken-handled frypan) and my fuel bottle carries 500ml, enough to last for several cooking hours.
Trangias have been a popular item among hikers and adventurers for
many years; they are expensive but well worth the money. A wide range of cook sets are available with alternative fuel components, and many pieces can be later added. I particularly like the kettle – one needs a dedicated vessel to boil water for a nice, untainted cup of tea.
2: Item to skimp on: Foam Mat
The camping item I tend to skimp on is a mattress. I’m a fan of the rough and ready foam mat which retails for under $20 and is available from most camping stores – always one of the first items I pack for a hike, bicycle ride or kayak trip.
Granted, other mats on the market may offer a more comfortable sleep but I’m prepared to make this sacrifice and be close to the earth on which I’m sleeping. Foam mats are super light – my mat weighs 200 grams; they’re tough and durable – mine’s been knocked around while rolled up on the bottom of a backpack or strapped to a bicycle pannier without the slightest concern of annoyingly deflating through the night. They also offer some water resistence, so remain relatively unaffected if exposed to the elements.
Granted also, self-inflating and pneumatic mats have thermal qualities, and in very cold climates I’d probably opt for such a product over my trusty blue foam mat. But with a reasonable quality sleeping bag, I haven’t overly suffered on colder nights to date.
If I have the space I add some sleeping comfort to my mat by packing either an inflatable pillow or old cushion, I find this luxury a worthwhile accompaniment.
3: Versatile camping item: The Sarong
Surely there’s not a more adaptable and practical item for camping or traveling than the humble sarong, particularly for summer outings.
Sarongs are lightweight and surprizingly durable; they roll up to the the size of a fist and stuff easily into a backback’s nooks or crannies.
Sarongs make excellent towels which dry astonishingly fast. They are very comfortable (and stylish) to wear after a sweaty adventurous day; or while airing or drying stinky, wet clothes.
I’ve used a sarong for many applications including: an auxiliary blanket or pillowslip; shade-cloth or rag; a mosquito net over my head while sleeping under the stars; once as a sling when I broke my wrist; I’ve also used a sarong to filter bugs and wrigglies from dirty drinking water.
Sarongs make a useful sack for carrying gear – tie the corners together, hook a stick through, sling it over your shoulder and you’re away Huck Finn style. Or if you want to impress that special camper, sarongs make a fantastic tablecloth for any romantic camp-out dinner setting.
For me, sarongs are truly the most versatile clothing, linen, soft-furnishing or decor camping item.
4: Useful item for odd repairs: Builder’s Tape
Good quality builder’s tape can be purchased from plumbing suppliers and reputable hardware stores. Don’t buy the cheap stuff – it tears too easily, won’t stick effectively and skews off the roll like perished cellulose-based tapes.
Made of vinyl, builder’s tape is stretchable, broad (50mm wide) and adheres strongly to most surfaces, even when wet. It is brilliant for waterproofing plastic containers; or fastening loose bits of bike, backpack or kayak into place. I have used the tape on material – to mend a pair of shorts torn right across the seat and to insect-proof a hole burnt in my tent.
When the roll is about half used, I remove the cardboard re-enforcing from the core and the squash the tape flat, thus it takes up minimal space when packed.
Builder’s tape is wonderful for bushcraft – holds kite-frames to their sails; is a must for manufacturing a hat or costume for a night-performance round the campfire; and makes a tennis ball swing prodigiously when wrapped half around the thing – guaranteed to jazz up any bush-cricket match.
And when all is done, when you’re returning from the wilderness into civilisation, simply roll a length of the tape inside-out round your hand and brush it over your camping tuxedo or gown to remove all those pesky bush-burrs and lint-balls.
5: Fun-toy item: Juggling Balls
A set of juggling balls always makes for great fun around the campsite, while solo or with a group, but particularly with kids.
A good juggling session gets the blood moving and passes away time so even the latest train or bus seems worth the wait. Throw down a hat or cup and you might even make a penny or two from your juggling performance.
Juggling is an art – easy to pick up but hard to master. A 15 minute beginner’s lesson will have nearly anyone juggling up their own storm, regardless of their perceived lack of coordination.
Once your camping buddies are hooked, introduce some new tricks into their repertoire. There’s no limit to what can be done with three balls. And if you don’t have juggling balls, simply roll up a couple of pairs of socks or use any manner of item at hand. With multiple balls, passing games also add another dimension of fun and teamwork to small groups.
I confess to being a juggling tragic. Once on a hike I forgot to pack my juggling balls, so I took a knife to three lengths of firewood and whittled myself some juggling sticks – they aren’t terribly well balanced but they do the job; they double as excellent cricket stumps.
6: Favourite camping item: Thongs
Without doubt, simple as it may seem, a pair of thongs while camping or adventuring is my blue-ribbon luxury. I love the simple pleasure of wearing my thongs after a day’s activity and exploration, to wiggle my toes around freely and let my clammy feet breathe.
I don’t generally place many demands in terms of fashion or design on my thongs; traction and handling are of no major concern either – just so long as they offer some aspects of durability and comfort once worn in.
When nature calls through the night, don’t bother about checking hiking boots for spiders and other biting critters. Simply step out of your sleeping bag, into your thongs and you’re away to the toilet.
And don’t be bashful about slipping thongs on over socks – you are a style-merchant and nobody can tell you otherwise! If it’s raining, go one step further and slip a plastic bag between your socks and thongs. Having dry feet is very important.
Believe it or not I have found other practical uses for the humble old thong while outdoors – they make an excellent skimming throw-toy in the water; used as a pair of mitts to pick up a billy with a missing handle; or sat on if the ground is rough or rocky – the worn-in heels of a pair of thongs mould quite wonderfully to a the curvature of one’s behind.