Camping Trip Preparation: Planning and Packing Made Easy…
Let’s face it, no-one on a campsite wants to be ‘that guy’; the one who’s constantly begging his neighbours for use of propane, can openers and other bits of kit he’s left behind. But neither do you want to find yourself carting around everything but the kitchen sink - only to bring most of it home untouched.
A camping trip isn’t a military operation - and we’re certainly not saying you should lose that get-up-and-go spirit. That said, it pays to be prepared; something that’s easier said than done if you’re new to it.
So, where to start? From choosing a site, right through to loading up your car, here’s our guide to getting everything together...
Planning Essentials: Choosing a Campsite
With countless options available, here’s a blueprint for narrowing your search:
Location: Set Out a Rough Itinerary To Hone In On a Site
Let’s say you’ve earmarked a National Park or other broad destination. Think about what you intend to do when you get there - and the location of the specific attractions you intend to visit (e.g. walking or cycling trail starting points, watersports centres, beaches, villages, castles or country pubs).
With a rough itinerary drawn up, it becomes a lot easier to narrow down your search area; something that’s especially valuable if you’re without the use of a car. Local tourist information offices are worth checking out, too: their websites can be great for providing suggested weekend itineraries and for flagging up convenient camping options that are central to all the action.
Facilities: Draw Up a Wish List
UK sites cater for a vast range of camping experiences, from totally isolated and self-sufficient (e.g. owner’s express permission for wild camping) to family-friendly holiday camps - and everything in between.
So if you check carefully the list of facilities available, it’s one of the best shorthand methods of working out what type of camping experience you can expect from a particular site. Areas to focus on include the following:
- Pitch parking
- Electric hook up/ gas cylinder availability
- Toilet, wash block, launderette
- Site security guard
- Shop, cafe, bar
- Group camping (either encouraged or actively discouraged)
- BBQs - are they allowed?
- Pets allowed
- Cycle hire, kayaking, pony-trekking etc
- Adventure playground, pool, ‘kids club’
If you’re clear on what you need from a site; on what you want to see (and on what you definitely don’t want to see), you can quickly start to rule in and rule out specific locations.
Trip Advisor and similar independent review sites are your friend. Proceed with caution if the only reviews to be found are uncredited and unverifiable quotes on the campsite’s website!
Essential Camping Kit: Getting It All Together
Once you know where you’re going, it’s a matter of making sure you have all the right camping kit - and equally as important, that it’s all still in good working order.
If you are yet to make a purchase, our guide, Choosing Your Tent provides some essential pointers. If you have one already, make sure it is still intact. Inspect the canvas for signs of deterioration; isolated small tears of less than an inch in diameter can be fixed with a tent patch kit - but multiple or large holes are signs that it’s time for a replacement. Fraying or isolated separation along the seams can be corrected with a tube of seam sealant. Again, if there are substantial areas of seam failure, it’s time to invest in a new one.
Consider erecting the tent in the garden shortly before setting off; if it’s a new tent, this gives you a valuable ‘practice run’, whereas if it’s an older tent that hasn’t been used in a while, it’s a good way of checking for damage.
Sleeping Bags and Mats
Our sleeping bags buyers’ guide can help you identify the right type of bag for your needs. Bear in mind that bags are usually best stored away outside of their carry bags, otherwise they become overly compressed and lose some of their heat retention.
If you have an inflatable mat already, inspect the valve for signs of damage and inflate it to check for slow punctures. Our selection of beds, mats and pillows include some fantastic options if it’s time to invest in some extra sleeping gear.
Other Essential Kit
What’s essential for your trip depends on the type of camping experience you are looking for, who’s in your group and the facilities on site. Other than the items covered above, depending on your circumstances, a list of desirable equipment might include the following:
- Awning (useful for optional extra space and as a temporary dumping ground for wet clothes)
- Seating - check out our super-lightweight and highly portable options such as this Outwell unit.
- Camping stove, kettle and bbq. You might also want to consider a cool box and camp-friendly utensils, bucket, washing up bowl and pans. These tend to be lightweight so as to keep your overall load to a minimum - and you can pick up lots of handy ideas by browsing our range of camping furniture and cookware.
- Gas cylinder. The size of cylinder you’ll need obviously depends on the length of the trip and the amount of usage expected. As an example, a Calor 3.9kg Propane cylinder burns for approximately 2.5 hours at full flow. But bearing in mind you’re unlikely to have your stove on full, you could realistically expect to get approximately 4 hours usage from a single cylinder.
- Lighting and heating. A unit such as the Highlander Compact Gas Heater can be ideal for a touch of home-from-home warmth. A couple of LED lanterns can be just what you need for brightening up the evenings.
- Entertainment. Books, a deck of cards, a tablet with movies downloaded: it’s all a matter of personal preference.
Clothing, Food and Other Essentials
Here’s how to approach your list of essentials with a view to covering everything, while still packing as little as possible...
- Clothing. For a weekend, aim to limit your pack of bulky outer clothing to 1 item per category (e.g waterproof outer layer and fleece). For other items, the more ruthless you are, the easier your load will be. Do you really need a different pair of shorts and T-shirt each day? Almost certainly not.
- Footwear. If plenty of walking is on the agenda, good boots or walking shoes and several pairs of thick socks are a must. Check how well your existing boots are holding up: if the tread is worn, you’re not getting the traction you need for tricky ground. Likewise, if the outer fabric is frayed or torn, you’re at risk of wet feet! If a new pair is needed, check out these hardy, state-of-the-art options from Treksta.
- Laundry. If it’s a long trip, an onsite laundry room can be especially welcome; using it means less clothing to carry.
- Toiletries. 100ml squeezy empty bottles from the chemist are great. Decant your shampoo and other washing essentials into them to avoid transporting bulky containers.
- Food. If it’s convenient, quick, portable and appetising, you’re on the right lines. Pre-made one-pot stews, curries and meaty sauces can be ideal - especially served over pasta or rice (two other camping staples).
Whether it’s train journey and rucksack or a car filled to the brim, here are some points to bear in mind…
Consider what you can get when you’re there
Take a bag of charcoal, a bumper box of beers, a big container of milk and several trays of meat - and that’s a fair chunk of an average hatchback’s boot space taken care of already. But why buy all of this at home when it can just as easily be purchased closer to the site? So as a starting point, it’s definitely worth doing your homework; find out what’s available nearby - but be careful to factor in opening times alongside likely arrival times.
How to pack a car for camping…
- Safety first: any loose items in the cabin can become instantly lethal in the event of an accident. Likewise, ensure your field of vision at the rear is not in any way obstructed.
- For clothes, ditch the suitcases. They’re just needlessly bulky. Zippable jumbo laundry/storage bags are much less space-hungry and squash down well in the boot.
- For non-perishable food and kitchen equipment, opt for big, tough plastic tubs. These stop the kitchen kit from getting damaged and stop the food from spilling everywhere. Clear tubs make sense because you can easily see what’s in them.
- For any fresh food you are taking, invest in a good cool box.
- Place the heaviest items on the bottom in the boot (this helps to reduce any issues with handling of the car).
- Pack the items you are likely to need first, last. Usually, this will include the tent.
Should You Buy a Roof Box For Camping?
A basic 250-litre roof box can be bought for around £150. They are great for awkward items - including your tent, awnings and other items of camping furniture. If space is tight, then they can instantly solve storage headaches.
That said, even the most high-tech aerodynamic box is going to create drag and affect fuel consumption. So don’t opt for one if you don’t really need one: if you can pack safely and conveniently without a box, it’s not needed.
How to Pack a Rucksack
First off, a bent rucksack frame is pretty much a guarantee of a needlessly uncomfortable journey. So if you haven’t used your pack for a while, make sure you check the frame (along with the strapping). If a new pack is on the cards, check out these great value products from Rambler and Yellowstone.
When it comes to packing, lay out your kit, place in the heaviest items first, followed by medium weight items and light items on top.
Getting Hold of Missing Essentials…
From a new tent to an ultra-portable camping stove, whether it’s a two-day festival or a major expedition, browse Planet Camping for some great ideas and everything you need.
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