“Oh no! You can’t go camping with that! You need to buy reliable kit, with a tent costing at least…”
Ever heard someone go off like that? I have.
Here’s the thing: you need an £800, expedition-grade 1-person tent only if you’re going on an expedition where your life could depend on your tent not failing. If you want to spend that much, only to ever use it on a formal campsite in Cornwall, well, it’s your money and your choice. Just don’t expect me to agree with it.
When it comes to bikes, and to camping gear, you get to choose two out of the following three options: cheap, light, strong.
You cannot have all three.
To me, it’s simple, I tend to go for cheap and strong, as I see absolutely no point spending more money than I absolutely have to. This isn’t about me being miserly, either. You see, I calculate the price of things by figuring out how many hours I’d be prepared to work to pay for it. I can always get more money, but in life, I have a finite amount of time available, so I try not to waste time on having to work more.
I see people falling for the marketing hype all the time, and end up buying expedition-grade kit, when they could easily have gotten away with far cheaper kit.
What follows is a breakdown of my kit. Yours will be different, or perhaps similar. The important bit is to understand that there’s no “right” or “wrong” kit list. If what you have works for you, then stick with it.
A good tent must pitch outer first, or outer and inner together, and mine pitches inner and outer at the same time. This means I can pitch my tent in the pouring rain, without getting the inside sopping wet and turned into a paddling pool.
You’ll find many people saying they can pitch their inner-first tent very quickly. My experience is that you’re in for an unpleasant night once the inside of your tent got soaked, as it will when pitching inner-first in heavy rain, especially with gusty winds making pitching harder to do.
A good tent must be waterproof, even during extended spells of heavy rain, and that includes the built-in groundsheet. Many cheap tents fail this test, but there’s a simple and easy fix: paint your tent with Fabsil Gold, a silicon-based waterproofing agent. Finally, a tent must be strong, so gale-force winds won’t destroy it, and leave you without shelter just when you need it most.
My little tent is waterproof and strong. I’ve never weighed it, so I don’t have a clue how much it weighs, but at a guess I’d say it’s heavy for what’s sold as a 2-person tent. It’s also not big enough for two people, and I sleep diagonally inside it, but I do have ample space for all my kit inside, too. Overall, I see no urgent reason to replace it.
My tent’s flysheet doesn’t pull down as close to the ground as I’d like. This is because it was made as a summer tent, complete with large vent in the flysheet (which I’ve since covered). I overcame that by using some plastic clips, giving me extra points to peg the flysheet down.
Being middle-aged now means that I like to at least have some comfort when camping. In my dim and distant youth, I’d sleep directly on the ground, often without even a sleeping bag, and be fine the next day, but I’m older now, and following a night of sleeping on the ground I’ll be stiff and sore the next day. Besides, having thermal insulation against the ground is even more important than comfort, else you’ll get no sleep in.
In my case, I use a Vango self-inflating mat. Again, mine’s far from top of the range, and far from the smallest (when folded up) or lightest. For summer camping it’s perfect, but when camping in the middle of winter, I supplement it with a closed-cell foam mat, to protect me from ground cold.
My little gas stove is also made by Vango, and I previously wrote about it. If either lowering of cost or weight is an issue to you, have a look at this video from Kajsa Tylen (@yearinthesaddle on Twitter, so do follow her, and also subscribe to her brilliant Youtube channel):
Sleeping bags can get very complex, very quickly, in terms of their insulation material and qualities. Mine’s from Lidl, and is not designed to be used at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius. I’ve used it at sub-zero temperatures, because when I expect it to be very cold, I supplement it with a fleece blanket I use as inner, as well as a proper sleeping bag liner. The liner isn’t meant to give much thermal protection, but rather to keep the bag clean, though it does help with thermal insulation
The important thing is to keep your sleeping bag dry When packed in my panniers, my sleeping bag is inside a plastic rubble bag. You see, a night out in the open, with temperatures down to just above zero, can be fine when camping. However, if your sleeping bag (and the inside of your tent) is wet, then that same scenario can become a survival situation. Hypothermia is a silent killer, so take extra steps to keep your kit dry.
I have no issue with anyone spending a fortune on camping gear. Most of the time, at least to a degree, you get what you pay for. However, getting (and paying for) kit designed to keep you alive at Basecamp, before scaling Everest, is a huge overkill in my book if you’re only ever going to use it on dry, warm summer nights, on formal campsites, and I simply see no reason for that.
This fits in with my mission to not be a great consumer, and to use what I have as much as I can, even if that means modifying it to better fit my needs.