I love to go camping, and I’ve learned a few things since my first trip. Whether you’re a first time camper, a disabled camper like me, or you’re wondering if there’s anything you haven’t thought of, I hope my camping tips below will be useful to you.
Note: These tips are from the perspective of camping in England, and only at proper organised campsites; wild camping is illegal here and I personally wouldn’t get on with the lack of amenities.
Check the facilities
Have a good think about what you need from a campsite, and then look for information on booking websites. There are usually icons that you can hover your mouse over for more information. I, for example, need wheelchair accessible facilities. But try to find more information about exactly what the facilities are. Is it just a toilet? Are there showers? Can you get around the rest of the site?
If you need the accessible facilities, are they protected by RADAR key? If not, you may find them in quite a state.
What exactly do you picture yourself doing during your trip? How are you cooking and eating? Do you expect to wash up? What do you need to do before you go to sleep? Will you need to make trips to a shop? Is there one nearby you can reach on public transport, or are you bringing a car?
It can be good to look at people’s photos on review websites to see if you can find any imagery of the bits you need to see.
Dress for rain
Even if you are going in the middle of a summer heatwave, it is very likely to rain on you at least once. I don’t think we’ve had a camping excursion that didn’t involve at least one batch of rainfall. Nothing ruins the experience quite like being in a comfortable pair of shorts and a strap top with a heatwave in mind, only to find yourself stuck in the cold and rain while you are putting up your tent, or your tent is leaking, or you have to go across to the toilets in a heavy downpour.
It sucks, and it takes up a lot of packing room, but bring good raincoats and other waterproof stuff. Bring some warm jeans or leggings and other clothes you can layer, in case you find yourself in a cold snap. It’s hot indoors at night in the summer, but in a tent, you might be surprised how cold you get.
Expect the unexpected from wildlife
This one depends on where you go, although even in very managed, closed-off campsites, you might get the odd critter poking their head into your tent and trying to run off with some food. Some people find keeping food in their car overnight is better for avoiding animal intrusions.
At some sites, animal invasions are part and parcel of the experience. Such as at Roundhill, where horses will actively barge into your tent and make off with a box of Twinings (did they want to eat the teabags? Who actually knows), and cows will happily lounge quite nearby. The only thing I can tell you is, be calm if a horse or similar animal does get a bit forceful. Clapping at them and smacking their body will not work in the way you are thinking, it will just make you very likely to get kicked. Keep your own animals under control and back from any invaders. They should soon get bored and leave.
Don’t do what me and my friends did here in 2014 (I had gone into the tent for a nap and woke up to a horse):
Air beds are not too glamp for your camp
Some people seem to think that you should be as uncomfortable as possible while camping, in order to be more authentic. Well, that’s kind of nonsense. No, you don’t want all the amenities of a house, that defeats the point. You are choosing to sleep in a tent for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself onto hard bumpy ground on a thin and useless sleeping mat.
We found a double air bed at Tesco for just £5. It folds up even smaller than my inflatable sleeping mat. And what’s great about it, is that it serves as a guest sleeping surface at home. Just don’t forget to buy a foot pump!
Shawls, shawls, shawls!
Do not underestimate a good shawl! Their obvious use is going over your shoulders for added warmth, particularly on summer evenings. But they can also double as blankets or scarves or even serve as a sunshade over your head.
Take care of your pets
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to taking animals camping.
Firstly, you’ve got to find a site that will let you bring them (check the facilities information). Most campsites have restrictions on the number of pets you can bring, and their sizes. Some charge per animal. There are some sites that allow animals other than dogs, but I’ve never had to take a cat camping so I can’t tell you about that.
If you have a recognised trained Assistance Dog, you may want to go to a site that only allows them and no pet animals, although on the other hand, the other campers are likely to have gone there because they don’t want to see dogs, and so you may feel unwelcome despite your legal right to bring the dog.
The trouble with a pet-friendly campsite is that other people’s dogs are not always well-behaved and the owners often have no interest in holding their dog back from coming to disturb you.
Parasites are a serious risk to your dog when camping, lots of bugs will find a way into the floor of your tent (especially if you don’t have a sewn-in groundsheet), and you will likely be traipsing through a lot of long grass during the day, which is a prime way for ticks to get onto your dog. Because of this, you need to fit them with an additional collar that will keep off both ticks and fleas, and it may also be advisable to bathe them with a parasite-repellent shampoo beforehand.
As well as your dog’s normal collar and ID tag as required by law, I also advise you to consider a HolCol over the top, with the name of the campsite you are staying at (and pitch number if applicable), and a way to contact you. This will mean you avoid incurring costs with the dog warden if the worst does happen.
Don’t forget that you need to bring food and water bowls for your dog, and bring a ziplock bag of the food they will need for the number of days you are away, with a bit extra just in case you are delayed returning home.
Lastly, what is your dog going to be doing all day while you are sitting around outside your tent? You need to keep them under control and not just let them roam the campsite freely. We use a ground stake to keep our dog within our pitch area. The standard cable that comes with it is too long for some sites, so we often clip her normal lead to it. This allows her to have a bit of a wander around and a sniff, but not actually leave or require us to be constantly holding her.
And for the love of God, don’t forget your poo bags!
There’s a lot of woo when it comes to keeping mosquitoes away, such as plastic bracelets with nothing on them that are basically keyring-coils. But something you definitely need, for barbecues and camping alike, are mosquito-repellent incense-coils. You light them, put them in the holder (a hanging one is especially good for putting in a tent entrance or in a gazebo), and wait for the smoke to annoy the bugs away.
My favourite one is the Coghlan’s mosquito coil holder, I used to have three of them although I can now only find one, and they seem to have become harder to find because when I looked on eBay the seller wanted £999.99 for it (+ £2.20 postage)?!
Even if it looks to be a bit damp and rainy during your trip, if you are going anywhere near the summer I advise you to bring something like Magicool. You might find yourself getting hot and stuffy and if so, you’ll want something that has kept itself cool and can quickly provide relief. It might also be quite soothing on sunburn.
Speaking of sunburn, my favourite sunscreen is the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist SPF 100+. It has always protected me flawlessly wherever I have applied it (although I usually forget my nose and chest).
In terms of sun, don’t forget a pair of big, wide-coverage sunglasses, I personally prefer lenses of category 3.
Pack small and light
It can be tempting to bring a ton of gear with you when camping (and also unavoidable to an extent), but try to reduce the size of your personal luggage. Try to limit your clothes and related belongings to one bag. Rolling your clothes can help to save room, although I do find that some individual items take up less room when folded in the normal way.
Make sure your bag is suitable for the job though. I try to use my backpack for everything but I’ve realised I will need to get a proper holdall bag for travelling, the badges and zip-pulls on my backpack get damaged and go missing when I do this sort of stuff with the bag.
Some other things to think about:
Mini travel toiletries (such as toothpaste, a folding toothbrush, dry shampoo, shower gel that can also be used as shampoo, a small pack of antibacterial wet wipes) will take up less room in your bag than full size bottles and should last the length of your trip. For most people there is no need to bring something like a razor when you will only be gone for a few days, although I personally pack a small one because I have extra illness-induced facial hair that I am very self-conscious about.
A microfibre travel towel that packs very small. Not only useful if you use the showers, but also if you get especially rained on. It may come in it’s own bag that can be carabinered to the outside of your backpack instead of taking up room within.
You can use old Tic Tac boxes for your salt and condiments.
Dispense painkillers and medication into smaller containers instead of lugging bulky pharmacy boxes with you.
Don’t underestimate the number of lanterns you need. You may find that having a single one on the ceiling in the middle of your tent, does not actually light very much, and this is a very frustrating discovery when it is already dark and you are trying to play a card game.
Don’t forget to take lighters (a long stick lighter can be useful for lighting fires and barbecues) and matches in case you need them, as well as a little torch that you can use to find your way to the toilet in the night.
How are you eating?
This is something that can trip you up when you’ve finished putting your tent up, you’re hungry, and then you realise that you didn’t envision where your food was going to come from.
Disposable barbecues are incredibly useful, if your site allows them. Try to put them on top of something like bricks so that they don’t char the ground.
Small camping stoves are also great, but don’t forget to make sure you have enough fuel canisters to take with you, especially if your site doesn’t have a shop that might stock more in an emergency.
You’ll also need pots and pans (ones designed for camping usually box-up inside each other and have removable handles), barbecue tongs, as well as travel plates, cups and cutlery.
If you’re a contact lens wearer, bring your glasses in a hard case
Contact lens paraphernalia can pack down very small, but you need to be prepared for unexpected disasters. Even though you might not find wearing your glasses out of the house ideal, and you certainly don’t intend to spend your holiday in them, it’s better than spending the rest of the trip blind because something happened to your lenses.
Conserve your batteries
Chances are you won’t get much phone signal or wireless internet on a campsite, but it still might be a good idea to put your mobile phone into battery saving mode while you’re away. You are unlikely to be able to charge things and so this could really bite you in the bummeroo if you need to use your phone in an emergency.
On the subject of phones: Take something like a carabiner watch or travel alarm clock with you; it’s very annoying when your phone runs out despite your measures and you have no way to tell what time of day it is because you forgot to bring a normal timepiece.
It’s also important to save the batteries of your electric wheelchairs. My current chair has the option of being used as a manual chair because it has large wheels, but this is difficult for me with my particular disabilities, so it is better to avoid the batteries running down by disconnecting them when I am parked for long periods.
Think of your bodily emissions
I personally bring vomit bags and Peebols with me. I’m sick quite a lot and there’s no way I’m able to run to a site toilet at a moment’s notice.
Peebols provide an option for peeing when you don’t want to get out of the tent because it’s raining/ creepy/ you’re too tired. I used them on one trip when a site didn’t actually have an easily accessible toilet and I didn’t want to wake my partner multiple times a night.
Take a bin frame
A bin is something easily forgotten about when preparing for camping. We have a small metal frame that holds carrier bags to serve as a bin, and it also comes in useful during barbecues. Unfortunately the same one doesn’t seem to be for sale any more, but this is something similar.
Discover the joy of campfire nachos
I am ashamed to admit that until very recently, I didn’t realise it was possible to make nachos while camping. But it’s actually very simple. Line a pan with foil, heat up the sauce and refried beans in a pan, add cheese (you can’t go wrong with smoked cheese while camping) and nachos to it. You can eat them from the pan, and can get more extravagant with ingredients if you want.
Most of all, invest in a good tent !
We don’t currently have our own tent because it broke on a previous trip. As in, it was pouring with rain, the tent started flooding as we were packing up, and fell apart so badly that we had to bin it. This was a bit of a bummer as the tent had originally been a Valentine’s Day present from my partner.
Honestly I think the most important things to consider when it comes to tents, are space and a measurement called “Hydrostatic Head.”
Firstly, with regard to space, I find that tent sizes tend to be vastly overestimated. We borrowed a friend’s tent once when we went camping with her boyfriend in the winter. Her tent model was marketed as a “4-person tent.” But the three of us were scrunched up together in it, and my dog had to lie awkwardly on us.
Really, I would have called it a 2-person tent.
The tent we owned before it broke was billed as 6-person, and you could indeed fit 2 people in each of the 3 bedrooms, but, it was very cramped together and you were unavoidably elbowing each other all night.
So I would say, pay for a tent marketed to fit more people than you are actually likely to have in a camping group. When we camp, there are usually 5 or 6 of us and at least one dog, so when we can next afford to buy our own tent I will be looking for an 8 or 10-person one, with a good-sized “living room” area that my wheelchair can be safe in. I also need to make sure that there isn’t a “lip” on the floor of the entrance doorway, as wheeling over it could tug on and rip the tent.
Also, make sure your tent isn’t missing really obvious features, like lantern hooks!
Now, as for the Hydrostatic Head. The HH is a measurement of how tall of a “column of water” your tent’s material can hold before leaking. Our deceased tent was meant to be as much as 3,000mm HH, but certainly didn’t seem to be by the end. There is a bit more to it than just the HH though, e.g. if your tent’s seams have big holes around the stitching, you are going to get rained on regardless of how waterproof the material is.
Your groundsheet may also have a Hydrostatic Head rating, and you certainly don’t want any water coming up through your tent floor.
Here’s a video I found that explains the HH test:
That’s it for this post! Let me know if you have any tips for camping.