The family camping holidays of my youth. What a strange mix of fond and frightful memories. For starters, everything was broken. The foldable chairs. The butter knife. My spirit. And we’d always – always – forget to pack something. One year, it was my baby brother’s clothes. The next, it was the dog. I’ve since wild-camped in galeforce Scotland, been to many a muddy music festival and have even dared to glamp. Camping is the best, but a lifetime of camping has taught me a few things – often the hard way. Here’s my advice on how to make sure your trip runs smoothly.
Put the tent up before you leave
You turn up and get the tent out. It’s still got that hole in it. There aren’t enough pegs. You haven’t got the rubber hammer back from uncle Steve. See where I’m going here? If you're sleeping in a tent, it is vital you put it up before you leave to check that moths or mould or meddling kids haven’t made light work of your canvas. While you’re at it, pump up that inflatable bed. Sounds like a faff, but it’s better than waking up on the cold, hard earth at 4am. Trust me.
Take proper pillows
Sounds obvious, but I bet a good number of you have those awful travel pillows. “There’s not enough space for normal pillows!” you say. “Find space, damn it!” I say back. A good night's sleep makes each day so much more fulfilling. It’ll even keep a smile on your face when the weather’s not on your side. Don’t forget those ear plugs too. It’s best to assume everyone is a snorer! And did I mention an eye mask?
Choosing the right location
In the 1990s, way before broadband, we had to look at friends’ tatty camping brochures for location inspiration. Even then it was a punt. I distinctly remember turning up in a field in Somerset where kids were burning tyres and two men were duelling with snooker cues! Nowadays, you have the likes of the Camping and Caravanning Club’s website to guide you to an attractive, well-appointed site in a great location. Each site has lots of pictures and reviews that are actually helpful.
Scout out the area before you set off
A favourite camping destination of mine is on the Gower Coast in Wales. Part of its charm is how underdeveloped it is. Campsites don't always have shops. You have to really travel far for fish and chips. Once you’ve chosen a good location, it pays to research the surrounding area. Where to eat and drink. Where to buy supplies. What to do. The super-prepared might even like to know where the nearest hospital is. Google is your friend. Campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk is your family.
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Take a decent first aid kit
Not one of these cheapy ones off Amazon. If a time comes to use it, you, or whomever you’re tending to, will need a good-quality kit to keep their injury clean and dry. I remember having to duct-tape a sock to my arm when I gashed it on a fence (what I was doing up a fence shall remain private for now). Nowadays, I always take a St John Ambulance British Standard first aid kit. It has most of everything you’ll need. And, well, it just looks good in the corner of your tent!
“The ground is frozen solid – we can’t get the pegs in!” I’ll never forget trying to put a tent up in the Brecon Beacons for my bronze Duke of Edinburgh badge. Pegs bending as easily as plasticine; rain hammering it down. Granted, titanium pegs are a bit of a luxury – they cost around £3 to £4 each – but it’ll be the last set you ever buy. They’re super-strong and won’t buckle when whoever is wanging the mallet at them. Extremely light too, which is always a bonus.
Staying dry – at all costs
It’s the difference between an absolutely lovely getaway in the countryside and a few days of unbridled misery. Obviously, bring waterproof everything and lots of clean, dry socks – wet feet are the worst – but also consider taking a multi-function tarp to go over your tent. Or to have as a reception space for taking your muddy boots off. I remember seeing a real pro hanging his wet clothes on a portable clothes line. I think he heard me muttering, “Why didn’t I think of that!” while I was ringing out my pants.
More top tips from regular campers
We asked Camping and Caravanning Club members to share their expert advice…..
“Buy a really good sleeping bag, because whatever the weather is like it can get blooming cold at night! Been there…” Chris R
“Prepare a meal ready for your first night.” Michelle C
“I had a ‘box that has everything' – things I needed, like spare batteries, a wee mirror, midge coils, midge repellent and nets (essential for any forest site), handwashing fluid, sanitizer, a few pegs, paracord, first aid kit, matches, 'ladies essentials'… and any other little bits and bobs. Now I've got a caravan filled with the same but I miss my trips under canvas!” Kathryn P
“Don't be afraid to ask for help. Campers are usually a very friendly, helpful bunch. We all started the same way (clueless).” Oliver D
“Layers and good waterproofs. If you're warm and dry, you can cope with anything the weather throws at you!” Nancy J
“Have a toolbox prepared with a torch, spare batteries, tent repair kit, mallet, peg puller, carabiners, clothes pegs, gaffer tape, LX tape, Swiss Army knife, sewing kit and paracord.” Jenny W
Camping and Caravanning Club discounts
Pack like a pro with exclusive discounts on clothing and equipment for club members, including 15% of at Cotswold Outdoor, Blacks and Snow + Rock, 10% off at Halfords and Tentspares and 10% off Ordnance Survey paper maps as well as a 20% discount at Welcome Break to help you on your journey to your destination. Become a member to see the full list of offers.
Find out more at campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk
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