April 16th, 2012
No matter how seasoned a camper you are, every new outdoor excursion is bound to leave you feeling somewhat inadequate. Nothing to be ashamed of, it's just the way it works. Whether it's an item forgotten, a uncomfortably placed tent, or an unfortunate selection of companions, there will always be something to add to the check list... or maybe scratch off.
After a recent - particularly eventful - family camping expedition to the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Karoo-section of the Eastern Cape, I was once again struck by nature's ability to cut you down to size and challenge your boundaries, when you actually submit yourself to its influence. While these kind of holidays are very seldom exactly comfortable, they most often end up being strangely revitalizing.
So, whereas some would say camping is best avoided at all costs, I'd say, a camping trip every once in a while is essential to a healthy sense of self. And just to help you along I've put together a list of my top 10 camping tips... Just take note, I consider myself quite a novice camper, so if you're way beyond this, please add your suggestions to the comment section below!
1. Arrive after dark or in the heat of the day
King Solomon once said that there was a time for everything, and this counts for setting up camp too. While there are many nasty tent pitching scenarios one can cite, I will stick to the basic guidelines. If you value good relationships with your fellow campers, never, but never try to set up camp in the dark. Make sure you get to your destination at least an hour before sunset to pick a spot, unpack, pitch and get settled in. Also, if you're doing a bit of mid-summer camping, avoid having to go through this process between 11 am and 3 pm if you value your health and wellbeing.
2. Choose the lowest spot in the campsite
We were camping pretty much in the heart of the traditionally dry Karoo, and didn't for a moment expect that water would be a problem. Well, we were wrong. Very wrong. On the first evening rains poured down on our canvas tent quite comfortingly, but by the next afternoon, our entire setup was drenched through. A little scout around the campsite revealed a few drier spots, so we picked the closest best one, packed our things and scooted over. Our big mistake? Choosing a cozy, shady corner right at the bottom of the campsite...
3. Pack sensibly (clothes-wise)
Now, this may sound nonsensical, but hear me out. When packing for camping don't go with your common sense. Think it's going to be warm and sunny all weekend? For every pair of shorts, pack a pair of long pants, leggings and warm socks. For every t-shirt, pack a hoodie or jersey. The same goes for winter camping. Think those swimming trunks should stay in the back of your cupboard, think again! You may just be rewarded with an uncharacteristically warm day, and regret the fact that you can't test the delightful rock pool.
4. Shower in the morning or evening
Why? Well, that's when everyone does, which means it's crowded, the floors are probably all squelchy from everyone else's wet feet, and there is no hot water. Instead opt for a mid morning, lunch time or late afternoon titivation. Alternatively, if you're not the type to be creeped out by funny noises and showering alone in a remote restroom, opt for late night... of course, this is also a good time to, well, not shower alone.
5. Drink too much after a certain point at night
There is nothing worse than having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night while camping. Crawling out of your warm sleeping bag, fumbling around for a torch, braving the cold... and all those dreadful night sounds. So, best thing to do - force yourself to make a bathroom trip at a more comfortable time of the night and don't go drinking too much after.
6. Abstain from indulging
Seeing as you're already putting yourself out there, going with nature's flow and far away from soft beds, couches and all those homely comforts, you may as well indulge in the little luxuries you have at your disposal. If you're normally not a day-drinker, give into the urge and have a beer when the sun is at its apex. Treat yourself to a chocolate after supper, have a luxurious afternoon nap (or as luxurious as possible), have a second helping... whatever it is that will float your boat. Just do it!
7. Leave your bag unzipped
I'll admit that I'm a pretty lazy person when it comes to packing and keeping my space tidy while on holiday, so this one took me a while to get right. Basically, if you don't want to be surprised by creepy crawlies cuddling in your clothes, or worse still, creepy crawlies that don't just gross you out, but also bite, sting or burn, it's best to zip up your bags as soon as you've retrieved or replaced your items.
To be safe, also shake out your sleeping bag before getting into it blindly. They're not only a cosy retreat for campers, but also for snakes and spiders.
8. Be loud
Photo Adventure Rabbi
While it's not necessary to go around the campsite like it's some silent mormon retreat, it is good to keep tabs on the volume of your conversations, laughter and music. In most campsites there are rules stipulating quiet times, normally between 10pm and 7am. As soon as you see your fellow campers retreating into their tents for the night, do the same or lower your voices just a fraction. If your fellow campers don't retreat, well, great stuff! Party all night!
9. Leave sensitive items - like ugg boots - outside
I have a pair of ugg boots that I absolutely adore (ya, I don't care that you think ugg boots are ugg-ly!) and lug along wherever I go. Now, on the last camping trip, I was told to leave them at the door of the tent so as not to bring in any dirt. Of course no one could foresee the dramatic deluge that was to ensue, and my poor uggs got totally drenched. Being made of leather and sheepskin, getting them dry was no joke, and they will probably have that feint smell of wet dog for the rest of their lives.
Moral of the story. Never leave anything you care about outside while camping. If it's not allowed to go into the tent, leave it in the car for goodness' sake!
10. Leave food unattended when you go out
We left a pocket of onions hanging from the tap close to our tent, hoping that one of the cleaning staff would spot them and take them home. Instead, when we saw again, the weekend leftovers were being devoured - through the netting bag - by a troupe of adorable vervet monkeys. Seeing we were pretty much on our way back home, it was more amusing than anything else, but imagine getting back to camp and finding fruits, veggies, and all your other supplies strewn around mid-weekend. Not an ideal situation at all, so make sure you keep your edibles locked well away.
Feeling inspired to head out into the wild and test these tips? Check out our Top 10 Camping Spots.
Still not convinced? Take a look at our Camping v. Glamping debate.