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It’s Camping, Jim, But Not As We Knew It

Wild country backpacking still feels like ‘proper’ camping. Credit: Adam Bage

My first camping trip was up the cwm from home in South Wales. With one army surplus rucksack between us packed with our tent and food, a friend and I tucked kapok-filled sleeping bags under our arms and set off. It wasn’t ‘backpacking’ in those days. It was just ‘camping’.

We only had to walk a couple of miles to find an isolated spot tucked out of the wind and soon had a fire going for the sausages that were our main food resource. We were 13 years old so bottles of pop were our only drink. Our small cotton pup tent had no groundsheet and it never crossed our minds to bring something waterproof to lie on.

It didn’t really matter as our cotton tent let through a fine mist of moisture as the gentle rain started before becoming a mini-monsoon and soaking our cheap bags. It was brilliant! Nobody knew exactly where we were and we were independent of comment and judgement. In the morning, we packed up and headed home happily. We were campers!

And small tents were the norm for me for about the next 25 years of backpacking, cycle-camping or travelling by car. Even when weight and packed size didn’t matter with a car, my tent was usually small and lightweight. Eventually, I discovered the joy of larger tents with standing headroom on a Eurocamp holiday but it didn’t feel like proper camping. 00000

Car camping – trading independence for comfort.

I’m over that prejudice and have even tried wooden pods, pre-pitched ‘luxury’ safari tents and an ‘eco-hut’ on a farm campsite. Purists might argue that they don’t count as real camping. So what? I enjoyed them all for a variety of reasons though the eco-hut wasn’t as comfortable as my allotment shed.

Pods – love them or hate them, they’re here to stay.

The point is that, like everything else, camping is evolving continually. Whilst one person’s lightweight camping means backpacking with a full kit weighing just a few kilos, another’s may include packing a car with folding chairs and camp beds or just turning up at a pre-pitched, fully-equipped tipi.

Ready Camp’s pre-pitched, safari-style camping experience has really taken off in the UK.

I like the fact that tent design has made the most of modern materials and components. Whether shaving grams off super lightweight designs or taking large inflatable concepts to new levels, it’s all about choice, variety, options. Above all, it’s about being outdoors. Whether that involves trekking through the hills to wild camp or pitching by a lake to fish through the night doesn’t matter.

Yurt-style camping in a contemporary inflatable design. Credit: Robens

Make no judgements but embrace the broad church that camping has become over the years.

And don’t forget to pack the pegs.

Ten universal ‘laws’ of camping – as if!

  • Lightweight gear gets heavier by the hour when carried in a rucksack.
  • Nothing is unbreakable.
  • Guylines come to life when you step over them.
  • Tent problems only develop in the rain.
  • Airbeds only collapse when you’re asleep.
  • Sleeping bag zips always jam when you need a pee – desperately.
  • Stove gas usually runs out ten minutes before the food is cooked.
  • Bottle openers are camouflage experts.
  • ‘Sleeps four’ means ‘Sleeps two normal-sized adults’.
  • Emergencies never happen at a convenient time and place.
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