Camping can be the best of times, or it can be the worst experience imaginable. Fortunately these top five camping tips help stack the odds in your favour.

When it comes to spending quality time outdoors South Africans are particularly spoilt for choice. Want to be surrounded by mountains? No sweat, just hit the majestic Drakensberg in the east, or head for the stark Cederberg in the west. If you prefer an ocean view, then our long 2 500 km plus coastline – which cuts through various biomes along the way, from the lush, humid KZN north coast, to the dry, windy Northern Cape – has you covered, no matter what you’re into. And if checking out game’s more your thing, then you can’t go wrong when visiting any one of our stunning national parks or reserves.

Camping is an amazing way to experience nature first hand. Apart from being one of the most affordable holidays ever invented, it also makes for seriously fun family adventures. However, in my mind, the most appealing aspect of camping has to be its ability to dissipate city stress – allowing you to properly recharge your batteries and gear up for the next round of work madness.

But before you throw all your gear into the car and rush off, hold on a bit. As much fun as camping is, it requires more than just pitching your tent, starting a fire and knocking back a few margaritas at sunset. This is one outdoor activity where a little planning goes a long way. Get it right, and you’ll have the time of your life. Get it wrong… and your experience could take a disastrous turn for the worse.

That said, here are five great camping tips that’ll go a long way to help you have the best time possible when kicking back with your tent in the wild this summer.

1. Choosing a campsite
If you’ve booked a campsite at one of our many resorts, then this tip doesn’t apply to you – you get what you’re given, and the odds are good you’ll be okay. But if you’re determined to camp out in the wild, or need to set up camp for the night while on a hike, then where you decide to set up base becomes critically important.

First up, try to avoid exposed windy locations. Ideally you want to find a site sheltered by natural wind blocks such as trees or large boulders. But before you pitch your tent, look up – you don’t want a dead branch that could break off in a strong wind and flatten your tent overhead! Another good tip is to orient your tent with its door facing toward the prevailing wind. Bugs hate wind and always congregate in still air, so this will keep your tent relatively insect free. It also helps keep things less stuffy inside.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although sites with breathtaking views are what we all fantasise about when stuck in the city, because they’re often so exposed to the elements they can become brutal in a storm. Camping really close to a trail isn’t ideal either, because you’ll be disturbed by others passing by. And, ideally, you want to be near a water source. Once you’ve picked a spot that’s as flat as possible, clear away any obstructions that could poke holes in your tent. And, while you’re at it, remove any stones you find – your back will thank you in the morning!

2. Purifying water
We would all like to camp alongside pristine mountain streams, sadly this often isn’t the case. Fortunately, there are plenty of water purification options available. However, it’s worth remembering that, courtesy of our scorching hot summers, you’re more likely to get into serious trouble from dehydration and heat stroke than a stomach bug – so if the need’s really there, but you can’t treat the water, go ahead and drink it anyway.

Boiling water is your most basic go-to option. This old-school method kills anything living in the water stone dead, but it does have some drawbacks. First, you need to have enough fuel for your stove, or plenty of wood for your fire. Secondly, you need patience. That’s because it can take up to 10 minutes to boil, then has to cool afterwards.

If you’re only responsible for providing for your own needs, then a small handheld UV water purifier like the SteriPEN is ideal. Capable of obliterating pathogens in 1-litre of water in about 90 seconds, their proven technology has been saving hikers’ hides the world over for years. Their only drawbacks are they require batteries (so pack some extra) and don’t work well in water with heavy sediment – so you either have to strain it or let it settle before starting the treatment.

For large groups, gravity filters are the answer. They consist of two bags that are connected by a hose and in-line filter. What you do is hang the bladder with the untreated water up somewhere, like in a tree, and let gravity take care of the rest. Then, as you potter around camp setting everything up, clean water will drip slowly into the bottom bag, ready for you when you’re done. Then again, never discount chemical treatments. Chlorine dioxide tablets impart minimal taste and take between 15 and 30 minutes to work. They’re also fairly expensive, but make a good backup should your other options go south.

3. Going for a number two
When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. The problem is there’s probably not even a smelly longdrop in sight when the urge strikes. When you need to shed some, erm, excess baggage, it’s best to follow the Leave No Trace movement’s advice. Incidently, their website’s packed with informative articles for those wanting to do the right thing while enjoying nature, so do yourself a favour and go check it out.

Using a small garden trowel, they recommend you dig a “cathole” between 15 and 20 cm deep and about 15 cm in diameter. The site should be discrete and at least 60 metres away from any water sources. Once done, bury everything (making sure your trowel only touches soil) and leave the spot as you found it. Burying toilet paper is no longer recommended, as animals tend to dig it up after the fact and scatter the disgusting stuff all over the place. So it’s best practice to pack it into a sturdy freezer bag, and then take it home with you.

4. Pack a first aid kit
As sure as God made little green apples, if you ignore your first aid kit, you can be sure you’re going to have to use it – especially when kids are involved! But ask 10 people what you should put inside your kit, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. The bottom line is no-one ever knows.

Your best option is to go for items that can’t be “jury rigged” in the wild – things like gel pads, gauze, athletic tape, antiseptic creams, plasters, medications and so forth. If a real crisis strikes you’ll be surprised by how much you can improvise. For example, an arm sling can be made from a bandana or T-shirt, while bandages can be constructed out of gauze pads and tape. And once you’ve wrapped a shirt around a stick (to give it some cushioning) it makes a great splint.

Factors that determine the size of your first aid kit include the number of people, the types of activities you’re getting up to and your length of stay. However, try to keep it as small as you possibly can. That’s because bulky, over-stocked kits tend to get left in camp. Ideally you want something that’s convenient enough to take along with you when heading out on a mini adventure or day hike. Fortunately, all the good outdoor stores carry a range of ready-packed kits, so if you’re undecided as to what to include, just go for one of these and you’ll be sorted.

5. Know where you’re at
This may sound like a strange point, seeing as this article’s about camping – an activity that doesn’t exactly imply moving about much! But the reality is your camp’s your holiday base, that’s all. Chances are you’ll spend a significant part of your days going on long hikes or exploring the local area. And, as you’re hanging out in a pristine neighbourhood, the odds are good there’s no network signal. That said, if you wander off the trail by mistake, or get caught out in bad weather and lose your way, it doesn’t matter how well appointed your camp is – you’re officially in trouble.

Fortunately, if you slip a handheld Garmin GPS in your day pack (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one) this problem is solved. Apart form leading you safely back to base should you get lost, as many of the units provide detailed weather info and reports, they can also give you a decent warning to hunker down properly before the weather turns. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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