Going camping – whether you do it in a luxury caravan or a one-person tent – should always be relaxing, at the least. And that means useful and familiar gear that will enhance your experience and make it more comfortable.
So what do you always take camping? I know I have certain items I wouldn’t leave home without, quite aside from food, drink, first aid kit and sleeping facilities.
These are articles that have proven themselves time and again and got me out of trouble on more occasions than I care to think about.
CHAINSAW AND AXE
I accept that national parks are designed to retain areas of our natural heritage in their native state, but in places where it’s permissible to have a fire and to collect your own firewood, you’ll need the right tools for the job.
I always try to bring a bag or two of firewood with me if I know I can have a fire, but that generally doesn’t last long and I soon find myself in the scrub looking for fallen timber that’s been on the ground for a while. Smaller wood is okay for starting a fire, but if you want some real heat and good coals for your camp oven, you’re going to need solid chunks of hard wood. And ‘hard’ means an axe is too much like hard work, so you will need a chainsaw.
To keep the chain saw in top condition I carry a sealed plastic container of chainsaw bar oil, a mini power drill and a chainsaw sharpening bit. Cutting hard wood will soon demonstrate why you’ll need those.
The other main use for this gear is clearing a tree off your track. Occasionally you’ll come across a tree that’s really too big to be tackled by an amateur with a small saw, but generally speaking, you can clear a path through downed timber fairly quickly.
Keep an axe on hand in case you lose the use of the chainsaw or you need to split timber. Keep it sharp and keep it out of the way of children and it will see you through a lifetime of service.
Always remember to wear heavy boots and eye protection whenever using this sort of gear.
GPS AND MAPS
Navigating around the bush means good maps, and they can be both digital and printed on paper. Despite what some might think, the latter have not been displaced by GPS, and both are complementary. Good paper maps are easier to plot a course and orientate yourself in strange country. Your bonnet makes a great mapping table.
Don’t scrimp on a cheap GPS – one of those little units you buy in a department store for $150 can be difficult to read and only show a small patch of the country.
Buy a good, large screen (preferably 7in) that you can mount on the windscreen, a good in-dash unit or the software to run maps on your tablet or laptop. There are excellent maps available for these devices today that will give you every wrinkle in the track, every little stream, every hill, every abandoned farm building, as well as three-dimensional landscape, contours and other features.
Software for tablets will give you a much bigger screen and more options in terms of longer distance planning. Add some apps which might include free camps, sunrise/sunset times, stars in the night sky and other handy camping attributes.
There are two pairs of gumboots under the seat in my camper trailer all the time. If the weather turns bad and you’re camped up somewhere it makes a lot of sense to have dry feet and the ready ability to slip on dry boots at the door, and easily slip them off when next you return. Drainage is non-existent in the bush, and if things are going pear-shaped at your campsite, you’ll have no choice but to get in there and fix them – and it’ll be so much easier with dry feet. Never leave home without a good pair of gumboots.
Personally, these days I go with a pair of Bogs. These are upmarket gumboots, with proper arch supports, neoprene upper leggings for comfort, insulation to keep you warm even down to minus 40°C and fully waterproof. They’re a fair bit more expensive than your common gumboot, but they are worth every penny.
We keep a couple of pairs of bamboo socks with them, ready to go. They’re soft, will protect your feet, don’t harbour bacteria so don’t smell, and will last several days, if necessary, until the sun comes out and you can get around to washing them.
I have been a sucker for multi-tools ever since I was a little kid, and have a variety of them. There is always one on my belt when I’m in the bush. Don’t buy cheap – buy a quality brand and it will last you a lifetime. I like a good pair of pliers, a sharp knife, both types of screwdrivers and a sharp saw blade.
The rest of the tools are a bonus and really don’t get too much use, other than a bottle opener or tooth pick. Don’t get too excited about a fish hook remover or a device for removing stones from a horse’s hoof.
When you go camping there are a number of uses for a long-handled shovel, and they are all important. They can dig your caravan out of mud or sand, neatly place coals on the top of a camp oven or be a means of digging that vital bush toilet.
Make sure it’s a good brand with a strong handle.
You don’t want a shovel that’s too short – you have to get too close to the fire to get the coals, you will have trouble getting that mud or sand away from the wheels or, even worse, from under the gearbox, and you want to definitely keep your distance when it comes time to fill in the hole after that toilet break.
Mine travels across under the camper in a couple of brackets, but you could just as easily strap or clamp yours to your roof rack or tie it down in the cargo area of your tow vehicle. If you’re not finding any use for a long-handled shovel, you’re not serious about travelling and camping in the bush!