Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Frazzled Shell's Guide to Camping - Part One

Ahhh... camping.  This lovely weather really has made me think about camping, I wish we'd known how nice it was going to be and we could have booked something for half term.  We were sweltering yesterday as the kids went back to school, temperatures mid to late 20's, thunderstorms and bouncing rain that has done nothing to clear the air.   6 am, as I type, it's already 16 degrees C outside and I'm sat with both windows open.

It really does seem to be a subject that splits opinion, people seem to either love it or hate it.  Although I was a relatively late first-time camper at the age of 32, I was hooked from the get go.  All the stuff we have now has been accumulated over the course of the last eight years.

The first tent aka 'Divorce Tent'

First and foremost, a mistake that a lot of people seem to make is to think that it's a cheap do.  It can be, if you're hoiking a two man tent on your back and you sleep in a field and pee behind a tree, eating chocolate bars and cold baked beans out of a tin...  It depends on your own personal comfort level, what you're willing to do without and what you absolutely won't compromise on.  Once you've ascertained that for yourself, then welcome to cheap(er than paying for a hotel for a family of six) holidays!  We're by no means the most experienced campers but we know what works for us and what hasn't, over the course of the last eight years.  I've lugged four children with me, from toddlers to teens, and we've survived storms, high winds and wash outs.  I'd say we're quite luxury campers really, in terms of home comforts, although those who 'glamp' would be inclined to disagree!  So here's the benefit of a normal Mum's camping experience - if you're a first time camper, or you're thinking about camping, or even if you're the sort who always forgets the pillows or the tin opener.

The first thing I do is make a list.  Yes, yes I know, me and my lists...  And on my list, I work through an average day in my mind, from dawn until dusk, and detail everything that we may need.  I read it out to the kids and Mr G and they then shout out things I may have overlooked.  What I could do, is make a master list and use it every year... but where would the fun be in that?  Tell me?

Tent:  This is a personal preference.  Always go for a larger tent than you need, we are still using an 8 man tent now, even though only five of us camp.  Divorce tent (see picture above) had three pods.  It took three years to erect, nearly cost us our marriage on three occasions, and not even freak summer storms could destroy it - although we prayed.  A whole campsite decimated, only tent standing?  Ours.  It was like the cockroach of tents.  In the end we gave it away.   In our personal experience, a tunnel tent is easiest.  Easiest to erect, to put away, bedroom either end, with a large living space in between for the British summertime. Read the reviews.  If there's no or few reviews on the website you're buying from, or if you're buying in store?  Stick the tent name into Google and look for reviews on other sites.  We prefer one with a sewn in groundsheet.
What else you'll need - Spare tent pegs, a mallet (for the love of God, don't forget the mallet.  Take two, because you will invariably, lose the bugger as you're putting the tent up).
Optional extras - Tent peg remover, spare guide ropes, tent footprint (if you have one), tent porch (if you have one).  A windbreak.  We always put one up around the cooking area, it's fab if it's breezy.

Sleeping:  We've thrown away so many airbeds that it's ridiculous.  We've had single ones, double ones, couches that turn into beds, self inflating ones, I've slept flat on the floor (not recommended).  We've now invested in camping beds for everyone, larger ones for Mr G and I and smaller ones for the children. 
Bedding:  This is a personal preference. Pillows, obviously.  Sleeping bags and/or duvets.  I personally can't sleep zipped up in a sleeping bag so I don't get the warmth kept in.  I put a heavy patchwork quilt over my open sleeping bag, and coupled with my fleecy onesie and beanie hat... I look like a right tube :-)
Lighting:  We have all sorts of lights, Poundshop ones to proper remote control lighting.  The remote control ones are fab, we have one in each bedroom pod, so that makes getting up for a pee at night a lot easier than fumbling around in the dark and cold.  I also take a head torch with me, that's handy for reading in bed when it's dark, without keeping Mr G awake.  
What else to consider:  There's nothing worse than being cold at night when camping, which it is compared to your own bed, no matter how nice the day has been.  Fleecy bed socks, fleecy onesies, woolly hats, hoodies are also fab, and everyone in my tent always has a hot water bottle in their sleeping bag about half an hour before bed.  It does make a difference.  Layer up, it's not a fashion parade.

Eating and Cooking:  This can be as simple or elaborate as you want.  Sometimes when we go camping with friends, we cook on their gas barbecue.  Other times I've just fried bacon and sausage on a single camping stove.  But our cooking equipment now is a double burner gas stove, with a little mini grill underneath for toast, we have a special stand for this that keeps the stove at a cooking height, and we also take a single camping stove that is generally just used for boiling the kettle.  Sometimes we pick up disposable barbecues, which are handy for the children to toast marshmallows and make S'Mores.  A kettle type barbecue is also good to hold disposable barbecues and keep them off the ground.
Dishes:  We found some great melamine sets in Aldi a couple of years ago, heavily reduced, I think they were something daft like £2.99 for a set of four bowls, side plates and dinner plates.  We bought two sets.  We take some additional enamel plates too and some mess tins.  If you're only having something light and dry, use paper plates to save on washing up, and they can be recycled.
Cutlery:  A mixture of heavy duty plastic ones (for the children) and old oddments of cutlery.
Pots and Pans:  We take a Gelert stackable set of pans and kettle, a griddle pan, and a frying pan.  This pretty much covers anything we're able to cook at one time.
Tables and chairs:  We take two, one that folds into a case and has four separate stools inside, and also a lower table that the legs clip into the underside.  Two camping chairs and that's us.
What else you may need:  Tin opener.  Bottle opener/corkscrew.  Plastic wine glasses.  Fish/Egg slice.  Tongs.  Sharp knife (try cutting onions with a plastic knife...).  Drinks bottles for childrens drinks (easier than constantly washing up cups).  Cups for tea or coffee, or insulated travel coffee mugs.
What you don't necessarily need but if you see one heavily reduced as we did:  A camping cupboard.  Heavy duty canvas, zips up fully, so nothing slimy or crawly can get in, and on top, it rolls back to provide you with a kitchen sink.  Handy if you're some distance from the toilet block, or it's raining.

Food Storage:  We take what we refer to as 'The Coffin'.  It's so big that we're burying someone in it to save on funeral costs.  It is a cool box that will keep food frozen for a few days if you add ice and ice packs to it.  It has been invaluable for us as a large family on a budget.  I've taken homemade curries and chillies, frozen in plastic containers, and we've had a decent meal for a few nights that doesn't involve burger or bacon ;-)  We store our milk, butter, bread - anything that needs keeping cool in there.  While coming home from a day out, buy a bag or two of ice, top it up.  Our friends who travel as a couple have an electric coolbox that works off the car battery.  You don't have to go to such lengths, a normal coolbox with ice blocks and ice would suffice to keep milk and butter cool.  But for a family of our size, eating out all the time isn't an option, so we need to plan ahead, and have adequate storage for food.
Tinned and dried stuff is kept in the abovementioned camping cupboard.  Not a necessity, but another Aldi ridiculously reduced camping bargain.  Before this we used plastic storage boxes with lids on and kept them in the tent or in the car, depending. 

Part two coming up - do not read if offended by toilet humour.  Literal toilet humour.  I'm not joking...

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