In our convenient world of Booking.com, Hostelworld and Airbnb, travelling has been made ever so accessible via the relative ease of finding, booking and getting to your accommodation. We decided to buck this modern trend and spend most of our summer sleeping in a tent! This piece will give you tips on how you plan your own long term camping trip. We will also take you through some of our highs and lows from camping across Europe and Asia with our home strapped to our backs.
Firstly, we must discuss size. Ali is 5"3 and Mark a long 6"2, which means we have to distribute the weight between two bags carrying a collective weight of 35kg. Mark carries 18kg and Ali 17kg. Remember, travelling with a tent, tarp and cooking equipment is much heavier than a general backpacking experience where you’ll just carry basic equipment between hostels. When you’re living in a tent in nature there are some barriers you’ll need to consider: ranging temperatures, wind, rain, snow, slopes, dips in the ground, insects, finding water, keeping food fresh and struggling with carrying a heavy bag every day.
Our general advice would be to buy medium to high specification equipment because it will almost always be lighter than the cheaper stuff, it should last longer too. That said most of our equipment is medium end and has performed well across a range of places including Siberia in Autumn. We generally buy our equipment from actual shops so you can check performance and ask questions. Sometimes we go home and buy online when you know which product you want so you can get a better price.
Your bag is so important because you’ll use it everyday and it’s the only way to transport your gear around comfortably. Firstly, you’ll need to be realistic about how much you can carry. Nature can throw many challenges at you so having all the equipment you will need makes for a much heavier bag. See if you can test the bag in a shop with 20kg of weight to make sure your back is conformable, remember weight should be distributed around your waist rather shoulders.
Ali has a 60L bag and Mark a 65L, which are both mage by Berghaus. Mark's bag is 8 years old and part from from a few clip snapping the bag has performed well, Bergahuse replace any utility clips free of charge too. Make sure you buy a strong bag with a lifetime guarantee, companies like Berghaus and Osprey will replace parts that break or malfunction. We paid no more than £80 for each backpack and we’ve had very few problems with our bags in this price range. More important than the bag is how you pack it, we have tried so many combinations of setup with the tent on the outside, sleeping bags in bin bags strapped to the top, and neither of those worked. We have come to the following conclusions on packing your bag to avoid backache…
Packing Your Bag
- Most modern backpacks have a compartment at the bottom where you should place your sleeping bag, as tightly wrapped as possible, in a plastic bag to protect it from water. Squeeze that in first.
- Put your tent in next into the largest bag making sure the length on the tent sits against the bags spine as it will support your back and the structure of the bag.
- Squeeze in the smaller items like pots and pans, inflatable mattresses and inflatable pillow around the tent at the bottom of the bag because these are the last things you’ll need later when you set up camp.
- Lastly put in the items you will need most at the top of the bag normally clothes, hat and gloves.
- Use the side pockets for water and day to day items.
Additional Backpack Items
Always pop into the pound shop and buy the follow items:
Bungee cords - These allow you to attach almost anything to the outside of bag and they are also useful for setting up a mosquito net in a large room.
Utility straps - If you need a stronger, more permanent, connection then utility straps are great.
Gaffa tape - Incredibly useful. Use it to attach a mosquito net to the wall, fix ripped bags or keep food packaging sealed and fresh. You can fix most things with gaffa tape!
Bin bags - Can be used with gaffa tape to waterproof pretty much anything.
With these items almost anything can be attached to the bag with the weight ideally going upwards rather than outwards, otherwise your bag bounces with every step (Ali put up with this for weeks before using the technique above).
We have a small lightweight two person tent made by Berghaus which is wind and rain-proof. It fits in the 65L bag, which is a must! It may be worth taking some extra pegs and a repair kit and always check the season of the tent. We have a 3 season tent which has been suitable to -2 temperatures but this would not give enough protection for cold winter weather. Our tent is small with a tiny porch so we had to find a way of storing all of our equipment in the tent and keep it dry. The solution is to cocoon our backpacks in black plastic bin bags, using the gaffa tape, and leave them outside the main tent in the porch. This gives us more space inside the tent. Our tent is also very quick to put up and take down because of simply designed it is, which is an advantage when there is only a small weather window to escape in.
If you need some detailed help and advice on picking the right tent you won't find a better guide than this one https://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/camping-hiking.html
After a few weeks of camping we soon realised that when the rain came, and in Norway it definitely did, we didn't have anywhere to sit and relax in the evenings or cook dinner. So we visited Globetrotter in Berlin to pick up a big tarp for extra space. Having a tarp was such a useful item because we could create a large space using our walking poles as stems or by attaching the tarp to trees. With the extra shelter we could prepare all three meals a day without having to worry about any incoming precipitation!
This item should be on any backpackers list because keeping yourself dry when facing the elements should be your top priority. We have Gortex (waterproof and breathable) jackets which, as well as being lightweight, have peaked hoods that keep the structure of the hood in heavy wind and rain. We also opted for windproof jackets, which does exactly what it says. We spent around £80 pp for our jackets with these features but prices can be much higher for insulating linings, thicker materials etc. In our experience it is better to have a light rain jacket that is supplemented by 1+ thinner layers underneath as it's much easier to control your temperature this way.
It can be quite useful to have a smaller day bag that you can wear on your front where you can keep the items you’ll need across the day like your rain jacket, gloves, hat, sprays, sun cream and water. The downside of a day bag is that you’ll probably get a sweaty chest where the bag rests against it. If we are doing a long trek with heavy bags then we’ll attach the day bag to our larger backpack.
It’s an imperative that you buy some decent boots because you’ll use them everyday and they will help soak up some of the forces from a heavy bag. They’ll also help you grip on difficult surfaces and most importantly keep your feet dry. Boots come in different season ratings, the higher the rating the less flexible the sole of the shoe is. For example, a 4 season boot is for technical activities like climbing and cold weather so the shoe will not flex at all. We have 2 season Gortex boots that are grippy, waterproof and have some flex in them, which is perfect for trekking. Do some research before you purchase because there are many companies making boots and many different price ranges. We bought our North Face boots in a half-price sale for £60 and they have last for 7 years. Although the waterproofing started to fail us on this trip so we bought a waterproofing spray that brought them back to life, who knew Gortex boots can lose their waterproofing?
Socks and Gloves
If you can afford it buy Merino wool, which can be manufactured into socks, shirts and jumpers but at a high price point. We would certainly recommend Merino wool socks because they have been the only ones to last the whole trip. Literally all the synthetic and cotton socks had holes in after extended use, whereas the Merino wool ones just keep on going. Over time we will buy all of our clothes in Merino wool because they are warm, dry quickly and pick up less smell than synthetics, smelly Mark can attest to this! We also have 3 season gloves that are waterproof and insulating. The waterproofing is really useful but we found them too cold on their own, so we purchased some cheap wool gloves that fit inside the waterproof ones. With two pairs of gloves our hands are toasty, warm, dry and we can still just about operate a camera with them on.
Sleeping Bags - The 'comfort zone' will depend on the season you are travelling in, we have 16 to -4 degree bags that compact well. In winter months, you'll need even warmer sacks.
Roll Mats - These insulate you from the cold ground as well making the ground softer. We have self inflating mats that have performed ok, after a few months Mark's started to deflate in the night and his was a £40 mat!
Inflating Pillows - These have been really useful on the trip because they make sleeping far more comfortable, easy to deflate and store inside the sleeping bag.
Torch / Headlight - When you're camping you'll need light every night. Purchase a decent LED torch / headlight and you won't regret it!
Gas Hob - If you want to make food in the wild then you'll need a hob and gas. We opted for a little fold out hob that can hold a full pan of water.
Camping Gas - A standard 330 gram gas canister can last up to three weeks of 3 meals a day and hot drink at breakfast.
Pots And Pans - We purchased some Vango pots and pans that slot inside one another to save on space. Both saucepans have lids, and the lid of the larger pan doubles up as a frying pan. We also use the pans as bowls for eating out of.
Plates, Cups, Sporks - All made of plastic for lightweight storage, we use these daily for our food prep, plating up and hot drinks.
Multi-tool - This is an all singing all dancing penknife with a selection of knives, tin opener, scissors etc. Multi-tools are relatively heavy so it's worth checking the weight first.
First-Aid Kit - It is important to get this bit right whilst travelling. Make sure you have a good selection of plasters, antiseptic wipes, syringes, bandages, tablets, gloves, steri-strips, wound pads, mosquito repellent, high factor SPF suncream.
Sewing Kit - For those quick repairs needed to clothes, shoes and kit. We even used it to fix our tent.
Black Bin Bags - These are very useful in downpours to keep your stuff dry.
Waterproof Liner Bag - essential to go inside your day bag to keep the important bits dry.
Water Storing Sacks - not essential but we found these helpful for camping and trekking.
Snood - Snoods are useful for extra head warmth, dust, hair bands and come in different togs.
Walking Poles - These are useful for supporting your knees on long treks, without them Mark's knees would buckled from the weight of the bag.
Luxury Item - We always have some Kendal mint cake for a big trip, its pure sugar and the British used it as a sugar boosting snack to get to the top of Everest!
Food and Drink
This is perhaps the biggest hurdle; how to keep well stocked when you're in the middle of nowhere? Sometimes we've been lucky and provisions can found a few km away, other times we've had to prepare for days in the wilderness. First you’ll need cooking equipment. Here is what we brought with us:
Gas stove - with a heat poof stand for a pot, this means you don’t have hold the handle whilst you cook
Gas canister - a 330gram canister normally lasts about 3 weeks for 3 meals a day.
Pots and pans - That fit neatly inside each other for space saving.
3 Plates (one for prep and two for dining)
2 Plastic Cups
1 heat proof cooking utensil
Washing-up liquid and a few sponges
Pen knife - Useful for preparing vegetables, open bottles etc
Water, the elixir of life. We have two 2 litre pouches that are made from flexible plastic, which makes them easy to fit into bags for storage. 2 litres normally does a days trekking whereas we need both full for prepping dinner, so 4 litres for a whole day of trekking and cooking. These can be filled from fresh streams when you’re near mountains or waterfalls or using taps at a campsite. Always check with a local person to see if the water is safe, if in any doubt purify it. We have met other campers who use water purifying canisters, which we want to get ourselves some day. They can clean any water in a just a few minutes which means you can clean the water as you need it so you needn’t carry heavy excess water. You can also use water purifying tablets to do the same thing, always have these as an emergency backup.
We are big fans of porridge for breakfast because its lightweight before cooking but expands after cooking and fills you up all morning. It can be prepared with water or milk (bit of a luxury) and you can add sugar for flavour, or salt if you're a crazy Scot! This can be washed down with a tea, always the Empirical brits, although we use milk powder rather than real milk. Washing up quickly is key or else the porridge turns to concrete! On luxury days we apply cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit for that extra energy/ protein punch.
Bring tea bags / coffee / milk powder
Dried fruit / nuts
Out in the countryside we stock up on cereal bars, nuts for protein, chocolate and dried fruit for sugars (fruit can also be put into your morning porridge.) Sometimes we are able to get some real fruit whilst most of our carbohydrate comes in the form of bread for simple carbs, for complex carbs we have to wait for dinner. All these items are light, relatively cheap and packed with energy. There are times when you’ll stumble on a mini mart and we’ll always try and make a sandwich, well we are British after all.
Dried fruit / nuts
This is where we get most creative. Pretty much every meal contains onion and garlic, roughly cut on one of the prep plates using the pen knife. From here we develop sauces using purée (light and flavoursome) and some kind of bean in a can using water and oil to bulk the sauce out. Flavour is added by stealing portions of salt and pepper from McDonald's and we always add some chilli and an exotic spice mix Ali brought from home. If our spirits and bellies are at a low point we’ll try and make something homely like a spaghetti bolognese or curry, but most of the time a simple pasta or rice dish; an army marches on its' stomach they say. If you google camping recipes there are some really neat ideas for one pot dishes.
Pasta / rice
Garlic / onion / chile
Olive / vegetable oil
Peppers / courgette (vegetables that can survive a few dents)
We have been able to carry around 5 days of the above out into the wilderness and survive.
Tips For Living In A Tent
Over three months, we used our tent and camping gear to sleep in campsites and wild camp in Norway, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Siberia and China. More than just the equipment, we would make these recommendations about what we've learnt from long term camping:
- Always bring a few light synthetic layers of clothing rather than big, heavy, thicker layers as it gives so much more control of over the temperature of your body.
- Make sure you have good waterproof layers for when the rain falls, it can be very difficult to get dry. If you're in the wild then you'll need to start a fire to dry your clothes.
- Bring two pairs of gloves so one fits inside the other, keep your hands warm at all costs.
- Same for your feet, buy high quality socks because they will smell less, wear slower and keep your feet warmer. We opted for Merino wool.
- Always keep your head, feet and hands warm to stay safe in harsh environments.
- Always have emergency snacks and always plan your foods well when you venture into the wild.
- Use water purifying tablets or boil water for 8 minutes to get safe drinking water in the wild, otherwise buy a water purifying flask, this is on our wish list!
- Head torches are very useful; midnight toilet trips, evening card games or navigating home after a sunset trek.
- Buy foods which are dried or dehydrated you will be grateful for a lighter bag!
- A tarp is incredibly handy for those nights spent in the rain. Otherwise you will have to get inside your tent straight after dinner to keep dry and wait for cabin fever to set in.
- Always hook you fresh food high up on a tree branch to stop rodents coming near your tent or, worst still, eating your food.
- Learn to read the weather, after a few weeks outside with nature you’ll soon be able to spot a rain cloud coming and have your jacket on and ready.
- Although it's nice to have expensive camping equipment it's only real benefit is size and weight. Most of our equipment is low to medium cost and served us perfectly well in both hot, cold and challenging places. you don’t need to spend a fortune to go camping!
- Many people across the world survive in very harsh conditions with very little money or technical equipment. Travelling and camping teaches you that human spirit is as key to survival as your equipment is.
When Disaster Strikes...
Camping throws quite a few surprises at you and occasionally a few disasters. Dealing with these are part of the parcel so let us disclose a few camping nightmares. The first occurred whilst wild camping at the base of the Besseggen ridge in Norway’s Jotunheimen national park. We were on the downward path back to camp when intense rain hit and soaked us to the bone. Shoes squelching, socks swimming. We managed to cook some dinner in our porch and got warm by going to bed at 8pm. It rained all night and was still raining in the morning. Everything was soaked so there seemed little point in changing our clothes. We packed down and dragged our sorry souls to a nearby guesthouse. Being slightly cheeky and resourceful we moved into the hotel lounge where they had a roaring fire and many bewildered guests. We dried out everything over the next few hours and learnt a definitive lesson; sacrifice all to stay dry and your camping experience will be far more pleasant.
Next there was the flooding in Copenhagen, the picture says it all. Just look around at your environment before pitching the tent, just don't put it in the dip in the field like we did. Our tent was actually floating in the pool of water! We had to stay up until 1am drying our clothes, shoes and bag using the campsites hairdryers. We felt like muppets but learned a valuable lesson about where, or where not, to pitch our tent in the future.
But When It’s Good…
Camping is one the best things you can do to de-stress, connect with the outdoors and experience amazing sights, sounds and live with nature in the moment. There really isn’t a better way to disconnect from your normal life than by getting outdoors. They say just an hour in nature will provide 7 hours of relaxed mental attitude for the rest of day, nature literally heals you! We camped next to the Great Wall of China, which meant we could get up on the wall for sunrise. This would only have been possible by camping so close to the wall. It also meant we had the whole wall to ourselves. These are just some benefits of camping. We hope our advice will inspire you to have your own camping fun. After travelling for a long time it’s safe to say our most memorable nights have been spent in the comfort, or some freezing our asses of in, a tent!
Have you had some positive wild camping experiences you'd like to share? Got some must have equipment we should all go out and purchase? Where is the best place in the world to camp?
We’d love to hear about your camping experiences so please leave any comments or tips in the box at the bottom of the post.