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13 November 2011 / leggypeggy

On tents and other gear—plan ahead

Home sweet home—not ours, but gear that works.

If you’re going to be camping for six or more months, think long and hard about the gear you take, such as tents, sleep mats, sleeping bags, backpacks and chairs.

Tents were provided on our African trip, but we had to bring our own for this UK to OZ trip. Poor John and I inspected countless brands, styles and price tags, before we settled on a Macpac Citadel, a 3.5-kilo tent with a spacious vestibule. It wasn’t the most expensive—heck we saw a $1000 tent—and we bought it on sale and the salesman knocked off another 15 per cent because we bought up big that day. The Citadel supposedly fits three, but I think that’s true only if you’re sharing with a midget. But we were only two, so there was plenty of space for us, our sleep mats and our backpacks.

Overall, the tent has been a success. It’s quick and easy to erect (verging on idiot-proof) and its inner-liner system means it can be put up in the rain and still stay dry inside. The tent pegs have been fantastic—they haven’t bent and are sturdier than everyone else’s except our tour leader’s (that’s because she has a Macpac too). The guy ropes glow in the dark, reducing the chances of you or someone else tripping over them. We’ve camped in lots of windy conditions and, while the fabric flaps noisily in the breeze, the tent has stayed anchored when we put in all 11 pegs. I’ve had only two main issues and I plan to talk to the Macpac shop about both the thickness of the floor and whether there is a trick to folding and packing the tent away so you keep condensation from transferring to the inside.

As for sleep mats, we’re on our second set of self-inflating Therm-a-rests, a brand I highly recommend. We took super-wide ones to Africa and, while they were wonderful, we decided they were too big to be practical in the Macpac tent. So we bought two new ones that are narrower and a tad shorter. They’re also Therm-a-rests and, from a size perspective, these been more than adequate for sleeping, and much more compact to roll, carry and store. As an aside, Therm-a-rests come with a nifty repair kit, but we’ve never had any punctures.

Our sleeping bags are ancient and will be retired before any other major trip. They—being a Mountain Design and a Kathmandu—have seen all of Africa and are now being lugged from London to Sydney. They’ve done a good job but they’re getting pretty worn. In future, I’d probably go for a 3–4 season. Not sure of brand yet, but Icebreaker always tempts me. We also have merino wool liners (as well as silk ones we took to Africa, but didn’t bring on this trip). The wool liners were an absolute godsend when we camped in the Himalayas. With our double-layer tent, wool thermals, sleeping bags and liners, we comfortably survived 3-degree nights in the tent. Most of our fellow travellers had to buy blankets and additional clothes to stay warm. So if you need to buy a sleeping bag, consider the weather where you are going and choose the number of seasons that will work best.

As for backpacks, I think they are too personal. You need to find one that is the right size for you and that sits well on your back. Same for daypacks. I’ve been thinking about replacing the little one I have and haven’t seen anything with the zips, pockets and compartments that make the current one so handy. Yet most people think I’m screwy for using it. Like I said—a pack is personal.

Overall, we’ve spent good—but not stupid—money on our gear, and have had good service from it all. Lots of tents have collapsed, poles and pegs have bent or broken, zippers have lost their zip, sleep mats have punctured beyond repair, sleeping bags have split, backpacks have torn. So we consider ourselves lucky.

If you are shopping in Australia, I have found http://www.productreview.com.au/ to be a very useful resource. There may be similar websites in other countries.

Camping in Georgia—the country, not the state.

A final word on chairs

Almost every overland company claims to provide ‘comfortable chairs’ for when you are sitting around the campfire.

Don’t believe it. The chairs are more like milking stools—three-legged (at least for a while), flimsy, spindly, uncomfortable and short-lived. Within a week of setting out in Africa, we bought two director-type chairs. This trip we didn’t mess around, so bought two chairs on Day One. Absolutely no regrets, and they cost less than A$20 each.

Those current chairs are still doing great and we are lugging them on the boat from Singapore to Indonesia, just in case the ferry has no deck chairs (the overnight ferry across the Caspian Sea had no seating). If our chairs aren’t too cumbersome, we might even take them on to Australia. Then again, they might not survive that long.

Someday I will write an entire blog about the nine lives of the camping chairs in Africa. As a teaser, I’ll mention that Poor John’s original chair lasted the longest, but he’d on-sold it before he realised all its qualities.

9 Comments

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  1. Derick / Nov 13 2011 10:00 pm

    Have you got some psychic connection ?

    I just been looking at tents and stuff,

    I seen some really good stuff, its in OZ though, this camping swag stuff,

    No one in the UK sells it, but it does look ideal for a solo traveler (they do sell double stuff as well)

    I was thinking of buying some, but the shipping is more than the kit (I might buy some there, and then I could bin some of my stuff and just use that)

    I have a Karrimor tent,

    I bought extra tent pegs ( GITD pegs ) changed the guy ropes to GITD, I dont know if they wil show up in the dark though, it is a double skin thing, I used in wales, and on Dartmoor, I hope its going to be man enough for this trek (7 months is a long time) I also have a mallet, I got fed up trying to bang pegs in to concrete like earth and not getting far

    I have my old Army sleeping bag, (25 years old, still going strong) dont know for how much longer though

    I use my Army 125 liter bergen (I get everything in it, with a bit of spare) 30 years old, no busted straps, buckles, bit faded now though (when I think of what it used to carry and the weights, I shudder)

    I use a day sack for just lugging the camera and water, snacks, and ‘bits’ when on a day somewhere (or if in a campsite, the laptop and stuff that needed charging and wash kit if there was a chance of a shower/shave) but its got lots of pockets to stash stuff

    I have an self inflating mattress, no idea of the make though, but it works

    The outfit we used in Africa did provide stools (folding type), they were okay, but some people did buy directors chairs, I thought they were a bit much to lug around and if I had bought them, I would have binned them afterwards, so I just sat on the ground, a log, a rock or used the stools

    They also used tin plates and tin cups, the food got cold on them really fast, so I’m taking my plastic stuff (and mess tins)

    I dont know how much room there will be on the truck for extras like chairs (I dont even know how many others are going to be on it yet)

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Nov 14 2011 1:23 am

      I know you are well organised for this trip, so just a few comments.

      If your guy ropes don’t glow in the dark, add tape that does. Swags are fantastic, but way too big for this kind of trip. Your tent should survive if it’s sturdy, but you can buy replacements in many places. It’s the poles that give out or break. No need to lug along a mallet. There are multiples on the truck, although you might have to wait your turn. Therm-a-rests are self-inflating, so that may be what you have.
      And based on your comments, I might go add some detail to the entry. Thanks.

      And I wish I was psychic. 🙂

      Like

      • Derrick / Nov 14 2011 1:32 am

        Only reason I got a mallet, there werent one on the Africa truck

        I havent actually seen one of these swag bags, so dont really know much about them, okay they are heavier than my tent/sleeping bag/mattress (and as I cant see or get one, I dont think I’ll be getting one, yet)

        I was thinking of getting spare poles, but I’m not sure, another tent maybe easier

        I’m looking forward to your details (I always look forward to your updates)

        You must have been psychic, there was me, looking at tents, swag bags, sleeping bags, then I got your email (its either that or you got my PC bugged 🙂

        Like

  2. leggypeggy / Nov 14 2011 2:03 am

    We brought some pole splints. We haven’t used them, but have loaned to others. So look for splints that will fit snuggly on your poles. Which reminds me—we need to get our splints back. Thanks. Guess we’re both psychic.

    Like

  3. Louise M Oliver / Nov 14 2011 7:09 am

    Hi Peggy,
    I’m glad your research paid off so well. I’m neve rgoing to need that sort of equipment. However, I have one question: what you think of the Kathmandu chairs? I would very much like a chair with its own case that I could put in the car that isn’t too heavy and I have a Kathmandu voucher. Keep on keeping on and staying safe. So looking forward to seeing you.

    Best wishes
    Louise

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Nov 14 2011 11:42 am

      Poor John is the authority on camping chairs. He can advise when we’re home. 🙂

      Like

  4. Sy S. / Nov 14 2011 2:27 pm

    Hello,

    I have never camped out while traveling overseas, used local transportation as I went along and slept on the train, bus, a cargo ship, benches, temple floors… as I went along.

    However, most of my camping experience has been locally and in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York (Lake Placid area) and especially in the fall. I have a lightweight sleeping bag for warmer, cool weather. And for fall weather a very expensive down sleeping bag. Even in the fall in the Adirondacks it can snow, so need a good bag. I also learned that with my skin exposed (legs and feet) it still gets cold while sleeping, so I have learned to wear pants and socks on. Also, heat is lost from you head, so wearing a woolen hat helps. After going through camp cots, mats… I finally got a Thermal-Rest mattress and as you said the best. Further, getting a large tar mat might be a good idea… I use it to go over picnic tables (attached to trees in the area and a pole in the center) because if often rains in the fall and nice to sit outside and cook, read etc. Finally, there is always the problem of brown bears coming around, so any food or jackets that get smoke (smell of food) on them from BBQing, goes into my car (and not into my tent).

    Sy S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Nov 15 2011 1:30 am

      Sy, you’ve sure got it all figured out. Good reminder about covering your head. I wore a wool beanie on a few nights and had a tubey head thing that I wore around my neck. Smaller than, but as warm as, a muffler. Glad I didn’t have to contend with brown bears. Or maybe I did and just didn’t know it. 🙂

      Like

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