There comes a time in a person’s life when they realise they need to upgrade their camping gear. This time came for me towards the end of last year, when my partner and I woke up inside a 20-year-old two-man tent with rain seeping in from all angles. We vowed that 2019 would be the year for change.
Fast-forward 12 months and we’ve done an admirable job of tracking down some of the best camping gear on the market to share with you. Where possible, we tried to go for affordable, mid-range items (with the exception of our airbed, which we’re really glad we splashed out on). Read on for my rundown of the top camping items on the market now.
TRAVIS THE TRANSLATOR
Ok, so this isn’t specifically a camping item, but if you’re a serious camper, the chances are you’ve crossed some borders on your travels. I spent most of my childhood holidays on campsites across Europe (mainly France). They have some truly awesome campsites in mainland Europe, and you have to gamble much less with the weather than you do in the UK. How I wish the Travis language translator had been around when I was growing up. These little devices translate over 100 different languages instantly, and speak the sentences back in your chosen language. This is a great way to communicate effectively and avoid awkward misunderstandings, and it also helps you learn new languages.
COLEMAN CORTES OCTAGON 8 TENT
Before you start to think about adding to your camping paraphernalia, you need to assess the size of the space you intend to occupy on future camping trips. We’d have never dreamed of purchasing some of the items below if we hadn’t first decided to upsize to a tent with lots of space. We knew we wanted something we’d be able to stand up in, with plenty of room for a double airbed and all of our bags, and the Cortes Octagon 8 stole our hearts with its 360º views and huge single living area. It has an optional divider in case you want to share with friends, and there are doors on opposite sides for added privacy. It’s sturdy, incredibly easy to erect, and smart to look at. The icing on the cake, though, is the front door, which comes with tent poles to make it rigid so that you can open it like an actual door. We’ve received loads of compliments, and it’s even been borrowed by friends to be used as a communal living space during a wet and windy weekend in Brecon. Officially it sleeps eight, but it would work perfectly as a couple’s ‘palace’, or a cosy hideaway for a family with young children. This tent has won awards, and it’s easy to see why.
OUTWELL DREAM BOAT MATTRESS
No other item on this list took as much time or patience to research as the mattress. I must have spent the best part of a day going round in circles, almost buying one or another cheap inflatable airbed before being put off by a number of scathing reviews. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that you can’t skimp on airbeds. If you buy a cheap one, it will probably only last a few outings, with a high likelihood of deflating, or even bursting, midway through a multi-night trip. This will put a serious dampener on your holiday and completely negate the whole point of spending less money, since one pricey mattress that lasts years is better for your bank balance (and your sanity) than multiple ones that fail. At £180 (at the time of purchase), the Outwell Dream Boat mattress is expensive. However, it’s self-inflating (you literally just throw it in your tent with the valves open and come back 15 minutes later to find it ready for use). It’s also ridiculously comfortable (arguably better than my mattress at home!). I’ve been waxing lyrical about this mattress all summer. It really is amazing.
DOUBLE SLEEPING BAG
Outwell not only make the best mattresses. They also excel in the market for extremely warm double sleeping bags for couples. Nothing kills the romance on a romantic staycation more than a cold night wrapped up like burritos in separate insulated sacks. The Lux models have a zip-off hood with built-in pillows, and can be separated into two single sleeping bags or two duvets. On a recent trip when the temperature plummeted at night, we were snug and warm as soon as we climbed inside. There’s a good amount of space to move around without compromising on heat loss. It’s also very easy to roll up and pop back in its bag. For a comparison of some other great double sleeping bags, see this review.
For a couple of years, my partner and I have been camping without any source of heat whatsoever. I can handle most of the relative discomforts of outdoor living, but forgoing my morning cuppa was a struggle. Now that we have a Campingaz 400 SG Double Burner and Grill, I wake up to a full breakfast of smashed avocado, fried eggs and toast, with a pint of tea! All of the items in this list have significantly improved our camping experience, but this really feels like an extravagance I would now be extremely reluctant to give up. This versatile unit has two powerful burners with wind protection, in addition to removable cooking grids perfect for boiling and grilling. The grill is also capable of toasting bread, although this particular model is not specifically designed for it. It’s easy to ignite, and everything folds neatly for transportation. Currently retailing at £90, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll have to buy a gas canister and connections separately. This will set you back around £60 the first time, but gas top ups are much cheaper than the initial filled container.
It’s hard to use a stove or grill without something to rest it on. Investing in a good, sturdy, lightweight table will enable you to enjoy meal times comfortably, not to mention evening games. It provides a focal point outside the tent where people can gather, as well as a resting area for drinks, books and other items. We opted for a Eurohike Rolltop Double Table that was on sale via LovetheSales.com. With hollow aluminium legs and a foldable panel design on top, it’s extremely lightweight, packing into a canvas carry bag that weights only 5 kg. It’s easy to slot together and pretty sturdy once erected. It also seems to be resistant to rust, having spent half a dozen damp nights outside, with no markings or corrosion. Just keep an eye on the small black plastic clips as they’re easy to lose!
Impressed by the durability of the Eurohike table, we also plumped for their lightweight aluminium cookset. Though basic and not particularly non-stick, these are perfect for camping. Three pans of varying sizes, a frying pan, a grab handle and a kettle all pack away neatly into a small mesh bag. I’m sure there are better-performing pan sets on the market, but if you’re on a bit of a budget they do the job well enough. We’ve started taking a separate frying pan for eggs (to avoid them sticking and breaking the yolk), but have no qualms with the other items and love how compact they are.
Vango’s Apollo oversized camping chairs might not be the most lightweight, but they couldn’t be comfier. They feel more like armchairs than outdoor furniture. You could easily spend a lazy afternoon reading your book curled up in one, or an evening wrapped in a blanket stargazing. They fold in and out in one swift, smooth motion and come with handled carrier bags. Both the seat and back rest are padded, and the wrap-around design helps prevent draughts, keeping you warm and snug. The frame is made from strong steel, enabling each chair to support up to 180 kg! Although the recommended retail price is £75, Winfields Outdoors are currently selling them at £50 each, or two for £80.
What might initially appear to be an oversized waterproof coat is actually a changing robe for outdoor pursuits. The inside is lined with a fleecy towel material to quickly wick away moisture, and its baggy shape and bat wings make it easy for you to slide your arms inside to get changed in public. Whether you’ve just been for a dip in the sea, or need to get warm and dry quickly after partaking in water sports, it’s a really handy item. On the campsite, you could wear this to the shower block and not have to worry about taking a fresh change of clothes, and campers sharing their tent can use it for added privacy too. I also find it incredibly useful as a wearable blanket/waterproof for colder evenings beside the tent.
I’ve walked my way through a lot of walking boots over the years, but I’ve never found a pair I like as much as the Danner Crater Rim boot. Straight out of the box, they performed amazingly well, with zero rubbing, and no break-in time whatsoever. They provide excellent ankle support on steep hills and a good grip on muddy ground. A GORE-TEX lining makes them 100% waterproof yet breathable, and I think they look pretty trendy too! What’s more, they’re fairly light as walking boots go, making them a great option for hiking, camping and backpacking.
Last but not least, my new favourite lightweight waterproof is a creation by Finisterre. Their fully reversible Altum insulated jacket (now available in yellow and grey) is perfect for travel because it packs up really small. It also offers more versatility, with a quilted pattern on one side and plain fabric on the other. Ideal as a windbreaker during active pursuits, it can be layered with warmer items in the dead of winter.
BIKE OR TRICYCLE
Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities for campers, but what if you want to cover more distance through the countryside? If you have the space in your vehicle, it’s a great idea to take a compact bike or tricycle. These are especially useful if you have a camper van as they enable you to pop to the local shop or restaurant without having to pack up all your gear. Folding tricycles from Jorvik store neatly in the boot of your car or caravan, and their ample storage baskets are great for carrying lots of shopping or day gear.