Sep 21 2011

How do you choose the right camping equipment for you?

Camping is not only romantic and sexy, but it’s easy if you have the right equipment, and there is a lot to choose from. There are so many different set ups, and so many different products that choosing the one that’s right for you can be confusing.

So how to make the choice?

For our Great Cape York Adventure, Doc fitted out the ‘Cruiser with drawers and compartments so that everything had its own place. He installed a converter to charge all our electrical equipment (laptop, phones, camera gear, etc) while on the road, and things to make living easy. He even traded his beloved Engel for a new fridge that won’t freeze my lettuce. Now that’s love!

What you need depends on where you’re going, how, why and with whom, but there are some things that are needed for every trip. So to start here are some of the big ticket items we took this time:

Fridge   –

For this trip we swapped the Engel for a Bushmans with a collar and high lid.

The advantages of the Bushman’s are the basket system (we had 3 baskets) which make it easy to get at what’s right down the bottom. With the element at the bottom of the fridge we could keep meat and other things that needed to be really cold, and still keep lettuce and other vegetables crisp in the top basket. Vegetables were a big problem with the Engel which tends to freeze most things. The height of the Bushman’s lid and the design of the baskets also means I can stand a bottle of wine or champagne up in the fridge. What more could you want?

The disadvantages are that the hinges on the lid aren’t fixed to allow you to add or remove collars as needed, which means that opening and closing the lid can work the hinge and the lid loose, running the risk that you’ll bend the hinge in trying to close the lid properly.  And unlike the Engel, the Bushman’s doesn’t freeze anything, not even the meat right at the bottom. We also had problems with condensation and water collecting at the bottom of the fridge and had to mop it up around once a week while we were away.

So which would I go with next time? No contest – the Bushman’s. As a vegetarian keeping vegetables and dairy is important, and cleaning the fridge once a week is a small price to pay.

Communications –

iPhone4, with Telstra. Usually when we go away somewhere I take my ‘country’ phone. This is a basic telephone with the Telstra 3G tick of approval, which can get a connection wherever there is service. I took this phone with me to Cape York, but didn’t need to use it. Surprisingly the iPhone could get service, including internet connection, where other phones didn’t, even other phones connected to Telstra.

The iPhone was also used as a GPS (which only worked where there was phone service), calculator to work out mileage, social media connection, even as an e-reader with books downloaded before we went and newspapers when we had internet connection.

I also took a Telstra Turbo Mobile Internet dongle for connecting the laptop to the internet so I could work while we were away. This allowed me to download emails, connect to the net to do research and update websites, blog, tweet, and facebook.

Camera –

Still camera Lumix with 14 mega pixels and 8x optical zoom. The zoom sounds a lot, but the lens starts at 28mm, which is wider than the 35mm which is standard on most cameras, so the zoom, while big doesn’t get quite close enough for shooting wildlife. The 28mm however is great for getting in a lot of scenery or just big groups of people and still being able to recognise faces. The only real disadvantage I have found is that the reset between photos is slow so you can’t run off a string of shots of something on the move. But that said, it is very easy to use with menus which make sense.

Video – Sony  HDR-XR160. This is a fabulous camera with a very clear picture, great zoom and stabilisation even when walking. It’s biggest problem is the user. It’s light and compact but even that does get heavy when trying to hold it still for extended periods.

I took an 8gb card for the still camera and 16gb for the video and downloaded photos onto the laptop regularly. Having learnt from past mistakes I also renamed and sorted photos as I went.

Sleeping arrangements –

This is another area where we made some changes this trip. Usually Doc & I take a double swag which we can just throw on the ground and peg out. Quick, easy and you can fall asleep looking at the stars.

This time I wanted something that would get us up off the ground in croc country, so we settled on a roof top tent. After looking around at lots of them we decided on an Ezy-Awn, chiefly because of the quality of the materials and workmanship and its lack of zippers. That might not seem important, but believe me, if it’s cold or wet, or there’s lots of dust in the zipper, opening and closing it can become a real pain in the arse. The Ezy-Awn has a simple ratchet strap around the bottom of the cover which makes it very, very easy.  The roof top tent also gives you a lot more privacy than a swag and we loved having coffee in bed of a morning while looking out over our ‘balcony’.

The two disadvantages were :

  • The locking mechanism for the ladder was difficult and caused me to break more than a few fingernails. Even Doc had difficulties at times getting it open.
  • Because the tent is on your car if you camp in the one place for a few days you need to pack up the tent every time you want to drive out somewhere,  even if you’re just going to the shops for more supplies.

Despite that, I loved the roof-top tent and would take it again on a long trip. Because we tend to do ‘hit and run’ camping where we stay in places for only a night or two, having to pack up to explore is no problem. If we were going to stay in places longer than that I would look at towing something, but we’re not prepared to restrict our 4WDing just yet.

Obviously there were a lot more things we did and took, particularly tools and recovery equipment. Doc is very handy, and even though he can fix anything with cable ties and tape, he has an excellent tool box, so I’ll get him to set down what he took and why in the near future.

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