It’s one of life’s eternal mysteries: more often than not, it’s the little things that turn a good day lousy. Camping is no different. The big issues just come and go, but when you least expect it -- Wham! Some seemingly insignificant task turns your holiday upside down. As they say, “elephants don’t bite”, but watch out for the corollary: It is possible to be “nibbled to death by ducks”!
Take, for example, those endless circular debates about caravan versus motorhome, or tent versus camper. Or that old chestnut, four-wheel drive versus conventional vehicle. Important issues to be sure, but they won’t in themselves bring turmoil to your outdoor life. Indeed, having made all the “right” choices, it’s still possible to botch your trip completely!
How could that be? Simply because it’s all those bits of minor equipment -- the travel trivia you take along -- that ultimately determine whether your trip turns out a success or disaster.
In fact, regardless of whether you travel by foot, caravan, motorhome, or whatever, there are just six ducks -- sorry, issues -- to worry about: water, hygiene, lighting, refrigeration, firewood and entertainment. The longer you’re out there, the more important the role that each one plays.
Let’s pluck them one at a time:
The Aussie traveller who is never concerned about water is fortunate indeed. Perhaps mythical! Certainly if your travel routine is motel to motel, or RV park to RV park, you may rarely give thought to where your next drop is coming from. Even so, in this parched country, it’s a foolish Pilgrim who ignores one of life’s most basic necessities.
So in planning your water supplies, think through the collection, the carrying and, quite often, the treating of it as you travel. Although source and quantity carried vary with different travel modes, processes remain essentially the same:
Collection. Always have a spare container whenever an opportunity presents. Servos, shops, public halls, schools, rivers or creeks: get water where you can, as often as you can. Long-term travel, through areas remote from town supplies, requires more water than many first-time campers realise. If you can get it (and carry it), 15 litres a day is reasonable for two people, for most purposes. Much less than that and some daily tasks face serious cut back.
Carrying. Water is heavy stuff, so on-board supplies are much dictated by mode of transport. In turn, amount carried determines how often you have to collect. It’s a circle that should never be broken. Even heavyweight caravanners are wise to carry quantities over and above what’s in their RV tanks. And if water collected is of suspect quality, keep it separate until treated. (Later, that container needs flushing with a chlorine solution before its ready for clean water.)
Treatment. Our on-going searching and collecting means that, inevitably, supplies will be drawn from a source of unknown quality -- rivers and creeks, for instance. The rule is: when in doubt, treat as suspect. Filter it if necessary (or leave standing overnight), then boil it for at least three minutes. If boiling is not an option, chemical purifiers such as Puritabs are the next best thing.
Moving from place to place, particularly in the out-of-doors, hygiene becomes a priority issue. Unwavering vigilance is necessary to avoid the discomfort -- even danger -- of serious infection or belly bugs. Here again, whether travelling afoot or in 30-foot luxury, the underlying principles hold true .
Personal hygiene. Unquestionably, the body benefits from a regular scrub-up: anything from sponge-assisted “bird bath”, or a dip in the river, to a full-on hot shower. Less frequent than every third day often results in…um…awkward interpersonal issues! Decide in advance how to maintain acceptable levels of hygiene throughout your trip, and what, therefore, you have to carry. The selected techniques should be easy to set up (so you won’t be tempted to put it off), effective, and where necessary, water efficient. Many travellers employ two or three complimentary methods -- bush showers, truck stop showers, pubs, caravan parks -- depending on location and availability of water.
Kitchen cleanliness. No matter how simple or complex your kitchen “facilities” may be, detergent and boiling water remain the foundation of kitchen hygiene. Sponge and scourer, rubber gloves to maximise the benefit of boiling water, and your kitchen drill will pass the test in all conditions. Tea towels are optional, but should be allowed to dry fully, with a thorough wash every week or so.
Toilet arrangements. Unfortunately, at those moments when the body decides it’s “time to go” circumstances for the traveller may be less than ideal. And unless you enjoy the convenience -- and timing! -- of established facilities, there’s a disposal issue to consider. As with showering, a mix of methods works best, ranging from “a shovel and a long walk”, through chemical (holding tank) portables, to the relative luxury of public conveniences. But the necessity remains with us on every trip, it’s where and how we travel that steers us toward particular options.
Laundry. Apart from caravan park amenities and commercial laundromats, the unrelenting task of washing clothes presents another series of travel scenarios. Plastic bucket, water and soap are the minimal fix; while hand operated, portable “washing machines” give good results. But every few days the job confronts us, so frequent, small quantities are more travel-friendly than the “big load” alternative. How will you keep up with it, within the constraints of your travel plans?
In an ideal world, all our outdoor chores would be out of the way during daylight hours. But life goes on after dark, so adequate lighting is vital for safe and happy camping. The backpacker gets by with a small lantern or headband torch, while the fully equipped RV traveller boasts lighting to rival a country homestead.
The secret is to have sufficient lighting for each and every task that may arise, either inside your accommodation or around the campsite. And since it requires an energy source, more light than you need tends to be overkill, with increased cost and more gear carried. However, lighting is of such importance that a couple of solutions should be chosen.
Standard batteries. Non-rechargeable batteries in torches and lanterns become expensive. Apart from alkaline and lithium varieties, they rarely survive constant use on a long trip. These are best kept purely as back-up.
Rechargeable batteries. Better, though more expensive. And despite what sales staff tell us, the technology is not always as reliable as perhaps it should be. Also, some method of recharging -- 12 volt, 240 volt, solar -- has to be factored in on your equipment list.
12 volt. Providing your 12 volt power source is regularly topped up -- through normal driving or solar trickle-charge -- lights can be available wherever you need them, or at least at any point within reach of the power. A huge assortment of 12 volt lights is available, with the fluoro’s being among the best. Serious travellers frequently opt for at least one auxiliary 12 volt battery so that overnight power consumption doesn’t jeopardise vehicle starting next day.
LPG (Propane). The ubiquitous gas lantern -- available in sizes from mini to monstrous -- is still a popular choice. With care (and adequate oxygen flow) they even provide a bit of extra warmth in a tent or small RV. Not suffering the limitations of external wiring, their one advantage over 12 volt is flexibility in camp. Extra mantles and a glass or two are essential spares.
Liquid lighting. Flammable liquids (like kerosene and Shellite) that have to be carried -- particularly in quantity -- create safety and logistical headaches of their own. These are difficult to recommend.
Solar power. Despite high initial outlay, for serious, long-term travelling there’s nothing to equal solar power: a panel or two permanently charging a couple of deep-cycle, 12 volt batteries. The big plus is being able to use other 12 volt equipment, or by adding an inverter, appliances such as CD, TV, VCR/DVD, computer, fan, and so on. However, the whole system needs to be “more than adequate” so overestimate power requirements when doing your homework.
Generator. Like solar set-ups, a generator opens up many possibilities beyond lighting. But unless you carry a heavy one -- say, 2000 watt capacity -- bigger is rarely better. There’s little point in allowing for appliances like microwaves, hairdryers and heaters when less power-hungry alternatives are available. A lightweight generator around 600 to 800 watts provides all the lighting and entertainment potential the average camper needs.
Perhaps it’s more correct to tag this topic “food storage” so bushwalkers don’t feel left out. But walking aside, some form of cooling to prevent perishables perishing is a priority for most travellers and campers. Sure, like bushwalkers, you could carry canned or dried foods, but as time goes on, meals become less and less attractive. Not to mention the urge to partake of cool refreshments during your trip. Options are:
Storage expedients. Cool storage tricks like wet sacking, weighted bags in a cold creek, or burying under cool soil, hold little appeal to the average camper. Agreed, in the absence of a fridge they’re worth a try, but hardly long-term propositions. Bushwalkers excepted.
Ice box. The absolute minimum for most of us. But normal ice lasts just three or four days in an “Esky” ice box, and becomes expensive -- and messy -- over a lengthy trip. Dry ice (if you can find it) is a slightly better proposition, providing an extra day or two. An ice box also makes an excellent back-up for “real” refrigerators when extra drinks and groceries are needed over a few days.
Portable refrigerator. Providing the energy source can be closely managed, 12 volt or LPG fridges are the real solution to food storage. But which is best? Broadly, in static camps LPG models, once set up level in a shaded spot, are the answer, while for travelling, a 12 volt compressor fridge (which doesn’t have to be level for peak efficiency) is the way to go. Indeed, if your outdoor activities cover static and mobile scenarios, consider carrying both. LPG fridge users should carry at least one extra gas cylinder (say, four kilograms), while for 12 volt refrigeration an auxiliary (deep-cycle) battery is a wise investment.
Some campers travel the continent without ever enjoying the warmth and camaraderie of a campfire. Presumably, they also do their cooking on a camp stove or inside the RV. Maybe that approach suits you, maybe not. But to experience the full spectrum of outdoor enjoyment, a campfire is way up there amongst the “must haves”.
Before you get too concerned about the “green” position here, let’s keep in mind that almost every country backroad, and many of our highways, are littered with deadfall timber. All it requires is cutting and loading. No habitats need to be violated, no critters disturbed. Think of it as doing your bit to help clean up the roadside.
What you should consider is the incredible usefulness of a campfire: cooking, warmth, light, drying, water purification, comfort, entertainment, rubbish disposal, even insect control! Not a bad return for 15 minutes work each day.
No, that doesn’t mean you need to carry a chainsaw. A medium size bow saw cuts a fire’s worth of wood (say, 40 centimeter lengths, eight centimeters thick) in roughly the time taken for a roadside coffee break. Through most parts of the country, keeping your wood box topped up is an easy task. And if you keep a separate box for kindling and smaller stuff, when you set up for the night your fire can be burning within minutes.
Certainly there are going to be times and places when a fire is not permitted, so LPG is the obvious fallback. But for the most part -- and with common sense -- a campfire is a safe and welcome addition to outdoor routines.
As mentioned up front, the longer your trip, the more important these issues become. Particularly so in the case of entertainment -- and its clone, relaxation.
Relaxation? Hang on. Isn’t that why we’re out there in the first place?
Sure it is. But the time will come -- pouring rain, extended layovers, long stretches of featureless highway -- when you or the kids will welcome some sort of time-filling distraction. Again, solutions will be travel-mode dependent, but given an appropriate power source, you might consider anything from campfire reminiscing, radio, reading, and board games, right on up through stereo music, TV, videos and hobbies.
Plan your entertainment, then pack accordingly. Keep in mind, though, relaxing usually involves comfy chairs and additional shelter in the form of an awning or canopy -- items frequently overlooked.
Admittedly, there’s more to outdoor enjoyment than the half-dozen topics we’ve looked at here. After all, six ducks don’t make a flock! Other areas, for instance, that should never be left to chance are health and first aid, cooking, running repairs, comfortable beds. . . the list goes on. Get the top six right, though, and everything else seems to fall into place.
Besides, once on the road, you soon become aware that there are people out there happily living out of anything from a worn out backpack to a six-figure home-on-wheels.
Having chosen their elephant, the job they now face is getting all their ducks to fly in a row!
Bill Revill is a freelance writer and outdoor lifestyle specialist based in New South Wales, Australia.
His e-book catalogue can be found at: http://www.livingontheroad.com/page3.html
This article may be copied, transmitted, shared or used in other media, but only on condition that his byline and the following information is included:
ã 2007 by W.V. Revill