Camping expert reveals common mistakes first time campers often make
With many of us still unsure about booking any foreign travel this summer, a camping holiday right home here in Ireland might be on the cards.
Campsites and equipment retailers are experiencing incredibly high demand as regular campers have been joined by swathes of those pitching a tent for the first time.
Camping can be an amazing and fun-filled experience – but – if unprepared – things can go very wrong.
We just caught up with camping expert and owner of family-run camping retailer Outdoor World Direct, David Scotland, and he gave us the lowdown on some of the most common mistakes beginner campers make – and how to avoid them.
Picking any old tent
There are so many different shapes, sizes and types of tent available it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and buy something that doesn’t suit your needs.
“For campsite and festival trips, always select a tent that is one or two berths bigger than what you need so you have ample space for people and belongings,” Scotland says.
“If you’re wild camping or doing multi-day hikes that require you to carry your equipment, you’ll want to consider the weight and opt for a lighter model."
"Campsite trips can be made much more efficient with an Air tent, which is erected by inflating instead of using poles. This means huge family tents can be pitched in just ten minutes, plus the Air ‘poles’ are robust and reliable so you don’t have to worry about the tent deflating. Air tents are also disassembled by using the same pump to deflate the tent, which can then easily be packed away.”
Not checking equipment before setting off
One of the most frustrating things a camper will encounter is arriving at their campsite only to realise their tent is missing parts or a hole has appeared in their air mattress.
“I can’t stress the importance of checking your equipment a week ahead of your trip - that includes new equipment,” warns Scotland
“Although it’s rare, mistakes do happen during the manufacturing/packing process. It’s better to be aware of missing tent poles/pegs or that the groundsheet is damaged beforehand. Equipment that has been sitting in the shed for a year or more may have mould growth or experienced damage. Such problems can be rectified by repairing or ordering new equipment before you go, but once you’re at the campsite, you’re in a pinch.”
Failing to do a test pitch in advance
It’s not just wear-and-tear that can cause problems when pitching at your campsite. Ensuring you know how to pitch the equipment is just as important. Scotland recommends trialling a complete setup, including inflating sleep systems and setting up furniture in the weeks before your trip.
“As camping equipment gets more high-tech, it’s important that you know how it works and any attachments required for a smooth setup,” he says, “for example, a manual foot pump for your airbed isn’t going to cut it for inflating your Airbeam tent and likely won’t even be compatible so you need to make sure you have the right tools for the job. It’s better you know that everything works as it should, rather than getting to the campsite and panicking.”
Travelling without spares and repair kits
Even if your kit is in pristine condition when you arrive, accidents happen. Scotland recommends campers pack plenty of spare pegs and patch repair kits for any tears that occur during the trip.
“Even the highest quality equipment can sustain damage from the environment. A tear in your tent in wet, windy weather can be miserable or even spell the end of your trip. However, a repair kit allows you to patch things up and continue. I wouldn’t go camping without one.”
He also recommends taking more pegs than you need as they can become bent and ineffective when hammered into hard ground.
Using the wrong sleeping bag
Selecting a sleeping bag might seem straightforward but Scotland explains one of the most common mistakes a beginner makes is using a sleeping bag unfit for purpose.
“Sleeping bags have comfort and season ratings, while this may seem like jargon to new campers, it’s actually really important information," he explains.
"A one-season sleeping bag will only be suitable for warm summer nights, whereas a three-four season sleeping bag is thicker and better suited to year-round camping but could be too thick for hot summer nights. Each sleeping bag has a comfort rating or suggested usage which will include two temperatures such as -2 to 18c. That means checking that the forecasted temperatures of your trip don’t fall outside of those temperatures.”
Turning up to a campsite without a booking
A little spontaneity can feel adventurous, however, campsites are currently experiencing incredibly high levels of demand for bookings. If you haven’t booked a pitch in advance, don’t expect to get one.
Scotland also recommends checking details of your booking for finer details too.
“All campsites have their own set of amenities and rules. Some pitches have electrical hook-ups and some permit fires whereas others don’t. Checking this information informs you of what’s necessary to pack and what to leave at home.”
Not checking the weather forecast
You’d be surprised how many people go camping without checking the weather forecast for their trip just before they go.
"I have several customers who failed to realise a Severe Weather Warning was in place last August, with 70mph winds damaging their tent and equipment,” Scotland explains.
“If heavy rain is forecast you need to make sure your tent and clothing are going to handle the conditions.”
Tents all have a waterproof rating described as ‘hydrostatic head’ which is measured in millimetres — the higher the number, the more rain it can withstand. Scotland recommends opting for a tent with a waterproof rating of at least 3000mm for typical Irish weather. Better metrics will ensure the tent stays dry in heavy downpours.
He also recommends using commonsense in extreme weather.
"Sometimes we need to admit defeat when it comes to mother nature. If gale-force winds are forecast, I highly recommend reconsidering your plans as conditions can be unsafe.”
Forgetting the ‘little things’
Sure, your tents in the boot of the car, but have you remembered to pack the mallet to hammer your pegs in the ground?
“Even experienced campers forget the less obvious items,” Scotland explains.
“I recommend making a checklist so you’re not relying on memory on the day. If you do forget something like a mallet, try not to sweat it and don’t be afraid to ask fellow campers. We’re typically a friendly bunch and often more than happy to help out others and impart our wisdom on those less experienced.”