Tips for better autumn camping
  |  First Published: May 2013

Traditionally May often has some of the year’s best conditions – the hot weather is gone and the cold is yet to come. It’s a treat to be outdoors, as long as we go about things the right way.

Preparation is everything, so let’s look at some simple comfort issues first.

Setting up camp

Whether the camp site revolves around a caravan, camper trailer, a tent or merely a couple of swags under a tarp, we all strive for high comfort levels.

When setting up a ‘home away from home’, a few metres of shade cloth on the ground will ensure that things stay as clean as possible. Shade cloth is great stuff for camping; tent pegs don’t harm it much and it can be swept periodically to remove accumulated grass and sand. What’s more, it can be hosed down at home before the next excursion.

Camping with tents demands that a fly should be set up to provide extra protection against the sun and rain. Yet a fly of any sort is only as good as the ropes and poles keeping it upright. It pays to check your rope stays to ensure they are in good condition, not frayed or devoid of any means of tightening them correctly.

Tent poles have a particular weakness in those small bolts and wing nuts on their adjusting collars. If a wing nut or bolt is missing, the pole is unable to be locked into a chosen length and therefore becomes useless.

When the tent fly is being set up, a turn or two of rope around the end of a pole, over the top of the usual loop, will ensure that the rope cannot lift off during a sudden strong wind gust. Likewise, if a really large fly is involved in the camp set up it will be wise to have a well braced and fairly rigid cross rope running under the middle of it to take some of the strain off the support poles around the perimeter.

The main camping gear should also be given prior inspection. Air mattresses can be inflated at home to see if they stay inflated. Patches will work to seal holes, as long as you can find them, use soapy water over the mattress and look for the bubbles to locate the puncture. Sleeping bags can have zipper problems but a rub over with candle wax will take care of reluctant zips.

Camping tables and chairs are usually pretty reliable items but some lubricant on table fittings can’t go astray, nor would a long hard look at each chair to ensure that it will last the distance. Any sign of weakness in a chair’s frame work or fraying of material should see it binned. I once had to spend a week sitting on the ice box when a chair failed me!

Let there be light

Portable lighting is essential for camping and there are many styles available.

Gas lights and portable fluoro lights seem to be losing popularity these days in favour of the LED style light units. Portable LEDs of old were inclined to be a bit dull, but today’s versions are stars of the show. One of the best set ups around (and I’ve tried my fair share of lights over the years) is the Korr Lighting four bar LED kit. With 690 Lumens per 50cm bar, these slim but powerful lights have terrific output, absolutely minimal 12V power usage, and come complete with dimmers so you can control output where children might be sleeping, or to avoid upsetting neighbours in camping grounds.

These Korr four bar kits come with velcro or magnetic attachment to provide ample attachment options. These light bars will work under water, so a bit of rain certainly won’t worry them. The versatility of the four bar set up allows lighting to be established over a large area if necessary, thanks to ample connecting wiring.

Which stove?

A standard gas stove, with its hose and accompanying gas bottle, has probably been a main stay for most of us; however, single or dual burner butane canister stoves are very popular these days as they are highly portable and very cheap to run.

Nevertheless, there is one issue to consider when using these butane canister stoves. If camping at higher altitudes and colder conditions – New England comes to mind – the stove’s jets will tend to freeze up as the butane turns from liquid to gas causing a very marked reduction in flame height and heating efficiency. So if heading to the high country a gas or shellite stove might be a wiser alternative. I’ve used a shellite stove in -8ºC without a problem.

Bugging me

Thanks to the last quarter’s rainfall, exuberant grass adjoining creeks and rivers will likely harbour a very heavy population of nasty little biting midges. These fellows, as distinct from coastal dwelling sand flies, are strictly paddock or mountain dwellers are smaller than their coastal counterparts so they can easily sneak through the fly screen mesh of a lot of tents.

To tell if the little biters are around, take a look at any animals nearby; if they are flicking ears or swishing tails continually the midges are on the job.

The best means of counteracting these critters is to use powerful personal repellent, like Bushman. While citronella candles or mossie coils might deter them a little, an application of Bushman will keep them away far more successfully. Coastal midges are more easily deterred with Aerogard but Bushman is tops. Remember NOT to spray either Bushman or Aerogard on the mesh of a tent as it will cause it to deteriorate fairly rapidly.

A stay outdoors can be a treat at this time of year, just make the right preparations and pick the best area possible when setting up camp. For me, level ground is more important than shade as trees usually mean sap and litter on the fly or camper top, which means more work later.

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