Lifestyle Guides

Camping essentials for your summer staycation

UK holidays are set to boom in 2021, with foreign travel facing more months of disruption

tent in countryside near a lake

Anyone wishing to venture abroad will run the gauntlet of a traffic light travel system, pricey PCR tests and days in quarantine. No wonder, then, that the UK is braced for the great British summer staycation.

In particular, there are predictions of a surge in camping. So, with that perfect ‘peg’ for an article, here’s what you need to know!

Camping v glamping

Traditional camping tends to involve a simple tent and a sleeping bag, with perhaps a roll mat on top of the ground sheet for added comfort. Glamping, or glamour camping, on the other hand, is all about experiencing nature in the most luxurious of ways. 

Checking into spacious, pre-erected bell tents, shepherd’s huts and even hobbit houses and Airstream trailers, glampers can expect comforts such as beds, blankets, a wood burning stove or an outdoor fire pit. Cooking utensils are provided, fairy lights pretty much obligatory and you might even have your own loo and shower facilities.

All the gear

According to outdoor retailer Trekitt, 75% of tent sales occur between March and September. While camping certainly can be expensive, there are bargains to be found if you’re on a budget.  

Stores such as Trekitt, Go Outdoors and Outdoor World Direct offer great discounts and camping bundles. These stores have everything you could possibly need – including the portable kitchen sink! – and staff tend to be outdoorsy themselves and very knowledgeable. Just beware that you will come out with more than you went in for (yes, you really do need that deluxe melamine dinner set!). 

Outdoor World Direct owner David Scotland said: “There are so many different shapes, sizes and types of tent available that 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. If you’re wild camping or doing multi-day hikes and carrying your equipment, you’ll want to consider the weight and opt for a lighter model.” 

2021 looks set to be the year of the tent porch, such as the NEMO Dagger Ridge Porch tent. Trekitt commercial director Mark Trepte said: “It features an ample vestibule – 3.9 sq m – meaning that, whatever the pesky British summer throws at you, you can sit in your luxury chairs in complete shelter. It’s even big enough to store bikes in!

“We’re seeing a big trend in people looking for a covered cooking area or gear storage space. Extended porch models are gaining in popularity because they offer this extra space, but at a lower weight penalty compared to buying a bigger tent.”

mother and son reading a map near their tent

Buying second hand can be a cost-effective way of finding out if camping’s for you, with Ebay, Gumtree, Shpock and Freecycle all great places to find pre-loved and nearly-new gear. Don’t forget kit exchange and sale and swap groups on social media, too. But do check the condition of tents or accessories before making a purchase. 

If buying online, ask to see photos of the tent fully pitched, as well as close ups of the areas that take the strain. These include apexes, inside corners and peg loops, which tend to be fabric or elasticated and are prone to tearing. 

Whether buying new or second hand, check what comes with your tent. Is the ground sheet integral (sewn in), or will you have to buy one separately? Tents should be waterproofed regularly with a spray treatment such as Nikwax, to restore their water repellency while maintaining the breathability of the fabric. 

Pitch perfect: where to camp

Before booking a site, think about what you want from your camping adventure. Many larger sites have swimming pools and clubhouses, which can be excellent for entertaining the family, but they can also be noisy and far from an idyllic rural retreat.

The Camping and Caravanning Club has an excellent network of ‘Club’ sites, owned and managed by the organisation, as well as ‘certificated’ sites, which are smaller and privately-owned. Club sites have immaculate toilet and shower blocks and, often, washing up and laundry facilities. They’re family-friendly and many have a small playground, but the emphasis is on peace and open space and you’ll be hard pressed to find an on-site bar. 

Lockdown restrictions saw a huge rise in ‘wild’ camping in the UK and, sadly, a devastating impact on some landscapes as a result. Remember that wild camping isn’t legal in England and Wales, although it’s often tolerated by landowners as long as you arrive late, pack up early and leave no trace of your stay. 

Barbecues and fires are unacceptable, even if raised, and you should never go to the toilet within 100m of water. Human and dog waste should be buried or bagged and taken home and, if a landowner asks you to move on, do so. You can read more about wild camping in our beginners' guide to bikepacking

An eco campsite – such as those registered with The Greener Camping Club – is a niche site offering a compromise between a fully-serviced pitch and wild camping. Often in secluded spots, woodland or forestry, they have very basic facilities. Hope for a tap and a compost loo, and you won’t be disappointed! 

Note that, for fire safety reasons, campsites should observe a six-metre rule between each ‘unit’ (a tent, caravan or motorhome). If units are packed closely together, ask whether it’s the kind of site on which you really want to stay. 

family walking through campsite

Camping essentials

Unless you’re glamping it up, clearly you will need a tent, sleeping bag and warm clothes (even in July!). Folding chairs and a table, a gas stove, pans and utensils are also pretty essential, and always remember to change a gas canister outside, never inside, the tent. 

While a torch is handy for making your way to the loo in the dark, a portable nightlight or hanging lantern makes easier family activities and reading. A large reusable water canister saves on trips to the tap and helps eliminate single-use plastic, while Trekitt’s Paul said: “I'd also want to take a battery pack.” 
 
Camping with canines? Cotswold Farm Park manager and outdoors blogger Kate Lord said: “We always take a 15m puppy training lead (fabric, not retractable) to allow the dog to sniff the outer perimeters of the camp without wandering. 

“It’s also great for loose-lead walking on quieter footpaths and when stopping for picnics, to give the dog a bit of freedom while keeping away from livestock.” Read more about hiking safety with dogs here!

Inclusion campaigner and YHA strategy and engagement director Anita Kerwin-Nye said: “We have ready-packed mini rucksacks for the kids, with binoculars, a pocket kite, magnifying glass, star map, bird spotting book, playing cards and bug jars. It takes up a limited amount of space and gives us loads of things to do!”

My own necessities include a small hot water bottle, to pop inside my sleeping bag before bed, and clothes pegs, which can be used to dry tea towels and smalls on guy ropes. Outdoor World Direct’s David said: “Always take more tent pegs than you need as they can bend when hammered into hard ground – and have you remembered to pack the mallet? 

“Even experienced campers forget the less obvious items. I recommend making a checklist and, if you do forget something, don’t be afraid to ask fellow campers. We’re typically a friendly bunch and more than happy to help others and impart our wisdom!”

Ordnance Survey Leisure managing director Nick Giles said: “Obviously compulsory are an OS map, dry bag and picnic blanket! But, aside from that, a great tip is to keep your camping gear packed in crates and stored in the loft, ready to grab in the knowledge that you have everything you need.”

Home comforts

mother and children reading in den

Although restrictions are easing, many of us are still not venturing far from home. If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable or simply keen to hang onto the quietness of lockdown, you can create your own campsite!

Pitching in your garden or even making a living room den from chairs and blankets can be just as thrilling for small children (and big kids!) as travelling to a campsite. You’re guaranteed not to forget anything – and you won’t have to queue for a shower in the morning!

Still not got the camping bug? Find out why glampervanning is on the rise! And, wherever you’re taking your UK staycation, make sure your valuables are covered with our gadget travel insurance

With more than 20 years’ experience in journalism and PR, I've worked with the BBC, ITV, Trinity Mirror, Metro, MSN and many more leading media, as well as a range of third sector and corporate clients including Macmillan Cancer Support, Visit the Vale and the NHS. A number of my short stories have been published in anthologies and I've written three collections of walking trails in south Wales. Always happiest in the great outdoors, I'm an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion and blog about my hiking and camping adventures at www.girlonthetrail.co.uk. I have two teens and a rescue greyhound called Lionel, who, to my shame, is possibly the world’s worst hiking dog (the teens aren’t much better).