Sleeping, eating, lighting, drinking and toilets are the basics of life, and just as at home, the things that enable them to happen in safety, comfort and style are necessities. But these bare necessities will barely cost anything if you buy them used.
Looking through the items on offer on eBay it’s amazing how many people buy camping gear for a holiday, often spending a lot of money, only to discover that they don’t enjoy it and want to then get rid of the kit. All of this can make for some fantastic deals.
Always research the item you want to bid for, set yourself a maximum price and keep cool.
This guide will help you buy a range of accessories, new or used.
The traditional camp bed is still available today with a frame and flat fabric cover. If your memory is of unstable beds that flip up when you sit on the end, then you may be surprised by today’s offerings.
They are popular with tent campers because they pack down small, making them easy to transport. They come in a variety of shapes and lengths and in all the colours of the rainbow. So-called ‘self-inflating’ mats have a valve at one end. When they are unrolled the foam inside expands, drawing air into the mat from outside. After a few minutes, simply blow into the valve, topping up the air to make the mattress firm. Then close the valve and it’s ready to use.
(also known as airbeds) give you a comfortable night’s sleep, but they can be large, unwieldy things to transport and inflate. If you already have a tent, the first thing to do is to check that your chosen airbed will fit in the sleeping cabin.
Some designs are better than others for comfort, stability and ease of inflation. If possible, ask the seller to show you online how long it takes to inflate the mattress before you buy.
Look out for extra benefits like:
- strengthened side walls (to prevent rolling off in the night)
- separate chambers for each partner in a double mattress
- one-way valves that don’t let the air out when you pause for breath.
Consider investing in an electric pump to inflate the mattress on site. You’ll find re-chargeable ones on the market, but the most popular are those that use the 12V socket in your car. Electric pumps also have the advantage that they can work in reverse to deflate your mattress. This makes it much easier to pack away.
Come in various sizes including some smaller ones for kids and even some clever adjustable ones that grow with the child. Two rectangular sleeping bags will often zip together to make a big double. Some rectangular bags are fitted with a hood or cowl. This semi-circular addition keeps your head away from draughts. Some have a pocket in the cowl which can be stuffed with soft clothing to make a comfortable pillow. Others even have 'secret pockets' to store valuables at night.
Tapered bags and mummies
Some sleeping bags are tapered at the foot end and there are also more tailored shapes, which take their form and their name from Egyptian mummies. Part of the way to keep warm in a sleeping bag is for the body to heat the air around it in the bag. Larger air gaps need more heating, so the mummy-shaped bag is designed to fit more closely to the body, leaving smaller gaps and hence keeping you warmer.
Sleeping bags are made from various fabrics. The lining needs to be warm and comfortable, the bags work, after all, by retaining your own heat so they need a warm body inside to function efficiently. Outside you will want a tough, fairly weatherproof coating but one that breathes so it doesn’t get clammy inside the bag.
Gas is by far the most popular fuel for camp cooking because it’s clean and, once you know how to use it properly, it’s also relatively safe.
How big a stove?
Tent campers will need to decide how big a stove they need. Lightweight campers often get by with a single-burner stove but double-burners are popular especially if you're catering for a family. Some people prefer two single stoves. For a simple one-pan meal or to boil a kettle only one is used but for a larger meal two can be used, making it a flexible and convenient way of cooking.
Camping gas stoves Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is available in various disposable containers as well as refillable bottles or cylinders. It can be butane, propane or sometimes a mixture of both. Butane is fine for summer cooking, but you’ll need propane if you’re hoping to cook when it’s colder outside. Butane simply won’t produce gas to burn under 5°C.
Double-burner stoves normally run from a refillable gas cylinder, a common variety of which is known as a CampingGaz bottle. These familiar, blue, football sized objects can be found all over the world.
There are pots, pans and other utensils specially designed for outdoor cooking. Special camping kitchen equipment is generally lighter and easier to pack than the equipment you use at home. Remember though, the food you cook will be very similar to that at home and quantities and meal sizes won’t be smaller just because you’re camping - in fact it's usually the opposite.
Robust, large capacity, rigid cold storage; use with freezer blocks or similar. With the insulated lid firmly in place, keeps drinks, snacks and other perishables cool for several hours.
Lightweight, compact camping chairs range from reclining, inflatables and loungers to folding camping chairs and ones with drinks holders. They include kids’ camping chairs, stools and moon chairs with their own carry sack. Some camping stools are ideal for fishing or taking to summer shows and horse events. Loungers and deck chairs are perfect for leaning back and relaxing with a cool drink.
Camping tables come in all shapes and sizes - folding camping tables, adjustable height and great camping picnic tables. The best camping tables are ones that are lightweight but sturdy and can be folded away when not in use. Tables come into their own in the evenings when you can lay out your maps to plan your next day’s hike or enjoy a competitive game or two. Search and you can find roll-up tables where the legs fold away and the aluminium slatted top rolls up; perfect for the beach or using in the garden at home.
Every camper needs a good portable light source; it's essential to find your way back after an evening out. Today the best of these are fitted with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). They give really bright light as well as long battery life.
It's also worth considering a head torch. These may not look very elegant, but they direct light exactly where you're looking and leave both hands free.
It’s also necessary to have more powerful light to see what you’re doing in and around your tent. Many campers choose a traditional lantern. Lanterns come powered by a variety of fuels and in a large range of sizes and qualities.
Most popular are gas lanterns, powered by small disposable cartridges filled with Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG.
Electric lanterns are available. As well as LED, others have a fluorescent bulb giving a reasonable light and battery life but not as good as LEDs. These lanterns can run off
- ordinary batteries
- rechargeable ones
- an inbuilt rechargeable power pack. This power pack can be charged from the mains, a 12V leisure battery in the car, using a winding handle, by solar power or – in some of the more pricey units – by any of these methods.
Electric lanterns are simple and easy to use without the fuel challenges of gas or liquid fuel lights.
We tend to take clean, healthy drinking water for granted at home. Even the smallest campsite will have a drinking tap and you can normally trust that water supply in the UK.
But water is heavy and moving it from tap to pitch needs some thought. Bottles, jerry can, and even folding containers come in all sizes and the larger ones are often fitted with convenient taps.
Even the smallest site will usually boast a flushing toilet these days, but even if you choose to camp far from a ‘proper’ loo, the days of strong-smelling, noxious chemical toilets and messy emptying are long gone. The most basic type of chemical toilet is affectionately known as a ‘bucket and chuck it’. It is slightly more sophisticated than just a bucket, but not much.
If you prefer your waste secured in a holding tank, look for the next level of unit. The Porta Potti comes in two parts. The upper section is a combined flush-water tank and toilet bowl with a detachable seat and cover. The lower section is the waste holding tank. The two sections come apart easily, allowing you to empty the waste.
Is it possible to furnish a family of four with the essentials for a great camping holiday for £250? That’s a challenge. But it’s not impossible with eBay and the help of this guide.