Travel tips: essential gear for camping and hiking

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Camping and hiking often go hand in hand. Travellers can get close to nature, keep fit and spot wildlife, with the added bonus of saving some bucks on a trip by enjoying cheap (or free) campsites instead of hostels and motels. Whatever your reasons for hitting the great outdoors, here are our gear recommendations for when you pack for your next trip.

For the campers

  • Tents: these come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and prices. If you want to travel light and can’t be bothered to take up and tear down a tent, consider a swag/bedroll/bivi sack. This is a compact, frameless, waterproof canvas roll that can be set up quickly. Hikers expecting wet jungle terrain often take along a waterproof travel hammock. These are useful to keep you off the ground, and those with mosquito nets are a godsend.
  • Sleeping bag: pack the right one to suit your climate. In general, the more you pay, the more compact the bag gets. However, don’t forget to take along a sleeping mat (Bear Grylls is right to recommend them). It not only makes your sleep more comfortable but also acts as insulation against cold from the ground.
  • Packing: keep your clothes dry (most importantly, your socks and underwear) – toss your gear into dry bags such as these made by Ortleib (www.ortlieb.com). Take a comfortable day backpack for hiking and don’t overpack…so leave that frisbee at home.
  • Clothing: get the best you can afford. Light, quick dry pants/shorts made with breathable fabric such as Goretex are great. A wind/rain jacket or shell is handy for handling inclement weather. Take along a microfibre towel as it’s compact, can absorb a lot of moisture and dries quickly.
  • Coffee: who says you have to forego your caffeine hit when you’re out in the wild? Take along an insulated cup and the MSR mugmate (cascadedesigns.com/MSR). This easy-to-clean portable filter sits in the cup. Just add coffee, hot water, steep, remove, drink your coffee and dump grounds. True coffee snobs will, of course, take along freshly roasted whole beans and a ortable hand grinder such as this one by Hario (www.hariogear.com.au).
  • Cooking and drinking: there are camp stoves aplenty but there’s been some buzz around the low-smoke and highly efficient Woodgas Camp Stove (www.spenton.com/woodgascampstove). Get biblical and transfer your wine into a wineskin to save carrying heavy and breakable wine bottles.
  • Water purifying: if you don’t plan on lugging litres of H2O and have access to a stream or water hole, pack some purifying tablets. For the more gadgety sort, try the Steripen (www.steripen.com/travel) or the MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter (cascadedesigns.com/msr/water-treatment-and-hydration). The former zaps bacteria with UV and the latter has filters to clean your water.
  • Solar charger: don’t miss another email or Facebook post and keep your gadgets powered up with the help of a portable solar charger such as the ones made by Joos (solarjoos.com). But for a change, why not consider dropping off the grid altogether?
  • Salves, creams and powder: we sheepishly admit to having forgotten to take along insect repellent and sunscreen and ending a trip itching because of sunburnt, mosquito-bitten skin. Not pleasant. In tropical terrain, we recommend taking along prickly heat powder. This cooling powder provides relief from sweat and heat rash. When doused on your body at night, it also helps give you enough relief to lull you to sleep.
  • Basic first-aid kit: put together a kit that includes a cold compress pack, bandages, sterile wipes, dressing, adhesive tape, antiseptic cream/wash, plasters and painkillers. Don’t forget to get a crash course on basic CPR as well.

For the hikers

Before you embark on that hike, don’t forget to tell the local ranger as well as a family member or friend about your plans.

  • Birding/animal watching: don’t forget a good pair of binoculars. If you’ve got extra cash to splash, you could even opt for digital binoculars with the ability to record what you see. The Sony DEV Digital Recording binoculars (store.sony.com) record video in full HD resolution, meaning you can have proof to back up your boast of having spotted saltwater crocodiles Down Under.
  • Hydration pack: you could carry water in a bottle or a wineskin. However, if you like keeping your hands free while hiking, a hydration pack such as those made by Camelbak (www.camelbak.com) is perfect. It’s essentially a tube threaded into a water sac that is stuck in a backpack…though we don’t recommend drinking from the pack while using both hands to clamber between rocks.
  • GPS: yes, you can use your iPhone or smartphone as a GPS (assuming you purchase proper software and not rely on the inbuilt map application which will not work if you lose mobile-phone connectivity). However, many smartphone apps are not built for hiking and have poor battery life. Consider a dedicated handheld GPS unit such as those by Garmin (www.garmin.com) or Magellan (www.magellangps.com). These units have detailed topographic maps and are rugged enough to survive being dropped. It also doubles as a compass.
  • Stop leeches: if you’re hiking into leech terrain, take some precautions. While there isn’t a fail-proof method against these bloodsuckers, hikers have had success with a variety of methods and gear including using strong insect repellent or eucalyptus oil, wearing leech-proof socks, waterproof boots, leg gaiters and carrying a stick tipped with a salt-soaked cloth (apparently, leeches hate salt so if you see one, touch it gently with the cloth).
  • Trekking poles: hiking sticks, walking poles, whatever you call them, some hikers swear by these to generate a good rhythm as well as provide support on steep terrain. We’d recommend leaving them at home unless you really need them (for example, if you need support for a bad knee, you’re going through particularly tough terrain, and so on).
  • Essentials kit: pack a basic first aid kit, some matches or a lighter, and perhaps heat packs if it’s going to get cold at night. Also keep a knife and torch/headlamp in your pack. If you’re hiking in wintry or icy conditions, an ice pick and extra set of clothes will help too.