Go Camping Australia Blog is a Camping blog for anyone who loves camping and the outdoors. It provides tips, ideas, gadgets and stories on camping. The goal of this website is to provide campsite reviews, gear reviews (from an Australian perspective), camping tips and information, for all camping and outdoor enthusiasts, new and old.
Being sick at anytime isn't fun but when you are camping, then it just seems so much worse.
You don't have your comfortable bed, and you don't have your bathroom right next to you (unless of course you are in a caravan with that feature). The days and nights (especially) can seem very long when you or someone you know is unwell. I don't think you appreciate your health until you are unwell and away from home.
So what do you do?
Firstly, it's going to depend on where you are camping. If you are camping in big resort-like campground in a big town/city, you will have many more options than when you are off the beaten track. This story is more for those of you who are a little remote where you are camping and come down with the typical sort of illness such as gastrointestinal problems or cold/flu like symptoms.
Here are our tips based on personal experiences.
1. Go home If the illness is going to affect the entire trip, pack up and go if this is an option such as weekend break. There is no point in hanging around hoping for a miracle recovery when you only have a short time to be camping.
Depending on the illness, being in close quarters with the sickly one, could also mean that its contagious. eg. gastro is notorious for spreading quickly through families.
Your camping trip is now going to be cut short, but really, with someone who is unwell (and I am not talking about a common cold), but someone who is really poorly, the best place for them would to be home and close to a doctor, if one is required.
If you have any doubt over what is actually wrong with a person or symptoms increase, you should leave and seek medical attention.
Apart from the usuals in a first aid kit (bandages, scissors etc), we take over-the-counter medications with us. And with kids, this is definitely something you should look at closely.
Always use these medications as directed and if in any doubt how they could conflict with existing medications, ask in advance of any trip away!!
Keep all medicines in cool and dry place and away from children.
Extra items you should want included:
Pain relief eg. Panadol/Nurofen etc. If there is a fever, you will need to control it and these would be of help.
Child appropriate medication. If your child can't take tablets, bring along pain relief in syrup form.
Hayfever medication. Great for allergies which can make you feel totally miserable.
Electrolyte sachets/tablets. When diarrhoea starts, your fluid intake is very important. Add to water to keep nutrients in system and your hydration up.
Anti-diarrhoea medication. This is handy to have because if you can't get to the toilet easily, this can slow down your toilet visits. It's not going to treat the cause of your diarrhoea but just ease some of your discomfort. I have personally had to rely on this to make a camping trip bearable.
Thermometer (optional but handy)
3. Rest up
So you have decided not to go home? Then rest up. Don't push yourself to do activities or anything that could exacerbate your illness.
It might mean lying in tent/camper/hammock for the day, sleeping when your body needs it. Relax and get comfortable.
4 Keep your fluids up
No matter what the illness, your fluid intake should be kept up.
With gastro related illnesses, this is vitally important. With fevers, sipping cool drinks can help. When ill, you don't want to make yourself worse due to dehydration. Sometimes it can be really hard to drink fluid (and I don't mean alcohol) when ill, but dehydration can sneak up on you, and children are especially vulnerable.
Know the symptoms of dehydration and monitor yourself or the other sick camper closely.
If you are staying at the campsite with your sick camper, then practice good hygiene. Have your hand sanitiser close by where everyone can use it regularly.
No hand sanitiser - then wash hands with soap thoroughly and regularly.
Cough and sneeze into a tissue which you can dispose of.
6. Monitor the ill person
If you are the unwell person - get someone to check on you regularly.
If you are caring for the unwell person - monitor them regularly.
You want to make sure there is no deterioration in condition eg. increased fever, change in symptoms, dehydration, pain etc.
Based on this monitoring, you may have to go back to Point 1 - which is to leave your campsite and seek medical attention.
The final word
As a camper, I have been ill when camping as have my children. It's not fun but thankfully, nothing serious. We have managed the illnesses at the campsite, but sometimes packed up a bit earlier than we had planned.
With illness, sometimes you may have to use your common sense and your instinct. If something doesn't feel right, then trust your instinct and do something about it like leaving the campsite. If you are a parent, you know your child better than anyone else, and know when the illness is something mild and manageable (like a cold), but be alert for changes.
Illness when camping doesn't have to mean the end of your camping trip, but being prepared and aware of illnesses, is a good idea for every camper.
Many of you started your camping by getting to your location with a car. Having everything you want packed up in the car, with plenty of necessities and luxuries ready to make that camping trip relaxing and comfortable.
It’s become the way I camp – I know that every camping trip, there needs to be a fair amount of prep work done before we leave; ensuring everyone has everything they need for the trip and planning for all sorts of contingencies that could arise. Consequently, the amount of gear that we as a family take, is quite impressive, even if its only for one night.
But when hiker husband wanted me to hike in to a campsite (with no kids), just carrying whatever I needed for the overnight trek, it meant re-thinking the way I had camped previously.
Planning was the key When you have to carry all your gear in a backpack, you do question what is really necessary and what is not.
Just because we travelled light, didn’t mean there was no organisation leading up to the trip. On the contrary.
The trip was planned with precision!
Meals and snacks were discussed, cooking methods pondered and clothing options reviewed. Trial packs were done to see if I could bear the weight and strategic packing of the backpack to maximise all available space.
Hiker hubby has trekked The Overland Track and other hikes before, so this was to be a simple stroll for him, but for me, a first-timer, it was an epic trek.
Because of his previous treks and our love of good gear, we did have all the gear we needed to take on an overnight hike. Some of the gear we take car camping is considered lightweight, so that was lucky that we didn’t need to buy gear especially suited to backpacking. Typical car camping gear would have not only increased pack weight dramatically, but the size of the pack would have been enormous!
When purchasing camping gear, you might want to think further than the next camping trip you have planned, and think to the future and the way you might want to camp later on, and buy accordingly if possible.
Key considerations before heading out: I knew my limitations – I was no hiker. Anything uphill was going to be a big challenge.
The overnight camp we were staying at, was a walk which many hikers do, as part of a longer walk, and was an established route. It was very hilly; not something I really wanted to hear, but taking my time, I believed I could manage.
The weather was checked, and revisions made to our intended destination. Warm weather meant the hiking trail had been closed because of bushfire risk, so we had to re-think our hiking options, and find a hike that could be done without me expiring from heat exhaustion.
What was packed Shelter
Our shelter was MSR Hubba Hubba, a 2 person tent, which we think is a tent that is suitable for good warm weather, and easy to set up. It’s not the lightest tent to carry, but for this walk, it suited our needs. Our model has now been discontinued though you can still get variations on it.
I used my Marmot Plasma 15 sleeping bag as the night was to be cool plus its lightweight (864g). Down sleeping bags are the best to purchase if you are going to be going hiking, as they compress greatly and really keep you warm (I had to sleep with it unzipped on this hike to prevent overheating).
A good alternative to this bag in Australia (the Marmot mentioned came from overseas) is the Sierra Designs Nitro 800 Fill DriDown. You need to look for something light, so down is the most common choice.
If you have a lot of money to spend on your 3 season sleeping bag, then the North Face Blue Kazoo is one you could consider.
North Face too much? Have a look at the Sea to Summit Traveller which is considerably cheaper, but still lightweight and down.
Husband used a top quilt by Hammock Gear. He was originally going to hammock camp, but I thought it would be easier to share a tent for that night.
I got a new backpack by Osprey, and was keen to see how comfortable it was. Maybe I should have tried it out a little more before I left – but it didn’t matter in the end, because it was comfortable and I wasn’t too weighed down.
If you need a good backpack (men or womens) we do use and recommend Osprey. They are comfortable, affordable and quality (far better than some of the big name brands you find in shops with the same name as the backpack - be cautious when going to those stores in case you end up with backpack that is just not suited for you and very heavy).
Clothing As we had checked weather, we could see that the night was to be cool but not so cold I would need thermals.
The clothes I wore on day 1 would also work on day 2, and a rain jacket was packed just in case there was a light shower. When hiking, its all about layering your clothes - you can read more about how to do it at this site: www.hikinglife.com
All clothing was quick drying and breathable (avoiding cotton).
I did sneak in extra underwear and a clean T-Shirt for the next day, which was a little luxury, and I didn’t care if it meant a few more grams!
Keeping hydrated is vital and our Osprey packs had bladders which we could utilise if necessary, but as the walk wasn’t that long, we did not fill the bladders. Instead we took 2 bottles with filtration devices, as we knew that the campsite had a dam – where we could use the bottles to safely filter the water.
Not every place is going to have that option available, so taking plenty of water with you is very important part of any hiking trip. We were lucky to have some water options available to us.
We were also able to use the Platypus® GravityWorks™ water filter which we took, which allowed us plenty of clean drinking water when at camp. This filter doesn’t take up any room, and is so handy!
Just remember to take plenty of water with you on your hike and have a method to get clean water should you run out.
We have a few to choose from, ranging from the complicated to the simple, and in the end we took the Evernew Titanium Burner and Stove, which runs on methylated spirits.
We were looking for a simple stove, that could boil water predominantly. We were not doing any cooking over the stove, so some of other stoves would have been too big or too much for such a simple task eg. Trangia
I wanted to keep the food easy and fast. I had tried some recipes out at home, but they hadn’t been a huge success so we took the very easy option, and got a dehydrated meal for 2 for our evening meal (and we had brought along bowls, mug and spork each). See some of the range of yummy options here - cottage pie or spaghetti bolognaise
Plenty of snacks too to keep energy levels high, but I didn’t eat much, as I was more thirsty than hungry. I know how important it is to eat well on a hike, so I would need to consider that as an area needing improvement by myself for future walks.
If you don’t have hiking poles, I would think about getting them for any trek. They are a worthwhile purchase and they really helped me climbing down the hills, helping stabilise me. When not in use on a hike, our packs have spots where they are stored.
If you are going to go to the toilet in the bush, you need to be responsible. In some places you are going to have take out everything – and that means your toilet waste! Thankfully, I didn’t have to do this on this trip (not sure I am ready for that), but you do need to take a trowel and toilet paper.
No toilets where we were headed, and when you gotta go, you gotta go…..
Lucky we were not weighing our packs religiously for this trek. We were carrying excess weight in chocolate. Have no idea why Hiker Husband packed so much, but was obviously thinking that I might have a chocolate craving of mammoth proportions and was afraid of my reaction should he fail to provide it in a remote location.
And of course the wine, mentioned in the Food Section above! Wine is not a necessity apparently.
Sitting around the camp at the end of the day (and for me, recuperating after the trek), we could have sat on the ground or a piece of Tyvek. But we had each brought one of these chairs, and whilst they added to our pack weight, how great was it to sit in one of these and relax?
Overall, the first overnight hike by me was a success – I actually had a good time, and not having so much gear to think about, made the camping trip all about simplicity and getting back to basics (for me anyway).
I am under no illusions that I am some sort of experienced hiker - it's going to take more than 1 walk to do that! There is no "Wild" book in my future where I hike the Pacific Crest Trail hike for self discovery..... though a subsequent book and movie deal is a highly appealing aspect. No, that level of hiking is not for me.
The above list of items that we took is far from comprehensive, so if you are considering starting out on an overnight hiking trip, use our key items as a guide, but do build on this list by further reading. Additionally, I had the benefit of going with an experienced hiker, which allowed me to relax and not worry about every single thing needed, as I had someone who was prepared.
Please note: This story was first published in 2015 but has had updated links added to maintain accuracy.
If you are specifically looking for a double sleeping bag for your camping trips, we have a list of 8 tips that you should consider before buying. It's all about helping you make the best choice for your camping lifestyle.
1. Weight - Is it important to you?
Weight is a consideration with single and double bags - especially if you are carrying your bag.
If you are car camping, then weight isn't a huge issue for a double sleeping bag; you won't be counting grams, so this is possibly something you won't need to spend too much time deliberating over.
But if you are hiking, you can still get double sleeping bags but they can weigh over 2kg, and in backpacking terms, that is not exactly light. One person is going to have carry that sleeping bag - the weight can't be shared unless you have a sleeping bag that can be zipped into 2 (see point 5).
Before you buy, think about the weight and if you need to carry this bag (also if it's something you can fold up again easily!!)
2. Warmth - What temperatures will you be camping in?
This is a BIG issue for any sleeping bag - single or double. Will it keep you warm?
With doubles you do have the issue that there is a lot of space in the bag for air to circulate in.
You might think you have the benefit of snuggling up to another person in the bag, which is true, but depending on the size of both of you, there is still plenty of air circulating around you.
Unlike single bags, most of these double bags are without hoods that cinch around the neck area (trapping in the heat) so warm air is escaping (and cold air will seep in). Some do have simple hoods though but not necessarily the neck baffles that trap more heat in.
In the summer months, the less constrictive and more open sleeping bag could be a good thing, so a double sleeping bag could be a more attractive option in the warmer weather.
Before you buy, think about how you plan on keeping warm. What is the rating? Is that rating right for the conditions you are sleeping in and factoring in that there is more room for cold air in a larger bag?
More luxurious style of double bag - with hoods, and a "Pillow Barn" where your pillows can be stored to stop them moving around
Synthetic, with double zippers. Stretch fabric panels to insert mats underneath Temperature rating -1 Priced around $350
3. Insulation - What's underneath you?
One place where a double sleeping bag could be the perfect option and where you don't have to worry too much about insulation is if you use it in a caravan or camper trailer. Then you will have your double bed already available! This is why double sleeping bags are often a great purchase for those of you with camping vehicles. Sheets and blankets aren't a big requirement with a double sleeping bag.
If you are going the double bag option and don't have a caravan/camper trailer, you will need to have adequate insulation beneath you that can accommodate the width of the sleeping bag. This might mean double self inflating mats or a double sleeping cot.
Sleeping bag warmth comes from the bag, plus what's underneath you.
Before you buy, think about what is going under your double sleeping bag. Do you need to purchase something else along with the sleeping bag?
If you are planning on sharing this sleeping bag with another, a restless sleeper tossing and turning can impact on you, tucked up with them! They unzip to get out of the bed, then you will definitely feel that more than if you were separately ensconced in a single bag.
Another factor to keep in mind - if you have no access to showers, one (or both of you) could stink, so no escape in that sleeping bag!
Before you buy, think about who you want to cuddle up with and how you both like to sleep.
5. One double sleeping bag converts to 2 sleeping bags - Do you need this? Some double sleeping bags can be turned into 2 singles.
You still won't get that cinching around the neck as it will still be hoodless, but you can turn a double sleeping bag into 2 single sleeping bags with a few models. That way if one of you wants more personal space, its an option.
Alternative - buy 2 single sleeping bags - one with a left zipper, the other with the right opening zipper, and then you could zip them together. But zips can be tricky, so it might all be a bit like hard work, but this is worth considering.
Before you buy, think about if the bag can convert into two bags should your sleeping partner annoy the hell out of you (see point 4).
Priced at around $130 this converts into 2 singles
Comfort rating of 2 degrees, made of polyester
Integrated headrest, insulation zip baffle, internal pockets
6. Space - How much roominess do you need? A benefit of the double sleeping bag is space - if you aren't a fan of the single (and sometimes quite tight fitting) sleeping bags, and like room to move in a bag, then a double could be beneficial. You can toss and turn without feeling constricted. You will need to take into consideration the sort of camping you do, if you are going to be warm enough with all that room.
Another "space" tip to ponder - if you are using it for a tent, check that your tent can fit the sleeping bag adequately, and there is no centre pole getting in the way of your bedding set up.
Before you buy, think about how you are going to warm up that sleeping bag with just one person in it. (see point 2). The weather conditions will affect this option; warm weather you won't mind as much being cooler.
7. Material - Synthetic or Down? Just like a single sleeping bag, double sleeping bags come in down and synthetic or a down/synthetic blend. And just like single sleeping bags there are benefits of each sort of of material. Read How To Choose a Sleeping Bag to see more about this.
As many people who seem to buy these double sleeping bags, are car campers, a synthetic might be the best and cheapest option.
Inside the bag is another consideration as well. Many double bags have a lining that feels like flannel sheets, others have a polyester feel.
Before you buy, think about what material you want as that will affect the price you pay. If loft and lightness is your preference, down will be a good but expensive option.
Priced at around $190, this converts from a 3 season to 2 season bag
Zip off extra layer when the weather warms up
Polyester, integrated head rest
8. Width - Will we all fit in it? Not all bags are the same size, but all are meant to cater for 2 average sized people. Check the sizing before you commit (and size up the people who will be sleeping in it). There may be a difference that just won't work.
You can get a double bag that is mummy shaped (so wide at the top, but tapers in at the bottom) - but that means it could get a bit squishy depending on the size of the 2 people using it.
Before you buy, read the dimensions of the bag you are wanting and make sure it's going to fit you and whoever else will be in the bag. Length and width.
The winner was....... Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Solar Charger
We love anything that keeps us charged up when outdoors. So we chose one that we own and use as its reliable, packs down small, you can hang it off your tent or backpack, and easy to use with all our devices.
Loads of features, this charger is one we do take on our trips and it hasn't let us down.
The winner in this category was........GSI Personal Coffee Java Press.
Coffee and camping. We don't go anywhere without equipment for a proper coffee. Our preferred option is the Aeropress, but that wasn't on this list, so a runner up was this Java Press, which is a plunger system that packs up nicely and space saving. Dad probably won't be sharing his coffee with anyone else once he uses this.
This one is all about personal taste, so it was tricky to pick one as a winner. I chose a merino T-Shirt because merino is brilliant for outdoors. All our base layers are merino - they don't smell, they keep you warm and cool (self-regulating), not itchy, and did I mention, they are odour resistant. Merino for camping and hiking is a god-send.
The winner was......The Leatherman Wingman Multi-Tool.
Another very tricky category to pick a winner in. Lots of knives in this category, and rugged stuff. So I chose something we own and that is very handy to have around camp. It does 14 things, and comes with a 25yr warranty. You can get Leatherman tools that do even more but this one will do most everything you need.
Why did this win? Because with summer a few months away, shade wherever and whenever you need it is a must. Attached to your car, you won't be worrying about finding a good tree to sit under. You will all benefit from this, just not dad, so think of it as a present to yourself too!
The winner was......Goal Zero Rock Out 2 Solar Speakers
This category is hard to choose. We love a Go Pro, so that could have been the perfect gift for action guys if they don't have one (so keep that in mind if you want to spend a bit). But in the end, went with this speaker that works beautifully with the winner of our our Solar Charger Dad category (see above). It has a built in solar charger on the speaker, works off bluetooth and can last 10 hours without charging.
Which category of camper do you fall into now the weather is cooling down?
(a) With the cooler weather coming on, you put your camping gear away for the next few months. Whilst the campfires are lovely, it’s just too damn cold outdoors.
(b) You start getting ready for winter camping – your favourite time of the year to be outdoors.
(c) You don’t care about the seasons. You head out for a camping trip any time of the year!
Winter camping can polarise campers. There are 3 distinct group of campers, and group (a) is the group who need a lot of convincing to leave the house.
If you think you belong to group (a) or know someone in this group, then this story is for you (or them). You might just find enough reasons to head outdoors.
We also include a few reasons why going camping in winter isn't that great, just to keep everyone happy.
Reasons to go in Winter
(1) Less People
Depending on where you go camping, the winter season means fewer people at the campsites.
If you are a camper in the southern half of Australia, you will notice this the most.
The campsites that are so popular in summer (think of all the camping locations that have ballot systems in peak summer periods or the bookings online which are all sold out months in advance), are not so appealing in winter.
Many of the popular online bookings are for sites near water, which is highly desirable in the warm months. In winter, your need to take a dip in the ocean or river isn’t a priority.
Summer camping also coincides with the longest school holidays of the year so families are out in their droves. School sporting commitments are also generally on hold for summer. In winter, some sports continue throughout the shorter holiday breaks. That reduces the chances of people being able to get away for a winter weekend break.
There is an exception to the “less people camping in winter”, and that is if you go camping in the top half of Australia. Winter camping is peak season in the northern parts of Australia due to the mild temperatures at this time of year, making it a more appealing option for those who want to escape the chilly southern days.
(2) Less Insects/Snakes
You will not be swatting flies constantly.
That fact alone is a big plus for winter camping.
Flies cannot survive the wet and cold (which is more typical for Southern Australia).
Once again, those in the north will not be as lucky in avoiding them – they will keep breeding in warmer and drier locations, but the fly population rises and falls depending on the temperature and rainfalls….so in the north, if you hate flies, you want rain and cold weather!
Other bugs go into something like a deep sleep (technical term: diapause), and wait for warmer weather.
Mosquitos? No dramas with those. Something you get mainly in summer as like the flies, they tend to me dormant in winter months.
Even bees take a break.
Of course, a big plus for many people is that they are less likely to wander into the bush and come across a snake. Snakes, like some insects, have gone into hibernation for the winter – but it’s not a true hibernation. They can come out to bask in the winter sun, so you are not going to be 100% safe from sightings, but it is less likely.
(3) Excuse to buy better gear If you are heading out winter camping, you need to be warm. This means buying good gear that will do the job.
Think about 4 important areas that need to be considered for winter camping
- Sleeping Bag - Mattress/Cot - Shelter - Clothing
Make sure your camping equipment suits cooler weather.
With your sleeping bag, check the temperature rating on it. If the rating is high, you know you might need something extra to keep you warm. If you don’t want to purchase another sleeping bag, you will have to prepare for how you want to increase the warmth of your existing sleeping bag (eg. extra blankets, liners, another sleeping bag within the first sleeping bag).
If you have slept on an air mattress during summer, you might find that’s not going to work out too well for you in winter. Like the sleeping bag, what you sleep on could affect much you enjoy the night (and whole trip). If you have a stretcher, then that too is going to be a different experience in winter. Cold air circulates around you and underneath you so extra padding underneath you might be required.
Find out more about choosing a camp stretcher to see if getting off the ground is something you need to think about this winter.
Just check your gear is ready for cooler weather.
The same applies for your winter clothing. It can be so cold at night, so make sure you bring clothes that will help keep your warm. It’s all about layering.
Remember the 3 layer rule.
Base layer (for warmth and moisture control)
- it needs to fit close to your body
- soft and natural is preferred
- polyester and cotton should be avoided
Mid layer (insulation)
- to trap the heat
Outer Layer (weather protection)
- protects you from the elements, like wind and rain
Don’t have anything like the above 3 layer system?
It’s a perfect opportunity to go shopping. You can pick up thermal gear for from so many stores these days, and it doesn’t cost the earth. Merino wool layers are brilliant, and we use them but they can be a bit pricey.
Just stay away from cotton.
If you love gadgets, then winter is a great time for you to indulge.
We listed some winter gadgets for camping, which could help convince the non-campers that winter is the right time to be outdoors!! There are lots of innovations for winter camping, with lots of manufacturers trying to create gear to keep you warm. It’s a boom time for gadgets!
In summer, fire restrictions mean many locations don’t allow campfires. And a campfire is a highlight of camping right?
In winter, those restrictions are generally not in place (though of course, always check). If you need to know how to choose the perfect spot for a campfire, then read "How to Choose A Campfire Location". It's important you get this right.
Winter camping can mean a campfire in the morning, and sometimes lunch, and then dinner. And with campfires mean wonderful cooking opportunities, lots of camp oven food, and other delicious foods.
Cooking in summer at the campsite can be quite limiting without a campfire, but winter offers a vast array of cooking techniques.
We have written about some campfire food options previously, so if you need inspiration, make sure you read about
If you are staying in an established campground (not a National Park or free camping obviously), they frequently will have peak rates and off peak. Winter camping, except for long weekends and school holidays, tends to fall into off peak, so your camping costs are a bit cheaper.
It may not be a lot of cash saved, but some is better than nothing.
(7) Cooler in a tent
Ever stepped into a tent/camper trailer in the middle of summer and nearly expired on the spot? Summer makes some shelters unbearable to be in during the day. If you want to have a lie down during the day, then your shelter is like an oven, baking you and whilst being basted by your own sweat.
Now, in winter, the tent is naturally cooler, and a safe haven from wind and rain. You don’t mind being in the tent in the middle of the day if you have to. In fact, it can be quite nice to snuggle in a tent, with a good book if the weather isn’t being kind. Winter camping makes this a possibility.
(8) Bragging rights If your friends are summer campers (or non-campers), you can impress them with your outdoor hardiness.
Your skills at campfire building.
Camp oven finesse.
Ability to survive and not freeze.
If you can camp in the snow, even better. That’s showing true grit.
Reasons not to camp in Winter
Well, there is going to have been something really bad to make you not want to go camping in winter, especially after reading all the good points above. So this might be a short section.
But in order to be fair, here we present the reasons why you don’t want to camp in winter.
(1) It’s very cold
Yes, this an undeniable fact and probably the major reason why you don’t want to camp in winter.
In Australia, are winters are considered mild compared to say North American and European winters. They deal with snow and blizzards for their winter trips, so for us to complain about winter camping, we look pretty soft in comparison.
I read a tip for winter camping, which was to dig a kitchen area in the snow, so you have somewhere to sit in whilst melting snow. That’s hard-core camping.
You can camp in the snow in Australia, but we won’t be covering that here because it’s not as common for us.
But it is cold here and moving away from your campfire, isn’t always fun. Getting ready for bed in icy conditions isn’t enjoyable either. Toilet trips at night are delayed as long as possible to avoid the cold night air, because you know you are going to take ages to warm up again.
But the fact that we need to have to take all these measures to get warm and stay warm can be a little off-putting for campers.
(2) Too much gear
A positive of winter camping is having all this gear to help make winter camping enjoyable. But a negative is that you need it in the first place.
Additional clothing means you are taking a lot more with you in the car (and it was full enough in summer). It all begins to seem a bit like hard work.
The need to wear so much clothing sitting around at night, and then have to get out of that gear, into other clean clothes for bed can be torture on a cold night. It’s so tempting just to climb straight into bed fully dressed.
If you are in the Top End in winter, it’s busy up there. All the campers who can escape the cold have gone up to the north of Australia. Iconic locations and camping spots are busy and you have to book months ahead to get a spot in places like Broome.
Remember that whilst in the southern states you may be the only one at a campsite, up in parts of the north, your biggest worry won’t be choosing a campsite; it will be finding one with a vacancy.
(4) Campfires are a must
Campfires are lovely and we have covered their benefits in winter already in this story, but you can become extremely dependent upon them for your warmth, to the extent you don’t want to leave the fire at all.
You spend all your time crowded around one, not wanting to do anything that takes you away from this heat source. Even getting ready for bed is delayed as it means leaving the fire. Then there is the bad dash from fire to bed.
Summer camping still has its cold nights, but you are not so dependent upon the fire to warm yourself up constantly.
Plus you stink of smoke for the entire trip because you are always near it.
It can rain anytime of the year, but being winter, the chances increase. Camping in the rain can prove challenging if you are not prepared for it, and it certainly can dampen your enthusiasm for camping if you cannot be outdoors, the firewood is all damp, and the ground is turning into mud.
If you are not keen on the cold, then being rained upon as well, could be a big deterrent to winter camping.
So here is a refresher for anyone who camps on how to put out a campfire.
1. Allow the fire to burn down to ash if possible.
That might take a bit of “thinking ahead” – don’t throw on that extra log if you are planning on calling it a night a short time afterward or planning on leaving the campsite.
With a stick or shovel, separate the wood from the charcoal to help slow the fire down.
2. Slowly sprinkle water on the fire, including embers. Do this carefully as pockets of air could cause the fire to hiss and spit and you. If there is a lot of smoke – just wait a little, and try again.
3. Keep adding water until the hissing stops. You want everything in the firepit wet.
4. With a shovel, stir the embers and ash so everything in the fire is damp/wet.
5. If you do not have enough water for points 2-4, you need to use dirt or sand. You are trying to suffocate the embers, depriving them of oxygen. Water is the best method though.
Do NOT bury the fire with the dirt, but move the dirt/sand through the embers. A buried fire can smoulder, and then re-ignite. A buried fire with sand/dirt, can retain heat at 100 degrees, eight hours after being covered with sand (source here)
6. Final check to see if that fire is really out. If it's cool to touch, then it's safe to leave. Now obviously, you are not going to stick your hand in the ash and see if it burns your hand, because that would be dangerous and not clever. If you can feel heat resonating from it as you have your hand lowered over the ash - but not touching it - then it's still warm.
Poke a stick in the embers and see if you see any bright spots when you stir the ash. If it's warm or there are embers, add more water/dirt to cool it right down.
When you go camping, for many, a campfire is a must! It completes the whole outdoor experience, and in winter, provides a source of warmth and comfort on those chilly nights.
If your campsite has a firepit already created, then you are in luck. You can build a fire without too much thought. But what if there is no firepit already in place, and you need to make your own?
What are some things you need to think about?
We list what you need to do to get that campfire created, and created safely.
Number one rule to remember: Check that fires are even allowed or there is not a fireban in place before proceeding to the next steps. Only when you are 100% sure you can have a fire, then think about where to have the firepit.
In windy and dry conditions, do not light a campfire.
Choosing your campfire location:
Find a clearing that has no grass (or minimal grass).
Look up. Check that there are no overhanging branches.
Make sure there is not fuel for your fire close by eg. sticks, old decaying leaves, scrub. You want a clear area. Your camping gear needs to be away from the campfire by at least 15 foot/4.5 meters.
Choose a spot that is protected (if possible) from high winds and downwind from your camping shelter.
Look for large stones/rocks to surround the fire, and create an enclosed firepit.
If there are no large stones around, you can dig a small trench (eg. about 30cm deep) to build the fire in. This will keep the fire in an enclosed area and minimise embers flying out.
And then you are ready to make the campfire itself.
When you leave your campsite, leave that ring of rocks for the next campers, so they can benefit from your excellent preparation of a campfire, and to indicate that is where they should have their campfire (and not to create another one).
When planning a recent trip to New Zealand, like many other tourists, we had planned to hire a motorhome (the bigger, fancier version of a campervan) to see this part of the world.
We could have gone camping in the more traditional way, but that would have meant taking a lot of our camping gear on the plane with us and the logistics of that (plus quarantine requirements) would be way too hard...... So a motorhome (or campervan) seemed like the perfect option.
Purists of camping might be recoiling in horror that we were going to toss aside the tent in favour of a big diesel-hungry truck. But that was the plan.
So we booked our motorhome - toilet, shower, 6-berth. The whole works. No roughing it for us. It was going to be a nice change from the tent and giving us a totally different perspective on camping, plus a unique way to see the countryside.
Four weeks after paying the deposit, we cancelled this hire, and booked a car.
So how and why did we do a total reversal on our choice of travel in NZ?
It was a combination of things, which would apply to hiring such a vehicle not just in NZ, but here in Australia too.
So to explain our reasoning, whether it be right or wrong, we decided to put together the story about why we changed our minds and what we learned along the way in making this decision.
From doing our own reading, it seems many people struggle with knowing whether to hire a car or hire a motorhome, so some further clarity couldn't hurt!
Now, in the story we won't mention the name of the company with whom we initially chose to hire (you may be able to work it out on your own), but many of the reasons we list, tips we suggest, would apply to any hiring company.
First up - the easy part: Booking the motorhome
After viewing the huge variety of campervan/motorhomes available in NZ to hire, we sort of knew what features we wanted. 6-berth (eg. 3 beds), shower, toilet, fully self contained, awning, auto transmission.
We were going to travel in school holidays (a traditionally busy time) and we found that motorhomes do not come cheaply for hire.
There are huge variations amongst the companies that hire these vehicles so shopping around for a deal that suits you is definitely something you need to do - and do it as soon as you can, especially if your travel dates are in peak season.
I actually was surprised at the daily rate of the motorhomes. In my head, I imagined them to be a lot cheaper, but we weren't looking at one the campervans perfect for 2 people - ours was going to be a beast of a motorhome and consequently were paying a lot for that sort of vehicle.
We chose a motorhome that met our requirements - it had a fairly good daily rate, compared to some other offerings of similar vehicles: the daily rate does vary greatly amongst similar vehicles and companies.
Booking online was easy and hassle free once we had decided on the vehicle and found it was available.
No second thoughts by us at this point......
Second - Reading Reviews is a wise move
We went with one of the biggest motorhome suppliers in NZ/Australia - going with a big one should be safer and have the best fleet of vehicles, theoretically. The motorhome was meant to be no more than 12 months old which was important to us (maybe not important to you, but there you go).
Only after we had paid the deposit, did we start reading incredibly negative reviews and stories about this particular company. Stories that make your jaw drop with the horror treatment some customers have received.
Look at TripAdvisor Forum and type in the name of the company you want to hire from.... you will see what I mean.
The internet is full of unhappy customers and experiences of the company we were hiring from.
Complaints ranging from broken or dirty or dangerous campervans, poor service everywhere, long waits to get their vans and return them, non existent customer service before, during and after the hire, and shady business practices plus, long delays in refunds. There are a lot of reviews out there, and the company we had chosen seemed to have more than most - not just in NZ, but Australia too.
Now, I realise that unhappy people are probably a whole lot more eager to share their story than say happy customers, so we did take that into consideration.
Would we say we made our decision to cancel based on these reviews?
Not totally, but the reviews were so bad and so plentiful about this company, we just couldn't ignore them.
If we had ignored the reviews and something untoward had happened, then I would be furious at myself for not paying more attention. Of course, everything could have gone perfectly, and I would have counted myself "lucky" not to be one of those people who had experienced some of the shocking motorhome experiences.
There are plenty of bad reviews for other motorhome companies too, and also plenty of glowing reports for other companies, but that was not going to help us, as we had already chosen to go with this particular company (because we had paid our deposit).
Before You Hire Tips:
Tip # 1: Read online, other people's experiences of the company you are hiring from. Try to balance what you read, and look at a variety of sites/forums to get a wide range of views. Don't read the reviews placed on the company's own website because they are worthless.
Tip # 2: Rankers NZ is an excellent place to start - loads of information about car and campervan hire companies and everything else in New Zealand with real reviews.
Tip # 3: Type into Google "(insert company name) motorhome reviews". See what comes up in your search.
Tip # 4: Do tips 1-3 before paying any deposit (we didn't, and that was an error by us)
Insurance: Forewarned is Forearmed
Hiring a big vehicle is not exactly cheap and apart from the daily rate, there are daily insurance costs you can pay for to help reduce your excess (the amount you would pay in the likelihood of damage to the vehicle).
We knew the daily rate we had agreed to, so that wasn't an issue plus we knew we were not going to be paying the hirers own insurance; we were going to book insurance with a company that especially covers rental excess.
This was a part of our homework weactually had done prior to committing to hire : to not fall into the trap of paying the hirer's insurance (something you will get pressured to do at pick up of the vehicle).
You can save a lot of money on insurance with rental car/campervan companies if you don't pay their insurance but use a separate insurance provider that specialises in rental excess. You should look at your travel insurance and credit card insurance options as well though you may find they have limitations - read on for further explanation.
Look at these sites below to read more about what you can expect to pay with them compared to what the hiring company will make you pay for insurance. The daily rate difference is huge. They will cover things that the hiring company will NOT cover, like undercarriage damage, windscreens, tyres, demurrage. Rentalcover.com seems to be the most comprehensive of the the two listed (or the easiest site to understand).
(FYI: Not affiliated with either of these companies, but believe they are worth investigating)
Feedback from others who didn't take out that separate insurance, is that you will be told horror stories when collecting your campervan, about all the costs you can expect to deal with, should you NOT take out the hiring companies daily insurance package. Some cases, staff have been quite aggressive with customers when customers deny the hirer's own plans.
Choice Magazine has talked about this issue in the articles below which I recommend you read:
Tip #1 : Do your homework on insurance and read all the terms and conditions about hiringbefore you commit to any hire.
You will find that the terms and conditions may be a separate download/PDF, and you may have to search around the site to find it in its entirety. Many sites just seem to give an abridged version at first glance, so look further on the website for the full agreement. Know exactly what you are agreeing to and the conditions around the hire.
Tip # 2: Even though you may pay top dollar with the motorhome company's own insurance (eg. $35-65 extra per day) it doesn't always cover damage you think would be covered. Eg. windscreens, tyres and undercarriage and top of campervan. This information will generally be listed in the agreement (see tip #1)
You would think paying that much money to the hirer, you will be OK for any damage, but that is not always the case. The company we were hiring through (one of the BIG ones) did not cover these items in 2017. You will need your own separate insurance to cover those items if you want them covered, which makes you wonder, "why pay for their insurance in the first place, if you have to go elsewhere for full coverage".
Tip #3: If relying on travel insurance (or your credit card insurance) to cover you, find out what it actually will cover in relation to car/motorhome hire.
Make sure your insurance option covers the sort of vehicle you will be hiring. Don't assume your camping vehicle is covered.
Here is one set of exclusions, which I have found in at least 2 separate travel insurance Product Disclosure Statements:
Rental excess insurance does not cover commercial vehicles, buses, minibuses, trucks, utes, full-size vans mounted on truck chassis, campervans, off-road vehicles and other recreational vehicles, trailers, motorbikes, motorcycles or moped and any other vehicles having fewer than four wheels, antique cars
Also, another exclusion found in travel insurance. This insurance does not cover items such as, but not limited to, tyres and/or windscreens if they are not covered by the motor vehicle insurance or damage waiver purchased from the rental company or agency
Tip #4: Demurrage is when your vehicle of choice is unable to be hired by others due to damage you incurred. That vehicle is now off the road, and you can be charged the daily rate as long as that vehicle is not available to hire. Does your insurance cover this? A motorhome with a daily rate of $200+ could be expensive if off the road due to repairs. Investigate.
The Bond aka The Deal Breaker
This was the deal breaker for us. The bond we had to pay for the motorhome. $7500.
That's not an imprint on our card - that money was to be deducted from our credit card at time of collecting the vehicle. Some companies will not deduct money from your card, so that is one important thing to look for. The company we chose was all about taking the money off us right from the start! Once again, it was in the hiring agreement.
Others will not deduct that money if you take their liability options (eg. insurance packages) - just imprint your credit card. But if you say you have your own insurance, then expect that credit card deduction.
Once again, not all motorhome companies have bonds as high as this or do the deduction. That is something you will need to look at on an individual basis.
Now, we did know about this bond when we paid the deposit (so we can't say we were blindsided) but we didn't think about the following:
Deduction of $7500 would incur 2-3% credit card fees when deducting, plus international credit card fees (if your CC charges them), currency conversion difference and, all of that would be on our credit card for 2 weeks of travelling. That's at the start of the hiring process. Getting the $7500 returned at the end of the hire period, means more charges when the money is returned.
That's $7500 we don't have available on our credit card to spend on our holiday, and we need to make sure our card is cleared to have that much deducted in one go.
Don't think about trying to use cash to avoid this. It's credit card only. No pre-paid credit cards. If you use 2 separate credit cards to make up the amount, you will have to pay all the charges listed above, twice.
You can reduce the bond, only if you pay their daily liability rate.
Then when we return the motorhome at the end of the 2 weeks, it can take up to 2-3 weeks to get that money returned to us - and we can expect all those extra charges to be applied again, when the money is returned. That's if nothing is wrong with the vehicle of course........
Bond Tips: Tip #1: Look at all the charges of hiring. Not just the quoted daily rate. Incorporate into the daily rate any fees that you will be charged by the hiring company, such as the fees mentioned above. A 2% charge on a bond of $7500 is $150.
Tip #2: If you need a credit card, and worried about international charges, see if your bank has a no foreign transaction fee credit card. If it doesn't, it may be worthwhile looking around at banks/credit unions to see if you can qualify for such a card.
Tip #3: Travel insurancerental excess varies greatly across policies. Many we looked at did not have an excess that would cover $7500. You may need to hunt around to find a policy that will cover that much of a bond.
Damage to your vehicle
I was understandably, a little worried about having $7500 on my credit card, especially in the event of an accident.
It seems that a minor scratch to the motorhome could result in them holding the entire bond ($7500) whilst the damage was repaired, and then they would refund me any difference between the cost to repair and the bond.
That could take weeks or even longer (based on reviews some people have waited months) - think of the interest you could end up paying if refunds take a long time?
Yes, my own insurance would cover any damage to the vehicle in the end, but that still doesn't stop them having my $7500 during the repair process. I would then have to claim from my own insurer.
Lots of people get through their holidays totally unscathed, and I wanted to be one of them. But a niggling doubt was playing over in my mind, and being a total over-thinker, I was looking at the worse case scenario.
Did I want to spend my trip worrying about potential damage or the company claiming some damage that wasn't visible at time of pick up? The answer was beginning to be very clear to me......
Our biggest tip for hiring - check your vehicle closely, including spare tyres. Get every single fault listed on the sheet before you drive away for your holiday. No matter how small it is, or what the salesperson says, have it written down. Note: We have read about people being told on return of vehicle they have sustained undercarriage damage to their campervans, even though the customer has no idea how it could have occurred - this is not an easy thing to check before you go, and I am not even sure what undercarriage damage looks like. Just be wary of this issue that possibly could arise and as mentioned previously, many insurance packages offered by these hiring companies will NOT cover this. That's why you might need separate insurance from someone who does.
The day-to-day issues we considered when making our choice
If we forget about the bond, and the money and the risk of damage, the motorhome sounded like a real adventure and a beautiful way to see NZ.
But there were things we didn't want to deal with on this holiday at this point in our lives.
- didn't want to worry about emptying the toilet in the motorhome (sounds trivial I know, but if we are hiring a van with a toilet, chances are we will use it and it's going to have to be emptied)
-making up beds and rearranging the layout of the van every night to create extra beds, and then having to undo it all again in the morning.
- inability to "pop" into a town or shop without packing up everyone and everything
- driving with everything we own to remote places whilst we went hiking (and leaving an ideal campsite to do so with the possibility of not getting a great spot to stay on our return).
- greater fuel consumption and driving considerably slower to get from A to B.
- teenagers can be tricky beasts, prone to bouts of moodiness and sulking. In a van, I would have no escape!!!
- powered sites in caravan parks during a busy holiday season, squashed up near others, wasn't really what I had in mind
- lack of privacy and space
We didn't miss the stress that goes along with driving a big vehicle with a $7500 bond on it!
Weigh up what is important to you. What was important to us won't apply to everyone. I get that.
Think about what you want from your trip, what you do and don't want to be doing as part of your holiday (especially if your time is limited). All these thoughts came after the initial rush of excitement of booking our trip.
Why we chose the car option?
I know there are a lot of negatives mentioned in this story.
If it was all bad, no-one would hire a campervan. So it's obviously not. I have seen wonderful stories, blog posts and forum comments from travellers who have had fantastic adventures in their motorhome. And judging by the amount of campervans on the road, it remains a very popular way of travel.
A car seemed a better option for us as a family at this point in lives, for the following reasons:
driving a car is something we are more familiar with, so more confident on narrow roads
allows us to readily get around towns and to National Parks without all our..
You know that a National Park is out of the question, so what are your options?
Basically, the answer is going to depend on where you are staying. The rules will vary from place to place, so you will need to do some homework. If in doubt, call and ask. A call to the property you want to stay at, and finding out the rules about pets could save you time and money.
Some private properties will also have a ban on pets, so its important to check, and not just assume.
Taking your Dog Camping - Some Tips
Make sure if a dog is meant to be on leash, it is on leash at all times.
Collar with ID should be on your dogs at all time.
Reflective collars/leashes are handy to have on pooch at night to maximise chances of being seen by everyone.
Know where the nearest vet to your campsite is. Hopefully you won't need a vet, but when something goes wrong, it's handy to know where you might have to go in a hurry.
If camping in a part of the country that has ticks, make sure you have done all you can to prevent ticks, and know how to treat an animal that has a tick (especially if you are visiting a tick prone area, and you aren't familiar with this dangerous problem for animals).
Check that vaccinations are up to date. If a location requires proof of such vaccinations, have a printout by your vet ready to handover.
Keep your dog close to you and your campsite at all times (part of good camping etiquette). A long lead might be good to have, so your dog can wander but never too far.
Is your dog a big barker? Loves to yap a lot, all the time? In a camping situation, people near you will tire of that very, very, quickly. You may need to consider that your dog isn't really the right companion to have on a camping trip. Do consider the behaviours of your dog and how your dog could be on a camping trip, and how you plan to manage such a situation.
Don't leave your dog unattended. It's behaviour could deteriorate out of boredom or loneliness in a strange environment, and could result in bothering other campers.
CLEAN UP after your dog. It's disgusting to be on a trail or around a campsite and find dog faeces there. Like you have to do in a park, or on a walk, clean it up properly. Sure you are outside, but if you are near others, they might step in a big messy poo. Think of others.
Useful links We can’t give a blanket answer for every camping location, but below are some links to help you in your search. Some of the locations will be duplicated across the links.
State Specific Guides
Camping With Your Dogs is a website covering campsites that do allow dogs, and covers 5 states, but with a focus on Queensland. The Courier-Mail listed 7 best sites in Queensland to take your dogs camping. You can see the sites listed here.
A book devoted to camping and dogs is Bush Camping with Dogs. If you are planning on doing a bit of camping, this might be worth investigating. The link is for one site that sells the book, though there are many others.
Your dog is probably a great companion to you and your family. And bringing it along can be a lovely way for the whole family to go camping. Enjoy this time with your 4-legged friend, but please be mindful that just because you love him/her unconditionally, others might not love your dog as much.
Respect those who don't want their camping trip disturbed by a pet or just don't like dogs.
This post was first published in 2013 but has been updated to maintain accuracy.