Going Camping

In Articles, Technical by Glyn DemmerLeave a Comment

In keeping with the philosophy of not breaking new ground and not deviating from a driven track when in your vehicle, you should also try to camp in an existing spot. Always arrive before sunset – there is no value in selecting your site at night.

Generally you should look for:

  • A well-drained flat spot
  • Water
  • Wood (a campfire is always pleasant even if not used for cooking)
  • Safe surroundings
  • Access to ablutions
  • Privacy (not too close to adjacent campers)
  • Rubbish disposal – this is only applicable in national parks, caravan parks, etc. In the wilderness you should take all litter with you – leave no evidence of your visit.

Do not camp in dry riverbeds. Many a campsite has been devastated by flash floods; even vehicles have been washed away.

Be careful when camping directly under trees as these can be inhabited by small animals, insects and snakes with the consequences ranging from droppings on tables and tents to poisonous bites. Beware of poisonous snakes, baboons, monkeys and small predators – do not leave meat or cooler boxes out at night.

It is also prudent to avoid areas where branches or rocks can fall onto tents, people or vehicles.

Rivers, lakes and marshes are generally mosquito-infested. Besides being irritating, mosquitos can also carry malaria in many parts of Africa.


Exposing your campsite

You should take of note the direction of the sun’s trajectory and camp in an area where the sun arrives early.

Choose a location that will provide protection from prevailing winds. Vehicles can also be sited to double as windbreaks.


Establishing your camp

No matter how long you will be staying in an area certain basics exist. Pitch your tent with the rear wall or the area opposite the door facing into the wind. Preferably face your door towards the campfire, but your tent should be at least 8—10 metres from the fire (to avoid flames, sparks, embers and ash).

Build a proper fireplace and use a stone retaining wall if possible, or, alternatively, site your fire in a trench.

Locate your toilet site. As a rule of thumb it should be 75—100 metres downwind from the campsite. Do not site a toilet in an exposed area or near a river, water hole or in soft soil.

Be aware of your water source if in a wilderness area. This will also assist in locating your ablution area for brushing teeth, shaving and showering. On no account should any ablution waste be allowed to drain into rivers. Always use biodegradable, environmentally friendly products (soaps, shampoos, toilet paper, etc.). Under no circumstances should you camp in close proximity to or alongside a water hole or drinking point for animals. This has been known to deprive animals of their only water and in the case of larger animals can also endanger campers.


Laying out your Camp

Taking the previously mentioned factors into consideration will help you to lay out your camp. The amount of equipment you unpack from your vehicle will be determined by the duration of your stay and the availability of ablutions, water, etc.

  1. Pitch your tent and organise interior comforts:
  • Lighting
  • Stretchers/sleeping bags/air mattresses, etc.
  • Toiletries
  • Clothing
  1. Locate and organise your fireplace (stock up with firewood; protect your firewood from rain if you rely on the fire for cooking). Clear the area (2-metre radius) of inflammable material and use prevailing winds to dissipate smoke. Protect your flame naturally in windy or rainy conditions.


Basic fire safety

  • Clear an area –roughly a 2-metre radius.
  • Don’t make a fire on the drip line of a tree – at this point roots are close to the surface.
  • Relate the size of the fire to your requirements.
  • Stock up on fuel (preferably carry and shelter fuel from rain.
  • Keep adequate stocks of matches (dry), firelighters or starters and do not be ashamed to keep a backup disposable lighter.
  • Don’t use wet fuel.
  • Don’t light your fire on grass, under a tree or next to a stump or log.
  • Be aware of the type of wood you burn, as a woods such as tamboti and milkwood produce toxic smoke.
  • Do not leave equipment close to the fire – especially gas bottles or liquid fuel.
  • Protect your hands when removing kettles, pots, etc
  • Don’t leave camp until you have put out the fire and disposed of the waste.
  • Establish your cooking and eating areas (tables/chairs) as well as your washingup area. Your waste disposal area should be sited away from the cooking area and protected from scavengers.

Litter tips

  • To be environmentally friendly, carry out all litter which cannot be burnt.
  • Pack plastic and other waste into small bags and put them into a large bin bag for disposal elsewhere, either at home or at a suitable point en route. It is no longer acceptable to bury scraps or waste.
  • Paper and cardboard can be burnt on a fire (small quantities).
  • Do not burn plastic.




Although you are escaping from civilisation, you cannot ignore basic hygiene. If no formal ablutions exist, you can either use one of the many portable showers available on the market (ranging fromsolar-powered to similar units that can be filledwith hot water) to a simple sponge-and-rinsetechnique. Teeth must also be cleaned on a regular basis. Do not let waste water drain into rivers or streams and don’t forget to use biodegradable products. Bodily functions are a fact of life and cannot be ignored. Take a bathroom pack to your bathing area.This pack should include a wet cell, change of underwear and slippers or sandals. Always include a meathook to enable you to hang the bag up. Take a rubber chamois to use as a bath-mat and a fold-up basin to

stand in if floors are suspect.



  • In the wild agood technique is to site a cat latrine — dig a hole and set a conventional toiletseat mounted on a stand over the hole. Once the campsite is vacated the hole can be filled in. It would also be worthwhile to lay stones across the hole prior tofilling it with sand. Campers should learn to throw in a layer of sand after each use. A useful ‘occupied’ sign is to position a spade and roll of toilet paper halfwaybetween the campsite and the facility; if the spade is not in position the toilet is        ‘occupied’. On no account should any chemicals be thrown into the hole.

Toilet paper should be burnt rather than buried.



Nowadays tents are lightweight, easy to erect and, depending on the frame, quite sturdy. Better designs include integrated groundsheets, mosquito nets, bow frames and zip-up doors. Avoid any tent that requires plans and time to erect.

Discuss your needs with a reputable camping supplier – do not compromise on quality and look for:

  • A tent that is easy to pitch
  • Suitable size and weight
  • Breathable fabric
  • Fully waterproof if double layered the two layers should not touch
  • Sealed floors
  • Mosquito nets
  • High-quality zips
  • Adequate doors and windows (with mosquito nets) preferably with a canopy over the door
  • Light, reflective colours

Be careful that the size and shape of tent you buy is suitable for your requirements i.r.o sleeping space, space for equipment and clothing. As one gets older you prefer to dress standing up so a larger dome tent is generally suitable. For the average couple a 4-berth tent tends to provide the space you need for a weekend of a few days away.

Never warm a tent with a naked flame of cook in a tent – no matter what the circumstances and always keep a fire extinguisher at hand around the campsite-ensure that everyone knows its location and how to use it.

Choose carefully, the market has been flooded by Chinese tents, quality, design as well as functionality varies!

Lastly always use a checklist when packing to ensure that nothing is forgotten, critical items are,

  • Toiletries
  • Towels
  • Clothes line
  • First Aid Kit (well stocked especially with burn gel)
  • Personal medication
  • Games and reading material (adults and children)
  • Camera
  • Binoculars and bird books
  • Emergency charger such as a “power monkey”
  • Crockery
  • Cutlery
  • Tables and chairs
  • Fire Extinguisher(s)
  • Food and drink
  • Drinking water
  • Refuse bags and refuse container
  • Lighting for the camp and tents
  • Sleeping bags and mattresses

The list is endless but if you want to shrug the city and the stress of the office, have the freedom to be yourself and at one with nature …..then go out camping, enjoy the country it has much to offer.

Leave a Comment