How to get into camping & backpacking – An everyman’s guide

Are you looking at friends / people camping on social media and wanted to try it yourself? Or do you just want to pick up a life skill that helps you be more organized / self-sufficient? If the answer to any question above is Yes, this guide might just be for you. This is an everyman’s guide because Dalek threw himself into camping for a month across Scotland with little prior experience & is now a fairly seasoned budget camper. All pictures below are from that trip (top 5 backpacker campsites in Scotland)

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A reflective Loch Tummel, Perthshire, Scotland

Why camp & backpack?

  • The cheapest form of paid accommodation & only slightly more expensive than Couchsurfing (which is free). The average campsite in Scotland charges £7 per person per night for backpackers.
  •  Backpackers at campsites *almost* always welcome / can walk in. (Invercaimbe campsite was the exception). Note that camping with a car always needs reservations.
  • The experience makes you a more practical person – you time-manage to be able to pack up your gear into a backpack before catching your bus / train, you organise different parts of your bag to hold different gear and, most importantly, you truly understand the importance of laundry and washing machines.
  • The views – some of the views from campsites are simply unbelievable and place you square at the lap of nature. Unlike traditional accommodation, you can pitch your tent in a way that ocean views / mountain views are just a tent door lift away!

It’s all about the gear

You’ll hear / read this everywhere you look on the internet but when you do see the recommended gear suggested by the author, you more often than not see tents > $/£150 which is fairly expensive for the budget conscious person. There is a simple mathematical equation governing price of camping gear

Price of camping gear ∝ how light the gear is

If you’re starting out as a casual camper, we recommend the budget camping gear we bought ourselves that we’ve tried & tested. Our camping gear is optimized for comfort and we’ll provide Amazon US & UK links where possible (everything costs less than £100)

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All gear listed below packs down to this

Tent: Coleman Cobra 2 person tent (for 1 person)

If you want to optimize for comfort, you’re better off buying a 2 person tent for 1 person (and a 3 person tent for 2 people). That gives you more than enough space to keep most of the gear inside keeping them 100% safe from the elements.

Bearing this in mind, our recommendation is buying the Coleman Cobra 2 tent (pictured in all pics) or its new model Aravis. The brand isn’t available on Amazon US seemingly.

Coleman Cobra Two Person UK | Coleman Cobra Three Person UK

Coleman Aravis Two Person UK | Coleman Aravis Three Person UK

Pros

  • For a single person, the tent is super comfy and it is a snug fit for a couple.
  • It weighs 2.2 kg and packs into about 1/6th of our 65L backpack.
  • It has been in the wind & rain of Scotland & Lake District and has passed the weather test with flying colours.

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    When it’s raining heavily outside, watch Sherlock!

  • Once you practice packing / unpacking 2-3 times, it takes only 10 minutes for doing either of it in subsequent runs.

Cons

  • Pitching the tent taut can be a challenge when starting out causing flappy flag type sounds on windy nights.
  • Condensation does happen inside when cold & wet outside.

Note: The 3 person tent (bought by our friends & camping partners Shankita over at 22 Nelson Street) is larger than a Central London / NYC flat and doubles as party central when the 4 of us are out camping.

Sleeping bag: Coleman Hudson

This is definitely in the heavier end of the sleeping bag spectrum but boy is it comfortable. We have both the 1-person and the 2-person version of this and the latter is perfect for weekends out as a couple even in the snug 2-person tent. It got fairly cold at some points of Dalek’s trip but the sleeping bag kept him snug. This is where we’d recommend spending more money to reduce the weight / space used.

Coleman Hudson Single – UK | Coleman Hudson Double – UK

Sleeping foil mat: Mountain Warehouse

We learnt this lesson the hard way (by catching a severe cold) that no matter how warm your sleeping bag is, the ground is ice-cold at nighttime and have a mat under the sleeping bag is A MUST. A fairly cheap buy.

Mountain Warehouse Foil Mat UK

Backpack: Yellowstone Edinburgh 65L backpack

The final piece of the puzzle is a large & sturdy backpack that you can live out of for a weekend, week or month. This backpack has a fair number of compartments to organize stuff and can lift a fairly heavy load (albeit not giving the best posture).

Yellowstone rucksack UK

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Sunshine at a Fort Augustus campsite

Water bottle: Lifestraw

Though fairly expensive, this remarkable water bottle ensures you never go thirsty in nature as you can just fill up water from a running stream or a waterfall and drink the purest & tastiest water you’ve ever had.

LifeStraw – UK | LifeStraw – US

This waterfall has the tastiest water that Dalek drank using the Lifestraw. So pure.

Battery pack: iMuto 20000 mAh Battery Pack

Super important to keep your phone charged, this one battery pack charges our LG smartphones 5 times in fast charge and 10 times in slow charge. In cafes, restaurants & hostels the priority is to keep this charged fully which takes the whole night.

iMuto Battery – UK | iMuto Battery – US

Optional: Alpkit stove & a set of pans

Dalek didn’t cook in the month long camping trip opting to buy & eat UK store meal deals. But we bought this super light Alpkit Kraku burner and a set of camping pans before our next trip and even cooked burgers! Highly recommend.

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Trusty tent in service at Aberlour, Speyside

Optional: Swiss army knife

Yoda gifted Dalek this knife after the long camping trip ended & this has been a companion ever since. Generally useful to have one but not really used on a daily basis.

Victorinox Spartan UK | Victorinox Spartan US

Packing essentials

These were the most important items that were bought & packed by Yoda before the trip which proved priceless over the long camping trip.

  • Basic first-aid kit (add rehydration salts to it, they’re super useful)
  • Small bottle of laundry detergent for machine use
  • Extra tent pegs & cords. A hammer to use for the pegs
  • Microfiber towel
  • Many extra socks & underwear
  • Energy bars and high-energy foods like nuts / trail mix
  • Extra USB cables
  • Extra cheap lighters or a couple of really good lighters for cooking
  • Campsite electricity plug
  • Midge spray in Scotland(we prefer Smidge)
  • Antibacterial wipes to keep your tent & shoes smelling good, some dry paper towels packed in a sealable bag
  • Deodorant spray (can cheekily double up as a room freshener)
  • Cosmetic kit – small sachets / tubes for shampoo, moisturiser, shaving cream, conditioner, sanitary pads. A mirror-comb combination is useful as campsite toilet mirrors are heavily used.

Clothing

Pack light clothes that fold well and make sure they get washed once a week in the worst case. As mentioned earlier, extra socks & underwear a must. Buy shoes that you’ll be comfortable walking in for prolonged periods with weight on your back.

Where to camp?

A country with a camping culture generally has a lot of campsites to choose from. Scotland, Norway (both countries allow wild camping), Switzerland & Iceland are some of the best in Europe with many campsites located close to public transport. US has a number of great campsites too but you need to drive to them.

Tell us your thoughts

Are you a seasoned camper who’d like to school us about our gear? Or do you have any questions related to camping for the 1st time already not answered above? Drop a comment below & we’ll be happy to talk to you.

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5 thoughts on “How to get into camping & backpacking – An everyman’s guide

  1. mistynites says:

    Oh how I miss going camping in Scotland! Never used a campsite though, always hiked into nature and wild camped anywhere flat before hiking out. I miss freedom camping which in NZ just isn’t the same and often isn’t allowed.
    I recommend always using dry bags when hiking & have 1 for my sleeping bag, and 2 for clothes which I divide. The clothes bag works great as a pillow if you don’t want to carry an actual pillow (I personally can’t sleep in sleeping bags without my head propped up a little). I cannot recommend a ground mat enough and personally love my Thermarest which self inflates. I had an awesome stove in Scotland but discovered it wasn’t universal when I moved to NZ so sadly had to replace it. Annoyingly I broke the handle on my camping pot in March whilst I was away hiking. Can’t find a similar replacement for it here which is a bugger. Love camping 🙂
    Oh and on a side note: it is possible to get a well stocked first aid kit that’s compact and light (Mine is Lifesystems Adventurer). The one piece of equipment you hope you never need but should always carry. I recommend a range of dressing sizes, scissors, wipes, safety pins, gloves, iodine and a small whistle and emergency blanket are my other must-haves aside from the usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yodandalek says:

      Hello mistynites and thanks for an extensive & useful insight into your camping experiences! We haven’t worked up the courage to wild camp yet because we quite recently got the cooking equipment. May we ask why your stove is non-universal, are cartidges not universal? Supberb first aid kit recommendation, we made our own with quite a few of the items you mention ☺ Excited for camping this summer!! (are you enjoying winter now?)

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistynites says:

        I assumed all stoves were the same worldwide but when I bought gas with the same looking connection it didn’t fit. So I took my stove into the camping shop and none of the gas canisters fitted so new stove it was.
        Hope you enjoy a summer full of camping. By all accounts May has been a sunny month for Scotland so hope the good weather continues for you.
        Yes, winter is just a few days away and it’s generally cold and dark here. I don’t go hiking in the winter, too dangerous.

        Liked by 1 person

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