Camping. Not the ideal activity for some people, myself included. As much as I enjoy nature, I’m terrified of bugs (or creepy crawlies), afraid of the dark, and I don’t like the feeling of being muddy and dirty in general. Otherwise, my camping experience as a child and as an adult were fun, overall.
Some of my readers and followers may recall that I had completed the Gold Level Award of the Duke of Edinburgh Award three years ago (but received the brooch two years ago). In 2013, I had written two blog posts on the Duke of Edinburgh International Award – a Q&A and a list of my regrets (which I hope will be read as tips for those working on or thinking of doing the Duke of Ed). Before summer is officially over for those under 25, I would like to share my experience and my tips for camping for fellow ladies who do not love camping. Please note that this is not a post on glamping!
For my Adventure section, I chose to do a canoeing expedition not too far from Mainland Vancouver.
Since I was joining an organisation, the majority of the gear, food, and other essentials were provided by them. These included:
- Grill, propane
- Portable BBQ
- First Aid & other necessities (incl. gauze, plasters, iodine, sanitary pads, antiseptic wipes, emergency blanket, disposable gloves, fire starter)
- Insect repellent (with Deet, the kind that is not good for your skin)
- Hand sanitizer & biodegradable liquid soap
- Bowls, plates, cups, cutlery
- Shared kitchen tarp & ropes
- Water container (we refilled at water fountains whenever we reached busy campsites)
- 10-20L dry bags, including one for rubbish
- Torch (large flashlight)
- Gas lighter
Our expedition was 4 days and 3 nights long (I had already done my practise trip the weekend before) and involved camping in three different locations each day. As someone who’s somewhat afraid of water (I can’t swim well and I always imagine some frightening creature swimming below…), this was a good experience in helping me conquer my fear of water heights. Luckily, our canoe never capsized. I had fun pretending to be a hobbit on a Lord of the Rings quest, Disney’s Pocahontas on her river bend journey, and one of the French Canadian voyageurs from the Hudson Bay Company days in the 17th Century!
I also learned that having a bathroom and using a flushing toilet is an absolutely luxury. One of our campsites did not have an outdoor toilet…
What I recommend to pack
- Large backpack/rucksack: You’ll need to pack everything into something and it certainly won’t be a luggage or your weekender carry-on bag! If you don’t have one, borrow this from someone.
- Sun Cream: Spray or lotion, choose something with maximum coverage and something you’ll like enough to reapply. Even better: find a sun cream that doubles as an insect repellent too!
- Summer bucket hat or baseball cap: Whatever you choose, make sure it covers the top of your head and face to protect yourself from the heat and glare of the sun. Since I had to wear my glasses, I left my sunglasses at home and used the baseball cap to protect my eyes.
- Insect repellent: This is a must! You probably can’t pack an electrical racket to zap those little blood suckers or skin biters (don’t talk to me about whether this is ethical or not) so it will have to be something you spray or apply on your skin. Don’t bother with Deet sprays that go on your clothes. They do absolutely nothing except leave white marks on your clothes. Moreover, these itch givers will sting you through your clothes. I didn’t find the Off! Family Care Insect Repellent Botanicals lotion until long after my camping trip. If you’re not in Canada, look for a natural insect repellant lotion, something with citrus, eucalyptus, lavender, or peppermint.
- Pack or two of biodegradable face wipes or baby wipes: The latter is cheaper and gentle on skin. Each pack comes with about 15-25 wipes so it should last for duration of the short trip. Since you will not be showering, these will be great for wiping the grime off your face and body. If they’re biodegradable, you will feel better about not harming the environment. 😛 I also chose to use wipes rather than bring a towel.
- Dry shampoo: You won’t be showering so why not soak up the oil on your scalp. I recommend Klorane’s Oat Milk but if there’s a cheaper and better dry shampoo, go for it. By the way, I used the entire travel-size Klorane can in 2 days… i.e. not much in that can.
- Tea tree oil: Bring a small jar for you to apply before you go outside and to soothe any insect bites.
- Smartphone and external battery: Your smartphone will be useful as a navigator to get you to and from the starting and ending point of your camping trip. Maybe you might even have to call someone. Since you won’t be able to charge your phone anywhere whilst camping, the external battery will ensure that you can still use your phone at the end of your trip. I recommend turning off your phone for the duration of your trip.
- Zip-Loc bag: Keep electronics dry in these bags!
- Camera: If you don’t have a camera, use your smartphone for photos. You can either draw or add photos to your final report for the Duke of Ed Award, but photos will remind you of your adventure.
- Small notebook & pen(cil): Take notes whenever you have a free moment to remember all that you’ve done. You will need these notes for your report.
- Lip balm: No one likes the feeling of cracked lips. Find something with SPF to protect those lips!
- Toothbrush & toothpaste: I brought Lush’s toothy tabs. All you need to do is chew the tablet to make it foam once it comes into contact with water. (By the way, cleaning one’s teeth wasn’t easy while camping. Spitting into the ground felt so rude.)
- 1L Water bottle: I bought a foldable water bottle because I thought it would be much lighter once I had finished drinking. The downside is that I couldn’t stick it in the bottle pocket of my backpack when full. Some like to use the Brita Fill&Go Water Filter Bottle. Another choice is the Onever BPA-free Silicone Folding Sport Water Bottle.
- Small mirror: You never know if you’ll get something in your eyes!
- Sanitary pads & sanitary bags: Aunt Flo can come at the worst time. Just make sure the pads are in the sanitary bags before you throw it in a rubbish bag.
- Rain jacket (Gore-tex or fully waterproof): This was the most expensive item I had to buy because I didn’t have a waist/hip-length jacket. Not only will this keep you from being wet, it’s a great windbreaker for those cold nights.
- Rain trousers (waterproof fabric): If your activity requires you to be near water, this will keep your legs dry.
- Warm trousers (fleece or wool, NO COTTON): I chose insulated leggings as my pyjama bottoms to keep me warm.
- Warm jumper (fleece or wool, NO COTTON): This will be good at night and can also serve as a somewhat comfy pillow.
- Long-sleeve shirt: Remember, it can get cold at night.
- Long trousers: I packed my ¾ stretchy capris to wear under my rain trousers.
- Socks: I didn’t bring my trainers but it’s still a good idea to have a pair for bed time.
- Panties: I brought disposable or ‘old’ cotton pairs that I was ready to throw out. I believe the disposable pairs are supposed to be biodegradable but if you’re ever unsure, put this in a rubbish bag, then throw the bag into a bin (rather than drop it down the outdoor toilet chute).
- T-shirts / short-sleeve tops: I believe I packed two, one for two days.
- Shorts: I didn’t have a pair and I don’t think I needed one as that would have invited the thirsty vampires to feast on my legs.
- Footwear (sandals, short wellies, water shoes, old trainers, etc.): The organisation I joined recommended bringing two pairs: one for going on the canoe, another for when we’re resting on land. I thought about this one for a long time before settling on wearing just my ballerina Crocs. These are very comfortable and easy to clean (in the lake, river, or with wipes). I’d worn them in parks, at the beach, and even for short hikes. The grip was not as great but as long as I was careful with my steps, I never fell or slid. (By the way ladies, I don’t think other jelly shoes would fare as well…)
- Sleeping bag (nothing rated +7 or higher as it can get cold at night): If you don’t own one, borrow one from your friends.
- Sleeping pad (therma-rest or blue foam mat): This will help your back just a little. Better than not having one!
- Tent: If you don’t own one, borrow one from your friends. Hopefully it’s easy to set up!
- Tarp: This is what goes under the tent and will keep your ‘indoors’ dry.
- Travel pillow: I didn’t pack one but if you have chronic neck and back pain, I wouldn’t sacrifice comfort. How else will you be able to paddle a canoe or boat at your best?
Just remember to travel as light as possible! Even if you’re commuting by canoe, don’t forget you’ll have to wear that huge backpack when you’re off the canoe!
Leave these at home…
- Hair dryer, hair curler, straightener: There will not be any electrical outlets in the wilderness. Don’t even bring the non-wire portable kinds. (I was surprised to hear this one from our guide but people have brought them before!)
- Valuables: Leave your necklaces, rings, earrings, etc. at home. Wouldn’t want to lose them!
- Makeup: This one’s tempting and I really wanted to bring my Deja Vu False Lashes Fiber Lashes with me but what’s the point? If appearances do matter, then I suggest getting false lashes before your trip.
- Perfume: We all stink. Perfume won’t mask anything. But you can bring deodorant if you want (still won’t make anything).
- Skinny jeans: You will hate the feeling of jeans stuck to your skin. I’m not sure if baggy jeans will be a good idea either…
- Contact lenses: This bothered me most because I would rather have worn contact lenses than wear glasses that I would have had to push up my nose and clean with a cloth. Unfortunately, it’s so important to keep your hands clean when applying contact lenses. I did bring a pair of dailies with me for my last day so that I could apply them in a public WC (with mirrors and sinks).
Looking photogenic like The Duchess of Cambridge
This one’s going to be funny for the friends and readers who think we’re uber silly for being superficial but… why not throw in some ‘glamour’ in something so wild?
- Get eyebrows waxed or threaded
- Get false lashes or bring an eyelash curler
- Wear a colour-tinted lip balm
At the end of the day, if you feel better about the way you’ll look in photos, why not? The truth is, you’ll be so busy and exhausted from camping that you won’t even care about the way you look after day 1. It’s ok because we’ll all smell and look like cavemen and cavewomen. 🙂