The ultimate packing guide for camping + a few hacks to make it a smoother weekend

2020-01-20 13:07 - Anje Rautenbach
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South Africans are known for their love for road trips, the outdoors, getting down and dirty and off the grid. And while a comfortable bed, clean white linen and private showers are at the top of the list for a lot of travellers, it is impossible to ignore the popularity of camping in South Africa.

READ: Camping Season is open: Here is where you can pitch your tent 

You either love it or hate it and by the looks of Statistics South Africa’s key findings for tourist accommodation, June 2017, it seems that the love for camping is a lot stronger than the hate.

The types of accommodation that recorded positive year-on-year growth in income from accommodation were:

  • caravan parks and camping sites (21,8%);
  • 'other' accommodation (7,9%); and
  • hotels (2,6%).

Camping is the way to go in South Africa. Not only can it be the more cost-effective and affordable option, but it also allows you a lot of mobility whether you do it in a tent with patches of duct tape, a caravan that’s been passed along from generation to generation or you just got kitted out with the latest equipment.

Sounds like fun, but don’t know where to you start when your packing list is not just about the essentials of a toothbrush and clothes anymore?

Fear not. The totality of packing for a camping trip is not as elaborate as all the camping items you’ll find in an outdoor store; you definitely don’t need all the gadgets and latest gimmicks and it is always best to keep it simple and use what you have before you go and wreck a credit card before you’ve even pitched your tent.

Camping Packing List: Hits, misses and hacks

PICS: AfriCamps is opening its first KZN glamping spot - and wow! 

Your home away from home


You know those tents you always see on a special in the newspaper? Don’t think just because it’s cheap that it will be bad and only last one night. It is perfect, especially if you’re still testing the camping waters and going on short camping trips. Don’t forget all the pegs, poles and ropes that go with your tent.

Hack: Use a breathable ground sheet to keep most of the dirt out.


Test your mattress before you buy your mattress; go to an outdoor store, get on your back on the mattress and get a feel for it. Nothing makes a camping trip as unpleasant as waking up with a stiff back. Don’t forget to pack the pump, blowing up a mattress is not for the faint-hearted.

Hack: Line your tent’s floor with foam floor tiles or even those old school thin blue mattresses, this can help to beat the cold (especially if you’re camping in winter).

Sleeping Bag

Down feather sleeping bags are incredible and yes, lightweight, but you’re not going to camp at Everest Base Camp so purchase one that is within your budget and temperature range.

Hack: If you want to share your sleeping bag with your significant other simply get two of the same sleeping bags (not the mummy-shaped ones) and zip it together. To keep your sleeping bag cleaner for longer get yourself (or make one) a sleeping bag liner to put inside.

Miss: Skip the camping pillow; treat yourself to a pillow from home for more comfort.

Camping chairs Get foldable camping chairs.

Hack: Alternatively, use crates as containers for all your gear/clothes and also use it as a chair/table.

Foldable camping table

Some camp sites will have picnic tables with benches, but if you pack a table, keep it small.

SEE: Winter Walking Safaris: Kwandwe offers new fly camping + three others to try around SA 

Your personal essentials:

Clothes and toiletries, don’t forget your towel. A good rule of thumb for when you’re packing clothes is: “Een aan die bas, een in die kas, een in die was,” it translates to having 3 pairs of clothes, one on your body, one in the closet and one in the wash.

Get cookin’

Braai essentials

Pack a grid, tongs, your braai spices and a braai-resistant pot to keep the food warm on the fire. Don’t forget about the braai wood and some sort of fire starter.

Hack: Clean your grid with half a lemon or half an onion.

Miss: Unless you’re on Survivor or really out in the wild, you won’t need a magnesium strip to start a fire.

Gas stove etc.

Get a gas stove that will work for the number of people you’re catering for. Small hiking stoves can be great for up to two people, but will most likely need specialised (or rather small) pots and pans. If purchasing a big gas bottle plus its cooker top is not in your budget, opt for a single plate stove (such as Alva) that takes a gas cartridge and use a lightweight non-stick pan from home. Don’t forget to pack a kettle to boil water.

Hack: Don’t go without good coffee while camping;  get an areopress, pack a coffee plunger or a Moka Pot. Coffee filters can also be used like a tea bag (tie it together with dental floss), or get a reusable coffee filter and if you have nothing: use a handkerchief or a sock.

Utensils and more

Pack your plates, bowls, glasses, mugs and cutlery; enamel works great since it is not plastic and keeps food hotter for longer. Plan your meals before your trip and pack the rest of your kitchen necessities (and food items) accordingly.

Hack: Always pack at least one extra plate and/or bowl for salads or leftovers. Instead of packing a bottle opener and a can opener, get a multi-tool. A roll of tin foil can not only help to store food, but it is perfect for making desserts on the braai.

Miss: Plastic three-in-one cutlery sets.

Cleaning supplies

Pack your dishwashing liquid, sponge and dishwashing towels.

Miss: Foldable kitchen sink; while your facilities will depend on your location, you will find kitchen facilities (even freezers and gas stoves) at most camp sites in South Africa.

Hack: If you’re really roughing it and soap is not readily available, grab a handful of dirt and rub it over greasy plates with a bit of hot water.

ALSO SEE: Mahai, Gariep or Augrabies: 7 Last-minute camping spots to check out across SA 

The things we easily forget

  • Mosquito repellent;
  • Multi-tool;
  • Sunscreen;
  • Gas lamp/battery-or-solar operated lamp/flashlight;
  • Binoculars for the birdwatchers;
  • Camera and all the charging equipment;
  • A small tool kit with the basics of screwdriver, cable ties etc.;
  • Extra rope, some pegs and washing detergent (you never know when you want to do a bit of washing);
  • Hammer (if the soil is too hard for tent pegs);Medical kit with the basics;
  • Extra toilet paper (for when nature calls often);
  • Power supply (a lot of camp sites have power but don’t pitch up with your regular 3-prong plug, it might not work, inquire whether or not you’ll need a get a caravan adapter);
  • Air pump for your mattress.

READ: Keen for a glamping trip in the desert in Dubai? 

The things you’ll most likely never use

Unless the camping conditions are extreme and completely off the grid, you might want to give the following items a skip when buying your camping gear:

  • Foldable plates and mugs;
  • Table cloth clamps (rocks are useful too);
  • Two way radios;A knife sharpener (do it at home);
  • Water purifying tablets (if you’re only camping then chances are good that your water purifying tablets will stay in the packet, closed,  during its 5 year shelf life);
  • Personal straw water filter;
  • Special wallets, travel tubes and pouches (reuse the things you have already);
  • Compass;
  • Floating lighter (just don’t take your lighter for a swim);
  • 18-Piece braai set;
  • and a solar shower (unless you’re doing an African overland trip where there might not be ablution facilities, you will most likely not need it when visiting most camping spots in South Africa).

ALSO SEE: 8 Family-friendly camping spots to check out for a fun bushwhacking experience

The golden rule of camping is…

There is not just one rule.

But keep in mind that most people prefer to camp to escape the rat race, to strip themselves a bit from their everyday comforts and to spend time in nature. Respect your fellow campers (especially when it comes to music and how loud you’re talking) and respect nature.

Anje Rautenbach is the writer behind the blog Going Somewhere Slowly, find her Facebook,Twitter  or on Instagram!

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