Let me start by saying, there are so many different ways to camp, and whichever way works for you is the right way to do it. Camping is a continuum - obviously the less kit you take, the quicker and faster you can travel, but that is rarely my aim. If I were aiming to break some sort of record then I would carry less and be colder and less comfortable. To be honest, I wouldn’t take substantially different kit if I were driving to a campsite, just far more food and cooking kit and probably my changing robe for after a swim.
I almost exclusively wild camp, and while part of what I love about it is stripping back to the camping essentials I am more than happy to carry a few extra little treats and comforts along the way. My absolute favourite is the quick overnight camp - leave the house mid afternoon, walk or cycle somewhere close, camp and be back in time for brunch the next morning. There is something amazing about doing things at odd times of the day, and a quick trip out just because the weather is glorious is a recipe for sunset swims, dawn chats on the beach and just seeing the very start and end of the day.
I rarely camp out more than a couple of nights in a row. This year I am deliberately planning my outdoor adventures so that they bring maximum joy, and at the moment that special sort of wet you get after you’ve put a rainy tent into a bag three mornings in a row does not make me feel joyful. So if I am on a longer tour I would plan to camp for a couple of nights and then spend a night in accommodation to give me the opportunity to eat out, put on a load of washing and dry anything I need to.
Carrying the kit:
If I am cycling and camping I usually take panniers rather than bike packing bags, and if I am walking then I have a really old 60l rucksack that I bought (cough) nearly 30 years ago at university. If I am canoeing, then all bets are off because you can fit so so much stuff into a canoe!
The rest of my packing list can be broken down into four categories of camping essentials:
A lightweight tent (mine sleeps 2/3 so will fit our family, or I can comfortably share with a friend). If you are planning to predominantly cycle then the backpacking specific tents are worth looking into as the poles will pack down into a shorter length.
I use a down sleeping bag, and there is a direct warmth to weight relationship. I use a down bag that is 2/3 season, but I am usually quite warm during the night. I have friends who use a 3/4 season bag all year round in Scotland. This is definitely my number one place where carrying a bit extra will make a massive difference to your comfort.
A lightweight inflatable sleeping mat and pillow (because I am creaky enough that it means I get a lot more sleep if I use it).
To cook with, I carry one lightweight gas stove and a pan between two, a mug and a spork each. And a tiny bottle of washing up liquid and a sponge to clean it.
Given that I usually only camp for one night, or can shop along the way on a tour, food is something that I like to do well. I have tried various types of camping specific ready meals, but to be honest prefer normal food even though it weighs more. For one night I’ll often pre-chop a few veg and put in a bag with oil and spices and seasoning. These can then be quickly fried in the pan, cover with water and boil for a few minutes and then chuck in couscous and leave that to hydrate. But anything you can cook in under 10 minutes in one pan will do!
One of the hardest things to carry is enough water - from experimentation two water bottles on a bike is not quite enough for one night! I try to keep mine full of tap water that I can drink without boiling, and then carry a 2l water bag to fetch water for cooking with. I forgo coffee and tea (because I don’t like carrying milk after one memorable leaking incident) and drink hot chocolate instead, and quite often manage to squeeze in a tin of gin and tonic!
The rules are simple. One set of clothes that you wear for the day, and one for the evening/night (leggings and merino thermals). Warm things (down jacket, wooly hat, gloves), midge net and waterproofs. Fresh socks every morning are a fantastic luxury.
This is where it gets really personal - everyone has different ideas about how much other stuff you should take and what is worth it. There are the wild camping essentials: midge net, smidge, a first aid kit (containing plenty of antihistamine products!), a tool kit, toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper and a trowel, and I always take swimming kit (bikini and a microfibre towel) in a drybag. I also carry a good battery pack for my phone, and headphones in case I can’t sleep. My son rarely goes anywhere without a football. If there is space I’ll also fit in a small knitting project.
For the last couple of years the Dishoom cookbook has featured heavily on my cooking rotation. Akuri (spicy scrambled eggs) are a really firm favourite in our house - and because we have chickens we never run out of eggs.
I am really enjoying exploring music sung by women at the moment - my current earworm is Florence and the Machine - King. And the video is also amazing.
Song Exploder by Hrishikesh Hirway - it’s a great way to discover new music, and there are so so many gems in the archives.