Over the years I’ve been trying to get my camping experience aligned with the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. Thankfully, there has been a wave of exciting new gear hit the market that has helped as well and made the whole camping gig easier and more comfortable.
The canvas tent has been replaced with a swag or rooftop tent and a 12V fridge took over from the ice-filled esky. Instant coffee no longer lives in the pantry and rarely do I have to worry about battery power anymore as the AGM has been given the boot. Here are a few other things that have changed the camping landscape, for me at least, and I reckon they’ll help you too.
1. SELF-SUPPORTING AWNINGS
I hate pegs! The same goes for guy ropes! Sick of trying to hammer a weak metal spike into rock hard ground and tripping over hard to see ropes at night. Thankfully the self-supporting awning was developed and has exploded onto the market with different versions wherever you turn. Yes, you pay a bit more for them than one with poles and pegs, but boy are they worth it.
These days the 270-degree self-supporting awning has built-in LED lights or has a fold-out section on the front that increases the weather protection. The wingspan has grown too, providing even more shelter for your swag or a place to sit and relax. Most have provision for walls and even for aftermarket tents to attach, perfect for a young family. This style of awning has now morphed from being a great solution for your 4WD to also being the perfect addition to your camper trailer, with a few manufacturers seeing the benefits of self-supporting 270-degree awnings.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some situations when an inbuilt leg needs to be dropped and the hidden ropes need to be utilised, especially when it’s windy or raining. Thankfully these occasions are often few and far in between and I’ve been four months on the road without ever having had to use the leg or ropes.
2. PORTABLE FIRE PITS
Gone are the days when you can light a campfire wherever you want, well in many campsites and caravan parks at least. This is why portable fire pits were developed as they keep the fire off the ground and provided a great cooking source and a way of keeping warm in cool climates.
Portable fire pits have become lighter and more compact with the development of stainless-steel designs like the Darche BBQ 450 and the Red Roads Blaze-n-BBQ Fire Pit. They come complete with base plate support and stainless grills that are adjustable and easily removed. Another great addition is the Red Roads Riser that lifts the fire higher which provides improved warming capabilities, a cooking surface at a better level and a good gap above the ground that means there is no heat at all to damage grass.
I’ve been using the Red Roads unit for a while now and love its portability and simplicity. I decided to pay a bit extra for a zip-up canvas carry bag that keeps the aromas inside the bag and doesn’t stink out the inside of the Prado. Being able to set it up within minutes and have the redgum logs or charcoal lumps crackling away is what camping is all about. Even caravan park owners have been impressed with how high the firepit sits when using the riser and not having to bend over to turn the steak and veggies saves my back.
3. 12VOLT OVENS
My first 12V oven was purchased from Dick Smith and did a great job of heating pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs, and casseroles, however, it was difficult to get a crispy crust and rotating food was challenging within the small space. The temperature wasn’t adjustable either, once you plugged it into a 12V socket it was on and heated up quickly. There was always a chance you’d burn yourself if you weren’t careful.
A mate in the industry then suggested I check out the Travel Buddy range and it wasn’t long before I purchased the Travel Buddy Marine 12V oven for the camper trailer. Manufactured by a small family business in Bendigo, I couldn’t believe what this oven could do. Being the larger of the two ovens, it can easily handle enough pies and sausage rolls to feed a family, complete with crispy crusts. Reheating casseroles is a breeze with the adjustable temperature control and cooking a small roast, including the vegetables was a game-changer.
PS: The Travel Buddy now lives happily in the Prado
4. CAMPING APPS
Crowdsourcing has revolutionised camping apps which is great because users get to see the most up to date information on each campsite, caravan park or farm stay. The tip is to take written reviews with a grain of salt as some contributors may have had a bad day and taken it out in the app.
The best camping apps are the ones that provide the same information when you’re out of mobile range as when you’re online. Our CamperX app is a great example of this as once you’ve installed the offline maps (this must be done when you are online), the app shows the campsite name, address, contact details, GPS coordinates, description, facilities, and interests and most importantly, reviews.
The Hema 4x4 Explorer app is similar, but it uses the free Hema Touring Maps that includes offline maps once installed. WikiCamps is another good example of this as you can still find a campsite and view the description, GPS coordinates plus the features and facilities when offline.
5. INSTANT HOT WATER
Being able to add an aftermarket on-demand hot water service to your camper trailer or even your 4WD, is a winning solution. Being able to wash the dishes with instantaneous, temperature-controlled hot water or enjoy a steaming hot shower after a long day on the road or a day on the beach, is now as easy camping as it is at home.
I’m talking about units like the Joolca Hottap, an item that was included in my camper trailer build from the beginning and never regretted. The Joolca Hottap can be hard mounted to any flat surface or in its stand. Connection to the LPG bottles was simple thanks to the bayonet fitting and the water inlet hose was connected to a tap and the water moved via a 12V pump connected to one of the water tanks or switched so it would pump from a watercourse such as a creek or a river.
The water temperature was easily set, and a D Cell battery powered the gauge and the ignition. A shower head on a long outlet hose included an on/off switch to control the flow. Other brands include Smarttek, commonly found in many camper trailers or the 12V/240V Duetto 10L water heater commonly installed in Troopy builds and camper van conversions.
6. FAST BOIL STOVES EQUALS FRESH COFFEE
Boiling water within 100 seconds is another game-changer. No need for a thermos or boiling the billy on the fire or gas stove, these compact units are lightweight, and they pack down into themselves meaning they take up very little space. JetBoil is the most common brand, and I never leave home without my JetBoil Flash 1L Hiking Stove, but there are others such as the MSR Windburner 1L Stove System and the Campmaster Butane Hiking Stove.
Boiling water in less than 2 minutes is next level
The benefit of such superfast boiled water means that the start of the day is even better, especially with a cup of your favourite freshly brewed coffee. I’m talking freshly ground from the beans of your choice or an expresso blend.
Campmaster Butane Hiking Stove
MSR 1L Windboiler
JetBoil has a Grande Silicone Coffee Press that works with their MiniMo and Sumo stoves, but I prefer to use the Wacaco Minipresso GR Espresso Machine with my preferred blend. Again, it is a compact and lightweight kit that packs into itself but is simple to use and capable of producing up to 50ml of expresso. Friends of mine from YouTube, Chris and Ange from The Outfit, enjoy using their pour-over drip filters that they source online from The Gums Coffee Co. but you can also buy the drip bags on Amazon or eBay.
The Gums pour-over drip filters are another great option
7. SMART BMS
Installing an intelligent Battery Management System (BMS) will revolutionise the way you operate your accessories. For a comprehensive solution, you only need to look as far as state-of-the-art systems such as the Redarc Manager 30 with RedVision, the Projecta Intelli RV range and Enerdrive System as examples. These units provide charge and maintain all types of auxiliary batteries via AC, DC and solar inputs and are suitable for your 4WD or camper.
Most of your accessories can be powered from these units; lights, power, MPPT solar input, DCDC input, batteries, water pumps and even your water tanks. High power draw items like an inverter, air-compressor, coffee machine or airfryer may have to be connected directly to your auxiliary battery as the BMS may not be able to handle this type of gear.
The Redarc Manager 30 is an extremely intelligent Battery Monitoring System
Everything is then controlled via the head unit or an app on your smartphone. Each of these BMS systems provides a staggering amount of information too; state of charge of each battery, amps being used, time until your battery runs out of charge, water tank levels, external and battery temperatures and method of input charge.
8. LITHIUM BATTERIES
Lithium batteries for your camper or 4WD are a real game-changer, albeit a bit pricey. LiFeP04 lithium batteries are three times lighter, charge much faster and discharge longer and slower than the batteries already discussed. They also have more usable power with almost 100% available, compared to only 50% with lead-acid and AGM batteries and discharging to these low levels doesn’t affect its lifespan. Under load, a LiFePO4 battery discharges while maintaining a high voltage until it reaches about 95% Depth of Discharge.
The batteries also contain an internal BMS that protects and manages the Lithium battery cells. It limits the peak voltage of each cell during charging and prevents the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. It also monitors the temperature, charge and discharge rates of the battery, preventing extremes during charging and discharging. The BMS will cut the power supply once the battery voltage drops below its low voltage cut-off, which for a 12V battery will typically be near 10V.
As lithium batteries are fully sealed, they can be installed anywhere, except, at this stage, the hot engine bay. They can also be mounted on their side or their end meaning they can be hidden away in tight spaces. Having installed lithium batteries in my Prado and my camper, I believe once you try lithium, you’ll never go back.
9. DRINKING WATER ON THE GO
Without water, you will be dead within three days. Finding fresh drinking water when Overlanding can be difficult. Knowing whether drinking water is safe to drink is another dilemma. While I always carry water purification tablets and can boil water when I don’t know its quality, some solutions guarantee that the water source you are drinking from is safe and clean.
The Katadyn Base Camp reliably filters bacteria, cysts and sediment
The Guzzle H2O Stream has recently been introduced to the Australian market and I’ve been lucky enough to carry one on recent trips. This portable unit is simple and easy to use and is a portable, push-button drinking water solution. It can pump, filter and purify water, from any freshwater source. It’s also effective in silty water with a one-micron pre-filter. The unit is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery and the carbon block is usable for up to 3785 litres.
There are also other forms of portable equipment that can be used in emergencies to convert dodgy water into drinkable water. Life straws, Katadyn bags and other water filtration devices are all compact tools that can turn bad water into good.