Left-of-centre camping tips

By: David Cook, Photography by: David Cook

Feeling like your camping is in a bit of a rut? Let our off-centre tips put the life back into your great outdoors.

Left-of-centre camping tips
Corn chips will burn freely, are easy to light and a handful will start a fire with ease.

Feel like your camping is in a rut? Are there luxuries in your camping world that you’ve lost touch with? Need some inspiration to reignite your love of the great outdoors? Well, do we have some ideas for you.

Camping has inspired an entire industry to churn out a seemingly endless stream of gizmos to ease the burden of the isolation from our daily comforts. Well, that’s what they tell us in the advertising material but, frankly, where’s the fun in shiny new whizz-bang gear that is full of computer chips, transistors, buttons and exotic materials? Isn’t it more enjoyable to solve life’s little problems all by yourself?

Camping can be reinvigorated with a bunch of imagination and a few basic ingredients from around the house. Let us prove it to you.


Even when you’re out in the bush, you still have to present a good face to the world, and that includes keeping the camping threads clean. I don’t mean getting down on your hands and knees at the local waterhole. A couple of clean, cast off industrial buckets and a long handle plumber’s plunger will do the trick just nicely. Use one bucket with detergent to get the dirt out and the other with clean water to rinse out the soap. All you need add is a bit of elbow grease and a clothes line.


When you’re away from immediate assistance, it’s important know first-aid and to carry a comprehensive medical kit to ensure you can assist your family, friends or acquaintances when in need. However, when you stray from your camper into the bush, around a small town or a tourist attraction, you can find yourself in a strange environment unprepared. A small first-aid kit, poked into a pocket, bum bag, backpack or purse could get you out of trouble if you encounter a few minor cuts or abrasions. You can assemble one easily in a small sturdy container. Ours was made from metal box. It carries four Band-Aids, a small bottle of antiseptic, an antiseptic swab, a pair of tweezers, four analgesic tablets and two compressed cloth wipes (add a few drops of water for them to expand into a 22x24cm clean cloth). So there;s no excuse for not being prepared.


You don’t need huge volumes of items such as spices when at home, and even less when camping, so small plastic containers can be quite sufficient to contain all you’ll need. They’re becoming ever harder to find in this digital age, but 35mm film canisters are perfect for the purpose: small, light, airtight and uniform in size and shape. A strip of duct tape provides an easy surface to label each container’s contents.


Carrying a roll of toilet paper is a necessary part of camping, and if the bush is wet or dusty, you want to keep it dry and organised for obvious reasons. A round plastic tub with a lid (we use an old honey container) with a hole cut in the centre makes an ideal container. If it’s a tight fit you might have to remove the cardboard tube from the centre of the roll to allow you to pull the paper up through the outlet, but if you have a little space around it, you can draw your paper from the outer circumference. The yellow lid makes it easy to find in the dark and the handle ensures it’s easy to carry.


A roll of duct tape can be one of the handiest of items around a camp. But if you want to save space in your kitchen drawer, try wrapping a metre or two of duct tape around an item, such as a firelighter, so that it’s there when you need it without carrying more clutter than you need.


Head torches and many LED light sources can be harsh and very directional, when what you need around camp is a soft, even light. But if you place that head torch or similarly strong LED light under or behind a white plastic bottle filled with water (an empty milk container is ideal), it will produce a soft, even light that will illuminate a kitchen, table or general area. Best of all, once you’re finished, you can use the water for washing up or for a cup of tea.


A cotton wool ball coated in Vaseline is another guaranteed fire starter. Rub the petroleum jelly into the cotton wool ball and wrap it in aluminium foil. You can prepare these at home before you leave and drop them into a bottle or plastic bag. Unwrap the foil and light, the smeared cotton will continue to burn for up to five to seven minutes, depending on the amount of Vaseline, giving you a good chance of starting a fire even with damp kindling.


An old belt with a few bent wire hooks makes a handy companion around a campfire. The belt can go around any nearby tree and, on the attached hooks, you can hang all those useful fireside tools that you’re going to need for preparing those succulent camping meals.


Another good fire starter is a used tea bag. Keep them in a jar with some methylated spirits in the bottom. Pick one out and drop it into your firewood before starting the fire. The metho-soaked bag will burn easily and with a
very vigorous flame, so if this can’t start your fire, it must be raining heavily.


A wine cask bladder can be a very handy item around camp. Inflate the bladder by blowing air into the open valve and place it into the fridge when you’ve removed some of the contents.

The air will rapidly cool to the internal temperature of the fridge and stay in place whenever you open the fridge, rather than spill out and be replaced by warmer ambient air.

This will save the fridge from having to recool that air volume, saving your batteries in turn.


Running short of kindling or fire starters? Then rescue that bag of corn chips from the kids and save your bacon. Corn chips will burn freely, are easy to light and a handful will start a fire with ease. And the best bit is that once the fire has started, you can nibble on the rest of the packet with your beer or glass of wine.


Is whipping together a few ingredients with a hand whisk too much to ask for your campsite souffle? No problem. If you carry a cordless drill in the camper then that whisk can be turned into a Mixmaster in minutes. You’ll probably need a good-sized chuck, but it can save an awful lot of hard work.

Just try to avoid maximum speed as you will end up with more of the ingredients on the outside of the bowl than inside.

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