T3's ultimate guide to camping

Become one with the outdoors like Ray Mears with T3's expert guide to camping

camping guide
(Image credit: Josh Hild on Unsplash)

A life under canvas has the whiff of romance, the smell of wood smoke, a sunset over the rolling hills and a crystal clear lake. Indeed, it can be just like that, but without the right gear and basic essentials that weekend getaway to nature will feel more like a 48-hour Tough Mudder. 

Broadly the top tip has to be not going cheap - the popup festival tent, the budget anorak and the poundshop torch are the stuff of which misery, sleeping in the toilet block and hypothermia are made. 

Especially if your destination is anywhere in Europe, and even more so with the beauty spots of the UK, it’s odds on that Weather (with a capital W) will happen, and fairly energetically at that. 

As with all outdoor gear, picking the right gear for your main usage is vital - campsite camping in Kent and wild camping in the Black Mountains need very different toolkits, so don’t go kidding yourself otherwise - and if in doubt, remember the mantra: ‘light is right’...

Under canvas - Tents

Obviously, the most important bit of camping equipment you’ll have, a good tent is a friend for life. Perhaps also obviously, pick one that suits your planned use - enormous steel framed marquees are great for family car camping, useless on the hill, and the same goes in reverse for a geodesic mountain tent. 

Overall though, a 2-3 man mountain or ‘backpacking’ tent will see you right in the vast majority of situations, and can be priced to suit any budget, from a wallet-friendly sub£100 to the best part of a grand. 

For a full rundown of the best tents for every occasion check out T3's guide to the best tents, or place your bets on the Terra Nova Quasar or Big AgnesFly Creek UL 3, either of which will keep you safely under canvas in the worst of UK weather. 

Staying warm - Sleeping bags 

Sleeping bag choice is another contentions area in camping, should you go synthetic, down, and what temperature rating? Well, the full tale of the best sleeping bag is here, but in short, don’t cut corners. Those discount supermarket sleeping bags will be fine for car-camping beside a pub in summer, but anything more extreme will land you cold and miserable. 

For casual summer outings a relatively lightweight synthetic bag will be the best all-round choice, as it will shrug off light showers, spilled drinks and general carelessness with ease. However, if you’ve a hankering for outdoor life in early spring or late autumn then spring for a proper 4 season bag, as you’re going to need to learn how to sleep in down bags by not getting them wet in summer, before trying it for real in winter. 

Made for walking - Boots

Decent walking boots are the professional’s choice, and even with the bewildering number on the market, picking a winning pair is a simple task - choose the ones that fit best. 

For summer walking, lighter synthetic boots will be more comfortable, while 3-4 season boots will be heavier, stiffer and potentially offer crampon attachment points. Fitting the more flexible summer boots can be an easier process, and innovations like the bespoke-thermo formed Tecnica Forge make finding that essential comfort fit even easier. 

That’s not a (camping) Knife...

Camping knives fall into two main groups - the steady but actually very useful Swiss army knife (by Victorinox of course), and the make-like Rambo survivalist weaponry. The latter might be useful for skinning bears and constructing deadfall traps, but in most modern camping scenarios are a bit overkill, and they’re terrible at opening Vin Rouge too. If you must go for a blade that’ll get you kicked off the plane, check out Zero Tolerance’s range of excessively robust folding knives, or go old-school and get a Bowie.  

Some like it hot - Camping stoves

Like knives, camping stoves fall into two main groups - gas or liquid fuel. Unless you’re headed to the Karakoram then gas is your easiest bet, as well as being lighter and smaller. Gas stoves range from the table top car camping variety to ultralight titanium numbers smaller than your thumb, depending on what you’re cooking, and for how many. 

A classic and agelessly popular choice for general camping is the MSR Pocket Rocket, light enough to take hiking but powerful enough to burn bacon at the campsite, while more sophisticated ‘systems’ involving heat exchange baffles from Primus (and MSR) are better choices for longer term cook-ups. 

See and be seen - Torches

Although it’s tempting to select a hand-cannon of a torch boasting 400 million lumens, these are really only useful for security guards and police from ITV cop dramas - because you want your hands free to faff with the stove, read the map/a book, or simply enjoy eating. Headtorches are the answer, and there are plenty of options: just check out our guide to the best head torches for our current faves. 

Staying dry - Waterproof jackets 

There’s oceans of choice on the waterproof front, from a cheap and cheerful Regatta cagoule to the exalted heights of Arc’teryx gear. The main differences in price are down to the materials – non-breathable plastic macs tend to be cheaper, but sweatier if you’re on the move. Higher end GoreTex Proshell and the equally – if not more – breathable eVent offerings go head to head with Pertex Shield + contenders. They’re all highly rain-resistant, but weight varies widely, as does cut and robustness, so choose wisely for your activity!

Pitch your tent - the best UK campsites

Camping in the UK – and specifically campsites in the UK – are a broad church, spanning everything from little England caravan parks to all-but-wild camping on moorland, and everything in between. These top nine campsites are all little gems in completely different ways, and dotted around the country for good measure.

Mark Mayne

Mark Mayne has been covering tech, gadgets and outdoor innovation for longer than he can remember. A keen climber, mountaineer and scuba diver, he is also a dedicated weather enthusiast and flapjack consumption expert.