I love camping.
Don’t get me wrong, the fact that it is cheap once you have the equipment already is a bonus, but even if I were rich I would still go camping.
It’s that feeling of sitting in a field as a few wispy clouds float overhead.
Sipping a cup of tea or a cold bottle of cider.
Reading, crocheting, seeing my son enjoying the freedom that comes from living temporarily outdoors.
Watching the sun go down and the stars appear, the moon shining down over us as we snuggle into sleeping bags and whisper goodnight to each other.
I love it.
But camping, for me, has had to change. I once went on holiday with my partner at the time – neither of us had a car, so we took our mountain bikes and went on the train. We cycled ten to twenty miles each day with everything we needed for the week stuffed into rucksacks on our backs. It was a one-burner stove, two-man tent, wear the same clothes for most of the week kind of trip, and it was brilliant.
These days I would be liable to dislocate my shoulder wearing a heavy rucksack, and set off muscle spasms in my legs trying to cycle. And as much as my husband would giggle if I repeatedly toppled over into a hedgerow, I’m not sure it would make for a good holiday (or marital harmony!). If I tried to sleep on a thin roll up mat, or sit on the floor to cook, I would be in too much pain to enjoy my time away. So I approach the world in a completely different way to ensure that I don’t miss out – I just do it my way.
There are some things I have discovered/bought/adapted to make camping easier. If you have mobility problems then you might find them helpful, and if you have any tips for things that have worked for you then please let me know!
1) Choose your tent wisely
If you are a wheelchair user, then you need a tent that has wide entrances for your chair, and room inside to sit under cover or stow it when you are sleeping. If you can stand, or you have a carer with you who will be helping you transfer, then a tent with proper standing height is invaluable. Many an aching back will be saved by not needing to stoop over while getting dressed, for example.
Not the ‘final frontier’ kind, but one that coincides with my first tip. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be taking quite a bit of stuff (it’s a technical word!) with you on holiday. From wheelchair to crutches, splints to medication, it all takes up space. In a two-man pop-up style tent there is barely any room to store anything, as the only floorspace is your sleeping area. I have found that it is worth finding a tent with a living area, so that I can keep all my stuff, but particularly the medical equipment, safe and dry.
3) Lock box
If you carry a lot of strong medication, especially if you are likely to spend a lot of time away from your tent exploring the local area, it may be worth getting a small lock box to ensure that your medication is safe.
4) Cooker stand
Sitting on cold ground, or crouching over a cooker on the floor is fine if you’re fit and well, but if that’s difficult for you then a cooker stand makes life so much easier. It makes cooking safer too – I know I once managed to set fire to the grass by using a cooker on the floor. Shhh, don’t tell anyone! There are various styles at different prices. My basic one is a bit of a pain to put up and fold down, but it was cheap and folds flat for easy transportation.
5) Contact the site (ground, access to toilet block, parking near tent)
Some sites will claim to have disabled access, but then have a step to the bathroom, or gravel paths which limit your ability to get around the site independently. On the other hand, my favourite site doesn’t claim to provide disabled access, but I contacted them before our first visit. They quickly told me that there are some uneven paths (which my powerchair can cope with), but there is level access into one of the toilet and shower blocks, a stool to use in the shower, plus they offered to let me charge my powerchair in one of their buildings overnight as we didn’t have an electric hook up at the time.
You may find that some sites suit you but wouldn’t suit a person with different needs, and there are friendly campsite owners out there who are willing to work with you to ensure you can enjoy your holiday, so it’s definitely worth sending an email or making a call before you go.
So, I mentioned that when we first planned to camp with my powerchair we didn’t have an electric hook up cable. We have since bought one, and it is so useful. We pay a few extra pounds per night (it varies from place to place) and I can charge my chair any time. For a short stay it’s not essential, but when we camp for a week at a time, and I am using my chair a lot, it makes such difference not to be worrying about running out of battery.
I know a lot of people say that you should leave gadgets at home when you camp but for my son, who has autism, having his tablet to listen to familiar music or play the games he plays at home gives him a great deal of comfort when he’s away from home. It also means I can charge my phone, so if I get my wheelchair stuck in some mud (it wouldn’t be the first time!) then I can ring my husband to come to the rescue!
If you use a grabber at home, take it with you. Reaching down doesn’t get any easier just because it’s outdoors, and any energy you save can be channeled in to having fun!
I admit, I used to have a chuckle to myself when I saw people camping with airbeds, and camp beds. “Use a roll mat!” I thought. Then I reached the point where, when i woke up on the floor, I couldn’t get up without help. If I pull on the tent it’ll rip, and if my husband has gone to refill the water bottles, or is in the shower, then I’ll be staying on that floor. And when I wake up in the morning while camping, I want a cuppa and some bacon ASAP!
Last year I invested in a raised camp bed. The canvas, with a foam roll mat on top, is just the right amount of support for my back. More importantly, I can get up by myself! It’s not as easy as being at home with a bed lever to help, but it’s manageable for a short holiday.
9) Head torch
We’ve all done the dark, quiet walk back to the tent in the evening. You’ve brushed your teeth in the shower block, and you are shivering as you head back to your tent in your pajamas. The problem is, if you use crutches, or a self-propelled wheelchair, it’s almost impossible to move and hold a torch at the same time. I’ve tried clamping it between my knees in my chair, or holding it in my mouth while on crutches, but it’s not the easiest task. The answer is simple, but might make you look a bit silly – a head torch. The kind that has an elasticated strap to go round your head – just don’t forget you’re wearing it when you speak to someone or you will dazzle them!
So, that’s my list of stuff that makes camping that little bit easier for me. You may need other things as well as, or instead of, what I’ve described but perhaps it will give you some inspiration to make camping better for you – or to try it out for the first time.