There’s nothing better than finishing work on a Friday, packing the 4x4 with gear and the family, and heading off for a weekend in the bush. It’s only two days, but it is often all you need to recharge and reconnect with the outdoors.
The key to a successful weekend – or preferably many weekends – of camping is being prepared and having your favourite gear always packed and ready to be loaded in your vehicle. For our 4WD camping family, there are 10 pieces of equipment I always have ready to go. With these items, I’ve got all the camping essentials covered; choosing equipment that can also perform double-duty when at camp is one of my basic requirements. Having gear that is used for more than one thing around camp means you save packing space – and it’s easier on your wallet.
With these 10 essentials, any weekend in the bush is guaranteed to be a cracker.
1. NORTH FACE DUFFEL
Basic is nearly always better – especially in terms of luggage for camping. The North Face duffel is probably the most famous travel bag on the planet, and with good reason. The duffel is built for all sorts of abuse, with its outer laminated nylon material thick and strong.
It’s also double-stitched and has extra bartacks to keep it from bursting if overloaded. The tubular shape of these duffels actually means you’ll find a nook or cranny for any item of clothing or gear, so there’s no wasted space inside.
The bag features compression straps to cinch down the gear inside, plus its shoulder straps make for easier carrying. As well as these shoulder straps, there are two top hand straps and two end straps – all overbuilt to withstand rugged treatment – and the zips are lockable.
Speaking of which, the zips are YKK jobbies, so they’re tough, and the seal on them is pretty damn good. I have never had any dusty clothing when stored inside my various TNF duffels.
Yep, I have a couple of these. My 95L large duffel is now 10 years old (a relative youngster – I have heard of some being close to 30) and, barring a few scrapes and stains from being loaded in dirty ute trays and on the back of mules (don’t ask), it’s still going strong.
Website: www.thenorthface.com.au // RRP: $160-270
Sizes: 31L, 40L, 60L, 95L, 135L, 150L
2. BLACK WOLF TUFF DOME
For weekends away, you want your gear to be quick to pack, and even quicker to set up.
This six-person tent is the perfect combo of being relatively light in weight (11.5kg), while not sacrificing weight for quality. Strong 16mm and 13mm aluminium poles, a tough 300-denier nylon PU floor and tape-sealed seams are all welcome features.
There is plenty of floor space (4800mm long, 2400mm wide and 2000mm tall) and an excellent, roomy vestibule to store gear in. The roof-height is brilliant; any adult will relate to how much more enjoyable it is being in a tent when you can actually stand up, rather than being crouched over the whole time.
Other Tuff Dome tent features that make it a brilliant all-seasons weekend accommodation are the many windows (with No-see-um mesh) and ventilation points, with a bonus that the windows are gusseted on the outside – which means even if you cop some rain, you can still leave the windows open as the gussets will ensure the water flows out and away from the window, not into the tent.
Set-up is fast (as you want for a weekend), with the two pre-bent main poles easy to slide through the inner’s provided sleeves. The two 13mm poles are used to extend both the fly and the rear of the tent and are also quick to thread. Then you just clip the fly over the top, adjusting tension via buckles at the base, and you’re in and comfy in around 10 minutes max. Dismantling is about the same time – perfect for that weekend escape.
Website: www.blackwolf.com.au // RRP: $880
3. WILDERNESS EQUIPMENT I-OVERHANG TARP
I have been asked a few times why I use a seemingly flimsy, lightweight tarp when camping.
And the answer has always been the same: because the XL I-Overhang tarp ain’t flimsy, but it is light weight and it packs down small, making it the ideal additional shelter to keep stored in our camping box for those weekend getaways.
At a paltry 2kg in weight, this thing punches seriously above its weight in regards to its overall performance (the 4.5m x 2.95m Large is only 1kg; RRP $199). The tarp is made from 75-denier ripstop polyester, with a DWR (Durable Water Repellency) treatment for full waterproofness. It has an impressive 14 guy-line attachment points, with the ones on the XL featuring double shock cord loops for extra stability. Speaking of stability, the guy attachment points (with acetal rings) are a unique tear-drop shape, which is designed to optimise strength at the attachment point.
The acetal rings assist in reducing the strain/stress levels where the guy-lines attach as well. Yes, it all sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but after seeing this thing, fully pegged out off the side of our vehicle, provide enough shelter in a howling southerly storm for us to still cook and the kids to play, I rate it very highly. Of course, like any tarp, you have to peg it down properly – and against the prevailing wind – but it will work just as well as a “traditional” tarp every time.
Looking at how bloody big, heavy and awkward those “other” tarps of an equivalent size are – and the fact they ain’t much cheaper – I am happy to keep on answering questions.
Website: www.wildequipment.com.au // RRP: $249
Size: XL (4.5m x 4.5m)
4. ARB FRIDGE/FREEZER 47L
Yeah, I know, for a weekend camping trip you could get away with an ice-filled Esky if you needed to. But, for this long-term camper, there’s no way I would sacrifice the convenience of a powered fridge-freezer, regardless of how short the stay is. With a fridge-freezer permanently affixed in your 4x4, even the packing/tying-down time argument is eliminated.
With summer now upon us, the other issue of melting ice in the Esky becomes prominent. Even on a stinking hot day, a fridge-freezer will keep your coldies, er, cold, and your food fresh for when it needs prepping for meals.
I have used various-sized ARB fridge-freezers on various 4X4 Australia expeditions and family camping weekends and have found these units very reliable and very easy to operate.
Even though we’re talking weekend camping here – and a 35L jobbie would probably suffice – I would go for a 47L model as a minimum (preferred size would be 60L, but this is vehicle-dependent). The ARB fridge-freezer includes some cool features: the dairy compartment is handier than you would think, and the détente hinge makes removal (and re-fitting) of the lid in low-roofline vehicles a doddle.
Add in the excellent Secop compressor for fast cool-down times, the low current draw (a claimed 0.87amps/hour for the 47L), the rugged exterior case and sturdy tie-down points, and it’s easy to see how these fridge-freezers have become so popular, whether you’re a weekend camper or a long-distance tourer.
Website: www.arb.com.au // RRP: $1249
5. GASMATE 3-BURNER STOVE
It’s one of the most common camp stoves you’ll see kicking around campsites for the simple reason it’s near-bulletproof in terms of durability, reliability and construction. We’ve had ours for nigh on 14 years and it still looks pretty much the same, albeit with a touch of surface corrosion on the fold-out legs.
There are, of course, similar stoves out there from various outdoor brands, but the standout with this unit is the three burners and the space between them. Having the versatility to run three pots/pans (albeit small-ish sized ones) at different heat/simmer levels while cooking cannot be underestimated when it’s time to whip up a quick but still interesting camp meal. Plus, if you opt for larger pans and pots, you can still use two burners. It is this versatility of three burners that makes this unit a winner.
In terms of design, it is simple but effective; having three windshields means you’re pretty much guaranteed that most of the heat is going to stay directed on the base of the pots and pans, meaning you’ll use less fuel as the stove remains highly efficient regardless of wind.
Being able to pull out the cooking trivet quickly when you need to clean the stove is also a bonus, as is the simplicity with which it folds up for storage. When packed up, the stove takes up minimal space, making it easy to leave – minus the gas bottle – in your vehicle, especially if you have a cargo drawer set-up.
Website: www.gasmate.com.au // RRP: $110
6. LED LENSER SEO 7R HEAD TORCH
I reckon a head torch is a must-pack item on every 4x4 tourer’s camp gear list. For directional light, whether cooking at night or checking the vehicle for missing gear or a mechanical gremlin, a head torch is the best option by far.
The SEO 7R is the flagship model of a new series of head torches from German lighting company Led Lenser. The SEO 7R features a white High End Power LED that pumps out a maximum of 180 lumens of light to a distance of 120 metres, for up to seven hours. You can lower the output to stretch lighting time to 25 hours – there are three light modes, each differing in intensity, plus a flashing-light mode.
It is IPX6 water-resistance rated, so it’s able to withstand showers, and there is also a red LED with blink function.
The torch has Optisense Technology, so it only outputs the amount of light needed according to ambient lighting conditions, measured by a sensor in the torch. This means you never have too much light and ensures minimal battery drain.
You can also focus the light beam from a spread to a pencil beam if need be, simply by twisting the bezel surrounding the light itself. There is also a tilt function, easily effected by simply tilting a hinge at the base of the light mount.
Power is via either a USB-charged lithium-ion power pack, or you can fit three AAA batteries into it. The light weight, Optisense Technology, and adjustability of light levels and beam shape make the SEO 7R a worthwhile addition to any camping kit.
Website: www.ledlenser.com.au // RRP: $185
7. STERIPEN PURE+ WATER FILTER
This may seem an odd choice – after all, it’s only a weekend away and you’ve probably packed enough water, right? But if you’re heading to a more remote location and there’s fresh water available, chances are you will still use it at some point.
The point of this small but effective water purifier is that it can just sit in your glovebox or camp box until it’s needed. The SteriPEN Pure+ is a UV purifier that’s claimed to destroy 99.9 per cent of bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
What people tend to forget when camped beside that pristine waterway is that, upstream – maybe only a few kays, maybe more than 50 – there is likely to be pastoral land, with livestock being run on it. The many diseases that can be carried in water from dead livestock and/or faecal matter makes purifying/filtering your water a must-do every single time you draw water from any source out in the bush.
The Pure+ filters 500ml of water in 48 seconds, and it’s reusable for a claimed 2500 litres. UV light destroys the germs’ ability to reproduce, which is what makes you sick. All you have to do is wave it around inside the water (inside a container) and you take away any risk of that epic weekend camping in the bush turning into a miserable experience. It takes up a small amount of space and it simply works.
Website: www.zenimports.com.au // RRP: $159.50
8. ARB CAMP CHAIR
There are camp chairs, and then there are “real” camp chairs – ones that don’t collapse after a few weekends of camping. ARB’s camp chair duo, the Air Locker and the Sport, sit firmly in the second category. These big-boppers (rated to hold 120kg) reflect the company’s quality engineering background and offer plenty of the usual things you expect in a camp chair, as well a few nifty improvements.
The fold-flat design is not unique, but the set-up process is. Once out of the carry bag, simply unclip a small locking mechanism at the rear of the chair-arm, then extend that arm to its full length, which opens up the chair and allows a clip-lock at the rear of the arm to lock into the rear vertical metal tubing of the chair’s back. It’s quick and it’s simple, and the end result is a chair that definitely feels solid and supportive once set up.
Packing the chair up involves reversing the procedure; the clips lock into the chair leg. This is also simple to do and ensures the legs – and thus, the chair – are locked down so they cannot move during transit. It protects the chair and any surrounding gear.
The chairs take up slightly more space than the “roll-up” cheapies on the market, but this small negative is balanced by the benefits of having a chair that is tough and very supportive. This robustness continues throughout, with the nylon Oxford weave material of the padded seat and side pocket feeling up to the task of repeated usage. And yep, there’s a mesh pocket for your beer.
Website: www.arb.com.au // RRP: $81
9. IRONMAN 4X4 SPACE CASE
These robust storage boxes are brilliant for storing all your camping gear in some type of order. They range in sizes from 74L up to 196L and are easy to secure down in the cargo area. Yes, there are cheaper plastic boxes you can grab from any bargain store, and some aren’t too bad, but where the Space Case wins out is in its far superior heavy-duty build quality.
The thick UV-stabilised polyethylene plastic outer shell with built-in rubber seals in the lid and bottom ensure they are weatherproof, making them ideal for putting up on roof racks or in cargo areas. We’ve had two big boppers for about seven years and they’ve been tied down in box trailers, ute trays and dragged around camp with the contents inside always staying protected. The tough metal handles double as tie-down points, and you can padlock them shut via the metal latches along the front of the box, which is ideal for when you want to leave camp for a day drive.
For those worried about gear banging around inside and getting damaged during transit, you can cut foam padding to put inside. That’s what we’ve done for our camp kitchen gear and it works a treat. These Space Cases, regardless of size, ain’t cheap, but you’ll only buy them once – they last for bloody ages.
Website: www.ironman4x4.com // RRP: $256-$426
10. SEA TO SUMMIT SLEEP SYSTEM
I have cheated a bit here. This “system” is a combo of four camp bed items – a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, pillow and fitted sheet – that work together to create a seriously comfortable set-up.
The STS Basecamp BCII sleeping bag contains 750-loft Ultra-Dry Down fill and a dual-zipper design that can transform it from a sleeping bag to a big quilt in warmer weather. The contoured rectangular shape is far more comfy than a restrictive mummy-shape bag, while still offering a warmth rating (from a comfort level of -3°C to a minimum comfort level of -23°C) that covers pretty much all seasons in Australia. It is expensive, but construction is top-notch and the bag (like the mat and the pillow) can easily do double- or triple-duty for hiking and canoeing adventures.
The BCII combines with the Comfort Plus rectangular sleep mat via a small pocket at the bag’s foot-end, and then the top half of the bag and mat are joined via a strap and loop set-up, so you won’t slide off the mat. The Air Sprung mat uses two separate layers of air cells to ensure maximum comfort and insulation by dispersing the sleeper’s weight over more of these individual cells. The fitted sheet I use simply for comfort, and if I do open the sleeping bag up I am not sleeping on the actual mat surface, but on a nice sheet on top of it.
The Aeros Premium Deluxe Pillow is a winner. It can be attached via a strap to the BCII sleeping bag, meaning no more searching for your pillow in the middle of the night! This whole “system” is a fair investment, but as I mentioned it can all be used for other activities – and, speaking from many years’ of experience with other STS kit, I know it will last for ages. The Australian-based company knows how to make tough and, in this case, comfy gear that compacts down for stowage in your 4x4.
Website: www.seatosummit.com.au // RRP: $549 (BCII bag); $219 (CF Plus mat); $39.95 (fitted sheet); $79.95 (Premium Deluxe Pillow)