We know because we tested it all this year.
Camping divides people. If you love it, you’ve probably been doing it for years ‒ perhaps since you were a kid, when having a cramped old tent and thin foam camping mattress was part of the adventure. If you’re new to the outdoors, you may still think it’s all leaks and discomfort and not being able to sleep. But these days, it really doesn’t have to be. Camping equipment and accessories have made huge advances in the last few decades, and more recently, these have been refined to such a degree that your campsite can easily be as comfortable as home.
Some items are essential: an uncomplicated, weatherproof tent, a comfy mattress and warm bedding ‒ these are the more expensive items you build up over time. Quality gear can and should last for years. Then there are the nice-to-haves, the accessories that add a bit of luxury or make camp life easier, or more fun. In this guide, we tested some of the newer and more innovative camping products available. You won’t go wrong investing in any of the tents or sleeping kit featured here but if you already have all the basics, perhaps the more luxurious gear might find a home in your collection.
Best for big groups: Coleman Instant Dome 7
The Coleman Instant Dome 7 is remarkably easy to erect for a big seven-person tent, thanks to a clever design that keeps the fibreglass poles permanently attached to the tent structure. It’s just under 2m high with a 3,05×3,35m footprint, but you won’t struggle to erect it, even on your own. Getting it back in its bag isn’t quite so easy, unfortunately, but it’s a small negative in an otherwise excellent product. The 3000mm waterhead is good for most rain conditions and the SPF50 fabric also keeps out harmful UV rays. Five- and three-person versions are also available.
Best sturdy canvas: Howling Moon Wizz 24 Tent
R7875 , campworld.co.za
It’s bulky and you’ll need a roof rack or bakkie to cart it around, but this solid canvas tent erects in seconds and doesn’t require pegs, except to support the shaded veranda and back roof extension. It’s equally quick to pack away, with an oversized bag that fits over the tent with ease and straps up securely. The ripstop canvas is UV-resistant and anti-fungal, and the ground- sheet is heavy-duty PVC. The Wizz24 is 2,4m wide and 2m high at the front and 2m deep.
Also read: 10 tents made for adventure
Best down bag for winter: First Ascent Ice Breaker Cowl Sleeping Bag
First Ascent’s Ice Breaker has been around for years ‒ it’s a quality down sleeping bag with a cowl top, face and chest baffles, and foot zips for ventilation should the -8°C rating prove too warm. At 1,4kg it’s on the heavy side for hiking, but barring the most extreme conditions, it’s an excellent bag for winter camping. The filling is 850g goose down and it has a tough Microtex ripstop outer shell. Until now the Ice Breaker has only been available in a muted blue, charcoal or brown, but this late- 2016 edition comes in a livelier bright green.
Best night’s sleep: Desert Sleeping Bag
Run your hand along the fleece-lined inner of this unusual sleeping bag and you’ll immediately want to crawl inside. At 2,35m long and 1m wide, this bag has a lot of room, and the fleece inner and polyester-fibre insulation provide a luxurious cocoon that’s hard to leave. The outer shell is made from ripstop fabric and the whole bag can be hand-washed in warm water. It’s relatively bulky when packed, but comes with a good- sized sack and compression straps. This is not a hiking bag, but it will give you an excellent night’s sleep on a car-based camping trip.
Also read: How to buy the right sleeping bag
Best portable comfort: Tentco Self-Inflating Bundu Mattress 10cm
This 10cm-thick self-inflating mattress rolls up almost as small as a hiking mat, but the extra depth makes all the difference in comfort. The sleeping surface is 1,88×0,52m and there’s a 3cm-wide Velcro strip along the length of each side that allows multiple mats to be joined together. The underside of the mat has a raised-dot finish to prevent it from sliding on the tent floor and the top is light brown faux suede ‒ non-slip and soft to the touch. The permanently attached compression straps are a nice touch and make it easy to roll into its bag. A 5cm-thick version is also available.
Also read: top camping and hiking mattresses tested
Best combo gadget: Biolite Camp Stove and Charger
This portable stove burns twigs and wood chips so there’s no need for gas, plus it has an electric fan to accelerate combustion and generate maximum heat. Once burning, the convection powers a turbine that produces up to 2W of continuous power to charge your USB devices.
Best kitchen set: Stanley 10-piece Prep and Cook Set
There’s plenty packed into this 726g set: a 1,5-litre stainless steel pot, two bowls with lids that double as chopping boards, plus a spatula and ladle with detachable handles. Volume levels have been stamped into the pot and a heat resitant plastic tab makes the lid easier to lift.
Best compact cooker: Totai Mini Skottel
A skottel and a stove in one, this compact cooker fits LP gas cylinders and vertical outlet valves. The 33cm-diametr skottel clips off to reveal a 20cm stove underneath: a handy addition to a camp kitchen with limited space.
Best multitool: On the Mark Plenty Harvest Multitool
With ten tools, this guy performed well across the board in our tests. It’s sturdy, simple and gets the basics right. The price is also perfect on the pocket for a relatively sophisticated tool, and it’s not too bulky.
Also read: 10 top multitools tested
Best headlamp: Coleman CXS+ 250 LED Headlamp
This headlamp’s new KineSix feature makes it possible to change the lighting mode simply by swiping your hand in front of the sensor. It also has battery-lock technology that disengages the electrical contacts so the power won’t drain away before your next adventure.
Best for tackling gravel roads: Sprite Tourer SP
Compact but spacious, this caravan comfortably sleeps two on a thick mattress. It has plenty of storage space, with nifty external storage under the bed and more than enough pockets, and it has good LED lighting. One corner of the caravan has been designed to include a loo and there’s an outside showerhead for complete self-sufficiency, if there are no ablutions. The upright fridge is a great upgrade too, with an indicator that shows battery life. Other luxuries include a 20-litre microwave oven, two-burner gas stove, kitchen sink, 25-litre water bottle and a standard awning for a shaded porch.
Best for following your 4X4: Echo5 Trailer
From R211795, echo4x4.co.za
We love that a simple colour deviation (from the industry-standard olive green to a rugged black) makes this military- inspired trailer look as tough as it is capable. Designed to go anywhere your 4×4 can, the new range is constructed from lightweight yet robust materials and it features independent suspension for each wheel (instead of a regular axle that moves both). The spacious design can easily accommodate a large family and the kitchen is equipped for up to six people, with a double-plate gas cooker, a fridge slider in the nose cone and useful hard plastic drawers that can be removed for easier packing. The price includes a nifty bicycle or canoe rack and a gas geyser system for hot water.
Best for epic views: Eezi-Awn Stealth
From R32950, eezi-awn.co.za
Engineered and manufactured in South Africa, the slick Stealth rooftop tent was launched in September 2016 and is the first hard-shell offering from Eezi-Awn in over 10 years. Like a good wine, some ideas just need to mature ‒ the aluminium shell creates a sturdier tent roof than the classic PVC cover, and the clever design features a u-shaped side door and wider window opening at the back. There is a clip-on ladder (as opposed to the older, fixed design) that can be moved around the vehicle to fit either entrance, giving you more options as to where you can park. Practically speaking, the new design means better aerodynamics on the road and faster set-up (less than two minutes). We also like the fact that all the poles are built into the canvas, so nothing can get lost along the way.
Best bottle protector: Natural Instinct 10-bottle Foam Insert
Fitting flush into a standard ammo box, this foam insert will protect glass bottles from breaking when you go off-road. It holds standard 750ml wine or whiskey bottles and is also useful for protecting luxuries such as olive oil and Amarula. The foam provides both shock absorption and insulation, to keep bottles cool in the heat.
Best directors chair: Kauffman Ultra-Compact Directors Chair
The telescopic aluminium legs and folding backrest make it possible to quickly fold this chair into a compact 32x50cm package that looks, and carries over your shoulder, like a laptop bag.
Lightweight and slim for easier packing, it’s also very comfortable, with armrests, a cup holder and two storage pockets.
Also read: Our top 10 camping chairs tested
Best two-way radio: Zartek ZA-748 Two-Way Radio
R995 for one, outdoorwarehouse.co.za
Leisure Wheels recently put a brace of two-way radios to the test and, rand for watts, this one stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Compact and easy to use, with a typical range of 4,5km and a long batetry life, this radio is a reliable means of communication.
Best bush tool: Ultra Edge Saw and Axe
This is a handy tool for camping and bushwhacking. The saw may look a little meagre, but it works well to shorten thinner branches for firewood and it fits neatly into the handle of the axe. There’s also a nifty fire starter tucked into the sheath of the axe, just in case you leave your matches at home.