You need three things for a decent rest outdoors. These are the smartest options for you to sleep outside when camping and hiking, plus some good tips to keeping warm.
Best for budget car camping
￼Comfort is the most important factor here, and the following items tend to be bulkier as a result.
￼1. The sleeping bag: Trail +5 Deg Envelope Sleeping bag
Open size: 200cm x 85cm
Packed size: 40cm x 20cm
Comfort rating: 5°C (for R70 more get 0°C rating)
Filling 250gsm hollow fibre
Why choose this? It’s ideal for family camping. The comfort rating makes it warm enough for sleeping outside most of the year. The envelope shape is great for comfort, and there’s space to move your legs. I also really like the versatility of this bag. It zips open at both ends to become a blanket, and two of the same bags can be zipped together to make one big double bag.
Gripes: The soft inner lining may be too hot in summer.
Alternative: Splash out a little if you tend to camp in winter. The Trail Cowl bag has a better insulation shape, can also be zipped open from both ends and is a great medium-cold bag that screams value for money. R419,99, mrpsport.com
Note: There is no test standard for temperature ratings of sleeping bags between manufacturers. The comfort rating is the temperature at which the sleeping bag works best. Remember the bag’s effectiveness can differ depending on gender, sleeping style and the mattress used.
2. The mattress: Intex Downy Twin Airbed
Inflated size: 191cm x 99cm x 22cm
Packed size: 28cm x 30cm
Why choose this? Air mattresses are still the best- value buy. Pack a regular fitted sheet to wrap around the mattress for a touch of home luxury. It’s lightweight, compact for family travel and also easy to use, pumping up in just two minutes with a double-action hand pump (R225, outdoorwarehouse.co.za).
Gripes: It never fits back into the box after use and punctures can be a problem. Check the ground for rocks and thorns and put a groundsheet under the tent. Pack Intex Airbed Repair Patches (R20, sportsmanswarehouse.co.za).
Alternative: If you camp regularly, invest in a foam mattress such as Tentco’s Single 3 Div Fold Up. It takes up more space, but it’s more comfy and covered in hardy canvas for durability. R499, campandclimb.co.za
3. The pillow: pack one from home
You have the luxury of space (compared to hiking), and there’s nothing quite like falling asleep on your own pillow.
6 camping hacks to try
1. Air mattresses stretch when first used. After you buy one inflate it fully and leave it for a day or two without putting any weight on top of it. This stretches the material naturally.
2. Unpack your sleeping bag when setting up camp and shake it out to fluff it up. Once fluffed, the bag has what is called ‘loft’, which allows for optimal insulation, trapping air between the fibres to improve its warming ability.
3. Is it always a fight to get your sleeping bag back into its bag? Then buy Coghlan’s 15L Compression sack. R289, takealot.com
4. Use a hiking pad (6mm-thick Insulated Eva Mat. R89, mrpsport.com)
or a blanket to create a buffer zone between the airbed and the ground. Either will help to insulate the mattress, preventing moisture or cold air on the ground from reaching your body.
5. Add heat to your bed by adding a hot-water bottle. From R60 at checkers.co.za
6. Consider a stretcher if budget allows. You can stash your bags underneath it.
Best for hiking
All these items are compact and easy to carry. Here, size always wins. This whole kit weighs just 1,5kg.
￼1. The sleeping bag: Capestorm Down Core 250
Open size: 220cm x 80cm
Packed size: 30cm x 17cm
Comfort rating: 5°C
Filling 250gsm 80/20 down ratio
Why choose this? This new sleeping bag is one of the warmest down bags in this price range. Most backpacking sleeping bags have a mummy, or cowl, shape that tapers at the bottom for greater thermal efficiency but this bag also has a hood that helps to trap warm air. The outer fabric is durable and has a water-resistant coating. It was surprisingly roomy when I climbed into it and the fabric felt good and soft against my skin. Of all the bags I have ever tested, it was the easiest to stuff back into the sack.
Gripes: It doesn’t zip open to use as a blanket and it might not be warm enough for winter excursions to a place such as the Drakensberg.
Alternative: If you’re not a big hiker but need a good bag the K-Way Chamonix 850 Eco Sleeping Bag weighs about the same (850g) and is roughly the same packing size with a comfort rating of 9 – 15°C. R1199, capeunionmart.co.za
2. The mattress: First Ascent Aero 5.5 Mattress
Inflated size: 189cm x 54cm
Packed size: 25cm x 6cm
Why choose this? Extremely compact and lightweight, I’d happily take this mat hiking. It’s very comfortable and when sleeping on my side my hip didn’t dig into the ground – the diamond-shaped construction of the fabric prevents this. It fits into the Down Core 250 sleeping bag for extra warmth, which is awesome. It’s also surprisingly fast to inflate with a clever stop flap that doesn’t let air out unless physically pushed aside. Plus it’s a cinch to pack away.
Gripes: Made from nylon ripstop, it has no insulation or foam fill.
Alternative: The Therm-A-Rest Trail Scout weighs 630g (an extra 220g) and it’s much bulkier than my first option. However, there’s extra thermal insulation if you’re sleeping on cold mountaintops and it feels more solid, like those old-school hiking mats. R1189, campandclimb.co.za
3. The pillow: Gelert Trek Self-Inflating Pillow
Inflated size: 42cm x 22cm x 15cm
Packed size: 28cm x 10cm
Why choose this? Never underestimate the value of a pillow. Always bring one. This super-comfy and compact option has grip dots on the underside so it doesn’t slide around on the mattress, and it contains extra padding for insulation to keep your head warm too. I also like how durable and thick the fabric feels (punctures really shouldn’t be a factor here) plus it’s water-repellent.
Gripes: It doesn’t self-inflate and needs a big puff or two, but this doesn’t affect how good it is as a pillow.
Alternative: The Intex Air Pillow is a very affordable blow-up option. Basic, but it’ll upgrade your hiking kit significantly. R30, capeunionmart.co.za
5 ways to get warmer
1. Even if it’s freezing outside, keep the tent air vents open to keep the tent cosy – while you sleep your exhaled air condenses on the inside of the tent if there’s no ventilation.
2. Get your legs off the cold ground by putting your backpack under your knees – sometimes warmth trumps comfort.
3. Use extra socks as gloves and pack a beanie.
4. Wearing bulky clothing inside your sleeping bag can actually reduce the bag’s ability to trap your body heat – rather pack any extra dry clothes inside it so that there are fewer air pockets.
5. Otherwise, add 15 °C to your sleeping bag with the K-Way Thermolite Heating Liner. It has a draw-cord hood and there’s still room to move around in the bag. R699, capeunionmart.co.za
This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
From our ultimate guide to Addo, free things to do in your city, a photographic getaway to South Luangwa and getting the best of Nepal; our May issue is guaranteed to inspire.