How to pack a lightweight camping box

Posted on 8 September 2011

Over the years of travelling at short notice for work or on a whim, I’ve built up a reliable, lightweight camping box I can throw into the Landy or as baggage on an airliner. When I get to the other side, I’m confident I’ll have everything I need “¦ and then some.

The box
Everything fits into one of those tough black boxes you can buy at most supermarkets. They’re cheap, light and double as a table. I put a layer of thin, high-density foam in the base for protection. Two webbing straps around the box hold the lid on securely.

What’s inside?
Inside I have a bed, chairs and a kitchen. I can power my laptop and charge camera batteries, treat wounds and hangovers and, most importantly, enjoy steaming-hot plunger coffee. You’ll notice I haven’t chosen the most luxurious options, but you can upgrade to suit your requirements – for example, a more comfy mattress would be most welcome.

The kitchen

  • Camping gas stove and extra gas canister (note: these aren’t airline friendly). I recommend a Jetboil with an integrated lighter because it heats quickly and it’s light on fuel. It also comes with cooking utensils. A filter coffee plunger kit is available and that’s the best way to start a day after sleeping rough.
  • Lightweight nesting pot-and-pan set.
  • Insulated camping cups.
  • Paper plates and holders.
  • Utensils. Supermarkets sell full plastic sets for a pittance.
  • Serrated knife, penknife with corkscrew and bottle and can opener or my Leatherman.
  • Potato peeler.
  • Bowls. Sea to Summit has a range of collapsible rubber bowls in various sizes. The larger one doubles as a cutting board.
  • Braai grid with retractable handle. Keep it in a thick plastic bag or it will soil everything which it comes into contact with.
  • Shorthandled braai tongs.
  • Firelighters. Yes, I know a real man can light a fire in a blizzard with wet matches and a turd. I say: use technology (get ones in little plastic bags “¦ no smell! – ed).

The scullery

  • Collapsible sink from Sea to Summit.
  • Dishwashing liquid, sponges, dishcloths and hand soap.
  • Washing powder in a clean, dry 250 ml mineral water bottle.

The dry store

  • Filter coffee, tea, sugar, salt, pepper and spices. Throw in a half-litre box or two of long-life milk and a small water bottle to decant it into once opened for mess-less storage.
  • Foil, black bags, toilet rolls.
  • Duct tape always comes in handy.

The fridge

  • Cheap canvas, silver-lined supermarket cooler bags loaded with ice will keep things fresh for a day or two. I put these into small cardboard boxes to improve insulation.
  • Bedroom and dining
  • Lightweight tent. There is a good range of technical hiking tents on the market, but I use the Campmaster Bushwacker Dome 2, which sleeps two, costs a few hundred rand and it’s compact.
  • Self-inflating camping mat.
  • Lightweight sleeping bag. Add a 10-degree liner for versatility and to optimise the space-to-warmth ratio (check what temperatures are likely to be at your destination and plan accordingly).
  • Hammock. If you know how to sleep in one, you don’t need a tent or mattress.
  • Tarpaulin for shelter or as a ground sheet.
  • Small tripod chairs.
  • Power and lighting
  • Inverter. These come in various sizes and power outputs. A 300-watt inverter can power a laptop and charge camera batteries from the cigarette lighter in your vehicle. It’s almost essential in the digital age.
  • A cigarette lighter port replicator is useful if the car has one outlet.
  • Torch and lantern (with extra batteries).
  • Candles.
  • Matches and lighter.


  • First-aid kit.
  • Sunblock and a hat.
  • Water purifier pump or tablets.
  • Box wine bladders for extra water storage.

All this fits neatly into the box so that on a Friday after work, the only thing you’ll need to do is stop for food, wood, ice and beers. Everything else is sorted “¦ even the kitchen sink.

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