Campsite Q&A’s (Part 1)

As heard in Episodes 23, 30, and 48 of the Snowys Camping Show, Ben and Lauren bivvy down into our Snowys’ inbox and scan our Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook platforms for your most-asked and always interesting campsite questions!

From wet weather tips and coffee at the campsite, to the best bags, mending swags, what they can’t camp without, and how to get around – this blog covers the first of a two-part series on the questions asked of our resident gear gurus – Ben and Lauren.

A man sits by a rushing creek with a hiking stove and a collapsible kettle.

From wet weather tips to coffee at the campsite – read on for answers to some of our most-asked questions! Image: Sea to Summit


‘What are your favourite items of camping equipment?’

Ben’s favourite is his Aeropress coffee maker and X-Pot kettle from Sea to Summit, plus his solar panels so he can travel further off the grid. Lauren is very fond of her Cecil & Co Campfire Water Boiler which she uses with her 12V shower for steaming hot bush showers, her trusty Scrubba wash bag for cleaning clothes, and her Hillbilly cookstand for campfire cooking.

‘What do you look for when choosing a campsite? Do you have any local favs?’

Lauren admits that she doesn’t like to share her favourite spots, as there have been some great campsites in the past that have become trashed after gaining popularity. In terms of finding a good spot, she says WikiCamps has been helpful as you can filter both your region and requirements. Lauren now looks for bush camps / campsites with minimal amenities, are nearby a water source, offer space for kids to roam, and allow both dogs and campfires (within fire season). Ben largely feels the same, as he prefers more remote camping where there is plenty of space and solitude.

‘It would be cool to see your setups – Ben’s sounds quite interesting.’

You can hear more about Ben and Lauren’s setups in the Episode 71 and Episode 72 of the Snowys Camping Show:

‘There are many women camping solo these days. I am 59, and I would love to know what products make camping easier and safer for me.’

Instant Up Tents are a good example of easy, user-friendly camping gear. Lauren hasn’t solo-camped much in her time, but some contributors in our Facebook group have shared tips like taking an extra chair and leaving an empty can or beer bottle to give the impression of another camper’s presence. Also, having a way to communicate in terms of safety, be that some sort of messenger device to connect with your loved ones or a UHF radio for calling for assistance. This will provide some peace of mind.

‘Tips for taking toddlers camping?’

Having touched on both camping with kids and camping with teenagers, Lauren and Ben maintain their suggestion to allow children the freedom to explore in safe areas (i.e. away from spaces prone to snakes). Navigate the nooks and crannies with them, and foster a respect and wonder for natural environments. 

Along with old, worn clothing, Lauren recommends packing your child/ren a waterproof over-suit for winter camping, thrown on with a pair of gumboots for perfectly protected play among the mud puddles. She also comments that camping in caravan parks often presents more problems than setting up out in the open, where cars and other children tearing up the tracks on bikes can create a cramped and crowded space for toddlers. In the bush, parents can instead establish the clear perimeters their children can roam to, and eliminate any worries about washing. On that, Lauren suggests doubling a trug as both a washing basin and a bath.

For sleeping, Ben recommends creating a barrier either side of your child to prevent them from rolling off their mat. Especially in the winter, waking up in the middle of the night on the cold, hard floor can make defying the outdoors the following day difficult – and in some cases, cause sickness. Additionally, Lauren strongly suggests avoiding kids’ sleeping bags. In her experience, they’ve never offered the same level of warmth, longevity, or adequate length as the adult designs. Instead, simply purchase a standard sized bag, and either fold in half or block off at the end to prevent your pocket-sized humans from slipping too far into the sack.

Oh, and of course – be sure to not to skimp on the snacks!

‘What’s the right way to stake a tent?

Some say 45° away from tent, others 45° toward the tent, and some say vertically. Confusion reigns. For me, it’s critical the tent remains secure in wind!’

The top of the peg should be pointing away from the tent – so when you’re hammering it into the ground, it’s angled away from the tent.

‘On my lap around Australia, what is recommended: ute canopy, camper trailer, or caravan?’

For those travelling as a couple without children, Lauren and Ben suggest using a Ute canopy as opposed to attempting to tow a camper trailer or caravan. Nonetheless, in cases where campers feel comfortable leaving them stationary somewhere for long periods of time, caravans and trailers can provide a roomy, humble alternative.

That said, Ben agrees that an easier-to-set-up sanctuary is more economical and beneficial for a dynamic duo. The money saved on a camper trailer can instead be invested in upgrading your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) to accommodate a substantial rooftop tent. Ben suggests a thorough investigation into the style of rooftop tent you purchase, given some are easy to set up while others require the use of pegs and guy ropes.  

‘Do you consider using a caravan “camping”?’

In short, no – but it doesn’t matter what it’s called, doing what you enjoy is what matters. At the end of the day, it’s still a valuable pursuit. According to the Oxford Dictionary, camping is defined as: ‘The activity of spending a holiday living in a tent’. So, there you have it!

‘What are your thoughts about the future of Australian manufacturing within the camping/hiking and touring sector?’

Both Ben and Lauren believe that it’s important to support Australian-made and Australian-owned companies whenever possible. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted many supply chain issues in every industry, but the market has been that way for quite some time in regards to overseas manufacturing. Keep in mind that just because a product is made offshore doesn’t mean it’s poor quality. Many Aussie family-owned brands choose to manufacture overseas due to the limited options in Australia with technology and machinery, so it’s a complex topic that should be considered from all angles.

Ben and Lauren chat with Laine and Erin Wescombe of Blacksmith Camping Supplies about everything Aussie Manufacturing:

‘Regarding First Aid, what knowledge is essential for campers and what items do you never leave without in your first aid kit?’

It’s good to have as much knowledge as you can if you’re heading somewhere remote, with a basic first aid course as the minimum. Keep some extra items in your first aid kit to cater for your specific needs as well. Lauren also mentions that it’s important to have an alternative method of communication if you frequently travel to areas where there isn’t a reliable phone signal. This could be in the form of a satellite communicator, satellite phone, or PLB. Even with some First Aid training, if there’s a life-threatening emergency, urgent medical attention will be required.

‘Ben – you always seem very focused on weight and functionality (rightfully so), but what do you take camping that isn’t necessary and something you consider a luxury?’

If it’s a luxury item, Ben usually doesn’t take it. That said, when he travelled up north (where it’s hot and humid), he carried a 12V Breezeway Fan from Outdoor Connection to keep his family cool.

A man sits on a Coleman cooler watching his two toddlers play by shallow water, with a small dog nearby.

Navigate the nooks and crannies with your kids, and foster a respect and wonder for natural environments. Image: Coleman

Sleeping Gear

‘I currently have 50mm thick, self-inflatable sleeping mats for my family car-camping trips.

I am finding lately that the mats don’t self-inflate as much as they used to, and aren’t as comfortable. I was thinking of going for hiking air mattresses with insulation, so they can be also used for canoe camping and the odd hike. Are these a good option, or should I consider something else?’

You could certainly use an air mat – but one of the main benefits of a self-inflating foam mat is that if there’s a puncture, you will still have some insulation to sleep on. Consider that you might have different comfort standards when you’re hiking compared to when you go family camping. You might want to go for a self-inflating mat designed for hiking, as they’re more durable and comfortable but still fairly lightweight.

‘Where can I find mattress toppers for swags?’

For those who are unfamiliar with a mattress topper – this is a corresponding product that provides added padding and comfort to an existing mattress. Where some have walls like a fitted sheet, others are simply a mat of synthetic fibre, down, merino or wool. Lauren recommends merino for adequate temperature regulation, while Ben simply utilises a fitted bed sheet that he tucks beneath the mattress sides.

While residential mattress sizes don’t align with those of swags, Lauren suggests visiting Target, K-Mart, Spotlight, or other hardware and homeware stores for adequate options.

‘Stretcher bed Vs air bed Vs self-inflating mat?

Particular consideration for those with back issues, knee issues, hand issues (i.e. comfort, getting up off the ground, assembling equipment, or closing valves)?’

Ben and Lauren reckon the best option for someone who might have limited mobility would be a stretcher that provides elevation, plus a self-inflating mat with a two-way valve so it’s easier to set up and pack away.

A woman is setting up her hiking tent and inflatable mats on a finely pebbled surface by a body of water.

Consider that your comfort standards when you’re hiking will be different compared to when you go family camping. Image: Exped

‘What’s the best sleeping bag for men, and what’s the best for women?’

This is a complicated question as there are many factors, and most bags in the higher price bracket will perform similarly. Once you decide on either a synthetic or down bag, narrow it down to the fit, look for an EN rating, and consider size and packability.

Ben and Lauren also recommend listening to their interview with Sea to Summit discussing sleep systems, which might help with the decision-making process.

‘I bought a brand new down sleeping bag but it has a strong smell, like a wet dog.

I’m wondering if the down inside is bad, or something’s wrong with the bag? Is it normal that new down bags stink?’

This is totally normal and very common. Keep in mind, feathers are a natural fibre, so they will have a natural scent that will fade over time. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, but there are some things you can do to minimise it like taking it out of its storage sack and hanging it up in your wardrobe to ventilate. You also have the option of washing your down bag, but wetting the feathers can sometimes intensify the smell. We recommend keeping it dry, airing it, and just being patient.

‘Best sleeping bags for bigger people?’

For the taller campers, Sea to Summit offer longer-style sleeping bags. At 185cm, Ben fits a regular sized bag, while at 191cm tall Lauren’s partner is better suited to a longer design.

For those who are simply broader – or as Lauren calls it, ‘cuddlier’ – women-specific designs by Sea to Summit are narrower in the shoulders but allow more room in the hip area. Additionally, their Amplitude and Basecamp series mirror a large sack, feature two warmth ratings, and are significantly more spacious. Lauren describes their appearance as a fluffy balloon, boasting a huge internal circumference for star-fishing and spreading wide. These particular styles are popular among motorcycle tourists too.
Unlike the Mummy shaped design – wide at the shoulders, tapering at the feet – the rectangular fit maintains the same measure of room from head to toe. The Sea to Summit website indicates the internal circumference of their sleeping bags, as well as hip and shoulder measurements.

Like Sea to Summit, Darche also offer a 1100 sleeping bag that aligns with a King-King-Single size. While this doesn’t quite meet the same volume of space as a double, it is larger than a single and thus still offers a roomy alternative.

Weather Protection

‘What is the best rain jacket and best down jacket for men, what’s the best for women?’

This is a tricky one, as we don’t sell clothing at Snowys; it’s not our area of speciality. Essentially, when it comes to the top-of-the-range, high-quality clothing (where you’re spending $500+), the differences will likely be minor.

Generally, we would say that the hallmark of a high-quality rain jacket would be breathable waterproof fabric with ventilation and a good hood.

In terms of down jackets – if you’re just looking for one to wear around town, you could definitely go for something more affordable. However, if you’re using it for technical applications, look for models that use responsibly sourced down, have a good warmth-to-weight ratio, and feature water-resistant fabric.

‘Has anyone made up their own windbreak?

I was thinking of using shade cloth and star droppers. I think star droppers might be on the heavy and awkward-to-store side of things though – are there aluminium poles that would be suitable?’

Definitely – but we would suggest not taking star droppers as they are heavy, so could be dangerous in an accident. Even if strapped on tightly, it will become a spear if it begins to move with too much weight around it. Whatever you put on the roof rack must be secure. Aluminium poles will help save weight, so they are a good choice – plus, you’ll need good pegs and guy ropes. Ben recommends taking a mesh tarp folded in half, as this will mediate and slow the wind without putting too much stress on the poles.

‘Do you always pack clothing for any weather, or do you only ever pack for expected weather?’

Ben is a light packer, so he plans based on the expected weather forecast – although he might take a pair of pants and a light jumper sometimes, just in case. Lauren follows the same principle, though she might occasionally throw in a pair of comfy longer pants for wearing around camp. Regardless of the weather, she always packs a thick pair of socks to help her stay warm.

‘Tips or tricks for camping in the rain?’

In previous episodes, Lauren and Ben have touched on some logistics surrounding camping in wetter weather. Nonetheless, Ben encourages campers to enjoy the pitter-patter of raindrops on the still, damper days.

To prepare for the no-so-pleasant occasions, assess the weather predictions via the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) or your local agency. At the campsite, ensure guys ropes are taught, the fly is fully tensioned to ensure efficient funneling of rain, and establish a sheltered space for cooking and socialising, such as a spare tarp or gazebo.

Two hikers are sitting by their tent cooking food in a pot and reading with a torch. Their orange tent is set up behind them.

Stick to lighting brands that are known for quality, such as Ledlenser. Image: Ledlenser

Electronics, Lighting, and Power

‘I’m thinking of buying a good head torch, but I don’t know if it’s worth spending good dollars on one or just replacing cheap ones as they stuff up…’

Ben’s approach to gear is that the fewer items thrown away, the better. Generally, with head torches, you get what you pay for. Ben has had a Princeton Tec head torch for 15 years which cost around $100. It has been on many adventures with him, and is still going strong! Stick to brands that are known for quality such as Black Diamond, Petzl, Silva, Ledlenser, or Nitecore.

For Lauren, the most important factors are that the unit is rechargeable and the battery can be replaced. She has used BioLite torchs in the past, but the internal battery can’t be replaced – this means that eventually it will end up in landfill. Instead, she now uses a Petzl Tikkina headlamp with a replaceable battery.

‘How do I determine the best small option for recharging my phone when camping, away from power points and a stationary vehicle, for 4-5 days?’

We would say start by working out what devices you’re going to use (e.g. just your phone, or other gear) and how much you want to use each device. Generally though, a small 20mAh powerbank should be suitable as something you can charge at home or while you drive.


‘Thoughts on camper trailers Vs tents for young family camping?’

Camper trailers are great for those who have the space at home to store them, are happy to tow, and also spend the initial investment by purchasing one. However, some limitations are that they can be time-consuming to put up, involve more maintenance, and require space for storage at home. That said, camper trailers are convenient and easier to get going with on your adventures –especially with kids.

‘Here’s one for Ben: would you take a hiking tent on your regular car-camping trips, or a larger tent?

Also, do you have an AGM battery in the car, or Lithium? If not Lithium, will you make the switch eventually?’

In his younger days, Ben was a hiker who took his lightweight tent on camping trips – but as his family grew, he upgraded to an older-style Black Wolf Tuff tent. He then upgraded to an Oztent RV5 tent for outback adventures, which is what he and his family still use now.

Currently, he has a lead-acid auxiliary and main battery, so he can charge them both with the same profile. That said, he would like to switch to lithium in the future to save weight.

Which tents on the market are the easiest and most efficient to set up and pack down for a newbie?

Lauren believes that the easiest to set up would be an air tent or an Instant Up design. Ben recommends checking out a basic dome tent, as you can’t really go wrong with good quality construction and thoughtful design.

‘What do you think of cheaper tents found at department stores?’

If you’re looking for a tent to survive a couple of uses, they will be fine – but if you want something that will stand up to many years of use, generally you do get what you pay for. If you were to have an issue with it, it’s unlikely that spare parts would be available, so even though the tent can be replaced through warranty the broken one will end up in landfill. We’d say the better approach is to buy once, buy right – so you can enjoy your shelter over many adventures.

Two young boys in bathers are crouched and smiling on a Muk Mat with their dog.

A Muk Mat will help to prevent beach, bush, and campground grit from making its way indoors. Image: Muk Mat

Gear, Campsite, and General Maintenance

‘How can we limit the amount of sand and dirt little feet bring into our swags?

We have a 3-week trip planned with a mixture of beach, bush, and campground swagging with a 2- and 5-year-old!

You probably won’t be able to prevent this entirely, but you can manage it by keeping your shoes outside the swag. Putting a Muk Mat or some sort of foam matting outside as a doormat will help, as well as keeping a dustpan and brush on the inside to help get rid of any dirt on your bedding.

‘How can we keep pesky pests at bay? Wildlife sure are experts at penetrating defences!’

Lauren hasn’t really experienced issues with wildlife, as she camps with dogs and kids (so the noise probably keeps them at arm’s length). Neither has Ben. However, some general tips would be to keep food scraps secure, cover up and use insect repellents, set up orange lighting to deter bugs, and keep your tent zipped closed.

‘What is the best option for managing mozzies in particular when camping?’

As Ben’s wife is a mozzie-magnet, he suggests using EVERYTHING!

Some repellants include ThermocellsDEETmosquito netssprays, and coils in still climates. For chemical-free prevention strategies, cover bare skin with long-sleeved clothing, keep screens and panels securely zipped, and simply factor a barrier of any kind into your camp set-up. For more tactics, check out Ep31 – Creepy Crawlies at the Campsite – or this blog on the many ways to repel bugs while camping.

‘How can I fix a snapped swag pole?’

For snapped fibreglass or alloy poles, the swag pole repair kit by Darche is a helpful henchman. For aluminium repairs, Darche offer two different kits – one for angular, segmental swags, and the other for arched hoops found in dome designs.

Replacement fibreglass poles of the same diameter can be sourced and simply cut to length, while repairing a breakage or snap is often done using the small tube-like sleeve (ferrule) included with most swags. Simply slide this over the top of the rupture and secure with duct tape for a temporary, stable fix lasting the remainder of a trip. Lauren demonstrates how to approach this in a Snowys YouTube video.

As for alloy poles, these are more difficult to repair or replace. Lauren and Ben suggest returning to the respective manufacturer for assistance.

‘Any unpacking, at-home rituals? Tips on gear checks and maintenance? Wet or windy weather activities?’

Ben and his family try to unpack straight away following a camping trip, before they do anything else. He generally makes notes while camping of anything that needs to be addressed or refilled, so it’s easy to sort everything upon arriving home. Lauren tends to leave it to the next day as she usually arrives home from her trips quite late. As her van is not their daily car, it doesn’t need to be unpacked straight away – however, she does take out the laundry, rubbish, and any leftover food.

In terms of activities on a rainy or windy day, Ben and Lauren suggest playing cards, games, reading a book, or listening to music to pass the time.

Two camp ovens are sitting in a fire pit of campfire coals. One has a lid and one is open, revealing a loaf of damper.

Ben loves making pizza and damper on the campfire. Image: Campfire

Camp Cooking and Food

‘Best coffee makers for camping?’

A good question for Ben, who maintains that the AeroPress or Wacaco are the most ideal coffee brewers out bush. While an AeroPress can simply be filled with water before a dash of cold milk, the Wacaco produces a traditional espresso shot that requires heated milk to produce an equally hot, hearty cup.

For the super hardcore hot coffee fanatics, some large silver stove-top setups produce espresso and steam milk simultaneously. Boiling the water builds up pressure, creating the shot and concurrently steaming the milk.

‘What’s your favourite recipe for camp stoves and open fires?’

In terms of campfire recipes, Ben loves making pizza and damper, while Lauren is a fan of a bacon and eggs brekkie or stewed lamb shanks in a camp oven. If you’re looking for inspiration, the Fire to Fork cookbook is a good place to start.

Camp stove cooking can be restrictive, but you could get fancy with pasta sauces or use a hotplate to cook a BBQ. Lauren mainly just pre-cooks meals at home and vacuum seals them to reheat in boiling water. This saves gas, time, and cleaning up.

Ben and Lauren chat with Fire to Fork’s Harry Fisher about all things campfire cooking:

‘What food is best to leave in the pantry for short overnight stops (product review on Back Country or Outdoor Gourmet food brands)?’

While Lauren and Ben have previously tapped into freeze-dried and dehydrated meals, they plan to present a more hands-on, detailed demonstration that offers a better sense of how these packet foods look, taste, and cook. Until then, Lauren offers her opinion, essentially describing them as hit-or-miss. Ben and Lauren often have opposing views depending on the brand or choice of meal, which is ultimately suggestive of how subjective freeze-dried and rehydrated food reviews really are.

The appeal of freeze-dried meals comes from their convenience on lightweight adventures, and so aren’t a pleasing enough substitute for a meal on occasions when standard food would otherwise be consumed. For example, Ben’s go-to pasta recipe on his most recent camping holiday used canned vegetables which, in comparison to packet meals, allowed a ‘fresher’-tasting dinner. That said, the Radix brand of freeze-dried food is commonly preferred over others, with a greater resemblance to standard meals.

Overall, Ben suggests canned or long-life food to keep overnight in the pantry, given no refrigeration is required. On that, products displaying a ‘best before’ date often has greater flexibility around the consumption timeline than that of a ‘use by’. That said, the further it surpasses its date stamp, the more it drops in quality and flavour.

Other alternatives include the Offgrid and Go Native brand of heat-and-eat packet food. Go Native is preserved via ‘retort packaging’. This method involves sealing the cooked food while still hot, as opposed to dehydrating. From here, the packet simply requires reheating with boiling water. Ben recommends this as a hearty alternative to other packet meals.

‘Best ultralight cutlery and crockery for hiking, at the lowest price?’

Our podcast hosts both agree that the Sea to Summit polypropylene set is the most cost-efficient and effective hiking cutlery, at just under five dollars per set. Bundled as a fork, spoon, and knife, simply link with a carabiner for a no-fuss food-friendly system. The Delta range of cutlery is shorter, constructed with durable polypropylene and the same reinforced nylon plastic, finished with a flexible plastic carabiner for keeping neat and collected amongst your clutter.  

For crockery, the Sea to Summit Delta bowl and/or plate is a lightweight option. When hiking, a bowl is generally all that’s required, while the additional plate often bodes better for a camping-style holiday.

Ultimately though, Lauren insists that if your camp cutlery isn’t comfortable to hold, the eating experience is thrown completely off course! For that reason – and all lightweight, cost-effective suggestions aside – she carries a set of standard steel cutlery in her camping kit.

A hand is placing a packet of Offgrid food into a JetBoil stove.

Offgrid is an example of fresh, heat-and-eat packaged food, great for overnight stops. Image: Offgrid

OK, now let’s be real for a second…

‘The Snowys products Ben and Lauren couldn’t go without?’

A coffee connoisseur at the campsite, Ben’s response – an AeroPress – is hardly a surprise. His commonly coined nickname ‘Safety Ben’ has him sheepishly admitting that his choice should probably be something more along the lines of a first aid kit or a swag. Nonetheless, he can’t go without coffee – and wasn’t that the question?!

On the other hand, Lauren claims that her Scrubba Wash Bag and Collapsible Space Saving tubs are the most-used, well-loved, not-to-be-forgotten tackle in her pack. After not taking her washbag on her last getaway, she missed it more than she expected – while her collapsible tubs now allow far more room in her kitchen, holding large pats of butter, avocado halves, and wads of bacon.

‘Favoured Snowys products by Snowys staff?’

Jess from Customer Service: a sleeping bag liner. Versatile throughout both warm and wintery weather, this product also keeps her sleeping bag clean.

Sam from Customer Service: trekking poles. Be it for relieving pressure from the knees, hoisting herself up hills, checking the levels of mud holes before heaving across hip-deep, or flipped upside-down for use as tent poles – Sam believes that trekking poles offer true camping comradery.

Laine from the Web Team: a soft-sided cooler and luggage scales. Too often has he left beers behind at a BBQ in someone else’s fridge, so his cooler is now his personal, portable cranny for the cold ones. Thanks to his luggage scales too, he now beats getting burnt at the JetStar luggage check-in, previously packing too much tackle that wavered over the ideal weight.

Cory from IT: his fridge (for keeping his beer), Sea to Summit collapsible X-Cup (for drinking his beer), and Pacsafe waist wallet (…for buying his beer).

Leece from Customer Support: like Ben, an AeroPress – plus a Delta insulated cup.

Michael from the Web Team: a round jaffle iron! Leading up to his travels, Michael would purchase McDonald’s cheeseburgers to keep in the fridge. At the campsite, he simply cooked them in the jaffle iron over the campfire for an even faster fast-food fix!

Brett from the Web Team: the JetBoil Zip. Simply fill, clip, and boil – the perfect stripped-down, lightweight option for fast adventures, covering your coffee fix or for reheating a Radix meal. Lauren owns the JetBoil MiniMo – a short, stocky alternative – which perches perfectly and patiently for her prior to brewing a coffee or tea. An all-round, well-loved product in the Snowys family!

‘When will Snowys open a store in Sydney?’

Unfortunately, to Ben and Lauren’s knowledge, this won’t be a move Snowys will make in the foreseeable future. That said, the ever-evolving, ridgy-didge website successfully accommodates every Snowys supporter around the country!

A birds-eye-view of a man zipping up a swag on a beach.

From swags to Scrubba wash bags, there are some key items that Ben and Lauren can’t go camping without. Image: Darche

For an audio experience, tune into the following episodes as Ben and Lauren address the above questions:

Got a question for Ben and Lauren? Check out Episodes 65, 66, and 92 to hear whether it’s already been answered!