Camping tips

by Rudi Schwartz

Camping is a rather personal or individual experience. There is just no a definition for a fair dinkum Aussie camping experience.

What I want to share with you on this page is not what I really know; it’s more what I learned from what I didn’t know.

Camping is a rather personal or individualised experience.  I mean, who can really tell you how many frying pans, dutch ovens, sleeping bags or swags you should have to have a bonza of a camp.  There is just no definition for a fair dinkum Aussie camping experience.

But what is true, is the fact that one knows you missed out on something special when you did the wrong thing.

We are going to approach this coming from different views.

I will not touch the subject of sleeping in motels or hotels.  Not that there are none of these conveniences to be found in our beautiful land.  Some of the outback hotels are an experience in itself.  For instance, have you ever been to the Royal Mail Hotel in Hungerford?  Talking about history! 

My main concern here is camping. 


Anyone who wants to tell the next that he or she has the best tent in town is in for problems.  You just buy what you want and what you can afford.  That’s it!

What I think you should know about your tent is the following:

  1.   You don’t want something which will take up half your holiday to pitch or to fold up.

  2. You might discover that a three person tent (not “three man” tent in a political correct society!) is actually designed for one person.

  3. You will also need to understand that the tent is made to fit its bag only in the factory where it is made.  After that, you’re in for a battle to get it back in that blessed bag!

  4.  The pegs supplied with the tent will not survive the harsh and dry outback—they bend like hot spaghetti with the first hit of the hammer.  Buy yourself good strong steel pegs.

  5.  You might find something high enough to stand up in to change clothes more comfortable than something small where being on your knees all the time is the only possible posture.

  6. Check the zippers on the tent.  It’s awkward when they pack it in the first night of your holiday.  I like my zippers shut firmly to keep the creepy-crawlies out.

  7. Remember that it takes a hot gas lamp only a fraction of a second to burn a decent hole in your tent (if your tent is made of nylon).

  8.  Experience tells me that a strong ground sheet under the tent is always a good thing.  Goodness me, how many inflatable mattresses have I surrendered to thorns and sharp sticks!

  9.  Don’t fold your tent when it is wet.  Mould can make it rotten and unusable !

  10. If you are using a dome tent, make sure the elastic in the poles is still good.  Life can be everything but nice if they are not.  Go to Spotlight and buy a few meters, just in case you need some.

  11. Always take a few spare guy ropes and poles along (of course see that you take the correct lengths!).  I saw Asian tourists one night struggle with a broken flexible pole; they had nothing spare.

Visit places like Camping World, BCF, Kmart and Anaconda for your tenting needs.


Wikipedia says a swag is a portable shelter.  “Before motor transport was common, foot travel over long distances was essential to workers who were travelling in the Australian bush and who could not afford a horse. Itinerant workers, who travelled from farm to farm shearing sheep in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were called "swagmen" because they carried all their possessions in a swag. This image was immortalised in Australian culture by the song Waltzing Matilda.”

Aussies know swags because there are swags (a lot) of all shapes and sizes. Swaggies (swagmen) still do the rounds these days.

I personally don’t like swags.  They have limitations:  they are big (compared to some tents which can sleep quite a few people), heavy (some might be heavier than tents), not comfortable to change in (I don’t like the idea of standing on my knees to put a pair of pants on!), and flat on the ground (think of rain, mud and creepy crawlies). Some mattresses are not thick enough.

But, you buy one and you can surely name one of your descendants to have it after you have gone over the waters.  They are extremely strong and durable.  They don’t leak (at least not when they are new) and are tear-resistant.

Some look like giant sleeping bags, other like across between a tent and something else.

You can buy them new for anything between $100—$650 (Snowys, or Sar Major Aussie Swags ), or you might pick them up cheaper at disposal stores.

Before you buy, check:  is the mattress good and comfortable, what is the grade of the canvas and the zippers, do you like the shape and size, where are you going to pack it in.  Don’t be emotional; be practical.

Rooftop tents

Once again:  the shapes, sizes, designs and prices vary enormously.  You might get away with about $1,000 to much, much more, depending if you decide to get the awnings and other accessories.

The positives. Put your tent on top of your car.  It goes onto your roof rack, folds very flat with minimal wind load, takes hardly any space and can be very comfortable and cosy.  Your bed is always made and in a matter of seconds after the day's trip, you are ready to rest.

What are the negatives?  You’ve got it with you all the time.  If you want to go for an excursion, you have to put it back.  If it is wet, you will need time for it to dry before you fold it back.  And of course, you will still need to hammer the pegs in if you decide to use the awnings. And if you want to pop into the shopping centre to replenish your grocery supply, you might find the roof too high.  Also, if climbing up and down a ladder is a problem for you (think of getting out of bed in middle of the night with a bursting bladder!), you might think of looking in another direction.

Check the gauge of the canvas , the rate of zippers, ventilation, the strength of mosquito gauze and the thickness of the mattress.

If they say you can set up and fold away in minutes, remember:  sales people know it all, but some hardly ever camp.  You would want to see for yourself.  So, go to a caravan and outdoor show and test-drive it yourself.


There is a plethora of campers on the market in Australia.  Practically every month a new competitor arrives on the market.  It is not my intention to sell you any name. 

There are a few things to always remember when looking for a camper trailer:

  1. Always make sure that you get the best gauge canvas and the best zippers on the market.  Some canvas made in Asia will not make it for long under the Australian sun.  You might find yourself with a leaking tent, which will easily rip too.

  2. Check what the manufacturer of your vehicle states about the braked and unbraked towing weight allowances.

  3. Follow the rules of your state in terms of what the unbraked weight of your trailer might be.

  4. Electric brakes should be your choice above mechanical brakes.

  5. The A-frame (the section of the chassis pointing to your tow ball) must be strong, and possibly run for the best part under the trailer.  If not, prepare yourself for trouble in rough conditions - it might break between the tow ball and the body of your trailer.

  6. Make sure that the A-frame is not too long and over-loaded with boxes and fuel tanks - it can easily cause the weight on the tow ball to be too heavy.  (Keep in mind - weight in front of your trailer’s axle is countered by the weight behind axle; there must be more before the axle, but not too much!  The total weight should not exceed the licensed weight of the trailer

  7. There are rules in terms of the tow ball weight of your trailer in respect to your car.  Make sure you know what they are.

  8. You might need modifications to your rear suspension to compensate for the extra weight on your vehicle’s rear axle.

  9. The trailer must have a spare wheel.  If possible, get the same size tyres for your trailer as you have on your vehicle.  That way you will have at least two spares to interchange between vehicle and trailer.

  10. Built-in water tanks (with some sort of pump to discharge the water) are a necessity.

  11. An external point to load/check/unload luggage is a necessity. You don’t want to spend all your time opening up your trailer in search for a small item.

  12. A slide-out/swing-out kitchen is a necessity.  It just makes it easier to prepare a meal on the fly.

  13. Good ventilation is a must.  So are adding-on possibilities: annexes on both sides can give you enormous camping facilities.

  14. Don’t ask how long it takes to open - the question is how long it takes to fold the thing back - and with how many hands (or how many arguments!)

You might find it needful to know the difference between different designs of campers .  Allow me to divide them in rough categories (apologies to  the manufacturers who might not agree with my divisions!):

  • Soft floor campers: 

    1. These campers usually have a floor sewn into the rest of the canvas, so that it is part of the fold out/fold away action of setting it up.  The opened tent section is usually on the side of the camper (handy to remember when you look for a site in a caravan park!). You would in most cases need to use some pegging down of the unit which houses the floor. The floor is usually made of some heavy duty vinyl.

    2. This type of camper is easy to erect and to fold back.  It is not easily upset by sloping ground.  The campers are usually not heavy and can easily be towed by even light AWD’s.

    3. The kitchen units can vary from pull out to swing open units.  There is usually lots of space for luggage under the main sleeping area.

  • Things to look out for:

    1. The vinyl must be of good quality.

    2. See that the zippers are of good, sturdy quality.

    3. The seals around the cover must be as close as possible to dust proof.

    4. Gas struts under the main bed/trailer top is essential to open (and keep open!) the unit for easy loading and access to the luggage area while travelling.

    5. See that the bed is not too high - older campers might find it difficult to climb the ladder to the bed.

    6. You might do well to visit these sites to read overviews from independent people:  Camper Trailer AustraliaCamper Trailers, Car Guides, 4X4 Australia, etc.  Also remember that there are lots of discussion forums on the topic.

  • Hard floor campers:

    1. These campers traditionally have the floors as part of the roof of the closed camper.  When folded open the roof then becomes the floor - usually sitting behind the camper body (handy to know when you look for a site in a caravan park!).

    2. Mud after rain does not affect the folding back process (as in the case of soft floor units).

    3. Slope of the ground does affect the setting up of the camper.

    4. The campers are heavier than the soft floor units.

    5. The operation of folding open and back is very easy.  The whole action is usually assisted by gas struts.  Some have ratchets to help with the folding back action.

    6. Your campsite can be ready in moments.

    7. Most have slide out kitchen units and most are equipped with electrical wiring, making it as easy as anything to have power in the unit.

    8. Most are equipped with heavy duty suspensions, water tanks, electric brakes, battery systems, and external access points.

    9. These campers can vary from medium priced to expensive.

  • Hard wall/hard floor campers:

    1. These have all the benefits of both the above and can be very luxurious.

    2. They are higher because the walls and roof do not fold out.  Certain sections might fold open to provide more space.

    3. Road holding is good.

    4. They are spacious - and can be heavy

    5. They are expensive!

  • Slide on campers:

    1. As the name implies:  you need to have a table top ute onto which the unit is bolted.

    2. The unit can be stored on struts while not in use, which frees your ute for other work.  This is handy when you camp for longer times and need transport.

    3. There are those with a fixed roof (they are higher) and those with pop-up roofs (like some caravans.)

    4. These units are basically a caravan without a chassis and wheels - so all the mod cons you mate can find in a caravan will be found here.  And of course, you can fit it out according to your heart's desire - and budget!)

    5. Because these units are generally higher, they disturb the centre of gravity of your vehicle.  You might need a suspension beef-up to compensate. 

    6. Be prepared for the occasional “rocking”-movement when you drive.

    Having said all these things:  you will find hybrids of these units.  There is basically no end in choice. So, go for it!  A good and well-manufactured unit will give you years of service - and you will be able to sell it for almost the same price as the original purchase price.