In this high-tech age it is easy to overlook the simple items that make life comfortable and don’t require batteries.


With today’s composite materials, LEDs, compact energy systems and ever-more-efficient vehicles, it is easy to forget the old items. The ones that our parents used when we camped with them. These seven items are still around because they are cheap, they don’t take up much space and they’re guaranteed to make life more comfortable.



The folding canvas stool is versatile, lightweight and will fit into almost any spare cranny. Used inside the tent or van it is a stool to sit on when getting dressed, while putting on shoes or sorting through gear. It can be used as a stand for bags and boxes. With a piece of wood or cutting board on top, it becomes a usable work surface or bedside table. Outside, it is quick and easy to set up as a stand for boxes and bags. During roadside brew stops, with a heat-resistant board on top, it becomes a table for the burner. It also makes a good workbench at just the right height for many jobs.



Also known as a hot water bottle – one that you move closer or further away to adjust the temperature. It gets cold out there, even up north; and hot water bottles are easy to store and use.

Placed in the bed half an hour before retiring it guarantees a warm and cosy night. Quite often there will still be some heat in the bottle come morning. It is also wonderful for sitting around outside, on a cold evening.

There are a few tips for using hot water bottles. The little woollen covers are essential to stop touching the hot rubber. Check old ones for signs of the rubber perishing, and keep a spare stopper handy.

To fill them, my mum (who trained as a nurse) had a system: Put in a little bit of cold water, lay it on a flat surface and tilt up the neck; carefully fill with hot (not boiling) water while gradually raising the mouth. When about 80% full squeeze out any air, put in the stopper and wipe any water from the mouth. Doing it this way reduces the chance of pouring the water onto the cover or dropping the bottle as it gets heavier.

Another hint is: Don’t throw out the water, keep it in the bottle and re-use it the next night.



First used by cavemen to keep flying dinosaurs away, they are still an effective insect repellent. In reality, it appears pyrethrum was used by the Persians and the mozzie repellent incense stick was invented in Japan in the late 1800s and was put into the mass-produced coils we use today after WW2. A tin of coils will last many months (if not years); and the inverted lid acts as the stand for the burning coils. Even the broken ends can be used on an old board or saucer. One smouldering coil placed under the table will save the ankles from bites. Some dislike the scent (which personally we quite like); but it is a simple choice between the mildly intrusive smell or mozzies buzzing in your ears all night.



Blunt knives are dangerous and it’s easy to keep an edge on them. Whether it be a small whetstone, the oilstone from the toolbox or the steel from the kitchen knife block, carrying some sort of sharpener is essential. Have no worries about how to sharpen because as soon as you start someone will wander over and explain why you are doing it wrong and the best (their) way of doing it.



We carry two doormats. The one for outside the tent is an old piece of canvas about 1m by 1m. This gives us somewhere to put things down, to take off dirty boots and to sit (on the folding canvas stool) to put on shoes and boots. Inside we have a thin rubber doormat. We use this to put dirty boots and shoes on when we bring them inside. This keeps them out of the weather and prevents creepy-crawlies from moving in. It is always a good idea to shake out your shoes before putting them on. Pushed slightly into the tent, the mat can allow you to take one step into the tent or van without taking off your shoes – which is often all that is needed.



There will be water inside the tent or van. Sometimes from a leak, sometimes from a spill, or brought in on wet gear. A great tool is a large sponge of the type used for cleaning cars. It weighs almost nothing, can be stuffed into a small space when not being used, and is quite absorbent.

A simple sponge has many uses: To clean items; as a shock-absorbing buffer for bottles; and it can be cut up to stuff into gaps to stifle vibrations (you might also want to check why the item has started rattling). A large sponge can also be used to hold bolts, drill bits and other items during repair jobs.



No one uses an umbrella in the campground. You are supposed to wear the Drizabone and Akubra to keep the rain off. But imagine how envious everyone will be when you pull out the $2 folding umbrella to get the kids and gear from the car to the tent, or when the umbrella is held over the person driving in the tent pegs and levelling the trailer. You will need a bucket or container in which to stand the wet umbrella, as well as the sponge and floor mats. An umbrella stored between the car seat and the door really comes into its own when crossing the road to the café because it is too wet to brew up out of the back of the truck. An umbrella in the bush: Unconventional (maybe); useful definitely!


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The old canvas folding stool is still available for the camping fraternity.
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