Sierra Trading Post

Pack it Up, Take it Easy
Camping Equipment for Europe

 

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The easiest way to camp in Europe is to pick a single campground and stay in their fully furnished bungalows or tents. This eliminates the need to organize or buy your gear, lug it through airports and get it to your campgrounds. While it makes the trip easier, if this is your first trip, and perhaps your only trip, to Europe, you'll want more flexibility and to get to more destinations.

You can do that by renting a motorhome or camper van. But you can save money and not carry too much if you work to keep your gear to a minimum.

With only two travelers, we selected the smallest lightest tent we could find. If we had really wanted featherweight gear, we could have used backpacking gear, but the reason for camping was to hold costs down so we could stay longer. Expensive gear was not in the budget. We ultimately found a tent in the $90 range that was light, easy to set up and take down, and had a sturdy fly sheet.

If you are traveling in the summer you probably won't see rain but a flysheet will protect you against the possibility of a storm.

In 42 days, we experienced only 3 rainy nights, only one of them while we were camping. On our second trip, we arrived in Paris during a rainstorm and saw spectacular lightning storms in Bellagio, Venice and San Gimiagno with little rain, but the rest of the trip was during the drought/heatwave of 2003. On the nights we were camping in 2003 the weather was dry. A more significant weather event we encountered were the Mistral winds of southern France as strong warm breezes came from the Mediterranean and blew dust into our tent pitched just down the road from the Pont du Gard near Avignon.

To be comfortable for about 5 weeks of camping, we put a premium on the quality of the pads we used. There are many choices and some great improvements in their design since our trip in 2001. We chose self-inflating pads that very conveniently compressed to relatively small sizes. Their loft at night was noticeable but with a thorough scrunch as we took down the tents, they rolled well and fit into a suitcase that could hold both our tent and pads.

To be comfortable for about 5 weeks of camping, we put a premium on the quality of the pads we used. There are many choices and some great improvements in their design since our trip in 2001. We chose self-inflating pads that very conveniently compressed to relatively small sizes. Their loft at night was noticeable but with a thorough scrunch as we took down the tents, they rolled well and fit into a suitcase that could hold both our tent and pads.

It was harder to eliminate mass as we packed our sleeping bags. My husband is 6' 4" with size 14 feet so there were few low-cost bags that were long enough for him. Ultimately, he found a lightweight bag he was comfortable using but its ability to compress was limited. Fortunately, I had a 22-year-old REI down backpacking bag that I had received as a wedding gift. It was perfect and compressed very efficiently. Though it could have kept me warm if temperatures dropped below normal, it was comfortable to sleep in, even in places that were very warm and humid like Rome.

Sierra Trading Post

In addition to the tents, pads and sleeping bags, we packed some small items that we thought we'd like. I found a wonderful plastic serrated knife (from Martha Stewart) that worked well on meat, produce and bread and stuck it in our bag. Also, a retractable clothesline came in handy a few times. And a couple of small flashlights for around camp at night. Before you head to local camping stores, online research at websites like Sierra Trading Post,you find the best prices for the basics you need. Be cautious as you shop. There are a lot of interesting, fun things in the camping department, but they are all going to add weight to your gear.....and you want to travel as light as possible.

We had friends who traveled with their children through Europe. They chose to bring a portable electric cooler that could be plugged into the cigarette lighter of a car. Because the Europeans use less electricity than us, refrigeration is not as common as we are accustomed to. So, the idea of a plug-in cooler is tempting. Again, its a function of weight, how far you will have to carry things and how many arms are traveling with you.

We put together a basic first aid kit with bandaids, antiseptics, pain relievers and the ever important stomach medicines. The reason to prepare the kit at home is because you don't need full boxes of bandaids or medications and you can make them space efficient if you store them in zip lock bags.

The ultimate decision about how much to pack should be based on whether you can find what you need when you get to Europe and whether the exchange rate is favorable (wait to buy) or so unfavorable that the cost of everything in Europe is substantially more expensive. As you make your decisions, you should know that the Europeans have almost everything we have, sometimes things that are better and there are few things that you couldn't find if you needed them.

We didn't pack a cooler though we saw some lightweight collapsible coolers that would have been fine. Instead, we picked up a small cooler at a department store in Orleans and now, when we use it, it is a souvenir of our trip that quietly reminds us of how wonderful that vacation was. Similarly, we purchased coffee mugs, plates and utensils and even a small pan in France and bought a cook stove for less than $10. It is particularly important to buy you campstove in Europe so that you can get the necessary fuel which sometimes differs from the gas systems used in the US.

We also waited until we arrived in France to get pillows, towels and the plastic chairs we used in camp. Benefiting from the positive exchange rate, these items were a bargain at the time. The stacking chairs were great in the campgrounds but were also handy when we stopped at some scenic spot to have an afternoon picnic. At the end of the trip, we gave the chairs and other big items to the housekeepers at our hotel in Paris and only packed those things we could conveniently get into our luggage and would treasure as souvenirs.