Camping Gear must-haves

Having light weight, comfortable camping gear is crucial to enjoying yourself and wanting to get out there again as soon as possible - never more true than when you're pregnant. You can't carry the same amount of weight, your night sleep is more easily disturbed, your patience levels are slightly more frayed than usual, so now is not the time to be hard on yourself!

Simple things, like a good comfy sleeping mat, a nice pillow, and a robust tent will make all the difference to your comfort, and your ability to stay on an extended camping trip before having to seek out a good night's sleep in your own bed.

Pillow

Exped air pillow - yellow
Exped air pillow - red

Exped do a great range of pillows and sleeping mats. They are a bit pricey, but as they manage to combine light-weight with comfort, they are my favourites for sleeping gear.

Their products are pretty robust too, so you get your money's worth. We got our first pillows more than 6 years ago - one is still in good nick, but the other packed in last week. I've probably got about 180 nights out of this pillow, so at a cost of £23, it's only about 12p/sleep which I think is a bit of a bargain.

To replace my old red pillow (74g), I've just bought a new yellow one (45g), which is the same size and shape, but is even lighter, which may seem a bit petty, but I've found it all adds up. If you can be a stickler for weight with every single item, before you know it, your bag is much easier to manage, especially since the light weight stuff tends to be a bit smaller when it's packed down too. If you want more geeky specs on these, click the picture above, it will take you to the relevant part of the Exped website.

To give you an idea of how small these lovely little pillows pack down, I've taken a pic alongside my Polaroid camera. They pack down so small, you could pop one in your pocket, but when inflated, they are a good comfy size, with a raised bit for your neck which makes for a very comfy night. Use your fleece jacket as a pillowcase to keep it clean, and make it really cozy to lay your head down.

Exped air pillow - yellow. Size when inflated
Exped air pillow - yellow. Size when packed

Sleeping Mat

Again, Exped are hard to beat when it comes to really comfy, light weight and robust mats - we've been through a lot of expensive mistakes discovering that.

We've been using their Ultra Light Down Filled mats for about 5 years now. One is still fine, the other just burst an inner seam, so needed replacing. This was our fault, as I was already sitting on it, and Aaron sat down hard on it. If that hadn't happened, I reckon we could have got another few years out of it. Even so, the per-night cost so far was only £1/night (less for the one that's not broken yet).

The down makes them very warm (R-value of 5.9). Whilst down doesn't hold up well when damp, the material used, and the fact that you pump rather than blow them up, means that the down stays very dry and effective, and we've tested this in some very wet weather!

They pump up pretty thick (ours are 7cm thick) which is great for wide-hipped individuals like myself, and invaluable when you're also trying to balance a bump! They have inner seams which keeps the air underneath you, rather than letting you sink into the middle, which makes them very comfy indeed.

Exped roll mat Winterlite M. Size when packed

Exped do a range of sizes, so you can save on weight by going for the width and length that suits you. We've found 52cm width to be ample, but after using a shorty for a while and finding it a bit uncomfortable, we went for a 7 UL M about 5 years ago which is 183cm long, and weighs just 575g.

To replace our old one, we've again gone for a lighter weight version (Winterlite M) without losing any of the features that we've loved on the old ones. Basically, they've trimmed some of the width from around the feet and head to save on weight, but have added an extra 2cm of depth. Overall it's 100g lighter, it's R-value is a toasty 7, and so I'm hoping it will be even comfier - will update this post after trying it out.

It packs up nice and small too as you can see from the picture.

Tent

Getting a good night's sleep can be tricky enough when you are pregnant, so the last thing you need is a tent constantly flapping in the wind, letting in rain or losing all its structure in a bit of a breeze.

We've been through all of these problems, as we tend to go to wild places in cold countries - Iceland in October is not known for its idyllic camping conditions!

With our old tent, it really didn't seem to take much of a wind before all of the poles were almost horizontal, pinning you into a wet and flappy tent, and when we took it to Scotland at Easter, it rained inside the tent almost as often as outside it (which was pretty much always). While the constant flapping noise can be dealt with quite easily with a set of ear plugs, you will definitely want to solve the other problems before setting off up the hills on a wilderness adventure when pregnant.

Hilleberg Staika tent at night on the Burren limestone pavement, County Clare, Ireland

We have fallen in love with our Hilleberg Staika tent, which is practically bomb-proof - we have had it pitched in some serious conditions, and always stayed warm, safe and dry. You can buy an extra set of poles, so that you can double-pole it for extra stability. We even managed to disassemble it in a hurricane in Iceland's interior without it losing its structure when pitched, or damaging the poles when pitched or during disassembly. To be honest, I think we could have sat out the hurricane safely inside, except that the ground was soft sand and gravel, and so the pegs were getting blown out by the wind.

It cost us a small fortune, so it's not a purchase you will want to make unless you're pretty committed to getting the use out of it. We've had ours for about 5 years, and it is still in perfect nick. We don't expect to have to replace it for many years yet. Even if we only get another 5 years out of it, the nightly cost will have been about £2.50. Considering we have been able to take it wild camping in Iceland, Mongolia, Jordan, Outer Hebrides, Scottish Highlands, and Norway and have had a good night's sleep every time (except for the hurricane in Iceland), it has been well worth the money, as if we'd spent £100 a night in hotels in those places instead, we'd have spent 10 times more than the tent cost us, and wouldn't have had nearly so nice a view.

Other than being really stable in a wind, it has two vestibules which is handy for drying wet gear, making sure you get at least one good view, and not having to wake your partner on the many toilet trips you have to make during the night when pregnant. It is really well made, with handy storage pockets for keeping valuables tucked away safely, and lots of zipper options, so you can vent well, have a view even when the mosquitoes are out, cook in the vestibule in the rain, and step through the door, instead of under it, when the bump gets too big to reach the bottom zipper.

Tips for choosing your camping gear

  • Warmth - if you're camping in cold countries, or in winter, this is vital for health and happiness. And you need to keep it in mind for most of your items - a tent that vents well but keeps out drafts, a goose down sleeping bag which doesn't let dampness into the down, a roll mat with a good R-value, a warm jacket (again goose down is best provided it doesn't let the down get damp)

  • Robust - good gear isn't cheap, but it should last you for many years. Out in the wild on a wet and windy night is not the time to realise your waterproof jacket lets in water, and your tent poles break if the wind picks up. If you want to go wild, make sure you can trust your gear, as you may be a long way from shelter if things go wrong

  • Waterproof - If you let yourself, or your gear get wet, it's almost impossible to stay warm enough. A good set of full waterproofs is essential when going wild camping in the northern climes. Test them out on a good long walk near home in a downpour. Make sure all of your gear is in waterproof stuff sacks, and you have a pod sack for your back pack - if your down sleeping bag or roll mat gets wet, you will get cold.

  • Design - less important than the first three, as your life probably won't depend on nicely designed gear, but it does make for a more pleasant evening if you have a view, can cook if it rains, get protection from midgies, and can easily get in and out in the night to go to the loo. Your tent is your home from home, and probably the most important item to look for good design in - take a borrowed or old tent out somewhere close to home, and keep a list of all the little things that bug you about it, and then try to find a tent that would solve these niggles for you. We've found Hilleberg to design theirs very nicely indeed

  • Lightweight - worth paying a little bit extra for the lighter weight items if you're planning to lug them up a mountain. This will allow you to bring more food/water/entertainment and arrive with your spine in one piece. Getting lightweight from the outset will save you money in the long run as we ended up upgrading pretty much all of our stuff to more lightweight alternatives after a bunch of sweaty and exhausting trips

#pregnant #gearreview #staika #wildcamping #hilleberg #exped #tent #rollmat #pillow

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