Planning a Camping Trip
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
How to cater for an arthritic body while embracing the outdoors.
One of my favourite things to organise is an opportunity to travel… Escaping from civilisation, work, technology, and the busyness of everyday life is one of the major ways I recharge. Although I am currently well and my arthritis is under control, planning a camping trip with this disease always adds a few considerations to the mix.
Deciding on sleeping arrangements isn’t only about comfort on a superficial level, but about protecting your body from punishment. Mattress choice, a good pillow, tent size, and bedding all play a role in determining whether you’re going to wake up refreshed or stiff. Obviously, these choices also depend on the length of your trip, the amount of packing space available, and where you will be camping.
I like to make sure I choose a large enough tent. A one-man survival tent is the right choice if you are backpacking and have to carry all your own equipment; but if you are driving to your destination, take the three-man tent! Why not?! Even if you are sharing it with your partner, it gives you room to stretch when sleeping; more room to stand up straight (depending on the design); more space to get dressed; and space around the edges for storage so that you don’t have to constantly move things around to find what you’re looking for. Think about whether your tent allows you to stand up straight vs. duck or slouch vs. requires you to crouch… Protect those knees! Will you be able to get dressed standing, or will you need to dress in a seated position?
Don’t waste your time and money on an inflatable mattress… It’s only a matter of time before you’ll feel your hip make contact with the ground due to a puncture or slow leak! I am the proud owner of a CarmaQuip self-inflating/memory foam camping mattress. It has travelled to various national parks, Namibia, and down the Orange River with me. Email me for further info on this comfortable and hard-wearing sleep-saver.
We all know that in general, even at home, eating lots of healthy fresh produce tends to be more expensive than starches and staples. Unfortunately, when it comes to camping, a healthy menu can be harder to plan and execute too.
If you have chosen a campsite with a communal fridge, then cool! Make a few salad and veggie options. If you are roughing it, then you have a few options: • Store your greens in a cooler box and consume within the first 48 hours of your trip. • Choose hardier vegetables like gem squash and butternut that can be stored for longer. • Buy boxed, preserved salads like beetroot salad.
When planning meals, you may want to factor in the timing of your meds. Sometimes, if travelling in a group, kuiers and cooking can go on until relatively late at night, meaning you may not have eaten by the time you need to take your daily medications. When I’ve been in this situation, I’ve simply had a snack like a banana or crackers and cheese in order to be able to take my anti-inflammatory.
Be mindful of your alcohol consumption as well, but let’s play open cards: I do drink on occasion. Interestingly, some sources advocate a Mediterranean diet for this disease, including the occasional glass of red wine!
An additional comment on fridge availability… I am on an injectable biologic drug, a TNF-blocker called “Enbrel”. I have to inject myself once a week and it is a fairly expensive drug. It has helped me immensely in terms of keeping my symptoms under control, but it is a “shlep” to have to take it along when all I want to do is disappear into the wilderness. Ways I’ve managed this in the past include: • Adjusting my injection days slightly to be able to inject myself just before we leave and/or just after we get home • Choosing campsites with communal fridges • Calling ahead and asking permission to use eg. the manager’s fridge for my medication • Using a camping car fridge – we were privileged enough to have one of these available for our 2-week-long trip through Namibia.
Considering ablutions is not just about how much you are willing to “rough it”; it’s also about staying comfortable and positive and not placing unnecessary strain on your joints. I have found that my knees, especially, have taken strain when I have needed to crouch for a bush wee. Since I’m being honest, let me share one or two practical tips about this…
Two discoveries have helped me immensely when it comes to performing ablutions in the middle of nowhere: large, flat rocks; and cooldrink bottles. When looking for a place to pull over for a bush wee (or more – we all do it, may as well talk about it), keep an eye out for a useful boulder. You can use it to sit against, almost like you’d do a wall sit hold at the gym, taking much of the strain off your knees and still keeping your feet out of the line of fire.
The cooldrink bottle idea came about when I was on a trip with my ex-boyfriend, so I can’t take full credit for it. If I remember correctly, I mentioned the struggle with crouching and expressed a desire to try one of those ladies’ funnels that allow women to urinate standing up… The typical engineer then proceeded to make an arrangement with an empty 1.25L Grapetizer: he turned it upside down, cut off the end using a knife, unscrewed the cap, and handed me my makeshift funnel. I changed just one thing – I screwed the lid back on so that I could use the funnel, but discard the contents in an appropriate spot of my choosing. This invention saved me so much discomfort at a time when my knees were giving me a lot of trouble! I barely even had to crouch to make use of the funnel, and there was absolutely no splash.
If you’d prefer to purchase a ready-made product, SheWee is the reusable version, rated second overall by backpacker.com. ShePeeNess is a disposable version, if you’d prefer to discard after each wee, but please don’t discard next to the road or in a river!
Jacques and I made a recent useful discovery at the Adventure Lifestyle Show at Meerendal in Cape Town: Epic Wipes! 😊 We almost walked straight past this stall as we worked our way through the displays, but the size of the wipes displayed on their video feed caught my eye… These things measure 80cm by 50cm! Epic! (Yes, I did… Deal with it. 😉) Large enough to perform a full body wash, biodegradable, citronella scented, and with the ability to retain their moisture much longer than normal wet wipes, these are going to go far! Think of the possibilities: personal camping trips; school trips; race packs for multi-stage events; finish line handouts for muddy obstacle courses; travelling in Africa or elsewhere in the developing world; long overnight or multi-stage flights and layovers.
Everyone has different interests and goals when planning a camping trip. Although some may enjoy the idea of doing as little as possible, and there’s nothing wrong with that; I like to explore the area I find myself in. I favour adventurous outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and horse riding, to name a few. When my joints have been bad, though, I haven’t always been able to take part in these activities, but I’ve never let that stop me from breaking away and going through with a trip. You shouldn’t either! There are plenty of activities that fit nicely with a camping trip, but are kinder on the joints. Consider dabbling in a little photography; doing crosswords in front of the fire with your significant other; reading while sprawled out in the shade of a beautiful tree; swimming; or birding.
I discovered birding on a trip to the Kruger National Park about 5 years ago. I visited the park with my family often while growing up, and paid attention to the better-known birds and larger birds of prey, but it wasn’t until that weekend trip in 2015 that I actually started seeking to identify the hundreds of smaller species. When you pay attention, you realise that the bush really is alive, even when there are none of the Big 5 close by! I now take my Roberts guide and my Nikon binoculars with me whenever I travel, and I recently identified and “ticked” my 400th bird. 😊 Also worth a special mention: Guy Gibbons of SA Birding surprised me with a free copy of the Roberts app last year! Yippee!
For those who might miss the comforts of home on a trip like this, who knows? There may be a spa on a nearby farm or wine estate that you could visit for a massage during your trip. No shame in this!
Of course, you can plan everything meticulously, but on trips into the wilderness, things never go 100% according to plan… Always make sure a friend or family member knows what your plans are and when to worry about you; take the basics along like a first aid kit; but then just breathe, go with the flow, and enjoy the adventure! You’ll be surprised how resilient you are: after things have gone wrong and you’ve dealt with a curve ball or two, you’ll experience a sense of achievement because of how well you coped and you'll be encouraged and energised for any potential challenges to come.
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