31/05/2022
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Camping off-grid in a tent

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Off-grid tent camping is about getting away from the stresses of daily life for a few days and enjoying the tranquillity of the natural world. Here’s how to go about it

Words by Iain Duff

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Introduction to off-grid tent camping

Be ready to go camping off-grid

(Photo by Iain Duff)

We love the comfort and convenience of modern-day camping as much as the next camper. Luxury campsites with electric hook-up, swanky shower blocks and fancy restaurants are great. But at the same time, there’s something about going back to basics that really appeals.

In the last couple of years, many more of us have decided to seek solace in nature and embrace our wild side.

Off-grid camping – sometimes called nearly wild camping and usually meaning campsites with no mains electricity and very limited facilities – is becoming increasingly popular among family campers, who want a more 'authentic' experience.

It’s not quite wild camping, as you’re still on a proper, official campsite, but it has that feeling of roughing it. There are no neat, hedge-lined pitches with electric hook-up posts; you can put up your tent anywhere – whether it’s in among the trees, on sand dunes or on the banks of a river. Campfires are allowed, in fact are encouraged, and there might even be some traditional activities on offer, such as bushcraft and fishing.

On a more basic campsite, what you lose in facilities like swimming pools, bars and games rooms, you gain in space, tranquillity and natural beauty.

However, as much as the idea of ditching everything but the essentials might appeal, the reality is that you probably don’t want to completely isolate yourself from the rest of the world. And, while there’s a romantic appeal to simply pitching up in an empty field, if you plan to have contact with other humans while you’re away, you need to think about how to meet some basic needs.

Unless you really want to cut all communication, camping on an off-grid campsite doesn’t mean you have to leave mobile devices at home and use no electricity whatsoever. But if you still want electric power when you don’t have mains hook-up, you’ll need to take a different approach. Your basic options are generators/power stations, solar power and mini handheld power banks.

 


Power stations and generators

The Jackery Solar Generator Explorer 500 and SolarSaga Solar Panel is a whopping £780 but it provides you with a mega-powerful lithium battery pack capable of recharging electric bikes or keeping a cooler at optimum temperature. It is also safe to power laptops, smartphones and medical devices, etc, should you need to.

You recharge it (about seven hours) at home, via your car’s charger while you’re driving, or using the solar panel. It has a three USB ports and a three-pin 230V socket, as well as a variety of 12V outlets, so you will be able to plug in whatever needs power.

Jackery Solar Generator Explorer 500 and SolarSaga Panel

(Photo courtesy of Jackery)

Goal Zero Yeti 200X

(Photo courtesy of Goal Zero)

The Goal Zero Yeti 200X is a similar product, costing £300, and also runs off lithium batteries. You can charge it up on the mains at home, then use a solar panel to keep it topped up while you’re away.

The PowerOak AC50S will supply enough power to run devices like LED lamps, coolboxes, fans, phones, and even small TVs.

 

Unlike a traditional generator, there is no petrol required to use any of these, so they’re safe to use in a tent. And best of all when on a campsite, these generators are quiet and a handy size to fit in the car.

 


Solar panels

Blackline Power Harid 50W solar panels come folded up in a compact briefcase-style case and, when opened out, can hang from the side of your tent to make the most of the sun’s rays.

They’ll work perfectly with a portable generator, as does the BioLite SolarPanel 10+, which gives you 10W of usable electricity to power tablets, phones, and other gear.

 


Mini power banks

If all you want to do is keep your phones charged, all you really need is a mini power bank. You can pick these up for under £5, but for something that holds a charge for longer, go for the weighty Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD (£200) or the more compact GP B-Series PowerBank (£13.99).

These can be charged up at home or in the car and give you enough power to keep devices going for a few days.

Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD

(Photo by Iain Duff)


WiFi on off-grid campsites

When you’re off-grid, you might find you can’t connect to your own mobile network so something like Broadband Go could come in handy if you want to stay connected.

The BBGo SIM automatically selects the strongest network available provided by the big three in the UK – Vodafone, Three, EE – and 90 networks throughout Europe. You fit it in a portable router device and that will supply all your devices with WiFi.

 


Keeping clean when camping off-grid

Bottle shower

(Photo by Iain Duff)

For a quick wash when there are no facilities on the campsite, simple solar showers like the Outwell Solar Shower (£11.99) can produce plenty of warm water. No electricity source is needed, as they work off gravity.

The rechargeable Colapz Portable Shower is an electric shower but, instead of operating directly from a 12V power source, it can be charged from a USB.

Quechua’s pressure-balanced solar shower will heat up the water and provide decent flow without electricity – the water is pressurised using the hand pump. 

The most basic type of camping shower is the Bottleshower. This little gadget will let you turn a water or soft drinks bottle into an outdoor shower simply by hanging it from a tree with the supplied harness.

If you are showering outside, use products that won’t have a detrimental effect on the environment as, no matter how careful you are, there is always a chance that waste water will leak into the land or onto watercourses. Sea To Summit produces a concentrated, biodegradable, multipurpose washing liquid that can be used on the skin, for dishes and on clothing.

If you use wet wipes instead of using a shower, make sure you go biodegradable and never use traditional baby wipes, as these contain plastics that will never break down.

The other option is to use dry wash products, which are widely available in supermarkets and pharmacies. Shower In A Can contains the equivalent of 20 showers, with no water or drying required.

 


Camping toilets

Portable camping toilets range from basic ‘bucket’ type models to proper loos with flushable tanks.

The most basic approach is a bucket with some cat litter to absorb the smell. Due to the need for regular emptying, this would be an emergency-only option.

A similar concept, but a little more advanced, would be the BoginaBag, which is lightweight and disposable and a good choice for festivals.

Portable toilet

(Photo courtesy of Outwell)

The next level up is a simple, non-flushing portable toilet, like the Kampa Khazi (and the larger King Khazi), the Big Loo from Outdoor Revolution and the Outwell portable toilet. These are relatively lightweight and compact and usually cost under £20, although some are more expensive.

For longer trips, flushing portable toilets offer more comfort and convenience.

Options include the Porta Potti range from Thetford, Outwell’s flushing portable toilet, available in two sizes, and the Campingaz 20L toilet. Remember you’ll need toilet chemicals as well, and you must alway dispose of the contents responsibly.

The eco-friendly Blue Diamond When Nature Calls is a portable composting toilet that uses coffee chaff or sawdust to dry out the solid waste, mask the smell and remove the need for water or chemicals.

In larger family tents, you could set up a toilet area inside your tent if it has an enclosed side porch or a spare bedroom but the more common solution is to buy a stand-alone toilet tent.

Outwell, Olpro, Zempire and Quechua are among the brands that produce these simple tents, which can be used both as a toilet and a shower cubicle.

Olpro tent

(Photo courtesy of Olpro)

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