The Camping Kit I Actually Use and Why

Emily Woodhouse Gear, Practical Advice

In a world where you always kind of assume someone’s been asked to say good things about a product, I thought I’d tell you all about the camping kit I actually use. I love getting the chance to review kit and share my honest findings with you. But equally, 99% of the time when I go camping for me, I use kit I’ve had for a very long time.

So, I hope you enjoy a “what’s in my bag” wild camping style! Meanwhile, I’ll nurse my feet and waddle up and down the stairs – thanks to the 70+ miles I’ve walked in the past 3 days. Then I’ll limber up my finger muscles to tell you all about it!

Oh and quickly: a word on ratings. Just because I use some kit doesn’t necessarily mean I’d recommend it. Sometimes it’s just what I happen to own. So from the best to worst, my ratings are:

  • Rave: I will rave about how good it is, given the chance
  • Good: solid kit, I’m not looking for something better
  • Decent: it’s alright, I would consider using something else
  • Does the job: it doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as it does the job!

Tent: Vaude Taurus II (3 person)

Rating: Rave
Used since: 2008

Why I Have it

I’ve been camping in these tents for over a decade. We used them for Ten Tors (borrowed from the group). As we got older, some of my teammates bought their own. I finally got one in 2012 for my 19th birthday. I haven’t looked back! It’s been camping with me across continents and every day for months back to back.

Why I Use it

It’s a bombproof tent that I can trust in all conditions. Yes, it is a little large for just one person. Although it’s a bit of a squeeze for 3 adults plus kit. Still, I like the flexibility of a larger tent and don’t care about the extra weight.

This tent is solid. It’s sturdy enough that I don’t need to worry about it ripping on anything or putting holes in the groundsheet on slightly dubious pitches. It goes up inner and outer together which is essential in the rain. The inner door has an almost completely full circle zip. It has a two pole construction that is both idiot and teenager proof. You can pitch it wearing gloves and it’s almost free standing. I recommend it to almost everyone.

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Equipment Helium 600

Demonstrating my Mountain Equipment sleeping bag

Rating: Good
Used since: 2015

Why I Have it

I bought this sleeping bag when my old synthetic bag (circa 2008 from a brand you’ve never heard of) got too cold for winter camps on Dartmoor. It happens when bags get old and the insulation compresses. Lots of my leader friends had upgraded to down sleeping bags. I’d been unsure because of the wet and damp problem on Dartmoor, but eventually decided to give it a try. Note that this was before they brought out hydrophobic down.

Why I Use it

It’s a good sleeping bag for 3 season camping. It packs into a smaller size compression sack than my old sleeping bag. You can undo the zip down to the toe box in warm weather and top it up with a liner in winter. In fact, using an Alpkit down quilt inside one January was the snuggliest night I’ve ever had in a tent! Even though it’s a women’s specific fit, it’s still a bit roomy for me so I do sometimes get cold or need to wear a fleece. You can do up all the cords for a snug fit around the face, but there is still a bit of a battle with the hood if you sleep on your side. And it does get a bit damp in Dartmoor weather.

Stove: Primus Eta+ Lite

My camp at Camping Trevelez, the night before the start of my expedition.

Rating: Decent
Used since: 2017

Why I Have it

I have this stove because someone gave it to me one Christmas. Would I have bought it myself? Probably not. I was looking for something with an invertible gas cannister, so you can use it easily in the cold. (Gas goes liquid in cold weather and so the stove won’t light.)

Why I Use it

It would be rude not to use the only stove I own! Despite it being a jetboil style stacked design, it is a good little stove. It’s very quick to boil water – which is the only thing I ever use it for. The mug-shaped pan is a good size and the whole thing is cleverly made. The little metal screws to convert it to a different pan are annoying and easy to lose, since they tend to unscrew from their holder. It comes with a piezoelectric spark lighter but mine broke within a year or so (the metal wire fell out). It would still work intermittently with a bit of coaxing the wire back into the hole. Then I finally lost the wire this year on the way back from Spain.

Roll Mat: Exped Synmat HL M

A rare glimpse of inside my camping set up. It’s usually too dark for photos.

Rating: Rave
Used since: 2020

Why I Have it

I was given the mat to use and review for my expedition in Spain. It replaces my Alpkit Numo, which I’ve used since 2015. I’ve also used Thermarests, good old foam mats and various more dubious forms of insulation.

Why I Use it

This is such a flipping well made mat. You can tell it was made by someone who’s spent a lot of time sleeping on the floor. For example, the underside is made of a material with a bit of friction, to stop it sliding down the tent. The valves are large and flat and easy to find in the dark. It inflates using a very lightweight dry bag that you fill with air and squeeze in. I’d heard of this method before and always thought it was a bit poncy. But actually, it’s much quicker and easier than wheezing into your mat – or waiting for the “self-inflating” mat to wake up and inflate.

Obviously I haven’t had it that long, but it was love at first sleep. My Alpkit Numo is marginally smaller and lighter, I think. But it breaks every year and a half in exactly the same way (seam leakage, giving it a slow sink overnight – see here). The guys at Alpkit are great at fixing or replacing, but it’s just a bit of a faff and, honestly, not as comfortable.

Rucksack: Vango Sherpa 60+10

Exhausted after my ML assessment. Vango Sherpa front right.

Rating: Rave
Used since: time began

Why I Have it

This was a birthday present when I was twelve or thirteen. I needed it to do Ten Tors and that’s how you get outdoor kit when you’re small: birthday presents!

Why I Use it

Of course, it depends a bit on where I’m going, how much kit I’m taking etc etc. But the Vango Sherpa is my go-to bag for camping. Yes it’s a bit big and bulky (are you sensing a theme?) but it is incredibly comfortable. Yes some people slate it because the velcro comes undone at the top of the frame on the inside of the bag. I don’t care. I will die on this hill. It’s got side pockets big enough to fit a 1 litre water bottle (1 now held together with duck tape) and spacious waist belt pockets (both zips now broken beyond repair). I’ve got a whole host of other bags of different sizes, mostly review items, but sometimes you just can’t beat the old faithful!

Lighter: Turboflame

Turboflame lighter, fits nicely inside my stove.

Rating: Good
Used since: 2020

Why I Have it

Once upon a time, on a miserable wet Dartmoor evening last winter, I was camping with the Ten Tors group. It was the kind of evening where everything is so sodden you couldn’t have caught a tent alight if you tried. No one could get a stove to light. Matches were hopeless, lighters were failing. I went round all the teams trying to find someone with a lighter that would work. The only one that succeeded was a nifty little lighter that looked like a mini blow torch.

“Where did you get this?” I asked. “It’s great.”

“I dunno, my Mum got it for me…”

Why I Use it

I tracked it down on the internet. Sometimes the rain is so bad it’s the only solution. And there’s nothing quite so sad as being unable to make fire on a cold, soaking night. It’s also great for not burning your fingers on a standard lighter. It’s refillable, but not very easy to find it you put it down in the dark. (Mine is blue as they were out of bright orange.) I’m going to add a reflective strip. Also note I haven’t used it much yet.

Spoon: Lifeventure Titanium Long Handle

A length comparison: standard spork vs titanium spoon.

Rating: Rave
Used since: 2016?

Why I Have it

I got fed up of getting ration pack meals on my gloves.

Why I Use it

A spork, novel though they are, just don’t quite cut it for constant use. I managed to snap three or four sporks clean in half before I decided I should probably go metal. The other issue with sporks is that they are just not quite long enough to reach the bottom of a ration pack. Cue holding the end of the fork pinched between finger and thumb while you scrape around in the bottom, trying not to get food on your gloves. It just doesn’t work. I bought a long handle titanium spoon and haven’t looked back. It’s an essential bit of kit!

Sleeping Leggings: Mountain Warehouse own brand (!)

Because scrambling in black tie is okay wearing thermals underneath…

Rating: does the job
Used since: 2013 ish

Why I Have it

A rather long story. While I was at university, the hill walking society did the last walk of Michaelmas Term in black tie. Nothing says nearly the Christmas holidays like hiking in a ball gown. Of course, this is pretty darn cold and we did on the condition that you still wore proper walking kit and boots underneath. So I wore two pairs of thermals under my dress. I wanted to get them as cheaply as possible and my only options in town were Cotswold or Mountain Warehouse. Enough said!

Why I Use it

Since I no longer parade round the mountains in winter wearing dresses, I use these leggings to sleep in at night while camping. They are far too thin to be useful as leggings for anything else. But they’re thermal and do the job great inside a sleeping bag. No getting mud on the inside of your sleeping bag – and somehow they feel warmer to wear than trousers. A little bit of luxury that goes a long way.

Spare Socks: Bridgedale or Darn Tough

Rating: decent
Used since: forever

Why I Have it

I’ve been wearing Bridgedale socks since I started walking. No idea why – ask my parents! I’ve kept them because they work for me. I bought a pair of Darn Tough socks because I love the lifetime guarantee. They’re still going strong almost a decade down the line. I was given another pair for All the Tors. And I now have Bridgedale socks coming out of my ears because the lovely people there give out their cosmetic seconds to Mountain Rescue teams free of charge. What legends.

Why I Use it

They’re solid socks. The Bridgedale ones go a bit solid literally after several washes, but still aren’t uncomfortable. I’ve only ever worn a hole in one pair. But then I do own about 10 pairs. I take a single dry pair of socks camping that I only wear in the tent. This is another luxury I developed when I started leading… On the last day of the trip, I’ll let myself wear the sleeping socks out of the tent – dry socks that day!

Waterproof covers: Rubble Sack

Rating: good
Used since: forever

Why I Have it

Because dry bags are expensive when you’re starting out! My sleeping bag rubble sack is so old that it’s half duck tape patches now. I think my Mum got it from a gardening center or something. The rubble sack I keep my tent in was the thick plastic bag that my ice axe arrived in. Too good to throw out and the perfect size for my tent.

Why I Use it

I spent ages just using a single rubble sack or liner the size of my entire rucksack. But I’ve learnt over the years that it’s helpful to have different levels of damp in your bag at any one time! So I have sleeping bag level of damp (only very slightly), tent level of damp (soaked) and everything else in a kayaking-thickness dry bag (actually dry).


Food I took on the Spanish 3000s trip for 7 days in the mountains. (Tupperware for fox protection)

I am really not fussy about food. The key things for me – for overnight camping food, this is – are:

  • Quick and easy to cook and eat
  • Makes minimal mess
  • Doesn’t taste vomit inducing

That’s about it really. I love a ration pack for the simplicity and the fact you can eat them cold if you’re that desperate or lazy. If I’m doing several days in a row and it’s worth saving weight, I go dehydrated. I’ve used Firepot in the past (both gifted and my own money), but they are rather expensive. It’s all personal preference too: I love their bolognese and dahl but can’t stand the posh pork and beans. Experiment! Also don’t be a gear snob. If you’re not doing a big trip, you can do just as well with a “microwaveable side” or Mug Shot/Pasta n Sauce etc.

For breakfast, my stalwark is oats and raisins in a thick freezer bag. Just add enough boiling water in the morning to make it edible. I hate porridge and I’m quite lazy in the morning, so have been known to eat these dry! If I’m not going for long, I sometimes just take a pasty for breakfast.

Pillow: Don’t be Ridiculous

Another hill I will die on. You do not need a fancy inflatable pillow. Get a fleece or softshell. Zip it right up, turn it inside out with the arms inside. Stuff your belay jacket inside it. Tie the bottom end with a spare hair tie. Hey presto – you have a pillow.