Can tech put more glam into camping? Jon Bentley finds out
I really like the great outdoors. I adore the British countryside and go walking in it as often as possible. It’s brilliant if it’s warm and sunny - but I don’t mind at all if it’s cold, windy, wet and muddy. In fact I enjoy all the seasons and their individual, myriad delights. I do however draw the line at having to spend the night exposed to the elements.
Every day’s walking should end with a good meal, preferably in a delightful country pub, and a comfortable bed for the night. I think it’s fair to say therefore that I am most definitely not a fan of camping with all its associated discomforts.
The camping industry is of course well aware there are people like me. And its response has been to create glamping (a fusion of the words glamour and camping), which injects comfort into al fresco life. Glamping venues offer more permanent and comfortable shelters with all the indulgences of a five star hotel, but in the middle of a field.
But could the world of gadgetry have a contribution to make? Could technology banish the misery of basic, conventional camping and offer some of glamping’s luxury lifestyle but under canvas? I devised a camping experience for two of my tech testers Brett and Daniella to find out.
Some of it worked rather well. The Vango Airbeam Capri 500 tent with its inflatable beams went up incredibly easily, while the Cinch packed all the features of a standard dome tent into something that popped up instantly. It even boasted built-in solar panels to charge your phone.
But many of my other gadgets were less successful. The Windcatcher Airpad 2+, an inflatable mattress, was easy to blow up but deflated rather too easily as well. By the next morning Brett was left feeling every contour of the ground.
The pizzas I cooked in my Roccbox oven ended up with the dreaded soggy bottoms and Danielle found them inedible, though operator error could have been a factor. When it came to entertainment my Polaroid smartphone magnifier didn’t turn a smartphone screen into anything like a proper telly sadly, while the Eco Smart Stix outdoor fire that burns bio ethanol produced virtually no heat whatsoever. The cheery camaraderie campfires are supposed to create was therefore completely absent.
In fact the marshmallow toasting kits with pots of inflammable gel were the only other highlight of a rather dismal first day of glamour free camping.
I hoped my bike rides could save the project. The Brompton Nickel Edition, Montague Paratrooper Express, and the Dahon Vybe C7A all looked promising and rode well. But a steady downpour on day two prevented us doing them justice.
I reluctantly had to conclude that the glamping world doesn’t face much of a threat from consumer tech. You need a lot more than mere gadgets to make sleeping outdoors a comfortable and luxurious experience.