Great Britain

Pizza ovens, inflatable tents and USB charging: the evolution of camping

It used to be considered a low-tech type of holiday, but while campers who want to get off-grid can still find quiet spots to pitch up and spark up the Trangia, others are unfolding their portable pizza ovens and plugging in their projectors.

Advances in technology, and the rise of glamping and festivals, mean that alongside traditional camping gear some holidaymakers are packing a whole range of home comforts.

“People are making things a bit more bespoke,” said Mike Attwooll, product buyer at the camp shop Attwoolls. “You go out for the day and back to your base at night and it’s like home.”

While 10 years ago electrical hook-ups were unusual, now they are the norm, he said, as campers look to plug in phones and run equipment they would previously have left behind. Recently, he said, he had seen photos of someone holding a film night in their tent using a mini-projector.

James Warner Smith of the website Cool Camping said technology had brought modern campers a whole range of choices. “Some guys have developed a folding pizza oven that you can take with you - it does rotisserie chicken too,” he said. “There’s a no-electricity coffee maker, And there are quite few stoves that have USB ports in them so you can charge your phone while you are cooking.” One of these, the £149.99 Tegology Tegstove, managed to win investment on Dragons Den.

Attwooll said he had recently been looking at a brochure from the 1960s and many products were the same. However, recent innovations meant better versions were available.

“The most important things are what you’re sleeping under and what you’re sleeping on,” he said. In the former, 85% of family tents are now inflatable – instead of metal poles, campers pump up sturdy beams.

Iain Geddes, senior technical adviser the Camping and Caravanning Club, said affordable inflatable tents were “one of the few big sudden changes” in the market. “Suddenly I was getting calls from people, like one from a single mum saying can I put one of these up on my own,” he said. The fact that the answer was yes has made camping accessible for some who would struggle with traditional tents.

Deflating airbeds have ruined many camping trips, and are now being replaced with a new generation of self-inflating mats which offer comfort and reliability. And there have been changes in sleeping bag technology, which mean those who want a bit more comfort under canvas can get it. Attwooll cites the examples of a sleeping bag aimed at women which has thicker material at the bottom, and another – launched this year by Vango - which comes with a thermal heatpad that warms up when plugged into a power pack.

But visit any campsite and alongside hi-tech air tents you will probably see at least one bell tent. Once used by groups including the Scouts, these have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, which Warner Smith puts down, in part, to social media. “In the Instagram age people have an idea of what things should look like, so they will pitch their bell tent and put up some bunting.”

He said changes were being inspired by trips to festivals, and by glamping – where campsites offer fixed tents, pods or shepherd’s huts beautifully decorated and kitted out with comfortable beds.

“You have a lot of sites where this is a mixture of fixed tents and traditional pitches, and people are seeing the glamping and bringing some of it to their own experience,” he said. “At the same time there has been the growth of music festivals. Campsite owners have seen the food trucks and some sites will now have them at the weekend.”

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