Camping Horror Stories (and how to avoid them)

Camping Horror Stories (and how to avoid them)

We’ve all heard them, and no, we’re not talking about the sort told around the campfire to squeals of delight from small children. These stories are far scarier than those could ever be.


Forget the vampires of romance novels, there’s nothing nice about the blood sucking mosquitoes or sandflies when they announce their presence right as you’re falling asleep. As tempting as it is to simply pull your sleeping bag over your head and forget about those annoying beasts, that approach can lead to you waking up to find you’re the leftovers to their all-night smorgasbord.

We’ve heard of a story of a guy on his stag do in Fiordland National Park who had a few too many drinks and ended up spending the night outside his sleeping bag in the open. The result? Over 400 sandfly bites and a fast trip to Invercargill A&E the next morning.

So, how do you avoid becoming an itchy, miserable mess? Here are a few practical tips:

  • If your tent comes with a mosquito net, keep it zipped up, especially if you’re camping near a river or lake. When entering your tent in the evening, try to do so quickly so you don’t get any uninvited guests tagging along.
  • If you are camped near a lake or river, bug repellent or a mosquito coil is a good idea.
  • If you’re not keen on chemicals, covering up all exposed skin to keep the blood suckers at bay is a simple but effective solution.



While it’s easy to take potable water with you when you’re car camping, this isn’t an option if you’re travelling farther afield. Sadly, despite New Zealand’s clean, green image there are nasties lurking in some of our waterways that can ruin your holiday.

We’re talking from personal experience here – one of us had the nasty experience after drinking untreated water. It began with her waking up in the dead of night from a deep sleep with that ‘oh hell’ feeling. Although her description of her subsequent struggle when she couldn’t get her sleeping bag zip undone is a great party story, it’s not one anyone else ever wants to repeat.

How to avoid having to sprint to the toilet block (or the nearest available bush) every few minutes?

  • Only drink water that you know is safe. If a camping ground/ toilet has signs up telling you that the water is not safe to drink, believe it. If in doubt, boil the water.
  • Carry sterilising tablets with you for your emergency water purification needs.
  • There are now some great products on the market that can make water safe for you to drink through various methods. If you love new technology as much as we do, then check out Crazy Cap drink bottles with their inbuilt UV sterilisation system – they were recently named one of Time magazine’s top 100 inventions for 2020.


As delicious as a slow roast might sound, if you’re the one being cooked, it’s not a lot of fun. We’re of course talking about sunburn.

We’ve all experienced those moments when we look at our skin and realise our sun smarts obviously deserted us, at least temporarily. A friend of ours once went to the beach before nine o’clock in the morning and just plain forgot about putting on sunscreen. Fast forward a couple of hours and he was burnt to a crisp and suffering from heat stroke. It was only the quick thinking of his friends, who found him a place nearby that had air-conditioning and cooled him down fast, that avoided a long trip to the emergency department.

To avoid sunburn and sun stroke, staying out of the sun as much as possible is the best place to start. If you are going to be in the sun, you need to go back to the basics of SLIP-SLOP-SLAP-WRAP.

  • SLIP on a shirt and cover up as much skin as possible – although remember that different fabrics provide different protection against sunburn (the sun protective rating for fabric is UPF, standing for Ultraviolet Protection Factor). Things such as weave density, type of fabric, colour, thickness, weight, moisture content and fabric condition all affect the UPF rating for different clothes and it is possible to get sunburnt through your clothing.
  •  SLOP on sunscreen. For New Zealand, this should be a minimum of SPF50+. But be slightly wary when it comes to buying sunscreen – a recent study by Consumer NZ found nearly half of the sunscreens surveyed didn’t provide the protection they claimed.
  • SLAP on a hat – but remember, not all hats are created equal. For ultimate protection the fabric in hats from the Sunday Afternoon range is rated UPF50+ and has even been approved by the International Melanoma Foundation.
  • WRAP on your sunglasses – you’d be amazed at how bright sun can damage your eyes otherwise.


You can almost guarantee that if it’s a New Zealand summer, our TV screens are going to be filled with news reports of campers somewhere in the country being forced to pack up and go home after being flooded out of their campsite. New Zealand weather can be temperamental at best, and unfortunately it doesn’t change its personality just because us Kiwis want to use our saved up holiday time to enjoy the beach or the lake.

If you haven’t had to try to dry out a wet tent or sleeping bag in less than optimal conditions, then you should count yourself lucky. We heard of someone who, after getting everything in their campsite damp, put their sleeping bag in a dryer in a camping ground set on a high heat – it was only when someone asked ‘What’s that burning smell?’ that they realised their mistake.

So, how do you avoid getting wet and miserable on your summer camping holiday?

  • Check your tent is waterproof before leaving home – tents have a durable water repellent layer (DWR) that will wear off over time and you may need to re-waterproof it.
  • Always check the long range weather forecast before you leave home. While these are more of an indication rather than etched in stone, they will let you know whether you’re likely to encounter much rain and also the average temperatures so you can pack accordingly.
  • Make sure you have a good quality sleeping bag (we recommend Domex, which has been tested in NZ conditions for over 40 years). Synthetic bags have the advantage of keeping you warm even when wet, but our range of down bags have Nikwax hydrophobic down in them, which repels water and means the down still works to keep you warm when wet.
  • If your gear does get wet, make sure you follow the proper care instructions when drying it out. You can find more information about how to care for sleeping bags here.

While you can never prepare for all eventualities, taking some of the common sense precautions outlined here can give you the best chance to have your dream summer holiday, instead of one that will give you nightmares.

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