Camping in Iceland

If you’d asked me two weeks ago whether I like camping, I’d have said yes. I do, despite the catastrophic Ranger camp. But I haven’t enjoyed it so much in Iceland. I spent three nights camping in Egilsstaðir. It’s a nice little campsite – just a field, with electricity available if you should desire such a thing, with a toilet block and washing machines and washing-up sinks and free hot showers. I think it’s pretty basic compared to campsites in the UK but it pretty much has everything you need to sleep in a tent or caravan and as a bonus, it’s bounded to the east by a nice lava wall. At 1200kr per person per night (that’s around £6) it helps offset hiring a car, which is hellishly expensive for a solo traveller. camping1 So I had my little one-man tent, which is nice and easy to stick in a bag to take on a plane. I had a new down sleeping bag and I had my self-inflating mat. The only thing I didn’t have is a pillow and I now really understand that that is a mistake. On Ranger camps, I tend to have my camp blanket plus my Senior Section blanket. The camp blanket goes on top of me and the Senior Section blanket gets folded into a pillow. But I didn’t have space in my bag to take two blankets and besides, my camp blanket is now far too precious to take to Iceland. My blue fleece really wasn’t substantial enough for a pillow. I need to sort out some kind of pillow thing ready for Wellies & Wristbands at the end of the month. I did invest in some other new kit. I bought an enamel mug and I couldn’t believe how much that added to the experience. It’s a mug! I’ve always had a mug but enamel instead of plastic just makes it feel somehow so much more authentic. Nothing nicer than sitting outside the tent in the evening with an enamel mug full of hot chocolate. Actually, I didn’t really buy it specifically for camping. I bought it because I’ve been in Moomin shops across Scandinavia and looked at their stuff longingly and not bought it because it’s so expensive (although I do have a matching ceramic bowl and mug). Then I discovered a Moomin shop hiding away in Covent Garden. I had to go and visit and when I did, my resolve melted away and I finally bought myself an enamel mug, which was an extraordinarily handy thing in Iceland and it shall be added permanently to my camping stuff. I also bought a knife. I owned a green-handled Opinel No 07 and that’s a really good little knife. I’m very fond of it. The day before I departed for Iceland I spied a blue-handled round-bladed My First Opinel No 07 and that’s brilliant. It’s nice and sharp and cuts things easily but because the blade is round, it also spreads butter. Between the pair of them, what more could you want in the way of kitchen equipment for camping? camping2 The sleeping bag wasn’t such a great buy. I spied a Eurohike Down 500 4-season down sleeping bag in my local Oswald Bailey for £50 and that seemed like too good a bargain to pass up. I did suspect the four seasons in question would be in Tuscany or the Costa del Sol but I reasoned it would actually only be used in summer so it would be nice and warm and I didn’t care if it was too cold for winter plus it packs down to about half the size of my 3-season bag. I think I’ve learned that you get what you pay for when it comes to sleeping bags. The bottom of it is completely devoid of feathers. It’s nothing but two thin layers of fabric. The top is nice and fluffy and feathery and the bag itself is surprisingly roomy. Tested on the living room floor, it seemed fine. In reality, it’s not really warm enough and I had to sleep fully dressed, plus it sheds feathers at an unbelievable rate. On the second morning, I awoke in a cloud and whenever I returned to the tent and opened it, the feathers in the air looked like someone had been slaughtering ducks in there. It was unbelievable. Here are my legs one morning, white with bits of feathers. No wonder I’d been having trouble breathing – maybe it wasn’t an incoming cold, maybe it was just a reaction to inhaling feathers. camping3I love the idea of a 4-season down sleeping bag that fits in such a small bag but I think this particular one isn’t the answer. The internet says it’s normal for down bags to leak a couple of feathers but this is crazy and it wasn’t even toasty to make up for it. I’m very happy to take suggestions for alternatives, if you know of a good toasty bag. The self-inflating mat is wonderful. The tent is nice enough but a bit small to be called comfortable and it’s bright yellow, which transmutes the dullest 4am sunrise into blinding blazing sunshine, which makes it difficult to sleep. If I’d thought about that when I bought the thing, I’d have got the green version. The trouble was mostly that it was just too cold to camp. It was all blue sky and sunshine and the faintest breeze but that faint breeze was pretty cold. It wasn’t fun to sit outside, it wasn’t fun to hurry across the campsite to the wash block and it wasn’t fun trying to stay in a tent with so much stuff. Having the car, I tried to keep as much of my stuff in there as possible but it crept into the tent anyway and there just wasn’t space for it. On the third night, I had a horrible case of what I think is called heartburn – acid in my throat, which is not helped by lying flat on the ground with no pillow, which kept me awake until 3am and then I slept a little, then I had to get up at 4.30 to drag myself across the campsite and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. Exhausted, half-frozen, lungs full of feathers and impending illness, I’d just had enough of it. I went to the nearest hotel and begged for a room. (Of course, they didn’t have one and turned me away with a “No” without even checking, without apologising, without suggesting any alternatives – literally “Do you have any rooms?” “No.” “…. ok. I’ll just go then.” I found a room in Eskifjörður, thirty miles away, ran there and spent the entire day in a real bed.) I like camping but I think I like it to be a bit warmer and I think I like to have a bit more space. I might even be stupid and try it again in Iceland next summer.