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Camping accessories

The annual OutDoor Show is a feast for finding the latest in international trends in outdoor accessories. Photo: Messe Friedrichshafen | OutDoor Show |

April/May 2012

Tips to grow

camping accessory sales

More and more South Africans are going camping — whether in campsites, in the bush or along multi-day hiking trails. ILHAAM HOOSAIN asked some camping gear specialists to give advice on how to maximise sales

When a consumer decides to go on a camping holiday they make a checklist: tent — check, sleeping bags — check, food — check, accessories… The accessory checklist on its own could go on and on and on as there are so many choices on the market right now.

The outdoor retailers that we spoke to say that camping has advanced compared to a few years ago when customers used to just rough it. Instead campers want more comfort and luxury items. Today the market seems to have shifted more towards camping as a lifestyle holiday according to the outdoor retailers we interviewed. They go on to say that caravan parks offer a cheap holiday alternative since people are not buying holiday homes because of the recession.

Off-road campers have become more adventurous and South Africans are going out of the country to explore neighbouring countries. Consumers are also buying less big items and lots of small items because of money being tight, says Richard Giller of 4x4 Megaworld, which caters for off-road campers. This means that retailers have to offer a selection of products in various sizes (and price categories) that consumers can choose from.

“Accessories must be reliable and helps if you can recommend good quality equipment. With that I do not mean the most expensive equipment. There are a lot of products on the market that are not as expensive, but will do the job just as well, or even better,” says Jacques Botes of Eiger Equipment, SA distributor of brands like Petzl, Kovea, etc.

The more experienced camper usually has all the equipment and is maybe looking for something to top-up that equipment, but a new camper relies heavily on sales people to ascertain which equipment they need, says Paul Frier of Cape Union Mart. He goes on to say that having the right equipment makes the experience much more pleasurable, whereas if your customers have the wrong equipment they probably won’t go camping again.

“If a wife is not comfortable when she is camping, she will not be keen to go camping again – and the whole industry will suffer if the family then chooses an alternative type of holiday,” says Tom Mellon, whose fully locally manufactured Campmor Outdoor ranges are well-known in tented camps, on safaris, and with overland adventure companies and retailers across the world.

He believes that only the use of top quality materials can ensure comfort — steel that will not buckle or collapse when a person sits in a chair, a tent that doesn’t leak, mattresses that are waterproof and thick enough, a thick ground sheet to prevent damp and mud seeping through, etc.

There is a big crossover between the hiking camper and the family camper, says Frier, and the multi-functionality of these products is important.

The hiker

Hikers use nature as their house and only carry the essentials on their back. The most important characteristics of camping accessories used by hikers are that they should be compact, light and multi-functional.

There is a sub category of ultra-light hikers for whom every gram counts. “Ultra-light hikers will take only ultra-light weight gear that performs several functions. The hiker will always look for the lighter and more compact version of a particular item. This is why it is important for retailers to stock not only one model in a product category,” advises Rust of Adventure Inc.

The hiker’s main accessories would be a stove, headlamp, lightweight towels and a hydration system, says Frier. He adds that dehydrated food is seen as an add-on. Glow sticks, torches, headlamps, rechargeable lamps or lanterns are popular accessories, depending on space and weight.

Water purifiers are also increasingly in demand for certain areas.

The famous spork is still popular on the market and serves as a spoon, knife and fork. Titanium cutlery used to be the lightest material, but now cutlery comes in a super light aluminum set that only weighs 22gm, says Matt Tibenham of the Cape Town outdoor specialist retailer Drifters, well-known amongst hikers. Manufacturers have found interesting solutions to compact accessories, like glasses from GSI, which unscrew at the stems and can be packed into the glass to prevent breakage.

“Integral cooking systems are popular. The burner and pot that fit together, like the Jetboil are very popular. Then you also get things like the frying pan and your different sized pots and a larger companion cup that all fit together,” says Tibenham.

Nesting pots as well as collapsible bowls (e.g. from Sea to Summit and GSI) that can be used as cutting boards are also useful when space is limited adds Richard Turkington of Trappers.

The latest innovation in lightweight cooking utensils is the insulated container with a heat pack from Trekmates, a new brand supplied by Landrover Gear SA. You simply fill the container with water, activate the heat pack and within minutes you have boiling water for coffee, or to cook noodles or dehydrated food. The heat pack works in all temperatures (it just takes a little longer in extreme temperatures) and there is no need to carry matches or fuel, says local distributor Terry Flack.

Storage space is always an issue for backpackers. Tibenham explains that hikers often use dry bags because they are available in an assortment of sizes and colours. Hikers would pack their t-shirts, jocks and socks, etc. together in a bag of one colour to keep them dry and make them easier to find in a pack. Sea to Summit also makes mesh-covered packing cells that can be used for the same purpose and can also be used by vehicle campers. Some dry bags, such as those from Pacific Outdoor Equipment (POE), have valves on them that allows the user to blow air into them, thereby turning the dry bag into a pillow or a floatation device.

The family camper

The family camper goes camping with a group of people and usually sets up camp for at least a few days in serviced campsites where they have access to electricity and facilities like an ablution block. Their camping experience is typically more comfortable and they can take large items because they usually have more space and can carry more weight in comparison to other camping types.

Asking customers the right questions will ensure that you sell the right gear to the right customer. Some people want to go with just the necessities and others want a more luxurious experience says Alexi Prodromou of Seagull Industries who locally distributes Oztrail.

A basic camper would buy accessories like camping chairs, regular stretchers with airbeds, a compact camp table, a two-plate gas stove, medium cooler box, etc. Whereas campers interested in a more luxurious camping experience would be interested in items like a camp kitchen with a double pantry, portable wash basin, camp cupboards for the bedrooms, a large gazebo with side walls for sun and wind protection, an en-suite changing room, portable toilet, inflatable deluxe stretcher beds or regular stretchers with air beds, bi-fold tables, a three-plate gas stove with windshield, a large cooler box, frozen ice bricks, a barbeque set, foam floor mats and shade netting, LED tent lights, etc.

The success of a camping trip could rest on the availability of a comfortable chair and a good serving/working table. That can either make or break a trip, says Giller. Good quality chairs are a good investment. Some suppliers guarantee fabric for five years and up to 150kgs. Others have innovative ways of dealing with small annoyances when camping. Campmor Outdoor, for example, make their chairs with extendable legs to compensate for uneven ground and wide “pod” feet to prevent the feet from sinking into mud to ensure that you sit comfortably.

An aluminum picnic table has been a favourite, says Simon Larsen of Ram Mountaineering, distributors of, among others, Black Diamond, GSI and Jetboil. They supply a collapsible table with a lightweight technical platform with two heights, making it suitable for use while sitting on a chair or on the ground. It has a flame and heat resistant anodized aluminum construction.

People are always trying to find ways to keep their items cooler for longer says Frier. The Ezetil cooler box (from Campmor Outdoor) is, for example, so strong and well-insulated that it will keep ice for seven days without any power, and support the weight of two sturdy men without buckling.

The off-road camper

The off-road camper has some limits to space and weight. They have more space than the hiking camper but less than the caravanner or family in a tent. Motorbike enthusiasts and kayakers (e.g. doing Orange River trips) can also be included in this group, says Leo Rust of Adventure Inc, distributor of, amongst others, Sea to Summit. The off-road campers mostly camp in the bush where they do not always have access to electricity or ablution blocks. The off-road camper tends to have more disposable money and usually doesn’t mind paying for a bit more luxury.

“The most popular accessory is the refrigerator. South Africans want to make ice in the bush,” says Giller. He adds that a portable fridge, and/or a good cooler box are essentials these days. Those travelling with a 4x4 will have more space to consider taking a fridge with them — and the weight won’t be an issue.

The camper with a vehicle, a shade awning that bolts onto the side of a car for when the day gets hotter, is ideal, says Giller. This item can also be used in winter to keep the rain away. Alternatively, a free standing gazebo is also very useful and popular.

These campers usually travel a lot and only stay in a place for a short period of time, usually overnight. So when setting up their camp they want items that take the shortest time to put together and that will pack up with little fuss.

Red Desert Swag has a new and interesting take on convenience. They offer an innovative product range that serves as a tent, mattress and sleeping bag all in one. The three-in-one item simply unclips and unrolls: add a pole to lift the end of the canvas, and you have a sleeping place as well as shelter for the night. Their products are ideal for campers who do not want to spend a lot of time setting up camp and the product folds up into a compact size, which means it takes up less space. There are three variations in this range, which can also provide extra sleeping space for campers or at home.

Navigation is vital for the off-road camper. There are a multitude of maps and handheld compasses available on the market, says Frier. A lot of maps of neighboring countries are sold, but the off-roader is more likely to go for a high end car unit as well. Tracks4Africa (from the local company with the same name) has become popular because of the accuracy of their off-road tracks. Many retailers say that selling a printed map is still a good idea though, in case anything happens to the GPS unit.

An off-road camper needs weatherproof and dustproof storage because of the weather and the roads that they will be using. Ammo boxes are a favourite as they come in different sizes and can be stacked and marked, and are therefore the easiest way to pack.

Richard Turkington, of the outdoor franchise chain Trappers, says that roll-up tables and fold out chairs, as well as a spider leg chairs, are popular for the off-road camper because they are easy to set up and store.

People want a warm shower in the middle of the veld and shower products are becoming popular among the off-road camper who ventures into remote areas and do not have access to ablution facilities, says Frier. There are various types of showers available on the market. The pop up shower and a toilet tent is popular among off-roaders says the outdoor retailers that we spoke. A turbo shower and shower kits that the consumer would basically plug into a battery to heat the water is also popular. Other shower systems that are popular are the basic shower bag and the more luxurious gas shower. The shower bag is black and absorbs the heat of the sun and produces warm water after a few hours. The gas shower is plugged into a gas bottle that regulates the heat, says Giller.

Lighting trends

When it comes to choosing lights there is a definite move towards LED lights, according to outdoor retailers we interviewed. They last longer and come in many colours that perform different functions. Consumers will also not have to worry about their safety or ventilation as one would with gas lamps.

A rechargeable LED can give you about 200 hours of battery life and to recharge it all that is needed is a 220 Volt plug or a 12 Volt power cable, says Tibenham. He goes on to say that vehicle campers can also recharge their lights from their vehicles, while hikers can use little solar chargers (e.g. the chargers from Goal Zero supplied by Eiger Equipment) to recharge lamps with a USB connection.

Solar lights and wind up lights are also available, although they only provide short periods of light (between 2-4 hours). These are useful when the camper only needs short bursts of light, e.g. when searching for something in the dark or walking to the ablution block.

Interesting extras

There are many nice-to-have accessories that can contribute to making your customer’s experience more enjoyable, but are not expensive, or take up much space. Some ideas are:

  • Many retailers agree that a coffee press, espresso machine or coffee maker, is a popular luxury item among all kinds of campers.

  • Other items to bring to customers’ attention include items like light sticks (especially for kids), survival knives, book lights (for when reading and you do not want to wake your partner), walking sticks, hammocks and hydration packs, suggests Turkington.

  • “In terms of insect control we still do well with the little plastic fly guns and electric jolt bug zappers,” says Tibenham. All kinds of insect repellents sell very well, for example mosquito wipes, roll-ons, citronella candles, and mosquito nets, which the family camper and the 4x4 guy would definitely benefit from, says Frier. He says that kids especially like the bands that can be worn around your wrist that offer protection for 24-48 hours.

  • For hygiene purposes hand sanitizers are selling well. Quick-drying microfibre towels are a recommendation from all the retailers and they are available in various sizes, ranging from a dish cloth to a big towel size. The microfiber material is so advanced that it can dry in 20 minutes. This is very useful if the camper does not have the time to wait all day for their towel to dry.

  • According to Tibenham they sell many weather stations that give barometric readings, rainfall predictions, storm warnings, etc. These can be a lifesaver for hikers if it means they can seek shelter earlier from a vicious storm, or alert an off-roader to possible floodings.

  • A new multi-tool will be a luxury add-on. “There are zooty newer models that only do one or two extra things,” says Tibenham. It is not something that campers will buy as replacements for their current multi-tool; it’s just an extra that they want to have. It has a couple of features that their current one doesn’t have, says Tibenham.

  • Safety equipment is very important, says Giller. He recommends a fire extinguisher, a spade, a first aid kit and some form of waste disposal to an off-road camper. A hiking camper should have some form of first-aid kit with them too. Everyone should include a thermal blanket with a burns dressing in their first aid kit.

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