Sometimes, it’s really cool to mix up your camping routine, particularly if you only camp with your 4WD. As much as we love camping with our 4WD vehicles, we left them behind recently and we took the tinny and swags up river to do a bit of river camping. It’s such a great way to get up close with nature and of course squeeze in a bit of river fishing in while you’re at it.
And, as great as river camping is, like any big trip it does require a fair bit of planning and caution when doing it, particularly when you are not used to or experienced in negotiating a river in a small boat. Water should always be treated with respect no matter how harmless it may look to the naked eye. Here’s a couple of tips that we think should help make your river camping experience a safe and enjoyable one.
First of all, safety is key, make sure you are familiar with the river you are about to tackle, if you are unsure, do your research and ask locals for advice. You need to be familiar with tides and suitable areas to camp before heading off. Also, be sure to wear life jackets and other safety equipment, e.g. Satellite GPS distress units, waterproof cases for your mobile phones, battery packs for power etc.
Know your boat and your engine, if you are not used to using a small boat and an outboard engine, best advice is to take somebody along who does. We certainly have learned the hard way over the years and have a story or two to tell around the campfire. An important question to ask, for example, is whether your engine is powerful enough to take your boat and gear up river against an incoming tide.
Pick your campsite in advance, if you don’t have local knowledge, study maps and make sure your campsite of choice is on ground that is higher than the river. If the river is tidal you could get into all sorts of problems if you underestimate the tides.
Tides simply are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth. We often think that tides are just relevant to the seas but this is not the case rivers are also tidal and it is important to be well informed before you do a river camping trip. When educating yourself on tides and tide times you will also need to take into consideration the weather e.g. rainfall, wind etc.
Currents should be respected in rivers and it’s important that your boat has a strong enough engine to beat the current. We have had incidents over the years where our onboard engine just was not strong enough to beat the head-on current. One thing for sure is that if this is the case you will not be going anywhere fast. Currents are caused by the force of gravity, which makes the water flow downward, creating river currents. River currents are influenced by the volume or amount of water flowing in a river. A river’s steepness as it flows toward its destination can affect its currents. The steepness of a river is called its stream gradient.
Choosing your River Camp
It is very important that you have researched where you plan to camp along the river. First of all, you should make sure that you have permission to camp at your preferred spot. Secondly, you will need to ensure that the campsite is not affected by the tide. The last thing you want to experience after setting up your camp and getting setup is to find that the river is rising and encroaching on your camp.
At that stage it might be getting dark and the last thing you want to do is be searching for another location. So make sure you always camp higher than the river when the tide is fully in. You want to get a good night’s sleep and not be worrying if the tide might take you down the river in your swag in the middle of the night.
Keeping your gear dry. Good dry bags are essential in our view for any river trip, nothing worse than arriving at camp with your gear wet. Dry bags are not just great for keeping your gear and cameras etc dry but also, they keep your stuff clean. Also, should they fall overboard you can be confident that your gear will be protected. We have been taking the larger DARCHE Nero bags of late 60, 190 and 240. Made from 500D PVC they have fully waterproof seams that are ideal for carrying the swags and other gear. These are also perfect for throwing on the top of your 4WD and not having to worry about the elements etc.
We always bring a portable fire pit on river fishing trips. Portable fire pits are great for cooking on and keeping you warm all year round. In keeping with the leave no trace principles, you should take care when placing your fire pit on the ground, particularly in places where you are not allowed to have an open fire including along river banks. Keeping this in mind, many of the new fire pits now on the market are designed to ensure that the ground underneath the fire pit is well protected. When looking at purchasing a fire pit this should be considered but also storage of your fire pit should be an important factor, we have a small boat so flat packed is king.
Swags and Stretchers
We love sleeping in swags on stretchers and have become recent converts to this type of camping that has been very popular in Australia for years. Even though swags are bulky when placed in the small boat they are manageable and the reduction in the amount of space taken up with them on board is worth it given the great comfort they give when slept in on a stretcher by the side of the river. Some of the benefits experienced by us include being raised off the ground, this gives you easy access to your sleeping quarters but also it makes it a breeze to take off your shoes or get access to your clothes and items from your travel bag.
Comfort is also a big plus, with new swag designs like the DARCHE Dusk to Dawn and the Dirty Dee and with huge improvements in the materials now being used, they are a great way to camp along the river. And lastly, the improvements in the design of stretchers make these bigger stretchers more manageable when it comes to transportation and packing away. The cross-leg system allows you to open and close these stretchers very quickly.
All up-river camping in our opinion is also a great way to relax and enjoy the surrounding wildlife. That married with a bit of fishing and a few cold beers around your fire pit really does make for an excellent break away from it all.