by ARNOLD LOH
Pitch a tent. Cook over a camp fire. Explore nature and maybe do a little fishing, birdwatching or insect-hunting. These are the basics of camping.
But what if you can have more? What if you can enjoy a little luxury, a touch of finesse or even add a little colour coordination and interior decoration to your temporary home in the wilderness?
Meet Lam Meng Tuck, 37, an IT engineer and avid camper who prefers classy, stylish and luxurious camping.
Take his hurricane lamp, for one.
This made-in-Germany affair emits a warm yellow light from pressurised kerosene, is made of pure brass and costs RM2,000, including tax.
The lamp post costs RM800, proven with time-lapse videos to withstand months of harsh weather despite being made of wood.
In the last two years or so, Lam has amassed four tents, five camp chairs, two cots, 15 stoves, eight lamps, four sleeping bags and an uncountable number of racks, stands, stools and every imaginable thingamajig to use in camp.
His gear variances allow him to camp in every way imaginable, including the rough-and-tumble, bare-bones sort.
But Lam’s favourite way is stylish camping.
“There are tens of managed campsites throughout the country. Most are next to beautiful jungle streams and several are up in Cameron Highlands or Fraser’s Hill, where you can enjoy super cooling weather.
“For stylish camping, you want to be able to drive as near as possible to the campsite because it will be too laborious to haul all your stuff over a long distance. Parking within no more than 50m from your campsite is ideal,” he said.
With special permission from Penang Botanic Gardens, Lam demonstrates to The Star how his ideal stylish camping experience could look like by setting up a model campsite on a green field right next to the gardens’ parking lot.
Parking less than 5m from the “camping” spot, he brings the bells and the whistles; his sports utility vehicle is so full of gear that the only space left for a human being is the driver’s seat.
The first thing to do is to pitch a six- person dome tent, but Lam likes to use this to house only two to four people, which then gives occupants plenty of spacious comfort.
On high ground with zero chance of water collecting, he does away with the groundsheet so that he can set up camp cots.
“Sleeping on a cot about a foot off the ground in a tent is luxurious. You will be safe from insects and other creepy-crawlies. You won’t have to deal with uneven ground or a nasty pebble hiding beneath the groundsheet.
“You can also sit on your cot, which is much more comfortable than sitting cross-legged on the ground in your tent,” he explained.
With the cots, Lam adds inflatable pillows and mattresses, which are a cinch to carry along since they deflate and fold into tiny bundles.
“Beginners who are not sure how serious they want to be about camping can bring pillows and blankets from home, although these take up more transport space.
“After deciding to be serious, they can do their research and upgrade,” he said.
But there is an important point Lam wishes to make: never, ever blow your own breath into inflatable pillows and mattresses because the enzymes and chemicals from your saliva droplets can damage the inner linings.
“The microbes and excess moisture that you blow into them can lead to mold forming inside, which is unhygienic, so get a mini air pump to inflate them,” he stressed.
Then comes the camp’s “kitchen”. Lam confesses that he does not like to search for firewood, so he brings stoves and fuel.
“Even deadwood is home to many animals. At popular camping grounds, if everyone searches for firewood, nature will be disturbed. We should only gather firewood in survival situations or if we run out of fuel,” he explained.
His favourite fuel sources are butane gas canisters, kerosene, ethanol and lamp oil (only for lamps). If the situation permits, Lam even brings charcoal to enjoy a camp barbecue.
And when a barbecue is possible, he never forgets to bring a small wooden chopping board which doubles as his platter, plus his titanium fork and spoon (light yet strong and rustproof) and a traditional French-made folding knife made with fine-grain steel that can be sharpened till it is like a scalpel as his steak knife.
In the last two years, Lam admits to spending a little over RM30,000 on camping gear.
His next ambition is a new tent and an ice box that is high-tech enough to keep food cold for days.
“My wife closes one eye. At least it’s not an unhealthy habit,” laughed Lam, who has two sons aged seven and eight.
He approaches his camping gear buying decisions with the same focus as buying furnishings for his home.
“If we want to buy a new sofa, we want a design and colour that matches the rest of our home furnishings. It’s the same with our camp.
“We not only want quality and comfort, we also want motifs and colours to deliver a pleasant ambience at camp for a relaxing stay,” he said.