What should you pack for the world’s greatest race? We put our favourite outdoor gear to the test on the campsite at the 24 Heures du Mans.
WORDS & PICTURES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Camping: truly, a pastime that divides. Some detest the mere idea of a night under the canvas, with the requisite stove-made meals and less-than-sensational shower experience. Others love life in the great outdoors, revelling in the red-faced, out-of-a-bag lifestyle.
Throw in some highly-tuned motor cars roaring past at 200mph just metres from your tent, though, and you’ve got a volatile mix that risks sending even the keenest of camping companions around the bend.
Thankfully, even the shortest stay – whether at Le Mans or elsewhere – is made better with the right kind of kit.
With space at a premium and so much to choose from, though, how on earth does one know what to make room for in the kit bag? Worry not. Here at Modern Traveller, we’re no strangers to sleeping under the stars – and there’s little we enjoy more than a long-weekend at the races.
Making best use of our 5-day stay at the 84th edition of the 24 Heures du Mans, we scooped up some of our favourite camping gear to truly put it to the test, through rain, shine, racing and sleep.
WINDCATCHER AIRPAD 2+ REVIEW
Bored to tears with puffing and panting for the sake of a good night’s sleep? This nifty inflatable mat puts paid to breathless preparation, courtesy of its unique Windcatcher valve.
Using a combination of science and, presumably, magic, it makes one breath as powerful as ten, meaning a single contactless blow into the ‘Pad’s open spout puts plenty of air inside, and it’s close to full after a hefty five or six.
Trickier, though, is getting to grips with the necessary technique: as it approaches capacity, air seems to escape and enter at the same rate. We always ended up resorting to the traditional valve to top it up, which slightly defeats the point of its contact-free inflation mechanism.
All the same, quilted supports make for a delightfully comfortable rest – apart from when we suffered a puncture – whilst integrated fasteners mean transit is a bag-free experience. More of a sitter than a sleeper? With some coercion, the AirPad even becomes a stool.
It’s narrower than some alternatives, but for lightweight and quick-inflate convenience – if you’ve watched the instruction videos – it’s unparalleled.
A brilliant bed that fills with speed, provided you’ve got the puff – and the know-how.
WINDCATCHER.COM | US$99.95 | ★★★☆☆
SALEWA SPICE 3 REVIEW
Space-saving sleeping bags usually sacrifice on warmth and comfort. Not so with the Spice 3: this is a cocoon of relative compactness, yet one which will keep you completely cosy in spring and summer.
The recycled PrimaLoft fill will be welcomed by more than just eco-conscious campers, as its unique micro-fibre construction makes for a soft, well-insulated sleeve – one perfect for the mild nights of Le Mans in June. We certainly weren’t shivering.
What’s more, its fitted form factor permits plenty of wriggle room in the shoulder department, whilst quick-drying abilities are a godsend when you suffer a tent leak, or a humid evening’s kip.
Unlike some bags, the hood also offers sufficient space even for larger heads – so no more chilly ears – and we found the single-hand drawstrings to be more practical than gimmick.
Better still, at the end of the week, its synthetic-feeling exterior compressed effectively into a small sack – ideal when you want to make space for that souvenir t-shirt.
Lightweight yet luxurious, you’ll be hard pushed to find a sleeping sack this size that’s better suited to spring-through-autumn snoozing.
SALEWA.COM | €110 | ★★★★★
OSPREY STUFF PACK REVIEW
With space at a premium, you’ll want a day pack that fits in your pocket, with the strength to carry all of your around-the-track gear.
Look no further than Osprey’s Stuff Pack. Able to fold into its integrated sack to become about the size of a compact camera (or a small rock), rumour has it that TARDIS technology is involved somewhere.
Even more baffling is the ability of the Pack at full size to support serious amounts of stuff: thanks to reinforced shoulder straps it remained a comfortable thing to carry, even as we weighed it down with a flask, camera, book, programme, coat, keys and more.
Sure, it lacks the structural rigidity of a dedicated day bag, but, with nifty features like a top-mounted pocket (perfect for quick access to small valuables) and a surprisingly strong sleeve on the side (which happily held both flask and water bottle), it’s more than a match on size and ability.
You will need to pack smartly, as the lack of structure means any pointy bits in the bag will stick in your back – though it’s nothing a magazine can’t solve.
It might not hold its shape like a rucksack, but, when you can scrunch it up and stuff it anywhere, it’s tough to argue with the might of this mini-pack.
Sufficiently sturdy at full-size, the ability of this sack to scrunch smaller than a laptop charger makes it a mini-magician for luggage luggers.
OSPREYEUROPE.COM | £25 | ★★★★☆
T-LAB ENDURANCE TEE REVIEW
There’s nothing worse than turning up at Le Mans to see twenty people wearing the same shirt as you.
Stick it to the masses with this smart, arty tee from the t-shirt supremos over at T-Lab, that evokes the endurance heritage of France in just two numbers.
With a subtle design that speaks for itself, we’re fans of both the colour and the pure cotton construction, which kept us cool and comfortable in moments of sun.
Ok, so if everyone buys one then no-one will be unique – but it’s still a darn cool tee to be wearing and, if you’re heading to any other European circuits this summer, T-Lab has a whole collection of similarly stylish tops for other famous race tracks.
Bring some unofficial style to the trackside party courtesy of this comfy, clever tee.
T-LAB.EU | £25 | ★★★★★
ORTLIEB 59L X-PLORER KIT BAG REVIEW
At Le Mans, rain is almost a given – and the last thing you want is a sack full of soggy stuff.
Enter the X-Plorer: a giant dry bag – of the type often seen aboard boats – with sturdy shoulder straps attached, that’s both easy to carry and entirely waterproof.
It’s also incredibly voluminous. The nature of the X-Plorer as a roll-top dry bag means there’s a lot of tube to delve through when it’s open, and a lack of internal pockets or panels means that – unless you’ve brought packing cubes – this isn’t a bag for small items.
It is, though, ideal for stuffing full of clothes and camping gear, safe in the knowledge that they’ll stay completely dry. The PVC material does mean you’ll get a rather damp back when carrying – it gets particularly toasty in direct sunlight – but waterproof and sweat-wicking hardly go together.
By forgoing the niceties of a structured back panel and internal pockets, you get a flexible kit bag that’s easy to shoulder and can hold almost anything, safe, dry and, if you’ve rolled some air in, buoyant. Perfect for the plenitude of puddles at the campsite.
Bags of space and waterproof reassurance make this a stellar sack for all-weather wanderers – even if it’s disorganised inside.
CYCLESTORE.CO.UK | £40 | ★★★★☆
QUECHUA 12L SHOWER REVIEW
Stay clean and save the planet with this solar shower from Quechua. Carrying a 12L capacity, it’ll store sufficient liquid for a lengthy wash – not least thanks to the measured flow of the red shower head.
Provided you’ve got somewhere high to hang it while you rub and scrub – and to safely store it for daytime warming – it’s an ideal alternative to stained shower blocks and morning queues for the washroom.
Even an hour in the sun will see its contents warm enough for a pleasant wash, thanks to the shower’s shiny black conductive construction,
The hanging string does strain under the weight of a full load, but we experienced no breaking or bending, whilst the bag itself seems relatively strong and unlikely to puncture.
The water flow is restricted for the sake of efficiency, but using it remains an enjoyable enough experience – though washing longer hair would be quite the task. Oh, and don’t forget: when it’s gone, it’s gone!
Energy-saving convenience for queue-hating campers in search of cleanliness – if you’ve got a tap and a tree to hand.
DECATHLON.CO.UK | £8 | ★★★★☆
POWERMONKEY EXPLORER 2 REVIEW
When you’re away from the plug for days and you don’t want to wait for solar, the Explorer 2 is the answer: a rugged anodised chunk of battery boosting brilliance, its 6000mAh cell will see your smartphone through three full charges.
Drop it in a puddle, kick it on the floor: we found the Explorer 2 to be truly tough and, though we didn’t dunk it in a bucket, getting it wet is water off a duck’s back for this IP67-rated companion.
Better still, it delivers charge at quite a rapid rate – far from the sluggish times of some packs – and, if you’re travelling with lots of tech, the plethora of connectors and adapters included should see you sorted, whatever the device.
Charging overnight? The dinky display is backlit in blue, so you can check charge levels easily, using the one-button interface.
There’s no escaping that the Explorer 2 is a heavy bit of kit for its size – weighing in at 286g – but for the capacity, the strength and the adaptability it offers, there’s little out there that can beat it.
Heavy it might be, but this backup battery has enough boost to see you through the weekend – not to mention its tough-as-nails credentials.
POWERTRAVELLER.COM | £79 | ★★★★☆
HI-TEC LIBERO II REVIEW
If you’re doing Le Mans properly, you’ll spend more than your fair share of time traipsing the miles of dirt tracks and grass banks of the Circuit de la Sarthe – so you’ll be wanting some sturdy shoes.
Thanks to the Libero IIs, though, sturdy can also be stylish: waterproof out of the box and highly grippy to boot, these svelte-feeling foot-wrappers are the ideal blend of lightweight comfort and all-weather durability.
Sure, they lack the ankle support of full-on hiking boots, but, when you’re strolling through the night in rain-soaked France, it’s freedom that your feet will want – in the form of this trail-shoe-meets-trekking-boot.
They’ll still need breaking in, of course, though less than you’d think – soft-lined sides and a spongey sole make for almost-instant enjoyment – whilst the exterior styling gratefully carries none of the hard rubber so common on similar shoes.
We suffered no slips, blisters or strains during our 5 days at a rather muddy Le Mans, and we were more than happy to lace up our Liberos every morning.
Waterproof, comfortable and less clunky than competitors, these boots are made for wearing, walking and wading.
HI-TEC.CO.UK | £60 | ★★★★★
GO TRAVEL QUIET ZONE EARPLUGS REVIEW
If you plan on sleeping at all during the 24 Heures du Mans, with four-wheeled machines whizzing past at hundreds of miles per hour, you’ll need to stuff your ears with something.
Opt for the Quiet Zone ‘Plugs and you’ll get comfort you can sleep in, as the double-bubble inserts – with two-deep silicon domes – slot snugly in your canal, without the tightness of traditional foam inserts.
There’s a helpful insertion tool included in the handy carrying case, whilst a choice of two filters – high frequency for room noise, low frequency for snoring (and engines) – ought to mean a peaceful night’s sleep, whatever the situation.
Sadly, they let in just a little too much noise. Sure, they take the edge off, and perhaps our ears are just too big, but the louder sounds still found their way through, making sleep a distracted affair.
If you want the trackside atmosphere and the ability to have a conversation, without sacrificing your hearing to the roar of a Corvette, these are superb. If you’re hoping for a quiet night’s sleep, be ready for some sonorous intrusions.
Fiddly but fine to wear, these ‘plugs don’t block as much sound as we’d like, but are a dream to sleep with.
GO-TRAVELPRODUCTS.COM | £10 | ★★★☆☆
SIMPLE AUDIO GO REVIEW
Sharing is caring, and this Bluetooth speaker is truly a a super way to share your sounds: with a rechargeable internal battery that’s good for more than two hours (longer, if the music is light), it’s a wire-free companion that’ll get the campsite grooving.
Impressive bass – courtesy of a dedicated driver – and a crisp, full sound across the tonal range make it an audiophile’s delight and, whilst it lacks the finesse of some higher-end speakers, in an outdoor environment it does the job perfectly.
Pairing is a one-press doddle, and range is decent, even through tent walls. The Go isn’t waterproof, though, so it’s best to keep it under the gazebo.
If your phone isn’t playing ball with the wireless you can always opt for the auxiliary input, though this does tend to deliver a quieter output
As for interruptions, you can take Bluetooth calls straight from the speaker, thanks to a built-in microphone that’s surprisingly clear – making the Go a go-to for cable-free fun.
Long battery life, full-bodied sound and reliable bluetooth connectivity make this a stellar choice for those in need of campsite tunes.
AMAZON.CO.UK | £75 | ★★★★★
FREEPLAY TUF RADIO REVIEW
Tuning into the radio commentary is a must at Le Mans – not least if you’re miles from a big screen – and Freeplay’s TUF Radio is a fine way to do so.
A rugged, eco-friendly device with both wind up and solar power options, we found its crank handle to be the far more effective method of boosting its battery life (which averaged at around 30 minutes from 2 or 3 minutes of quick winding, with a from-full maximum of more than 5 hours).
In theory, it’ll also give your phone a quick boost – though it took us 10 minutes of cranking to gain 1%. Still, this waterproof, droop-proof cylinder makes sense if you’re bored of rummaging around for a fresh pack of AA batteries – even if it’s a little chunky.
It also packs a low-powered torch for late-night guy rope avoidance, and – best of all – there’s an in-built speaker for sharing the sweet sounds of the on-track action. Using it at volume does tend to drain the battery fairly rapidly, but a quick wind every 15 minutes is no real chore.
If you prefer privacy, there’s a headphone jack hidden under a flap, whilst a sizeable aerial ensures decent reception (across several bands), even under cover. Fuzz not your friend? The tuner is digital, so there’s no need to search through the waves manually.
A rugged radio with charging smarts, the battery life might not be the longest, but it’s hardly a task to top it up.
FREEPLAYENERGY.COM | £35 | ★★★★☆
SIGG HOT & COLD ONE ACCENT FLASK REVIEW
Planning on going the full 24 hours at Le Mans? You’ll be needing some strong, hot coffee to keep you going, then.
Thankfully, this Hot & Cold flask from SIGG is supreme at keeping your tipple toasty. A 0.5L brew poured at 9am was still hot to swallow at 9pm, which truly blew us away – and kept us keen throughout the day (and night).
It’s also a tough cookie, surviving a couple of drops and knocks, whilst the clip-lock lid suffered no leaks whatsoever – even when inverted.
Under the cap, there’s a handy spout to sip from, and lovers of loose-leaf tea will welcome the optional internal filter. When you’re home, it all unscrews for easy cleaning.
Come crunch-time, a flask ought to keep its contents warm, itself whole and its carrier dry. The Accent does all three with aplomb.
A sturdy, spacious container that will keep your tipple hot for hours, day or night, it’s tough to find more convenience than the clip-lock lid.
UK.SIGG.COM | £23 | ★★★★★
TREKMATES SELF-INFLATING PILLOW REVIEW
A good rest requires a good nest, and no sleeping area is complete without a soft place to lay your head.
Treat your top to self-inflating comfort with this pillow from Trekmates. A cushioned affair that rolls up tightly (aided by the attached elastic straps), when released it draws in air all by itself.
Sure, you might like to put in some final puffs to reach your favoured firmness, but at any level of full this is a properly comfy pillow to kip on.
What’s more, for those who like their head up high, it can grow to truly surprising size. Use the corner valve to inflate or deflate, and you’ll soon find a happy medium on which to meditate.
When it’s time to pack, the pillow wipes down with ease and rolls up smaller than you’d expect, slipping neatly into its sheathe.
Did we like it? Sweet dreams say yes.
Self-inflating and soft to boot, this is the perfect pillow for those who prefer to camp in cranial comfort.
TREKMATES.CO.UK | £10 | ★★★★★
VICTORINOX WAITER SWISS ARMY KNIFE REVIEW
Little needs to be said about the quality of Victorinox’s knives, so synonymous are they with the production of pen-sized tools. Such is the Swiss company’s prowess with pointy bits of metal, they’ve been supplying the army for decades.
Forget the superfluous scissors, files and saws of the deluxe products, though: where weight and space are at a premium, simple is better – and the Waiter is simple done perfectly.
One blade, one corkscrew, one bottle opener. That’s your lot – apart from a smartly concealed toothpick and tweezer set. It’s all wrapped in the famous red shell, of course, and, at Le Mans, there’s nothing more you need from your knife.
It’ll open wine, whittle wood and pop a beer cap, as well as survive some serious drops and knocks – all whilst looking sleek, slim and appropriately Swiss.
Swiss simplicity that you can rely on, this is the knife for those in need of refreshment.
VICTORINOX.COM | £15 | ★★★★★
FREEPLAY RADIANCE SOLAR LANTERN REVIEW
Darkness: it’s the bane of every camper’s life. Send it packing with this solar-powered lantern from Freeplay. It packs a panel on its top that – stop the press – actually charges, delivering juice at a decent rate to its in-built cell, provided that it’s in strong, direct sunlight.
According to the on-board indicator the lamp will charge from ambient light (including under canvas), but it’s not speedy. A few hours in the beams is better – and will boost it enough for an entire evening’s light, depending on which of the three brightness settings you opt for. For the impatient, theres also a microUSB slot.
The triple LED setup is plenty powerful enough to light an event shelter, whilst the heft of the unit is justified by its ability to charge electronics – albeit slowly – via USB, giving a 10-20% zap to your mobile’s power pack. If you’re away from the plug for a while, it’s a winner.
Oh, and if disaster strikes, there’s a piercing emergency alarm – just don’t press the red button by accident.
A sizeable light source that’ll banish the darkness and boost your battery – as long as the day was sunny.
FREEPLAYENERGY.COM | £32 | ★★★★☆