Camping Stretchers - The New Goodnight
We recently had cause to reinvestigate the humble camp stretcher and we've modified our previous disdain of this age old sleeping implement.
We took a brief look at stretchers in the article Rest Easy - Camping Mattress and declared that camp stretchers ranked pretty low on the camp comfort chain.
Well times have changed and the poorly made, potentially fatal, army style stretcher has been replaced with a few innovative and dare we say it, comfortable designs.
Modern canvas materials, lightweight aluminium extrusions, clever hinges and thoughtful design have created a modern line of camp bedding that may even be acceptable to an old flat-on-the-ground-in-the-dirt swag lover.
Needing a compact camping stretcher for a quick trip from one side of the continent to the other, a camping store was sought out, ninety nine dollars exchanged (discounted 25% - on sale) and the stretcher disconcertingly dumped into the back of the ute.
First day saw nearly 900 kilometres covered and some weary bones needing some rest. Driving on corrugated dirt roads is much more demanding on the body and takes it's toll on the psyche, with concentration levels needing to be fully functional to avoid slamming into washouts and dust holes.
A quick meal, a couple of drinks and the stretcher was folded out ready for sleep, with a minimum overnight temperature of 32°C on the way.
There's no need to go into brands because the market leaders are all constructed in much the same way. Modern canvas is stretched between two poles and a series of folding legs elevate the whole unit off the ground, which is a nice touch. Some parts of Australia have more than their fair share of things prepared to bite you. Having recently been bitten in the armpit by a centipede, sleeping up off the ground made for a pleasant change and knowing that the only things likely to attack you are winged, puts to rest any concerns about unwanted pedestrian assailants.
At six feet two inches and weighing ninety five kilograms, I felt the stretcher was in for a reasonable test. It didn't budge, groan, implode or shown any signs of giving up. Look for heavy canvas, plenty of stitching, heavy duty tubing and, most importantly, solid hinging where the legs fold up. The zipper on the bag gave up on day three which is a pain because it meant plenty of intrusive red dust onto the stretcher itself but that was the only week point noticed in the whole package.
Gone are the days of probing metal components jabbing into the soft fleshy bits. Modern camp stretchers are bigger than ever before and with the advent of stronger aluminium, greater spans can be made in the frame meaning less to prod you. Head and toes never contacted the end of the bed which was always an issue with old style, fold-up, sprung, stretchers beds.
The tension across the canvas was good, aided by header and footer rails which locked into the side rails providing a flat, consistent surface that didn't sag in the heavier torso region.
There was no need for blankets and it was certainly too hot to rest up in a tent but nearly two weeks of bunking down on the stretcher followed by driving days of around 1000km, saw a thoroughly rested and content camper.
It's surprisingly nice to wake up and swing your legs over the side of a bed, as low as stretchers are, and just sit there taking in the rising sun. No battling to get to your feet after laying on a paper thin swag on top of a pile of rocks.
The other bonus is that the camp stretcher made a reasonable seat. With no camp chair on offer it was nice to have what turned out to be some sort of apparatus to sit on, albeit minus the backrest. The tray back of the Nissan ute provided a sturdy camp table but the stretcher could see triple duties as bed, chair and table. In fact I straddled it to eat from. My respect was growing day by day.
With all this new found love for the humble camp stretcher I was initially blinded by its faults. Firstly it bit me. The soft inner part of the index finger was pinched between one of the foldings legs, despite the sticker warning of its capability for damage at each hinge.
Next the balmy, tropical thirty degree nights of the north turned to twelve degrees as I approached the south and I froze. Laying on the ground develops some insular heat between you and the dirt which helps keep you warm. Stretchers have nothing but atmosphere under them and its a bitter cold that assaults you from underneath at night. A swag or blanket would undoubtably alleviate the issue but I'm acclimatised to the heat of northern Australia and unprepared for the cruel weather of the south. We didn't even own jackets or wind cheaters, until recently, when we visited Melbourne and nearly died. In summer.
Despite the nasty scar on my index finger, despite the dust from the broken zipper and despite a near fatal night in intolerable temperatures, I'm sold. Camp stretchers are for me. They weigh about the same as a swag and pack away smaller. If it rains you don't end up sleeping on the bottom of a river. Snakes crawl under you and not over you. Ventilation is a 360° affair, with air circulating all around the sleeper and to top it off, they're downright comfortable.
From now on I'm constructing my bed, not making it.
We take a look at a range of Camp Bed options at Rest Easy - Camping Mattress
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