Folding Camp Tables
One of the most versatile and frequently used pieces of camping equipment is the folding table and with a huge job description it needs to be pretty sturdy to succeed as an addition to the equipment list.
Folding tables have been around for decades in one form or another. Originally manufactured as card tables that could be easily packed up and stored away, modern folding tables come in a raft of styling variations.
Although the original card table is still humbly available, new construction methods and materials mean there are products available better able to handle the rough and tumble of a bush camping trip.
Unlike the manicured carpets of the Mullengandra Ladies Bridge Club, the gravel and dirt of the Australian bush doesn’t provide a perfectly level foundation for setting up a camping platform.
At times finding or attempting to level a piece of flat ground is nearly impossible. Something has to give and often it will be the legs and bracing of the table forced into flexing to accommodate the shortfalls in the terrain.
From there the table top can be called into service as a cooking bench, food preparation area, kid’s play table, fish filleting bench, nappy change table, pedestal for dishwashing, step ladder or a host of duties restricted only by imagination.
It may be left in the baking sun or pouring rain, cleaned with salt water, stained red with dust, scoured clean and thoroughly abused. Camping tables tend to get the same treatment as Camping Chairs and a table made from inferior componentary can generally expect a reduced life.
A folding camping table is one of those pieces of equipment that never seems large enough. There is always one more thing that wants to be squeezed on to its surface and irrespective of its dimensions - human nature will tend to consume all of the available space.
Generally, size equates to weight. As tables get bigger, the legs, bracing and tabletop material need to increase proportionally, in order to maintain strength.
Avoid long tables unless they are adequately braced back to the centre of the table and can take substantial downward pressure in the unsupported centre area.
Some manufacturers overcome weak or long table tops by installing an additional pair of legs in the centre. Our advice when purchasing a table for camping is to avoid anything with more than 4 legs.
On uneven ground 4 legs alone can be difficult to level but the introduction of another pair of legs can make the task unbearable. The stresses introduced into the frame by uneven legs cause distortion, rocking and premature wear.
Simplicity is the key when selecting a table for camping or touring. Look for a minimum of moving parts. With the legs unfolded, examine the locking system used to keep the frame from collapsing. Try and find a simple system that relies on clever design to lock the table rather than fancy clips and braces.
Examine the legs and assess the strength of the metal. Telescopic legs (legs slide inside themselves) will require a locking device to stop the table collapsing. This is an additional moving part.
The bracing should reach a reasonable length down the leg to provide solid support and eliminate flexing. Table legs that have short braces near the top of the table are reminiscent of the old style card tables and tend to wobble. Tables that provide some sort of ‘triangulation’ in the bracing tend to remain stable - see fig (a)
Tables that have legs that ‘cross’ each other, also make for a very strong design, and can often incorporate a very simple height adjustment.(see image below)(b)
Additional horizontal bracing, as seen at (c), creates extra rigidity in the frame and makes for a very strong table.
When looking at table tops the options are numerous. Smooth shiny surfaces are usually very easy to clean and dry readily. However, they are often ‘laminated’ (similar to a kitchen bench) and if the manufacturing process is inferior - time will see the various layers separate. One piece, plastic, moulded table tops are generally harder to keep clean but offer a durable hard wearing surface.
If possible, avoid table tops that have glued or riveted edges and tops.
When buying a table size will usually be the first factor to be considered. Where will it be stored on the car or 4WD or in the caravan or camper?
Once that is decided look for the simplest design, made from the strongest components, that weighs in at an acceptable mass. When you are in the store don’t be afraid to shake it around and put a decent amount of weight downwards while doing so.
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