Camping and the rule of three...

One of the great joys of camping is the cleansing effect of leaving everything unnecessary at home, to be able to carry everything you need with you, giving a real snail-in-it's-shell independence. But to do this you need to throw away all your conditioning, the airing cupboard full of clothes is a long way away, so how do you plan?

joys of camping

The answer is of course the 'The Rule of Three'. As a system it's very simple and it means you carry the bare minimum and yet manage to smell reasonably acceptable when you meet people who haven't spent the week in a tent. This method is of course based on civilised camping where both showering and cloth washing facilities are available (as when camping in France), but it works pretty well for rough campers willing to dive into mountain streams...

It works like this... you need three items of any clothing that you wear next to your skin. So let's take socks as an example.

Day 1 - You put on the first pair of nice clean socks and cycle all day in them. By the end of the day these will be a tadge 'ripe'. So when you go and have your shower you then put on the second pair of (clean) socks.

Day 2 - You get up in the morning and put on the dirty socks from day 1. Now I know they are going to be a bit smelly, but they have been airing for 12 hours and as you'll be cycling they aren't going to be tooooo bad. The second pair of nearly clean socks, which you've only worn on clean feet for a few hours, are put into the 'nearly clean' bag. That evening you shower and put on the 'nearly clean' socks and then wash the dirty pair.

This means that you now are wearing pretty clean socks, have a totally clean and unused pair and a third pair clean but wet.

Day 3 - Today you put on the nearly clean pair of socks and put the wet socks on the outside of the bike to dry (if you haven't dried them already). At the end of the day you again shower, put on the unused pair of socks and wash the, by now, quite dirty socks.

This means you are now wearing clean socks, have a totally clean pair that you've dried, and another pair clean, but wet.

Repeat as necessary...

This method applies to pants, socks, and T-shirts. Carrying three of each will take up very little room. It means that you will always have in your bag a clean, dry pair of socks etc.

It also applies to towels. I carry three 'muslin nappies' - these are made of something like cheesecloth and will both dry you after a shower, and dry themselves very quickly. Carrying three (old T-towels do just as well) means you should always have a clean(ish) dry towel. People carrying a 4 foot bath towel generally end up growing mushrooms by the end of a week...

The snag (which I guess you've noticed) is if it rains... In this case you may not be able to dry those socks and in this case once you have one wet pair it's important to NOT wash another. You simply stop the cycle and continue to wear the dirty pair in the day, shower and then put on the relatively clean pair in the evening, all the while trying to dry the third pair. In this way the worst case scenario is that you do get a bit smelly in the day, but in the evenings you will remain fragrant.

The Rule of Two

With items that are not next to the skin the 'rule of two' comes into force. It works like the rule of three, but because these clothes will not get so smelly you can run them on a two day cycle - i.e. one on, one clean etc but because these items will never get as smelly this is less critical.

Total packing

What this system means is that you should carry three pairs of socks, pants and three T-shirts. Two pairs of cycling shorts and fleeces make up the kit and that total will take very little space. Remember that in extremis buying a clean set of socks or a cheap T-shirt will cost pence.

To this list of clothing I add a set of thermal underwear which I wear in cold weather as pyjamas - in the summer there's no real need, but out of season it's a very versatile addition to your kit and something that you can wear under fleeces to keep you toasty in the evenings. A pair of lightweight camping trousers, or an indian cotton dress will help the image in the evening and not add much to your weight.

Some of you may have realised that this is all you need for any length tour - in fact you need carry little more for a 6 week adventure than you would for a weekend away.

And on a personal note, I find the use of a decent underarm deodorant makes my T-shirts last a LOT longer before people move away from me in bars...

Thanks to for providing this article

also see our camping checklist article