Nights in Black Graphene by Jason Whyte
Or, how to do two weeks of camping with the minimum of outdoor clothing, courtesy of my Graphene-X kit.
We are a camping family. For most of the last decade - apart from last year, of course - we’ve spent our summer vacation camping in various scenic parts of the UK. But as our children have grown, so has the amount of gear that I have to work out how to fit in the car.
Now, I am good at packing cars. There was the time my wife and I went to les 24 Heures du Mans, and on for a two week holiday in Lot et Garonne, in a Lotus Elise. Into that magnificent little sports car’s 118 litre boot I managed to fit two bags of clothes, a tent, an inflatable mattress and pump, two sleeping bags, two camping stools, a selection of books, assorted headtorches and lights, a small camera, a disposable barbecue, a bag of foodstuffs, plates, knives and forks, a bottle of gin, a bottle of tonic, a flask of ice and two lemons. Laid out on the ground it was, all in all, twice the length of the car itself, but somehow I found a place for all of it.
In comparison, packing a people carrier for a family of five might sound like a doddle. But each year the kids need more space for themselves and for their gear, and something has to give. One of the common complaints from the family is that I pack far too much clothing for myself. I tend to want to be prepared for everything, and usually end up using only a fraction of what I take.
So this year, I set myself a challenge: as far as possible, I am only allowed to wear my Graphene-X gear, comprising in total my Alpha jacket (a Series I - though I am sorely tempted by the upcoming Series II), my GRAnaREC mid layer, two long-sleeved and two short-sleeved Layer-X tops, my Omega zip off trousers, and a few pairs of All Rounder socks. I have also packed some underwear (not yet on the Graphene-X product list - apparently Jorge hasn’t yet found a fabric suitable for the job) and an additional pair of shorts in case I need to wash the Omegas at some point.
The question is: can I get through two weeks in a tent, with all the weather conditions that British summertime can throw at me and all the activities that my family can demand of me, without wishing I’d packed a bit more gear?
Day 1: Travel, Arrival and Lions.
Our check-in time at the campsite is mid afternoon, so we decided against our traditional early start. Today I’m wearing my Omegas and a short-sleeved Layer-X, plus the Alpha jacket is kept handy in case it rains.
The first task of the day is loading the car. The single biggest item is our Berghaus Air 6 tent, but around it we have to fit 5 inflatable sleeping mats, 5 sleeping bags, 5 collapsible chairs, 1 large and 2 small collapsible tables, an electric cooker and electrical hookup cable, 2 Trangia meths stoves, a portable fire pit, a shower tent and camping shower, 5 bags of personal effects, knives, forks, spoons, cooking implements, the contents of the fridge, bags of toiletries, some exercise gear, various personal electronic devices deemed essential, some toys and games, the leftover firewood and charcoal from our last trip, some presents for family we are visiting during our stay, our bags of clothes, snacks and drinks for the journey. Plus the things that live in the car anyway: warning triangle, tyre inflator and repair kit, and a first aid kit.
This requires some ingenuity. The first trick is to fit as much as possible under the rear seats (usually the folding chairs, cables and headlamps), and to use the gap between the seats and the boot floor for as much of the squishy stuff (mats and sleeping bags) as possible. Then the tent bag, big enough that I could curl up inside it myself, goes in. After that, I arrange the other bags across the remaining space, stacking things up so as to leave a sliver of rear view. A couple of things that we might need en route go under the kids’ legs, and they cocoon themselves in their pillows and blankets.
My children are of an age where little I do impresses them, but my son describes my packing strategy as “like watching a game of three dimensional Tetris”, which I will take as a compliment.
Heaving our camping kit around and squeezing it into the car is hard work, and by the time we are ready to go I am hot and perspiring despite the relatively cool weather. However, I’m pretty confident that my kit will cool me down and dry off over the journey, and still be wearable at the end of it.
Some four hours later, we’ve arrived at our destination, and it’s time to unpack and set up the tent. The weather - thankfully - is warm and dry without being overly hot, but pitching a tent, even an air tent, is a recipe for ending up a mess. I’ve yet to find a way to do it that doesn’t involve scrabbling around on hands and knees at some point in the process, and today is no exception. It’s hot and sweaty time again, but once again I’m still looking pretty serviceable at the end of it. What dirt the Omegas have picked up is easily dusted off.
Our final stop of the day is to a nearby pub to watch the British and Irish Lions play their second test against South Africa. We have a table in front of the big screen as promised at the time of booking, but for reasons best known for themselves the publicans refuse to turn the sound up. It’s an odd experience watching it in silence, bringing with it a level of detachment that makes it easier to turn an analytical eye on what - after a close first half - ends up being a pretty comprehensive win for a South African team who are, after all, reigning world champions. My attire isn’t remotely out of place in the pub, though a casual observer could be forgiven for wondering if - in my black Layer-X - my allegiance lies with New Zealand’s All Blacks rather than the red of the Lions or the green of the Springboks.
And so, as a far more famous resident of my hometown was wont to write, to bed. It’s been a long day and I crash out pretty quickly. I’ve decided to reserve one of the long sleeved Layer-Xs for wearing overnight, which proves to be a good decision for nipping to the toilet block in the middle of the night.
Day 2 and 3 - lunch with mum, and in to town.
One of the reasons for our choice of destination this year is to visit family. My mother and both my sisters live within reach of our campsite, and courtesy of the pandemic we haven’t seen them in the last two years. I have a brand new nephew to meet, and our daughters are keen to see their cousins, who overlap with them in age. But the first port of call is my mum.
The day begins a bit grey and damp, so as well as swapping back into yesterday’s Layer-X and Omega combination, I put on my Alpha for morning ablutions. No-one feels particularly energetic, so we laze around in the tent reading and catching up with the Olympics, before heading out to see mum. By the time we reach her, the weather has improved quite a lot, and we take her out to a local cafe for a leisurely brunch before an afternoon at home with her, talking and watching her favourite programmes.
In the evening, I help the girls set up a volleyball net and play a bit with them, but then pull on the GRAnaREC, which is great for staying just the right temperature as the evening cools. We finish with a game of Trivial Pursuit (predictably won by my wife, whose knowledge of the obscure exceeds even my own) and the decision that tomorrow we will head to the nearest major town, with some shopping in prospect.
It’s traditional for us to forget at least one significant item when on holiday, and the morning of Day 3 confirms that we need two: it’s no longer fun or fair for our son to share with his sisters, and his sleeping mat has a definite puncture somewhere. So we’re heading to an outdoor shop for a cheap pup tent and a replacement.
It’s day three for Layer-X and Omega, and it’s a warm enough one that I decide to zip off the legs and wear them as shorts. The versatility is really helpful on a warm day - but I can still roll up the legs into a small enough package to tuck into a side pocket of my bag in case I need them later. This is a British summer, after all, where if you don’t like the weather you can wait for five minutes and it’ll change for something different. As it is, the day cools a little, but walking around town I am still warm enough that I can’t be bothered to go back to trouser mode. One of the big benefits of graphene-integrated clothing is temperature management - it’s good at keeping you at comfortable across a wide range of exertion levels and external temperatures.
And three days in, it still looks and smells good.
To be continued...
By Jason Whyte