A few years ago I spent two and a half months hiking alone around the perimeter of Wales. Each night, if a campsite came about at the right time then I’d use it, but more often than not I wild camped (or ‘rough camped’ as I called it back then). And I loved those nights – loved them so much that after I finished the trek I found myself regularly craving them.
That craving hasn’t gone away and it's led me on to do more big hikes, and to also just go out for the odd night when I can.
Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a method that makes these outdoor nights as smooth as possible. I thought I’d share my method on, along with some other tips and advice for UK wild camping.
Leave No Trace
When wild camping it’s absolutely essential to ensure you’re respectful of the landscape and of others. One of the big, all-important rules of wild camping is to leave nothing behind afterwards – as they say, leave no trace and take nothing but pictures. It’s also important to keep noise as low as possible, to camp in an unobtrusive spot and to pitch late and leave early.
Know Where You’re Going
Have an idea of where you’ll be able to camp before you set out. At the very least, just take a moment to look at a map and work out where you’re likely to have reached by the time you’ll want to make camp. If it doesn’t look like there’ll be anywhere suitable, you’ll either need to change your pace or re-route.
On my last wild camp, I went out with some of the new kit from Snugpak, including their Journey Duo tent, Softie Expansion 2 sleeping bag and their Air Mat (which was included in the Outdoors Magic 100). While I could tell the tent would be easy to use from the pictures on its packaging, I still made sure to put it up before the trip just in case. Last spring, I lent another tent I have to a friend who was hiking the Cotswold Way. I told them that it would be really easy to put up. On their first day of the hike they called me at 10 o’clock in the evening, sounding pretty distressed, to tell me it was pitch black, the rain was hammering down and they couldn’t figure out how to put it up.
You can see how I got on on my last wild camp in the video below.
Don’t Let Instagram Influence Your Pitch
I remember one evening on a hike in Wales a few years ago when I passed over a sheltered spot in favour of a slightly exposed one – not for an Instagram shot, I should add, but just so I could get a nice view of the sunset from my tent. A few hours later, when the wind was slamming into my tent, I wished I hadn’t been so foolish. So my recommendation is to by all means seek out somewhere where you might get a good view, but always make sure that first and foremost it’s sensible and safe. Ever seen the Instagram account YouDidNotSleepThere? It’s an amusing demonstration of this.
Take Time to Cook
There’s something very satisfying, meditative even, about cooking hot food off a portable stove, even if the food is as basic as Batcherlor’s Pasta n’ Sauce (my go-to backpacking food). Hot food also has obvious benefits in cold weather – especially in regards to morale. Cold stuff like sandwiches might be the easy option, but they definitely won’t be as satisfying.
This is the element that can make or break a hike so easily. Like most people, I don’t like hiking in bad weather, but I can tolerate it so long as I know there’ll be respite later on in my tent. The main rule here is to ensure that every bit of wet kit doesn’t get further than your tent porch. Will Copestake gave a good tip in this article about camping in the rain where he says how he’ll often carry a cloth to mop up any damp spots that might have somehow invaded his shelter.
A wise man once said to me that backpacking is all about striking the right balance between comfort during the day and comfort at night. And it’s so true isn’t it? Bring all your home comforts with you and you’ll pay the price of having to lug a heavy rucksack with you, whereas if you go ultra, ultra light, you might be sacrificing a good night’s sleep. Technical kit obviously has its benefits in this regard, but it also pays to improvise. For instance, instead of carrying a pillow, I’ll stuff my down jacket and clothes into my sleeping bag’s stuff sack. If the ground is wet when I need to cook, I’ll just sit on my bag’s rain cover to save me carrying some kind of blanket or sheet – if I’ve got a laminated map I’ll use that instead.
Bring a Luxury
Following on from the point above, while I always try and pack light, I'll still always take some kind of treat or luxury with me on a wild camp. This might be in the form of a can or two of beer, a drop of whisky, a pocket radio, or a load of chocolate. Often with wild camping you’ll have worked pretty hard to get to your spot, and therefore I think it’s important to have a bit of a reward to look forward to in the evening.
Like many people, I spend too much time on my phone, and I do have to fight the temptation to look at it sometimes, even when I’m out wild camping. But I’ve come to realise the difference switching off can make to the experience. Ignore the itch for a little bit and it eventually disappears. It’s amazing then how quickly the hours can be whiled away by just sitting and enjoying a good view or sunset.
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