As a freelance outdoor instructor, what keeps me occupied for part of the spring and summer is working with Duke of Edinburgh groups. Here in Scotland we don’t use campsites very often, so most of my nights out are spent wild camping. This means no toilets, no showers, no tap water, no electricity and, alas!, no internet. And every time the kids ask me: “Do you really like this?”. They always seem to be quite shocked when I explain to them that, not only I enjoy it, but I also do it in my spare time, with my friends, for fun! They must think that I’m a total loon..
So, in this article I’m going to explain why wild camping is great, I will tell you a few tricks to make it a bit more luxurious and, who knows, by the end of it you might even be tempted to give it a try!
Let’s start talking about some basic equipment you will need for your first wild camp. Bear in mind that everything you need has to fit in your rucksack, so it needs to be compact and also light enough. You’ll be surprised how quickly weight can add up. First and foremost you need a tent. This will be your house: bedroom, living room and kitchen, all in the same place. How convenient! Make sure it’s spacious enough to easily fit your sleeping bag and you inside it (being small helps), but again keep an eye on the weight. Tents tend to become very expensive as soon as a few grams are taken away from them, so sometimes compromising between weight and price is necessary. A really important thing to look for is a good porch. I always store my boots, rucksack, wet stuff and cooking set in the porch, so that I only have to take the bare minimum inside with me. It doesn’t really matter what shape tent you get, as long as you know how it works, you will quickly adapt to whatever tent you have.
Second, a sleeping bag. What type of bag you need will depend on the time of the year. I normally use a down bag for winter (warmer) and a synthetic bag for summer (lighter weight). Make sure it packs down to a reasonable size, to avoid taking up all the space in your rucksack. It is very important to keep your sleeping bag dry, so I always make sure I store it in a waterproof bag as well. There’s nothing worse than a soggy sleeping bag after a wet day in the hills.
But a sleeping bag on its own would’t be very comfortable, so it goes hand in hand with a sleeping mat. The better the mat, the more pleasant your night’s sleep will be. It doesn’t only make the surface you’re sleeping on more comfortable, but it also insulates you from the cold ground. Many types of sleeping mat are available: foam, self inflatable or blow up. Again, a good combination of size and weight is important. Luxury tip: I always bring with me an inflatable pillow. I can store it away flat in my bag, it only weights a few grams and barely takes up any space. Well worth it for that extra bit of comfort!
Now let’s talk about cooking. My cooking set barely takes up any space in my rucksack. It’s made up of a kettle-like pot, a small pocket size stove and a small gas canister. All this for a total price of about £35. There’s all sort of stoves available on the market, from Jetboils to Pocket Rocket and everything in between. My suggestion is to keep is small and simple, and organise your food in a way that will require the least cooking possible. Boil in a bag or dehydrated food are a very good option for wild camping. Everything is stored away in a pouch, it’s handy to carry and, above all, it’s quick and easy to cook. All you have to do is boil some water, that’s it! If you eat out of the pouch, then, this will save you washing up and carrying an extra pot to eat out of. Minimising the amount of washing up is really important to avoid contamination of the stream you have chosen to camp beside as well.
Other things I bring with me while wild camping are: a small wash kit (avoid the 1l bottle of deodorant, you are going to smell anyway..), a spoon to eat with, some spare clothes and socks to sleep in in case everything else got wet during my walk, a headtorch, a portable charger for my phone and my headtorch, a book. Always bring a book. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in your tent when it’s pouring with rain outside without anything to do. Oh, and a trowel. It is going to be really handy when you’ll need to fabricate your own wild toilet (make sure this is kept away enough from water sources in order not to contaminate them, and always follow the guidelines for going to the toilet in the wild).
Where to go
Now that you know exactly what you need, let’s talk about what to look for when choosing a spot for your first wild camp. Have you ever been on Skye in the middle of July, when lots of people pitch their tent straight off the main road? Well that’s not exactly best practice. Ideally, a wild camping spot should be off the main roads, tracks and paths. This doesn’t mean you need to go and hide not to be seen by anybody, but just keep tucked away in order not to be disturbed nor disturb others.
Having a water source near by is fundamental for every good wild camping spot. Ideally this would be a flowing stream of reasonable size, to make the collection of drinking water easier (always boil your water if you’re not sure it’s safe to drink!). In the middle of the summer, if you are lucky enough to find some sunny weather, a stream could even be a good option for showering! (No soap though, sorry..) It is also important to find reasonably flat ground, as nobody really likes to have a bumpy night.
A guest in the wildThe last few top tips for a perfect wild camp are: stay only one night and keep groups very small; don’t light fires, even if the people who stayed the night before did it; leave the campsite as you would want to find it, taking away all litter including toilet paper, sanitary products and other people’s rubbish. But the most important thing to remember is that you are a guest in the wild, so make sure you don’t take anything away, don’t leave anything that doesn’t belong there, and you help to protect the environment at all times.
Wild camping is a great way to discover hidden and remote corners of this beautiful country, and we are very lucky to be able to do it here in the UK. Alone or with friends, there’s nothing better than falling a sleep with the sound of water running down a stream, and being waken up by the songs of hundreds of birds. I love to be able to teach this to the Duke of Edinburgh groups I take out every spring, and see them realise that actually, it’s not such a bad past time after all!