Tuesday, January 15

Wildcamping - A Help with the Basics

Following some recent correspondence (Hi Billy) I was reminded that some of the wildcamping/backpacking experiences you may read on here and other places can sometimes gloss over certain key things as taken for granted.

We're talking about the basics. The things we all pick up along the way; Or perhaps don’t as the case may be for certain folk.

I’ve always been interested in outdoor activities and for many years camping was often the only way I could afford a holiday away from home. Over time I’ve sorted out what works, and what doesn’t. And along the way introduced others, particularly family members, to painless and enjoyable camping.

So here's a few tips that I hope may help the less experienced out there. Not so much How-To-Do, more a Right -Mind-Approach:

1. Make it Fun.
The golden rule I’ve always applied. The difference between roughing it, and enjoying the experience can be a very thin line. Often it's as simple as understanding the basics (e.g putting up a tent) That means applying common sense with observation and thought.

And the key tip is to arrange things for comfort where at all possible. This last point is the clincher. A few luxuries (and at times these have included a dry pitch spot, warm sleeping bag, leak proof tent etc) make all the difference.

And the nil cost luxury - keep a tidy tent. That way objects will be where you last put them, for when they are next needed. As you get used to your particular tent model you swiftly sort out how to use the layout to your own personal advantage.

2. Attitude.
Think you’ll hate it - and you will. Stay positive and open to change, and the dividends in your experience growth can be rapid. An important approach which leads to.....

3. Make mistakes.
Lots of them ideally. But try to back off as you learn more! And definitely non-lethal please!

That means don’t start out on top of Ben Nevis in deepest winter when newly kitted out with the content of the local outdoor shop, a vague memory of Scout trips, and a 'Camping For Idiots' book.

First get used to pitching the tent (i.e. putting it up). Then cooking (away from the tent until you understand the risks with mixing in-porch/in-tent cooking & naked flames) Sleeping arrangements (bag/base mat); And finally how to strike the tent (i.e. take-it down) So easy when dry and windless. But very interesting in a stormy downpour after a poor night's sleep.

Try a couple of nights on a quiet campsite or in the back garden to get a feel for how it all hangs together. And if you make the big mistakes, at least there is usually the nearby car to whisk you to that B&B, or possibly a breezy night kipping in the nearby toilet block. But ensure fall-back on early outings until you get the hang of the ropes.

And if the thought of the 'normal' sites fills you with dread, pick some low-level wildcamping spots initially. Such locations as Stickle Tarn in the Lake District Langdales is often used as an taster, with car/pub less than an hour straight downhill - one that requires virtually nil route finding. That's why it's so busy (and no secret) But you don't have to join the rest of the group - there are plenty of spots within 10 minutes walk.

4. Chose your spot carefully, but don't get hung up on perfection.
Peak and ridge wildcamping has it own set of rules due to height and exposure. And especially true where the wind is concerned.
That's when Shelter (below the ridge, using it as a windbreak) Weather (wind shift in the night) and an eye for using the Topography of the ground start to become useful.
Improvements usually come based on past mistakes and an increased affinity with the world around you. But start safe.

For instance personally I would never choose a high peak to wildcamp (wind/exposure/too busy with early visitors) Similarly whilst I enjoy the proximity to water, a bad night's sleep spent near a noisy waterfall means I wouldn't recommend it. Similarly camping too near a tarn in summer - the swarms of black flies are very good at Hide & Seek.

If you find a flat well-sheltered spot with a 5 minutes walk to fresh running water - grab it. But more likely you'll be on lumpy grass & possibly wet, or on a water drainage channel of some sort. Stays high to avoid water, low to avoid wind, and flat to avoid rolling to one end side of the tent overnight. Easy!
Oh. And don't forget the view!

Again its one of those things you get right with doing it. There's something in my mental make-up that means that I always have one eye open for potential spots when passing through my surroundings. And not just when out on the hills. I do the same on local farmland walks; Forest wanders; And even in city centres at times; The potential spots start to leap out at you after a while.

And learn to read the map like a favourite friend. The information is there but it takes time to reveal itself. Most of us never manage to get that one to our real satisfaction.

5. Courtesy/Humility
Good wildcamp locations are shared, not offered - well good ones at least. Doesn't stop you quietly asking at the right time, explaining your interest i.e. not in an open forum for all to see. And if you get rebuffed, well nothing lost.

Similarly if you're wandering the hills, don't be afraid to check your location/direction if you cross paths with other walkers. There's many a camp spot locally that I would never had spotted from the main path otherwise.

And definitely no butting in where there's a wildcamp already. Certainly not without due courtesy to the camper. That way lies very slack guy ropes when you wake up half an hour before an early dawn one the other camper's departure. Not that this blog would condone that sort of activity at all.
Only joking. Many a wildcamper is content to share the passing of time in a unique way. But if rebuffed, allow the individual their space and camp elsewhere, out of their immediate sight.

6. Think
Look around. Make your choice with care. And then cope with it.
If pitched in a dip consider water run-off from surrounding slopes. Cold air will settle in a hollow overnight, with mist/fog a likely result if wet. Look for likely loose rock. If it does break lose (unlikely for rocks millions of years old I know, but it happens) where is the stone likely to roll/fall. Camping under a cliff face is not recommended.

And coping? It it's not working, move to somewhere that does, if conditions allow. Or suffer a little and learn.

And as I write I realsie I could go on in a similar fashion for many pages, but there's already plenty of good solid advice around. I was about to look at details intended for a beginner, or at least one who knew some of the camping basics, but was a little more wary of this wild camping thing. But as I said there’s already much excellent information around. So rather than repeat it, here’s some simple but essential stuff that I have used myself, and still do when I feel like brushing up my approach.

(That would be Point 7 then - Learn from others)

Chris Townsend has forgotten more than I know, and based it on trial and error, finding what works, and keeping an open mind to new ideas. "The Backpacker's Handbook" says it all so well.

But for those champing at the bit after making that Internet purchase here's a couple of gems to keep you going.

For factors in choosing a campsite Wildcamp breaks down the basics. Just a pity it doesn't seem to have been updated since 2005. But then good basic information rarely dates.

Want to know more about the detail and practical side of wildcamping? V-G is out there and doing it in style, passing the experience along.

And of course there are the experiences of the blogging fraternity (links on the right) At times you'll need to be selective, and probably dig out a map to check the details, but one way of gathering experience is by listening to other's successes. And better still, their failures.

And finally read the Mountain Rescue Team Incident Reports. Not that you'll find much about wildcamping, but plenty of reminders about folk who thought they knew it all, and didn't. Or more sadly - those that did but still came unstuck.
Whilst the best learning is usually through personal experience, some of these reports are reminders that its best to prepare and understand the risks. Don't start out like these please.

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Dam your good ;-)

Like this a lot.

Nice one
Thanks WD - the best pieces come from the heart, but are triggered by those around us
Nicely put John: You are right - we tend to take for granted the skills we have accumulated over the years and it is only when you see a horror show or read the MRT reports of rescues that you realise that perhaps this sort of basic campcraft will come a lot more slowly to youngsters as there are fewer and fewer youth groups or school trips going into the hills where this can be picked up.

Fantastic, John! Lots of invaluable advice there and truly inspiring.
glad to help out
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