If you’re a regular reader of this blog it’s quite likely that you already enjoy the outdoors and camping. It’s also a fair assumption that the vast majority of you that do camp do so on designated campsites. We certainly do the majority of our camping on them. The convenience, particularly since having the kids, of having somewhere to shower the sand, grass, muck and insects out of their hair and crevices is not to be underestimated. However, if you truly want to get back to basics, align yourself with nature, and immerse yourself in the awesomeness of your surroundings, then maybe it’s time you gave wild camping a try.
Many people joke that camping is for people who spend a small fortune to live in cold discomfort for a short period. For non-campers I can see how this appears to have some truth to it. However, for avid outdoors folks like you and me, it’s about escaping the realities and distractions of life. Don’t get me wrong, Nat and I love a hotel break, but you’re simply swapping one building for another. Yes, you have people to run around after you but, invariably, you’ll still fall asleep on the bed watching some tired, made-for-TV movie.
A good hotel is a more opulent home-from-home. It’s somewhere that you go to for a change of scenery in cosy surroundings. As I see it, many campsites seem intent on striving for this home-from-home feel. With the rise of plush facilities and EHU hook- ups, you can now enjoy a hot shower before drying and styling your hair in your tent, then flicking the electric heating on to settle down to a DVD. Now, if EHU is the difference between a family enjoying some outdoor time and missing out, then I’m all for it. However, personally, we avoid it when camping on designated sites. For me, it just isn’t what I want camping to be about. We’re trying to escape distractions not create them.
So, as many sites focus on becoming more and more commercial, are we in danger of losing the fundamental idea behind camping? Are we losing that closer-to-nature ethos and becoming a halfway-house to a caravan? There is another way!
Wild camping is exactly what it sounds like: camping out in the wild. Although there is no open access policy currently in operation in England (with the exception of Dartmoor) and Wales, like there is in Scotland, by following some pretty straightforward principles it is still possible to go wild camping.
In theory, as land is owned, you’re supposed to contact the landowner to seek their permission first. However, when hiking and arriving in a very isolated spot late in the day, this is often not practical. If you’ve ensured that you are indeed isolated – out of sight of buildings and roads, and above any fence lines – then wild camping is, in the most part, tolerated in large parts of the UK.
Just ensure that you research the area that you intent to camp on to check local regulations. Although it is tolerated in many places, areas such as heritage sites are far less tolerant. It also goes without saying that, as with regular camping, a ‘leave no trace policy’ should be an absolute priority. You’re intention is to harmonise yourself with your natural surroundings, not destroy them.
Benefits of Wild Camping
The most obvious benefit is seclusion. There are no noisy or nosy neighbours for a start. I may sound miserable at this point but, believe me, I’m not. We love going away to campsites with groups of our friends and family. We have a great time all together. But, sometimes, it’s amazing just to escape everything and enjoy some genuinely rare peace and tranquillity. Modern life is terrifyingly busy. Sometimes we just need to pause it and wild camping is the perfect way.
There’s also no having to ensure you’re within the given parametres of a pitch that’s been selected for you. Often, established campsites with the best views and locations get busy, particularly during silly season. It’s still great to get away and spend a few nights under canvas, but don’t be surprised if your fellow campers are close enough to overhear your conversations and spoil your view with their elaborate awning or kitchen setups. By selecting your wild camping spot carefully, you could have the whole area, for literally miles around, to yourself!
If you have the whole area to yourself and you’ve followed our guidance on camping high, then you’ll also have minimised any light pollution. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear night, you’ll be treated to a truly exquisite night under the brightest and biggest stars you’ve seen for a long time. When the skies are this bright who needs a made-for-TV movie!
As well as this seclusion, you’ll also have access to pretty much the best scenery your chosen area can throw at you. I’ve been to some stunning campsites – Aberafon, on the Llyn Peninsula, for example, is truly wonderful. In fact, we’ve already booked to return later this summer. However, for the same reason that many of us hike, scramble and climb, often the best views and vantage points are located far away from the nearest road. Get your map, plan your route, and be amazed by what you can find when you explore on foot.
Another great reason to go wild camping is to beat the rush. By the time other hikers are vying for car parking spaces near the start of your favourite trail, you’ll already be on it. By the time you’ve packed down and had a morning coffee with a view, you’ll continue your journey still miles ahead of the chasing pack. Leaving your wild camping spot early also minimises the risk of upsetting any potential landowners by hanging around all day.
Downsides of wild camping and how to overcome them
Although wild camping is a wonderful experience, it does definitely have some drawbacks. The most obvious, of course, it that you’ve got to lumber all of your gear with you. That’s tent, sleeping bag and mat, cooking apparatus, food, water etc. etc., all in addition to what you’d ordinarily carry in your day pack.
On my last wild camping adventure we had planned a full day of hiking and scrambling on day one. This meant that by the time we were ready to push on up towards our final summit of the day, we’d been walking somewhere in the region of 8-9 hours and had ascended over 1500 metres. To say we were goosed would be an understatement. At one point we were even ready to compromise and camp slightly lower down. We did, however, persist through gritted teeth and were rewarded with an awesome spot next to Llyn Clyd in Snowdonia.
Obviously, lightweight gear will reduce the strain, but camping near a water source will also help significantly. Water is seriously heavy, so any natural water sources that you can utilise will mean less to carry in reservoirs/bladders and bottles. Just ensure you have a way of purifying the water before you drink it. There is a wealth of filters available on the market, such as the Hydroblu filter we recently tested, but purification tablets/drops work equally well. If in doubt, boil it too.
Another drawback is that, once you’ve pitched up, you could technically be asked to move on by a landowner. If you’ve followed our simple guidance, plus arrived late on in the afternoon/evening, then this should be an absolute rarity. It’s certainly something to consider though.
Wild camping in isolated areas means you’re more prone to extremes of weather. Consequently, you and your gear need to be prepared. Although lightweight backpacking tents are available, I personally prefer a tent with proven mountain ability. Yes, they may weigh a couple more kilos, but you have the added reassurance that if the weather changes you’ll still be dry and warm.
As you’ll be camping in very isolated spots it’s often pretty difficult to judge precisely the ground conditions. You have to be a little bit flexible if the designated point you’ve identified on the map turns out to be one giant bog when you arrive.
‘But what if I need the toilet?’ I hear you cry. First of all make sure that you relieve yourself as far away from water sources as possible. Aim to leave a distance of at least 50 metres to avoid becoming a polluting factor yourself. If you need a number two, dig down and ensure that it’s then buried with the loose earth. Finally, don’t bury tissues or wipes. Chuck these in with your other rubbish and secure them to/in your rucksack.
I’m not saying that wild camping is for everyone. Nor I am saying that I’ll now forever shun proper campsites. Far from it. We love campsites and will continue to use them for as long as we’re able. However, for precisely the reasons outlined in this article, we’ll complement our campsite adventures with some wild camping too. There really is nothing like it.
As ever, if you’ve got any questions or queries, or you know of the perfect wild camping spot, just give me a shout.