Making the transition from day walks to multi-day treks is a great step to take, opening up a multitude of options when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. A route with even a single night out wild camping makes it into a journey and an adventure in its own right. Here are some top tips to help you on your way …
Leave the brushed-cotton paisley pyjamas at home
Light is right and this applies especially to your pack weight. So have some dry kit for the evening, and this is what you sleep in. But this principle applies across the board for when you are on a trek – even if you are overseas and porters will be employed to carry your baggage. Assign a value score for every item from 1 to 5 with 5 being vital kit and 1 is stuff to leave at home. Hence a sleeping bag may score 5, a pair of flip-flops 3, a book 2 and your ipod a 1. Be ruthless and your aching limbs will reap the benefits.
Line your sack
Even on the best of summer days it can rain. Being wet for the duration of a walk is one thing, but going to bed wet in a wet sleeping bag must be the most miserable of miserable experiences. Hence, always, always, always line your back-pack with a liner (eg rubble bag from a diy store or a dry bag from your local outdoor store). Sleep in your dry kit, and if it’s still raining in the morning, remember: dry kit off, wet kit on. If you wear your dry kit on a wet day you’ll end up with two sets of wet kit and no dry kit for the next night.
Wild Camping – Code of Conduct
Strictly speaking wild camping in the UK is largely illegal (an act of trespass). There are some exceptions such as most of Scotland and on Dartmoor. That said it is tolerated if it is done respectfully and responsibly.
Pitch your tent last thing in the day and strike it first thing in the morning. Stay one night only.
You should pitch well away from any roads and you should be at a height that is 600m above sea level.
Light no fires – use a stove.
LEAVE NO TRACE. No litter. No peel, no skins, no loo paper, nothing. And if there’s any litter already there – pack it out with you (it’s good karma!)
Location location location
Where you decide to camp will largely have been decided when you planned your trek with a map in front of you. And in those planning stages I look at the weather forecast and consider closely the speed of the prevailing winds and which direction they will be coming from. In this way I have comfortably slept through some horrendous mountain weather by sleeping in the lee of a mountain or even, just sheltered behind some rocks.
Camping by or near a water source will make life much easier for you and should feature high in the list of priorities. Beware of anything that might suggest that the ground is boggy – you’ll need to look elsewhere. Flat ground must never be underestimated – even a minor slope will lead to you sliding down your tent and detract from a good night of sleep. Finally a great luxury is having the option to consider the sun … In Scotland facing the tent door to the East can result in fewer midges building up outside the next day. If I want a lie-in I camp in to the west of a tree – rather than bake myself awake in the morning sun.
If you know you snore – you might like to be considerate to your companions and camp 50m away from them!
Other accommodation options
Remember you don’t need to camp to go back-packing. For a first multi-day trek, try using hostels, bunk-houses, back-country huts or bothies to help lighten your load and to lift your day.
Wild camping routines
There are numerous jobs that need doing and the order in which you do these may vary depending upon the weather and the length of your days.
Once you arrive you will in all likelihood be hot and sweaty. This is the time to remain active since you are the only source of heat that will dry your clothes (before putting them back on the next day). Pitching your tent now also makes sense if bad weather is headed your way. Other physical tasks include fetching (and purifying) water, and digging a latrine. Before you head off to dig a pit, maybe someone could be starting the process of boiling some water for a brew. When the labour has been done then start thinking about a quick wash (even if it’s just your feet, groin and armpits) and then getting some spare (dry) clothes on. Finally dinner can be prepared …
In the morning the first thing I do (after going for a leak) is to start boiling water. If my tent’s flysheet is wet I’ll take this and try and hang it out or lay it in the sun. With the flysheet off my tent, it’s also easier to access the contents of my tent; ie to start dressing in my day clothes. Following breakfast I can continue packing my kit with my tent being one of the last items to go in the bag – thus allowing maximum time to dry and being handy first thing at the end of the day. And remember to do a quick sweep before you head off – I once left my passport and wallet at a high camp (in Peru) 1000m up and 4 hours trek back from the road-head!
Dine like a Frenchman!
Light is right – but try and make an effort to cook a proper meal in the evening (with a pudding too!). It’s amazing how one stove combined with a bit of tupperware can be used to cook a hot meal for five people! Use some imagination, the local shops and steer clear of those de-hydrated ready meals! There’s no excuse not to dine like a king on the first night at least!
If I do decide for a quick meal, I really enjoy the military boil in the bag options. These days there are loads of menu choices to choose from. The pouches are not overly heavy and they’re packed with the calories you’ll need!
If you’re not a clean camper all sorts of problems might be headed your way from foot rot to diarrhoea. So take the time to wash and powder and at the end of the day, to dig a latrine that’s a good 100m from any water source. Also be sure to wash up after each meal making nocturnal visits from the local wild-life less of a threat. If you’re camping in jungle or bush (memories of life in NZ for me) – it’s important to run a line (cord or string) to the latrine: once it’s dark you’ll never find your way back without this!
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