One of my earliest camping experiences was sleeping out in my back garden under the stars. A beautiful night – no tent needed. I was only 8, and absolutely loved watching the stars as I dozed off to sleep, feeling the cool air on my face. Although the comfort of the house, with all its warmth and security, was only a few metres away, I really felt like my sister and I were the bravest little girls ever. I felt free and adventurous, like the explorer that I always wanted to be.
So it’s no surprise that as an adult my favourite way to camp is the wild way. There’s no denying that I thoroughly enjoy the odd bit of glamping here and there, and I can’t help but get my organised Girl Guide head on when car camping. But getting away from everyone else and out into the middle of nowhere with everything I need on my back is what really floats my boat.
My first time wild camping
When I was 15 I was a young leader at my local Brownie unit. During that summer I had the opportunity to go to Norway with a small group of young leaders from the UK to take part in Evje ‘99 – a week long international camping event for Guides and Scouts. One of the activities was an overnight hike. But it was nothing like I’d ever done back home, under the watchful eyes of the leaders and their rigid rules and regulations.
Our group of four were given a photocopied map, half a cooked chicken and some bread. We were told to be on the other side of the mountain range within 24 hours. There were a couple of checkpoints, marked with a star on the map, that we had to register at, but other than that we were left to fend for ourselves. And it was magical!
The trail was barely visible, and of course we got thoroughly lost. But our poor map reading skills lead us to one of the most untouched and idyllic settings I have ever camped in, even to this day. It was in a kind of alpine bowl with a waterfall filling up the small lake at the bottom. And right in the middle was a huge rock, on top of which we lay our sleeping bags down, ate our chicken and slept out under the stars of the Norwegian sky. Bliss.
My favourite wild camping spot
I recently spent some time hiking in Snowdonia. It’s always a treat to hike there. You’ve got to pick your places and times as it can become very busy when the weather is being kind. We did a three day hike in the Glyders, wild camping for two nights. I’d never hiked in this area before and had only heard great things about it. And with some glorious weather forecast I was expecting to not be the only ones up there enjoying it. The first night, however, was raining pretty hard by the time we found a good spot to pitch our tent – only soaked sheep for neighbours.
The morning brought with it the promised sunshine that rose over the menacing ridge of Tryfan. And for a couple of hours we had that whole cwm to ourselves. Life doesn’t get much better than cooking breakfast in the mountains with a lake view like that. By 9am we had to share it. But for that short time it was perfect.
Best wild camping experience
Sleeping on a beach doesn’t really sound like a particularly exciting or unusual wild camping experience. And I’ve slept on many, many beaches over the years. But what was different about this particular wild beach camping experience was that I did it on my own. It was the first time I’d ever wild camped on my own before, and I’d cycled 70 miles across Wales to get there. No bailing out and going home to the comfort of my own bed if I got too scared on this one!
I’d wanted to camp wild on my own for a while but it was the warning words of others that put me off – that as a woman it would be too unsafe and risky to be worth it. But I figured that no-one else would be stupid enough to be wandering around the dunes in the middle of the night. And if they were, stumbling upon a sleeping body would freak them out as much as seeing them would freak me out! So I went for it and spent the night curled up in the gorgeous sand dunes of Harlech beach in Wales. Nothing but a sea view and the full moon to stop me from getting too scared of the monsters in the night!
Worst wild camping experience
I once paddled a couple of miles along a small Canadian lake and found a tiny shingle beach to camp on. It was totally deserted, quiet and incredibly beautiful. Being in the middle of bear country made it very difficult for me to relax, despite my getaway boat sitting on the shore’s edge at the ready. Without the ‘security’ of a tent to fool me into feeling bear safe, I decided I’d feel better if we encircled our little beach with sticks and fallen branches in the hope that it might deter any unwanted visitors in the night. Somewhat satisfied I settled down in my sleeping bag anxiously listening to the sounds of the night unfold around me. Every tiny rustle in the forest was, in my head, without question the hungriest bear in the valley. And it took me some time to finally drift off to sleep.
A around 4am, with the first signs of sunrise on the horizon, we were suddenly awoken. It wasn’t the deadly claws of a hungry grizzly bashing down our barricades in search of a free meal that stirred us. Nope… it was the gentle lapping of the rising lake seeping through our now drenched sleeping bags. What we failed to notice, on our paddle the day before, was that the lake was dammed. Apparently dammed lakes fill up quicker than one might realise! There was nothing else to do but pack up our soggy gear and paddle back to base, leaving what was left of the beach for the bears to enjoy, undisturbed.
The most essential piece of kit for wild camping
My past self would have happily advised against the need for warmth from anywhere but a decent sleeping bag. These days, however, I know better and NEVER go camping without a good sleeping pad. A sleeping bag is also essential. But without insulation beneath you to provide protection from the cold ground, even a good sleeping bag can be rendered useless. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the elevated comfort levels you get from a good mat. Good sleeps = happy campers!
My top tip for first-time wild campers
Be discreet, and ditch your tent. There are loads of places where, technically speaking, wild camping isn’t allowed. But if you sleep in a bivvy bag instead of a tent, not only will you be less visible to others, you are also able to up sticks and move on very quickly and easily if needed. Plus, there’s a bit of grey area on what ‘camping’ actually is. And the absence of a tent makes things even more fuzzy if an encounter with an angry local were to occur. Get good at being stealthy and discreet, and of course leave no trace, and it won’t be a problem.
So why do I choose wild camping above other types of camping?
I wild camp because I never really know how it’s going to turn out. Every new experience is usually very different to the last, and I like the sense of exploration that goes with wild camping. It’s also an easy way to go on regular adventures in between the bigger missions that are few and far between. Wild camping forces me into exploring new places in a way that setting up at a campsite just doesn’t do.
If you’re thinking about trying wild camping for the first time then be sure to be respectful of the land and other people. For more info on some great place to wild camp check out: Wild Camping.