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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Wild Camping Tips

By Alpkit
12, Mar, 2018

Wild camping beta and guidance from seasoned adventure, Mark Hines. (We couldn't help throwing in some of our own hints and tips too).

© Alpkit

The first rule of Wild Camping club is... actually really simple! Leave No Trace: if you take it in, you carry it out.

What is wild camping?

Wild Camping pretty much refers to camping anywhere outside of a recognised campsite. In the UK this can be a legal grey area, as most land is privately owned (the exceptions being Scotland and Dartmoor). If you do have your eye on another spot, we recommend seeking permission from the landowner.

Basic rules for wild campers

Good wild camping practice makes it possible for us to keep getting out there! Wherever you choose to camp, make sure that you always do the following:

  • Carry out ALL litter when you leave, whether it belongs to you or was left by someone else.
  • Leave camp as you found it and remove all traces of your pitch.
  • Camp as unobtrusively as you can. That means away from roads, houses and other habitation.
  • Keep groups small and avoid staying in one location for extended periods – normal etiquette is to pitch at dusk and strike at dawn – or as close as possible to.
  • Keep noise and disturbance to a minimum.
  • Respect the environment and wildlife and don’t pollute
What to take wild camping?

As wild camping covers a variety of circumstances, it's hard to give a brief list of all the kit you might need for your trip. Instead, we gathered all the kit we think you might need on our Wild Camping Kit List, which should help you get what you need for wild camping year round!

 

The Red ordos pitched in the alps in the daylight
A man and a woman pitching a red Kangri mountain tent on a glacier with a panorama over the alps
 
A man and a woman pitching an ultralight ordos tent in the alps at basecamp

The AK team making nature their home in Chamonix

Everyone has their own ideas about wild camping, about how to choose a location, what makes the perfect wild campsite... we decided to ask Alpkiteer Mark Hines a few questions about Wild Camping. As an ultra runner, hiker, stand up paddler, and cyclist, Mark has camped his way around the world in some of the toughest conditions imaginable: he's no stranger to a bivi or night ‘under canvas’. We caught him between trips to share a bit of his experience and knowledge.

Mark, where was your first Wild Camp?

I genuinely have no idea: I was practically an egg when I started camping with my parents. The first time I wild camped was more than ten years ago, and was somewhere in the UK but I cannot recall where!

What’s your preferred set up for wild camps? Does it change according to where you are and what you're doing?

It definitely depends on what I am doing.

I am less likely to bivi if I am on a fast-and-light, multi-night journey in the UK, or if there is a good chance of heavy rain. On those trips I need the space and protection of a tent to ensure I can tend to my feet and dry them out if I need to. 

In contrast, in the sub-Arctic and Arctic I prefer a bivi to a tent for two key reasons. Firstly, it is much quicker to camp with a bivi, which reduces the risk of frostbite, so there is a practical benefit. Secondly, if I am in a tent and there is a clear night, with or without the Northern Lights, at some point I have to zip myself away from it all. With a bivi I can watch the sky until I fall asleep, and that is a real luxury. The same can be said for being in a hammock, and where I know I can find good woodland I will always use a hammock: my favourite set-up for wild camping. The last time I used one was in jungle areas of Assam in northeast India, and it was an incredible experience (some concerns about tigers, rhinos and one elephant that came legging it in my direction were not necessarily highlights!). For me, the best thing about wild camping is being alone and isolated in nature, exposed to the elements and feeling a part of it.

 

The ordos ultralight tent pitched in the faroe isles
Two ordos tents pitched overlooking the sea in the faroe isles

Sam Needham wild camping and cycling the faroes | Image: Sam Needham

There is an attitude towards camping that it is ‘roughing it’, but I do not agree with this. I acknowledge that a room with a big, comfy bed, heating, and brick walls does offer luxury and security, but that does not mean that camping must be rough. I want my camps to be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible because if I sleep well I will feel better and be able to push myself the next day on the trail. For me, camps are about relaxing, unwinding, and recovering from the day on the trail, so that I am set up to put in a really good effort the next day. The better the camp, the better the journey. As an example, when using my bivi in a woodland area in the sub-Arctic, I could just lay it down on the sleeping mat and sleep, but if I spend a few minutes building-up a spruce mattress I will have about the most comfortable mattress I could wish for and fantastic insulation to keep me warm – even below minus 40 Celsius.

 

Where was your most memorable wild camp?

Where to begin?! Animal encounters rate very highly. One year in the Yukon I had a wolf come up and start sniffing and poking around the kit on my sled, before sniffing me and strolling off into the night. That was pretty special.

That said, I think the most memorable wild camp was just inside the Arctic Circle in northern Canada near the border between the Yukon and Northwest Territories. I was there as support crew for the 6633 ultra race, and had been booted out of a car on a mountain pass. The area was remote and sometimes subjected to brutally high winds, so the race organiser stationed me there in case a racer got in trouble or wanted to see a friendly face. I set up my single-skin tent as an emergency shelter and stored all my kit inside. I then used a shovel to build up a fairly vast, circular windshield - big enough for me to sleep inside - dug a cold well into the centre, and cut some steps down into it. A coyote came over to inspect my work, before heading off and melting away into the darkness. That night I enjoyed watching some of the best Northern Lights I have ever seen; I just lay in my sleeping bag watching this green curtain of light extending down dozens of kilometres from space, swaying above me and filling half the sky. It was absolutely incredible. I stayed there for half the next day, sitting down and listening to music under a brilliant blue sky, without a cloud to be seen, and the white snow with its crystals shining out like diamonds everywhere. I have had some fantastic wild camps, but that one trumps the lot.

 

the vir fortis bike in front of the northern lights on snow
A snow hole in the right foreground, with a sonder vir fortis in the background on the left a little higher up.

Mark Hines' most memorable wild camp in the Arctic | Image: Mark Hines

How do you choose a spot to camp?

This is what I think about and the sorts of questions I ask myself when I’m getting tired and looking for a place to wild camp:

Check the ground

What is the ground like? Is it flat? Anything that might damage the tent or cause discomfort? Any sign the ground is waterlogged or might be? If in hilly terrain and there is a chance of rain, might water get funnelled towards the camp?

Any signs of large or potentially dangerous animals that suggest this is a spot best avoided (even in the UK I’ve had a stag get furious at me for camping in his woodland, and on another occasion a small herd of cows and horses appeared together because I had apparently chosen their favourite tree to bivi under).

Check the surrounding area

Any danger of falling rocks or trees? Is the area too exposed if there is a thunderstorm? Are you likely to be disturbed during the night or morning by walkers, vehicles or people in nearby towns / buildings? Sleeping close to a river can be lovely, but is the camp in danger if the water level rises?

Plan before you put the shelter up: do you have everything you need?
Do you have access to sufficient water?
What is the bug situation?

Being close to water or in damp areas of woodland will increase the chances of attracting mosquitoes and midges. An area exposed to higher winds will mean fewer bugs.

Do it properly

Time spent ensuring the location and camp set-up are both very good is time well-invested. The reward comes in the form of a better night’s sleep and being in better shape for the next day as a result.

 

You can read about more about Mark's exploits in our Daring Deeds or at markhines.org 

#wildcamping #catchnatureoffguard #thetimeisnow

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