I recently did an interview with the outdoor store Blacks, focusing on wild camping. Here's what we talked about:
That’s an almost impossible question to answer! I’ll give two answers. A couple of years ago I crossed Patagonia on horseback, following the Santa Cruz river, and every night I was able to tie my horse to a bush and simply roll out my sleeping bag by the riverbank. The sky was clear, and I was hundreds of miles away from roads and towns – it was pretty special.
The second place is a little closer to home. I love wild camping in the UK, and perhaps my favourite ever spot was at the foot of Snowdon in Wales. I’d ridden my bike over the pass just as the sun fell, and I hopped over a drystone wall and sheltered in behind. I had a few curious sheep for company, and then the most amazing sunrise to encourage me to get out of bed and up the hill in time for breakfast. It’s worth noting here that it’s so important to respect the land in places like this, and to leave no trace. Wild camping in the UK operates mostly on trust, and it’s a responsibility for all of us to be stewards of the outdoors, but also to be considerate of where we are.
Can you tell us about your first wild camping experience?
I grew up on the north coast of Northern Ireland, so I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid. I suspect though that my first real wild camping experience was when I was 15 and, together with two friends, decided to cycle around the UK. It was a bit of a disaster logistically because we were hopelessly inept, but it was also one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on. The first night, we all slept in a field about 20 miles short of where we’d hope to get to because we drastically overestimated our fitness. It didn’t matter; apart for a slight panic when a dog walker quietly stepped over our sleeping bodies in the morning, we got that first taste of the real freedom that comes with wild camping.
What would be your best tip for first-timers?
Again, I have two. The first is to put some research into finding somewhere really nice. If it’s your first time, you want it to be memorable, and not for all the wrong reasons. Ask around, or go online, and try and find a spot that gives you a good view, is relatively isolated so you’re not in anyone’s way, and perhaps has provision for shelter if it might rain (and if you’re not using a tent.) Also, bring some whisky, or whatever your own particular luxury is. Wild camping is all about making the most of the outdoors – it’s worth doing it right!
The second tip is to reiterate the importance of respecting where you are. Don’t make fires, and don’t leave any trace that you were there. Don’t get in anyone’s way, and don’t make excessive amounts of noise. The idea is to blend in – its more enjoyable that way, and you’re less likely to have someone bother you in the middle of the night wondering what you’re doing.
What piece of kit do you consider to be essential?
A good camping mat is key. Your sleeping bag needs to be suitably warm, of course, but a good camping mattress will take all the lumps out of the ground and give you the best chance of a comfortable night’s sleep. I use a lightweight inflatable mattress these days – it’s easy to pack, light to carry and quick to inflate, and I never wake up with a sore back!
My best wild camping experiences are usually the ones where I am tired after a long day on the road and desperate for some rest, and then an idyllic camping spot turns up just as I’m on my last legs. In particular, I recall a great spot in Jordan, where I was walking in the middle of a 1000 mile journey through the Middle East. I’d covered 30 miles since breakfast and been up and down more hills that I care to remember, and just as my legs were starting to fail I found a small cave in the side of a cliff that I could just about squeeze into. I rolled out my sleeping bag and stowed my backpack, and watched a storm roll in across the mountains. When night fell, small pinpricks of firelight popped up on adjacent hills, lit by Bedouin shepherds who were also sleeping out in the wild. It was very special.
How about your worst?
Once, when I was cycling through China, I thought it might be a good idea to try and sleep inside a large concrete pipe outside a construction site. I’d done it before, and it was quite cosy. On this occasion, however, I chose a pipe that was slightly too small, and spent the night with hunched shoulders and cramp in my legs. If it hadn’t been raining so heavily outside I might have given up, but instead I stayed for 6 miserable hours. Lesson learned…
Finally, can you finish this sentence: I wild camp because…
It’s the best way to feel a part of the landscape, and to really appreciate the nature that surrounds us.
Check out the other wild campers' thoughts here