Wild camping helps you to bond with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. Jack Neath (aka The Young Bushcrafter) offers inspiration
I sit in front of the glowing blaze, thoughtfully prodding the glowing coals as the smoke from the fire drifts leisurely upwards into the tree canopy, bare of leaves in the cold winter. My cheeks glow as I huddle closer, warming numb hands and chilly feet, content to know that the day's camp chores are done with and I can unwind.
I lean in to check the mackerel fillets cooking over the fire, and my anticipation is reflected in the faces of my companions. Tentatively, I prod the fillets with a finger and then with a knife, exposing beautifully cooked white meat. There is a sharp intake of breath from the three others around the campfire. Then I exclaim gleefully “Grub's up!” and the campfire erupts into chaos as everyone fumbles excitedly for plates and cutlery.
Wild camping is a fantastic experience for all ages, an activity which leaves you with memories and stories for years to come: of squirrels jumping on you, alarming discoveries of exploding seaweed, sitting out torrential rain in the mountains under a leaky tarp and spending the night in an igloo which promptly collapses just after you get out, to name just a few – and yes, all these have happened to me! It brings a brilliant sense of camaraderie and teamwork – as well as a heightened understanding of, and bond with, the environment – that you can only get from spending 24 hours (or more if you like) outside.
The first thing to take into consideration is what to bring with you. Well-chosen kit can be the difference between an incredible trip you will rave about for ages and a miserable disaster. However you don't need lots of fancy, expensive gadgets, or so much kit that you can barely make it out of the back door. And you don't need to be prepared for some kind of obscure apocalypse scenario. With a few well-chosen pieces of kit – paired with a sound set of skills – you can have a comfortable trip.
I could ramble for ages about kit but I'm going to keep it short so I can get on to the fun stuff!
A rucksack. Around 35-50 litres will do for a night or two. You will want features like a padded back and straps, a hip belt and adjustable straps.
Cutting tool(s). These will depend on the type of trip you are doing. If you are going hiking and will be cooking on a stove, sleeping in a tent etc then a Swiss army knife or similar will be fine. But, if you fancy doing a more “bushcrafty” camp, as I do – for example, carving spoons and lighting fires – then you may want to have a sheath knife (if you don't have one, Morakniv makes excellent ones), a folding saw or a hatchet.
Sleeping bag. In the UK you can manage all year round with a three-season sleeping bag. Unzip it and use it as a duvet in summer, and zip it up and wear socks, hat and jumper in winter! For a pillow, just use a wad of spare clothes. For extra comfort, take along a sleeping mat too.
Pot or pan. I use a Zebra Billy, as it works well over a fire for lots of tasks, as well as on a stove.
Something to cook on. This can be as simple as a fire steel and some tinder, with wood gathered on location, or a stove with a lighter. Bear in mind that some places will have very little wood available.
Clothes. You can't rely on British weather so wear plenty of layers – including a warm fleece or jumper – quick-drying, tough trousers and waterproofs.
Finally, take a lightweight tent – or, if you're feeling brave, a tarp. And don't forget a phone in case of emergency – and to take photos!
Once you've got all your kit together, you need to find a good place to set up camp.
Find a spot that is out of the wind – prevailing wind in the UK comes from the south-west, so cover from that side is essential. Make your camp on well-drained ground – on a very slight gradient this will help water run off the ground so it doesn't become saturated.
A good, clean, unpolluted water source is essential. Check upstream for pollutants like dead animals. But don't camp too close to it in case it floods!
In a forest, look out for “widowmakers” – large dead branches which can come down unexpectedly in the night! Clear the ground beneath you of sticks, stones, and anything that will make your sleep uncomfortable.
You can set up a tarp in a number of ways. One quick and easy way is to create a versatile A-frame shelter by draping your tarp over a ridgeline, and pegging the corners to the ground.
A campfire is often the focus of a wild camp.
NEVER light fires on peat – the ground can catch light and cause huge, devastating fires. Avoid shallow root systems too.
Position your fire at least three paces from any tree and clear at least a two metre diameter area of all leaf litter, turf, etc and build your fire in this. Don't ring it with stones. Rather than protecting the surrounding area, this just blackens and scars the stones – and, if they are wet or glassy, you run a significant risk of them exploding, sending shards of red-hot rock flying.
Build a fire up in stages. Matchstick size sticks, then pencil size, then finger size, then so on until you get to wrist size – you won't need bigger than this.
Make sure your wood is well seasoned, but not rotten. In wet conditions, split wood burns best. And collect plenty of birch bark – it's full of natural oils and burns wet and dry!
In the UK this is the least straightforward and most confusing part of wild camping! In Scotland it is allowed on most unenclosed land. So forests, moorlands, hills and mountains are fine – although you should research local byelaws.
In England and Wales wild camping is technically illegal. However in some areas, for example Dartmoor, local byelaws allow it. And in many upland areas rangers and wardens will turn a blind eye – as long as you clearly aren't doing damage, are out of the way and off the paths. I have yet to be stopped and have, in fact, had landowners stumble across me and join me around the fire for a chat!
Finally, whenever you're out and about in the countryside – whether wild camping, hiking, cycling or just enjoying the view – you should always follow the countryside code.
The purpose of this article is to offer inspiration for wild camping. It is not intended as a guide, or to offer professional advice. Any wild camping undertaken is at the reader's own risk.
Jack Neath (The Young Bushcrafter) is a British teenager who's been obsessed with bushcraft since 2012. When he's not practicing bushcraft, he's researching it, and vice versa. He loves all things outdoors and bushcraft related – especially axes – and often takes his faithful dog Indy along for the adventure! Check out some of Jack's wild camping experiences on his YouTube channel – where you'll find videos on wild camping and other subjects – and like his Facebook page @WoodsWanderer
Green Adventures January 2017
Water. I always bring at least a litre of water. Bear in mind whether you will be able to refill your water bottle. Check water sources before you drink from them! Walk upstream to check for contaminants. Unless you find a spring (that you are 100 per cent sure is a spring), all water from rivers, lakes etc should be boiled and filtered. Tip water through a tight cloth into a metal cooking pot to filter out debris. Then, boil this for at least 10 minutes to kill bacteria. Or invest in a LifeStraw.
Food. I usually bring a sachet of rice and a chorizo sausage for the first evening, maybe with bacon and beans for breakfast and a similar meal to the first evening for lunch. If you have the correct knowledge, you can supplement this through foraging, or bring a bread mixture to bake in a fire. For more campfire cooking ideas, click here.