So if you’ve decided to head out into the wild places of the UK for a night or two camping then there are one or two things that you’ll need to make sure your wild camping experience is both safe and enjoyable.
This is more of an overview of your options rather than my recommendations for specific gear but any suggestions I do make are based on what has worked for me over the years.
what do I need for wild camping
The easiest way to work out what you need to stay safe, warm and somewhat comfortable while camping away from civilisation is to divide it all up into three or categories of gear and equipment.
So you’ll need:
Some form of shelter to protect you from the elements.
A way to keep warm and comfortable enough to sleep through the night.
Equipment to cook or prepare food.
Something to carry it all in
For most people this is simply a tent, a sleeping mat and sleeping bag, a gas stove and a backpack. But you do have options. Lots and lots of options.
how to choose your camping gear
When choosing your camping gear you might want to consider things like weight, durability, and cost. However finding the perfect combination of those factors is a constant balancing act. Really durable materials weigh more and shaving ounces can cost hundreds of pounds.
Other factors to consider are flexibility and ease of use, especially if you’re new to wild camping. The last thing you need in a storm, high up on the moors is a complicated shelter to put up for the first time.
In all honesty, if your heading out for the first time, you don’t know how much you’ll want to head out for the second wild camp until you’ve tried it so don’t spend a lot of money for your first trip. Borrow gear from family or friends and if you have to buy some equipment then there is some decent budget gear available. Once you’ve caught the bug you can upgrade your camping kit as you need to.
Lastly think about the conditions you’re likely to expect. If it’s high summer, you won’t need a -20ºC sleeping bag. If the area you’re visiting is prone to poor weather then a more durable shelter might be a good idea and if you’re hiking 20 miles between camping spots then the lighter gear might be an idea.
what type of shelter is best for wildcamping
When it comes to shelters for camping then the main options are
- Bivvy Bags (sometimes paired with a tarp)
- Tarpaulins (Tarps)
- Hammocks and Tarps. (Usually in wooded areas)
Depending on where I’m camping, the season and the weather forecast and who I’m with, I have experienced each of those options while out wild camping and they all have their pros and cons.
Traditionally, tents are the first option for wild camping and the one I’d recommend for people new to camping in remote places. They offer the best protection from the elements and are usually quick and easy to put up.
This protection from the outdoors will mean less exposure to the things you’re going wild camping to experience. It’s harder to lie awake looking at the night sky or feel the first rays of the morning sun on your face from inside a tent.
They can be heavier than the other shelter options and you’ll struggle to get a tent weighing less than 2kgs in the real budget range. As I’ve said before, shaving ounces from pack weights can cost lots of money.
The Bivvy bag is the other end of the shelter spectrum. Essentially a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag, they don’t leave a lot of protection from the weather or wet ground but they provide a real adventurous option for spending night on a hill.
They are much lighter than tents, allow more flexibility in choosing a camp spot and allow you to set up and pack away in a hurry. They can be paired with a tarpaulin to provide extra protection but on a summers evening, with the weather set fair, the bivvy bag is an awful lot of fun.
Tarpaulins (Tarps) are probably the most flexible form of shelter but can take some practice to put up quickly and soundly. They offer a wealth of options depending on your location and the conditions and can be set up and adjusted to allow for more protection from the elements or better access to the world depending on your requirements.
They can be a lightweight and flexible option, which when paired with a groundsheet is a favourite option for long distance hikers and wild campers alike.
I have the least experience of camping in a hammock. They offer high levels of comfort but do require more extras to set up for a night in wild, not least the availability of trees or uprights from which to hang them.
They are usually paired with a tarp to protect from rain and an underquilt, as well as your sleeping bag to provide warmth.
They are a favourite among bushcrafters and those who spend nights out in a regular woodland camp but the extra gear and requirement for trees usually make hammocks an inflexible option for hikers or those people wild camping on high moorland and mountainsides.
They are massively fun and really, really comfy but definitely not for beginners. If you can find someone experienced in hanging a hammock then maybe head out with them for your first hammock camp.
how to stay warm at night while wild camping
When it comes to staying warm overnight your options are sleeping bags or quilts.
They will be labelled with a rating for the conditions that you’re heading out into. Usually they are divided up by “season” so a two season sleeping bags is probably only good for the warmer months, a four season alpine style sleeping bag should see you survive most conditions here in the UK.
They may also have a temperature range on their labels. Usually you’ll see two figures, one is the “comfort limit” at which you’ll enjoy a decent nights sleep. The other will be an extreme or survival limit at which the bag will help you get through the night but don’t expect to be sleeping naked!
Other factors to consider are the fill weights of the insulation, which usually correspond to both the model name and the “season” rating, and the type of insulation used to fill the bag.
Synthetic is a man made fibre, usually polyester and provides good insulating properties while weighing more and being quite bulky.
Down refers to natural fibres, usually goose feathers. These have wonderful insulating properties, can squash down small in your pack and weigh less but do cost more to buy.
The outdoor industry is slowly getting its act together around the use of down
so, if you are buying a down filled product, whether that be a sleeping bag or a jacket, please try and use a company that uses ethically sourced material.
There is no reason to use “live plucked down” for our hobbies.
what about dinner? how to cook while camping
As with everything else when it comes to camping, when it comes to preparing food you have loads of options but while many “ultra-light” hikers prefer to go stove-less to save pack weight, most of us require something hot at the end of a days hiking or, as a bare minimum, a hot cup of coffee in the morning.
I’ll just touch on the main types of stoves available and go into more details elsewhere on the site as well as option for what to cook and eat while out camping.
Essentially camping stoves can be divided up by their fuel source. Gas, alcohol/spirits and solid fuels.
The most common, and perhaps straightforward is the classic gas stove. A burner is connected to the gas canister and you cook like you would at home on a gas hob with a pan and whatever ingredients you bring up the hill.
Some stoves, like the JetBoil have a fully integrated windshield, pot/cup and burner system which is very efficient but comes at a price. A traditional gas stove and a pot set can prove very flexible, especially if you’re unsure of what’s available at a resupply point but can weigh a little more in the pack.
spirit and alcohol stoves
The most common spirit or alcohol stove is the Trangia. While other brands are available they are all based on similar designs to the Swedish classic. It burns liquid fuel such as methylated spirits or easily available biofuels. Most spirit stoves incorporate a burner, a windshield and pots for cooking in.
They can be slower than gas stoves but are really quiet and the fuel is both flexible and easily available. While some stoves, like the Trangia 25, are big enough for a “base camp” kitchen, it can easily be pared down to a minimal set up that fits inside your brew kit.
solid fuel stoves
Solid fuel stoves and fire boxes are another option for cooking at camp. Usually fuelled by sticks found along the trail, they offer a “safer option” than a traditional campfire although care should always be taken.
They are a favourite among the bushcraft community who usually take them into private woodlands with prior permission and can be a lot of fun to cook on, add some warmth and can bring a social aspect to camping in those scenarios.
Personally, I wouldn’t take one on a hiking or wild camping trip. The need for dry fuel means you need to carry it with you or be confident enough in the weather forecast that you won’t be going hungry at camp.
a few little extras to make wild camping easier and safer
There’s also some things we take wild camping that aren’t entirely necessary to stay alive but just add a little extra while we’re out. For ease I’ll break these down into safety and hygiene
You’ll need a means to dispose of your waste, both litter and more, ahem, personal waste products.
We carry a dedicated bag for any rubbish we create while camping or on trail. It’s a cheap dry bag and does a good job of keeping our rubbish separate from our gear. Anything you bring in with you should be taken back out to civilisation.
We also have the “poop kit” for dealing with that kind of waste. Essentially a means to dig a hole and clean up after yourself. We use an ultralight trowel, although the cheaper plastic ones work great.
Also in the kit is toilet roll and hand sanitiser. Always use the hand sanitiser. Poorly bellies on trail and at camp are an absolute nightmare
Then of course your own personal hygiene kit is up to you. You can probably get away with being smelly for a couple of days but you’ll probably want a wash or a wipe down at some point. Also a toothbrush can help you feel human again after a couple of days in the wild.
Bring a phone. While you might not have great signal in lots of places it can be a godsend in an emergency. Remember, in a pinch a text message needs much less signal than a phone call to get through and you can “pre-send” a message so it goes if a signal is picked up.
It gets pretty dark out there at night so bring a torch. If it’s just used to locate the spare socks in your tent, then thats great. It can also be used to signal for help in an emergency. Generally head torches are best for hiking and wild camping as they leave you hands free for finding stuff, putting tents in the dark or playing cards with your mate.
A means to filter or treat water is handy to have. It’s great when you’re higher up and the water from the mountain stream can be really refreshing but you never know for sure if there’s a dead sheep rotting away just 200 yards up stream. It’s best to be safe so a water filter or treatment tablets are not a lot of weight to carry to ensure your water doesn’t make you poorly.
how to carry all your wild camping gear
Finally, you’ll something to carry all that camping equipment up the hill.
backpacks, rucksacks and bags
Backpacks and rucksacks (is there a difference?) are the go to options here and there are too many designs and options to go into in any detail here.
Choosing a pack is a very personal decision as you’ll probably use it for years to come. Personally, I’d go with flexibility. My main rucksack is 60 litres and can accommodate everything I need to enjoy a winter wild camp or a multi-day hiking trip with all the family. I do also have a much smaller pack, around 30l, for solo camping in high summer where I can carry minimal gear and cover lots of miles quickly.
Try and get a pack that is comfortable to wear all day. Is big enough to accommodate your gear, food and water but not so big you fill the additional space with stuff you might not use.
Sometimes a little separation between compartments is good to keep wet things away from those bits of kits you need to stay dry but also, big compartments to stuff gear into are great.
ready to go shopping?
Hopefully you got a rough idea of some of the things you’ll need for a night or two of wild camping. Remember, you don’t need to buy everything brand new. Borrow stuff, seek out second hand and make sure you’re ready to really get stuck into spending time in our wild places. Buying camping gear can be a dangerous game and before you know it you could have 5 tents, 3 sleeping bags, multiple pairs of boots and 15 different types of tent pegs.
Any questions, just give us a shout and we’ll do our best to help you navigate the crazy and expensive world of camping gear.
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