What’s in your Pack #3. Wild Camping

After a while, hiking out and back in a day, we decided to dip our toes into wildcamping. The first image that comes into my head when thinking of wildcamping is of a solo hiker, setting up a tiny tent or bivvy, out of sight of everyone else, maybe up on a quiet hill or behind a hedge in a field. It seemed too tricky to do with 3 children in tow. Our first experience was in Scotland where wildcamping is widely permitted and we used our little blue tent. Since then we’ve gotten braver and now use the tarp and have wildcamped where its not as widely accepted. Some notable camps have included Brook and Tennyson Downs on the Isle of Wight, The New Forest and Dartmoor (although it is permitted across a large part of this particular national park). The usual rules apply; pitch late, pack up early and make sure you “Leave No Trace”.

Obviously, along with our usual hiking gear, we need some extra kit for wild camping so if you use the previous posts on lowland and mountain day hiking as a guide and then add the following. Once again we may not use something that you can’t do without or we may carry something completely frivolous, we can have a chat about that in the comments below. Again there’s a downloadable checklist for your own use if you like that sort of thing.

Snowy Tent

Shelter

We started off using our 3 man tent, mainly because of the security it provided from the elements and the kids seemed more confident in the tent. We did find that the footprint was too large for lots of perfect wild spots so we would have to hike on and usually end up at a less than perfect spot.

Now we take the 3x3m tarp and there’s various ways we can set it up depending on location and conditions using a few pegs and two walking pole. For instance, we’ve had it as an open ended A Frame structure when its been dry and as a fully enclosed pyramid when its been raining. It’s easier to fit under a more open set up but we can squeeze all 5 of us into a protected rain shield set up.

Sleeping.

Sleep mats to get us up off the ground a bit. We started off with the basic foam roll mats but us parents have graduated onto inflatable mats just for the sake of a better nights sleep. The kids seem perfectly happy on the foam mats and they are nice and light for them to carry during the day.

Sleeping bags are tricky, you can spend loads of money on ultralight, super warm bags but we don’t have loads of cash. The kids use fairly cheap 250gsm child size bags and have never complained of being cold at night (even in the snow on Glyndwrs Way). In the height of summer we parents use really lightweight bags which are small and easily packable but in early spring and into autumn we do have some slightly warmer bags but if we get chilly we put on extra clothes. It’s a real balancing act between overnight comfort and weight/packed size when you have to carry it.

Pillows

Put your spare clothes in a dry bag and use that as a pillow. Or use a child!

Sleeping Clothes.

We generally like to have a set of clothes to sleep in. Not only does it prevent damp or muddy clothes getting in the sleeping bag but it also helps the kids settle down for the night after the excitement of hiking and setting up camp.

Cooking.

Stove

We generally use a small compact gas stove. It’s easy to carry and use, and the fuel is readily available. We generally use it to boil water for a brew or to rehydrate noodles or porridge oats. By only boiling water in it we can usually get away with giving it a quick wipe out with a small cloth.

Eating Utensils

We eat out of those small collapsible bowls which pack flat but hold a suprising amount and we each have a small mug for drinking. We also use a small plastic cutlery set which we picked up from a local supermarket. The kids have their own bowls and cutlery which they are responsible for on the trip. If it’s dirty, they clean it.

Water Filter.

We always carry a small water filter although I can count the number of times we’ve used it on one hand. While water is essential for drinking, cooking and washing (ourselves as well as the cook stuff) it weighs heavy, 1 litre of water weighs 1 kilo before you put it in something so try to carry “just enough”. We can usually find a tap if we need it but its nice to know we can provide safe water from a muddy puddle if all else fails. 

Food

If we’re just out for a night we usually carry something to heat for dinner like noodles or pasta snacks, some porridge (usually in sachets) for breakfast and some snacks for during the day. I usually carry a few cereal bars at the bottom of my pack for an emergency breakfast if we can’t make porridge for whatever reason (usually rain!). On top of the little ziplock of coffee which I can’t operate without, we take some hot chocolate for the kids too.

Little Extras.

Sometimes we have to wait to pitch up, one of our local wildcamp spots is only about 1/2 a mile from a car park that’s fairly popular with dog walkers. Fortunately we can see the car park from our spot but we’re still fairly hidden but we won’t pitch up the tarp until the last car has gone. Occasionally we may have to wait for a couple of hours so we take a few things to keep everyone happy.

Kindle – Mrs Jones will sit and read stories to the kids while I’m making dinner or brewing up a warm drink. The kindle is lighter than most paperbacks but holds such a variety of books and stories that everyone is entertained.

Sketchbook, Notepad etc – I like to sit and make notes of the earlier hiking or specifics about the camp or just funny things the kids come out with. Lil has just started keeping a hiking journal, Isaac keeps a note of our climbing trips and  Mrs Jones like to sketch and draw. I made her a hiking art kit for her birthday based on a video I found on youtube and she loves it.

Cards – usually top trumps.

Teddies. – There’s always room in a backpack for a special furry friend.

Anyway these little extras are what we use and I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas on what you might like to carry.

I hope you find this helpful, please let us know what you think in the comments, whether your just thinking about taking your kids wildcamping or have been doing so for years, it’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Hiking Mountains (2)

Video

Planning Our Way

A little while ago I stumbled across a Facebook post about the New Forest Film Festival. This perked my interest because a couple of years ago Evan and I made a little film as we hiked across the National Park in an attempt to reach Salisbury. Once I checked the guidelines for submissions I noticed that we had filmed that hike just a little too long ago to enter it this time around, so without needing much arm twisting we set our sights on making another film. (more…)

Review: DD 3×3 Tarp

*Originally posted back in January 2018.  Updated after our Wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, this summer.

After carrying our 3kg tent for 96 miles on the West Highland Way, and hiking past some lovely spots unfortunately unsuitable for a tent but perfect for a tarp I bit the bullet and ordered a 3×3 tarp from DD Hammocks.

Last summer (2017) we only used it on a handful of occasions mainly as an additional shelter to our little blue tent when the weather has been awful but also once as our only means of shelter when Evan and I hiked through the New Forest (Watch the video here) and camped on the heath, hidden and secluded. That night we used a tent style configuration as Ev was a little nervous about wild camping. (It was his first stealth camp in England and he knew the rules were a bit different to Scotland where we had wildcamped before). It went up fairly easily, although we had practiced setting it up this way in garden on the previous weekend. It stowed perfectly in the side pouch of my small rucksack (also from DD Hammocks) and to be honest, I hardly noticed the weight.

We’ve set it up in different configurations too, as a rain shelter for the kids to play in while camping in the Brecon Beacons, to shield the tent entrance and provide storage space in Snowdonia, and to protect our washing machine drum fire bucket and BBQ while camping in a friends orchard for Lil’s birthday.

tarp

I really like this tarp especially the seemingly unlimited set up options which will give us many more camp spot choices when we head out in the future. I’ll happily carry it on our next long trip even it’s “just in case”.

**UPDATE**

This summer (2018) I think we’ve the tarp as much as the tent and it hasn’t let us down at all. Because of our wildcamp on Pen Y Fan, which turned out to be the perfect night for it, we all fell in love with our tarp. All 5 of us managed to fit under it with room to spare, I hardly noticed it in my pack and it went up with no bother at all, in fact it was our eldest, Evan, who took charge of building our shelter for the night.

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A Perfect Spot for Supper

We were on our way up the South East side of Pen y Fan when we stumbled upon this lovely spot. While the kids tried their hardest to get wet, we cooked tea and brewed up and considered making camp. It was the perfect spot really but by the time the last dog walkers had disappeared from view, the sun had dipped behind the mountain and the midgies were out in force so we pressed onto higher ground and made camp near the the summit of Fan Y Big. Still, it wasn’t a bad spot for supper.

On the way to Pen Y Fan

Chasing Shadows and Searching for Dinosaurs

On a balmy evening, during what would turn out to be the hottest summer for quite a while, I set out on a little hike with Lil to celebrate her 9th birthday. About a month before I had asked her what she wanted for a present this year and when, after some thought, she returned with an answer of “a hiking trip with you Dad” I felt quite proud. How many 9 year olds want nothing more for their birthday than to hike into the night, sleep under a tarp and get up super early the next morning to walk some more? What a girl!

Anyway, due to work commitments and school we left home about 4.30pm, had the car parked up by just after 5 and headed along the chalk ridge onto downs. With the sun on our backs and a gentle breeze we headed eastwards, chasing our shadows which were near perfect silhouettes on the brilliant white chalk trail.

After hiking for a few hours, through the golf course and onto the downs we were spoilt by breathtaking views of the coastline, the prospect of a magnificent sunset and an empty trail we settled down to have something to eat before finding camp. Because the summer had been so, so dry I was a little paranoid about cooking up and the fire risk but with Lil especially being hungry we set up our little kitchen in the middle of the trail by a little bench and chowed down on some noodles and some especially disgusting rice pudding which Lil described as, and I quote “Buttery Blurggghhh!!!”.

Our original plan had been to sleep in hammocks at a spot in the woods that was perfect, we had previously used the same spot for slacklining and knew that this small stand of Beech trees in an otherwise Oak and Hazel populated forest would be perfect. The canopy of the beech trees suppresses the growth of bracken and brambles and nettles on the woodland floor so camping here would be ideal. Unfortunately the Forestry Commission had other ideas and had been in that particular stand, thinning, and had left an awful mess and removed some prime hammocking trees so we were a little disappointed. We had hoped to set up camp and head back onto the downs for the sunset so we decided to throw up a tarp off the trail and settled down to watch the sunset and go to sleep. It got quite chilly, but I suppose that was just relative. I don’t think it got lower than about 15°C but when the sun was up it was about 32°. Lil woke up about 2am and shouted in my ear “STARS!!!” and by the time I asked if she wanted a middle of the night hot chocolate, she was already back asleep.

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Lil's first #wildcamp

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IMG_2085We woke up, slightly damp from the dew, packed up our camp and were hiking again before 6am. We were treated to a glorious sunrise and some fresh cobwebs in our faces as we came off the downs, along hedgerow lined trails, to the coast. We had a porridgey breakfast on the cliffs at Brook before continuing along the beach to Hannover Point and a search for dinosaur footprints. Technically they’re “footcasts” after sediment has filled in the footprint and fossilised. After the softer material around it has eroded we’re left with almost perfect imprints of Iguanadon feet.

Heading round to Compton Bay, we climbed the rickety steps and rejoined the costal path, the warm sun again throwing our shadows in front of us and we were back at the car by 8.30 and home by 9 for a busy weekend with the whole family. We were only out for about 15 or 16 hours but we had such a great time. What a birthday treat for Lil.  (And Me!!)