Wild Camping – Guest Blog by Livia Simoka
Livia Simoka is a Producer, Director and Nature Lover. She is known for documentaries such as ‘Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild’, the BAFTA award nominated series ‘The Tribe’ and, most recently, Channel 4’s wildly popular ‘Extreme Tribe: The Last Pygmies’ which she also presented. If anyone knows a bit about going wild – it’s Livia! And we’re delighted she is the Guest Blogger for this months Edition: Wild Camping. Check out her Instagram @liviasimoka
A couple of weeks ago, my squad of likeminded outdoorsy enthusiasts and I decided to get out of town and head into the lush Kent countryside for a night of wild camping. Unlike another trip I did, which was far more purist in the ‘wild camping’ sense, where I spent a few days bedding down under the stars in the remote Welsh wilderness and baking fresh Bedouin bread using the embers of the fire, this trip was far from feral but equally enchanting.
We might have been ‘off grid’ but we definitely took the comfortable approach, driving right to our destination with motorbikes and a carload of storm lanterns, food, booze, a speaker, dogs and fairy flights – it’s all about the ambience and trust me, fairy lights make everything more magical.
It made me think that our glamping approach was the perfect template anyone that might be daunted by jumping into the deep end of ‘wild’ camping, or perfect if you’re after a more rugged adventure but have time constraints, meaning you’re unable to head too far off the beaten track.
Here, I’m going to tell you more about what wild camping is all about, why it’s bloody good for your soul and give you a DIY guide, including tips to make sure you’re on point with your camping etiquette.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
― John Muir
What is Wild Camping?
Wild camping is all about getting away from the crowds, organised campsites or caravan parks, which quite frankly even if it wasn’t for COVID, I find a far more appealing option.
The purest form entails heading truly off the beaten track into the wilderness, with just the bare essentials, whilst covering as much ground as possible.
Nothing makes you feel like a proper swashbuckler than getting back to basics, navigating a proper paper map, washing in the river, going to the loo in the woods and cooking your dinner in the open air. Contrary to what you might think, you’ll get the best nights sleep of your life… as long as you’re properly prepped (more on that shortly).
The Benefits of Wild Camping
There are a heap of physical and psychological benefits to switching off from the ‘real world’ and immersing yourself in the wild.
- Digital Detox: It means time away from screens, so use it as a chance to connect with the people around you or for a good look within.
- Strengthens the immune system: The fresh air does wonders for your immune system since you’re increasing the amount of oxygen in your body, which helps the white blood cells function properly.
- Burns calories & improves sleep: You’ll sleep like a log, through a combination of an increased step count, which burns through calories, and having that fresh mountain air in your face all day.
- Relaxes the mind: You can leave all your worries and stresses behind as you throw all your energy into walking, navigating the map, finding your nest for the night and focusing on keeping hanger at bay. There’s no time to think about anything else.
Although our recent trip wasn’t remote and our hikes far from arduous – think more of a serene walk through the woods as opposed to schlepping up mountains, we did cut off from the mains supply, set up camp in the middle of a beautiful re-wilded field (with consent from the owner of course), cooked our food over an open fire, which we danced around late into the night and overall relished the chance to re-connect with nature, as well as each other.
It’s the perfect way to dip your toes into the wild camping waters!
Wild Camping Etiquette
The following do’s and don’ts apply to any wild camping situation, whether you’re in the remote wilderness or pitching your tent up on private land.
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints”
- Leave No Trace: This is the number 1 and most important element to any wild camping trip. No matter where you go, you leave no trace behind. You have to remain as environmentally considerate as possible and what you bring in is what you take out. I’d go a step further to say if you spot rubbish you should do the decent thing and also pick it up and remove it. Look after the land and it will look after you.
- Time: Unless you’re on private land, it is advised to arrive late and leave early. Don’t stay longer than a night or two in one location.
- Fire: Unless you have permission or really know what you’re doing, then do not light an open fire. If you do have permission then I would get your camp fire going ASAP as it won’t just be a valuable cooking re-source but also provide much needed heat and comfort once the sun’s gone down.
- Camp location: Set up your camp on high ground. I learnt this lesson the hard way whilst doing my Duke of Edinburgh as a fresh faced 16 year old and we camped at the bottom of a hill… it rained a lot that night.
- When Nature’s callin’: Pick a sensible toilet spot that’s a minimum of 50 meters away from water. Dig a 6-inch hole and when you’re done with your biz cover it with soil. Toilet paper has to either come home or be burnt.
- Location: The joy of wild camping is that you’re not surrounded by other people, so crank up the tunes, laugh late into the night and let your hair down. However if you are camping in the wilderness, then be considerate and don’t pitch your tent next to a farmhouse or other wild campers. The idea is to get away from people.
- Comms: It’s only sensible to let someone know where you’re going before you head off on your trip.
What to pack
What you pack will very much depend on where you’re going. If you’re taking the comfortable option with easy access to your car, then take as much clobber as you can possibly cram in. However, if you’re the real deal and going for the proper off-road wild camping experience then you’ll want just the basics.
Here’s a list of the bare necessities.
- Clothing: You need to take warm clothing, layers and waterproofs. The weather in the UK is unpredictable so make sure you take a change of dry clothes and socks. Being cold, wet and miserable can quickly turn a jolly into a nightmare. Make sure they’re kept in a dry bag in your backpack. It can get particularly cold at night so ensure you have thermal layers or better still, get someone to snuggle up next to. Human or canine body heat works wonders.
- Water Bottle: Take a reusable bottle with you that you can fill with clean stream water along the way. Since water is heavy to carry, make sure that you have access to clean running water near your camp location. When you pick a spot, make sure it’s away from animals, especially carcasses, that the water is running clean and get it from as close to the source as possible. If you’re unsure then boil the water before you drink it to kill any germs.
- Sleeping Mat & Sleeping bag: Overnight trips in the wild are a lot less aggro if you get a decent night’s sleep. I would rather forgo a tent and take a lightweight-sleeping mat. Unless you’re camping in a very warm climate i.e. not in the UK, then you’ll need a sleeping bag. Again, lots of lightweight and warm options out there. I’ve got terrible circulation and a right grumpy cow when I’m tired so for me a Season 3-4 sleeping bag is a must.
- A roof over your head: If you’re comfortable in a hammock, that can be a quick and easy option to put up. Hennessy Hammocks are brilliant, but if you’re not a fan, then there are loads of lightweight tents out there that are quick to assemble. Alternatively, if you’ve been hiking all day then crashing out on the ground for a spot of ‘cowboy camping’ is also an option. Just make sure you check where you’re bedding down to ensure there are no dead branches above, which could come crashing down in the night.
- A head torch: You don’t want to fumble around with your phone in the middle of the night when you’re desperate for the loo and you’ll want your hands free, so get a head torch and check the batteries before heading off.
- Food: You have a few options. Either hydrated packs or wet food. Again, I learnt this lesson the harsh way on the DOE when my best friend and I decided to fill our backpacks with tins…. Take some trekking bars for a treat and a much needed hit of energy when you’re flagging.
- Stove & gas: Cutting down trees to light a fire is a no-go, so you can either collect a lot of dead firewood and safely make a real fire if you have permission or take a small camping stove with a gas cartridge. There are lots of lightweight saucepans out there that can double up as a mug. You’ll also want a spork.
- Map & compass: Goes without saying that you’ll need to know where you’re heading, so once you’ve prepped a route, make sure you take a map and compass. A portable phone charger is also a good shout in case you need emergency power.
If you’re driving right to your site then the following are additional extras to sprinkle a bit of luxury & magic to your wild camp.
- Lighting: I’m a BIG FAN of storm lanterns and fairy lights. I have a whole selection for every eventuality. From battery powered string lights to LED paper lanterns and heavy-duty glass hurricane lamps. Take them with you; it’s pretty special when you’re in a field with all your mates, with just candles and the moon providing that soft glow.
- Cozy blankets: I like to take both picnic blankets to create a dry base to sit on, as well as cozy alpaca blankets to wrap up in once the temperature drops. The lingering campfire smell is an added souvenir to remind you of the trip when you’re back to reality at home.
- A cool box: Self-explanatory. I mean, who’d want to drink warm rose?
- A sofa: An inflatable air sofa is a genius bit of kit. It packs down really small, is super light and can be filled with air rather than a pump. Sits 3 people at a squeeze and perfect for soaking up some Vit D.
- A shower: To really embrace the wild, go and find a stream for a spot of wild swimming. It’s the perfect way to sober you up in the morning and blow off the cobwebs!
“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show”
The boring legal bit.
Wild camping isn’t technically legal in most parts of the country (apart from Dartmoor and in Scotland) but who would want to live their life by the book?
In general, if you’re responsible and you ‘leave no trace’ then wild camping is tolerated in the majority of places. You’ve got 15 National Parks to pick from https://www.nationalparks.uk or the alternative is that you befriend someone with a large patch of private land so you can go that bit more renegade.
- The Broads National Park
- The Brecon Beacons
- The Lake District
- The New Forest National Park
- Northumberland National Park
- North Yorkshire Moors National Park
- Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Peak District National Park
- South Downs National Park
- Brecon Beacons National Park
- Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- Cairngorms National Park
- Loch Lomond National Park
- The Trossachs National Park
Since many of us are set to holiday in the UK this summer, I highly recommend embracing the beauty of wild camping. I know it can sound like a lot of faff initially but I promise you that once you’ve got your basic kit nailed, it’s so much more fun than camping up next to a bunch of snoring strangers that don’t share your taste in music.