Three years ago I ventured out to the unknown with my newly acquired equipment that would see me comfortably through the night. I was buzzing with excitement, having spent the last six months researching the market and purchasing most of what I didn’t have. With this gear I’d knocked together in a most basic way, I felt an uncharted sense of freedom and accomplishment: I had everything I needed to survive a night outside in the wilderness. And it was all stuffed inside the biggest rucksack I owned: OMM 32 litre. No way was it a suitable size, and neither did it stand a chance against the weight I was carrying. Most things were lashed off the back of it or carried in my hand!
My first tent was Mountain Warehouse Vangard 1. Here I’ve altered it slightly: the original white inner is now brown (it was a total white-out otherwise, which made sleeping impossible). Other than no sleep and being generally non-conducing to stealth camping (unless you’re in the snow), the only thing I disliked about the tent was it’s inner-pitch first set up. I found it tricky in windy conditions.
This is the only tent I’ve ever had blow down on me. One morning, a strong wind blew up hitting the back of the tent full on, and because I had never bothered using the straps to tie the fly to the tent poles, effectively joining the outer to the inner structure, the guy line anchors were basically useless. So after about 20 minutes of increasing, relentless wind, the tent had changed from standing tall to more than half blown down flat, and still falling. Luckily I had nearly finished packing everything up but I so didn’t want to go out there!
Lessons to date:
- Check the weather and pitch the tent accordingly.
- Its more comfortable carrying a backpack with everything inside it rather than outside it.
- Never buy a white tent for summer use. I avoid anything bright generally.
My bedroom consisted partially of gear I still use the odd time here and there, most of it has been sold. Klymit Static V Insulated mat, Mountain Warehouse Summit 350 sleeping bag, Thermarest packable pillow, and a Scottish Silkworm liner. To be honest, the Klymit mat is rotten uncomfortable for anybody over 30 years of age. It also doesn’t have a micro air adjustment valve which began to irk me. It was certainly a good beginners year-round mat that breathes well with material feels the least ‘plasticy’ of most mats I’ve tried.
The sleeping bag fell apart after a year. The pillow I like, and it gets the occasional resurrection whenever I have a pillow crisis. I don’t bother with the liner – it adds set up time and feels restricting. Plus it’s not real silk!
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink on my first wildcamp out on the hill. The whole environment was odd and wrong feeling: The oddness of the ground – I had my mat too hard of course and had chosen a spot that wasn’t quite flat. The brightness inside the tent, the sound of the wind rustling the grass, my imagination…
Lessons to date:
- There is nothing creeping around outside the tent.
- You don’t necessarily need ‘all the stuff’ to be comfortable. But ear plugs can help.
- Bulky or heavy things might start to annoy you after a while of battling with them in the backpack.
My first ever cook set was the Stanley Mountain Cook Set. Although it has been retired for the last few years, it has its own category of uniqueness which I still really like. The 800ml stainless steel pot nests a plastic food warmer bowl/cup (with a neoprene band) which clicks comfortably into place for rattle-free carrying. I really love hot food and sometimes I mourn this loss. The lid works for both stages of cooking, sitting gently on top of the cooking pot and squeezing firmly onto the food bowl, employing a silicon band. One thing the lid isn’t good for is spirit stoves: I burnt the edge off my lid, sadly. Gas is best.
Inside the food bowl are two notches for an included folding spork to pack away. The spork collapses under pressure too easily at the fold, and is too short for the cooking pot (I also hate sporks), But the real reasons this pot was replaced was because a steel lid would be better for my later conversion to spirit stoves; and the unstable flip handle: The design is not secure or solid feeling when it’s open. When pouring the contents from the pot, it squeezes and twists under the weight of the food in the pot, and feels unstable.
Gas is a great for beginners. Many people cook at home with gas and it’s similar outside. Here I have a 360 Degree Gas Stove (similar to the Vango one) plus a cannister stabiliser which clips into the bottom of the gas bottle. Windshields increase the effectiveness of heat output.
For drinking, not pictured, I found an old enamel cup in a shed which washed up well. I liked it at first because its possible to sit it straight on the stove to make a brew. But the handle stops it from nesting inside a bigger pot.
A large gas bottle and large gas stove means cooking at a height of this kind can be a little precarious, in wind especially. Regardless, sooner or later you will knock it over. (Sorry)
Other makeshift gear and lessons included a hard plastic 2 litre water bottle before I purchased a hydration bladder, a fake North Face jacket to block the wind (and supposedly rain) while I decided on what shell I wanted, a Ferro rod to spark my gas instead of a windproof lighter, a pair of ‘waterproof’ shoes I found in a charity shop instead of Gore-Tex boots or trail shoes with – sometimes – waterproof socks. All in all, sometimes I got quite wet but I never got too wet that I wasn’t able to get warm sleep.
Today my biggest lesson since I began wild camping is this:
Its easy to get distracted by what gear I have, what gear I need/like/want — or somebody else’s! Of course a certain aspect of this is important but its not the main show. It made me rush out to my camp site, set everything up, play with this and try that… Before I knew it, its bed time and I didn’t even get a chance to pause and breathe to find out what my body feels like in its natural environment. Wildcamping is about being there with nature and You: To listen to the silence, see the serenity and feel the peace… and the biggest lesson is learning that!