Camping on rocky scree beneath Kazbek in the Georgian Caucasus. If you can sleep comfortably here, you can sleep comfortably anywhere.
Pitching above High Cup Nick in the Pennines - a truly spectacular place to enjoy a sunset and a sunrise.
Winter camping in the Lake District - staying sheltered and retaining body warmth is the biggest concern here.
1. Pitcher perfect
Learning to choose the perfect spot for your tent or bivvy is an ability that continues to develop over a lifetime - and it’s far too nuanced a skill to cover in great detail here. However, perhaps the key point to bear in mind is to be
entirely confident in your choice of spot before you commit. There’s little worse than tensioning the final guyline on a 15-minute two-man job only to realise that you’ve pitched on top of a hidden protrusion of rock, or a until-now invisible patch of bog. In that situation (unless the weather were dangerously unpleasant) the best course of action would be to strike the tent and move it to a more appealing position. Demoralising time spent now, yes, but preferable to an evening of discomfort wishing you’d chosen better foundations.
2. Keep your chin up
Some entirely sound outdoors people recommend sleeping (or resting awhile) with your feet in a higher position within your tent - in order to help drain the lactic acid from a heavy mountain session. I won’t argue with the logic, but from personal experience I’d recommend ensuring that your head is slightly raised relative to your legs and feet for the duration of your night’s sleep. It seems obvious, but this isn’t always clear on the uneven ground of a wild camp - and in some particularly rough situations it’s possible that whichever end of your tent you place your head may leave you feeling as though your top end is lower that your bottom, with that odd feeling of blood rushing to the head and a sense of discomfort and disorientation coming slowly afterwards. If necessary, pitch your tent on a slight but obvious incline to ensure head superiority throughout the night.
Pitching on a slight slope makes the hours whiled away in basecamp more bearable.
3. Dress right
When it comes to the static - but likely windy and almost certainly chilly - environment of a wild camp site
staying warm is easier than getting warm. Consequently, it’s a sensible idea to add your warm layers, ie. beanie, gloves and big down jacket as soon as you begin to pitch your tent, even if you don’t feel the need for them at the time. Once inside - and assuming you have spares - you may want to consider ditching any particularly damp socks or baselayers for dry replacements. Moisture is the true thief of body heat, and water transmits warmth from your body nearly 30 times faster than air. Dry clothing will preserve your hard earned warmth and retain any that’s newly generated much more effectively.
Dan - very, very excited (and suitably dressed) to be wild camping.
4. Raise yourself up
… and speaking of the cold, you’ll be wanting to avoid direct contact with the ground too. This is particularly true in the winter months, and it’s true all year that the majority of your heat loss will be through the floor than through the airspace within your tent. It’s no exaggeration to describe your roll mat as being as important to a good night’s sleep as your sleeping bag itself in this regard. Plus, there’s the obvious added bonus that a good self-inflating roll mat can prove as comfy as any domestic mattress if adjusted to exactly the right configuration for your body type and sleeping position. If you are travelling without a roll mat (for whatever reason) then your rucksack and spare clothes can still prove a vital barrier between you and the soil.
A self-inflating roll mat in action.
Whilst foam roll mats are cheap and light, but bulky, inflating versions require your input to give them shape - typically by a blowing into a valve such as this one.
5. Support your head
Not brought a pillow? Even the smaller travel varieties are something of an impossibility to fit into a lean wild camping rucksack, so it’s not surprising. However, keeping your head and neck in a restful and supportive position is vitally important for a good night’s sleep. Get it wrong and you’ll find yourself waking briefly every 45mins as you twist and turn to maintain a bearable position. Your boots or approach shoes will prove surprisingly comfy at this, when combined with a sleeping bag hood, at least. If not, then a dry bag filled with clothes makes a good alternative - although these can prove slippery and difficult to hold in place.
A homemade pillow, consisting of dry bag, fleece and down jacket. It’s a good idea to leave it only loosely buckled so as not to trap too much air and make the “pillow” too bulky.
Yep, feels comfy.
6. Stay fuelled
If you’ve ever sat inside a walk-in fridge (or
worked out in a meat locker) you’ll know how quickly cold environments can drain your energy levels.
Even in benign conditions the majority of your food intake goes towards producing heat. To counter this, make sure to carry in and consume plenty of high-energy foods. The more you eat, the warmer you will feel, and you should aim for a mixture of proteinous, fatty and sugary treats to release that energy at different rates and keep you ticking throughout the night. This is no time to worry about calories - and I actually find myself shopping for wild camp food on the basis of its density and the redness of the intake warning labels.
Bespoke outdoor meals, such as this from Expedition Foods are guaranteed to be high in energy. They’re also expensive, so are perhaps best reserved for larger foreign (or domestic) adventures.
7. When you’ve gotta go, go,
This is true of all things wild camping. It’s best to address all necessary tasks immediately and without hesitation. On a general level this means that you’ll end up with everything pitched perfectly and proofed against the weather before you settle down to cook your evening meal. On a more practical level it means that when you wake in the night needing a pee you won’t lie there for 45minutes trying to convince yourself that it’s not so urgent before eventually capitulating and going through the tiresome rigmarole of exiting your down cocoon, slipping on some wet boots and heading out to find a suitable spot to relieve yourself. A good (but moderately grotty) tip here: if you have the room, pack a wide-mouthed plastic “pee bottle” - the otherwise insipid Oasis works well - which you can utilise in your tent’s porch. That’s assuming any tent mates aren’t too prim about their proximity to your bladder evacuations. Ladies, you may wish to invest in a
suitable appendage to allow yourselves the same freedom.
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Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at