How to start wild camping: Location
As a followup to my first wild camping post ‘How to wild camp: Mentality’ I thought it would be a good idea to focus in on what not only makes a good wild camping spot, but that perfect one that you will remember for years to come.
Finding the perfect wild camp spot can be a highlight of the trip and make what could have been a forgetful night one of the most memorable. These tips should help you identify that perfect spot to pitch your shelter.
Choosing your location wisely is key when wild camping. Think about proximity to the footpath/road and whether you can be seen. If you can’t be seen from the public right of way it becomes more unlikely that you will be discovered by people who want to stop you.
Also consider the legality of what you are doing, the wild camping laws differ in every country and so check what is and isn’t legal before leaving. For example, in the Italian alps I (unknowingly) camped just within the border of a mountain nature reserve. Later in the evening a ranger turned up on a quad bike and fined me. Though I still haven’t decided if he was a member of the mafia or not.
Number 1: Safety
Safety comes down to the potential danger to you and your tent during your stay. It could be from the environment, the weather or wild moose (which are more dangerous than bears, but only due to their higher population).
Are you going to be safe for the night?
Consider your immediate environment, are you surrounded by dead wood trees that could topple over or downstream from a large dam. When deciding whether a site is safe, its primarily about looking around you and considering what can go wrong vs the likelihood of it happening. I’m not going to start calling it a risk assessment, but in essence that is what it is.
Whilst touring in France along the Loire with my brother we got used to camping beside the river. We got to the estuary where it joins the North Atlantic Ocean and found a suitable spot on a high bank overlooking the estuary with a panorama view of a village the other side – perfect! Or so we thought. We pitched up and cooked dinner whilst watching the estuary waters rise.
You can probably see where this is going. We carried on watching the water steadily rise up the bank, thinking it must stop soon. After a few hours it showed no signs of slowing and there was only a foot of bank left before we would be paddling. We decided not to risk staying longer and packed up the tent, we cycled 20 minutes and camped in a field inland.
Always consider the dangers around you and whether they are likely to happen.
Number 2: The weather
The weather when wild camping has multiple facets.
Consider the safety of the weather, such as whether you are in a dip or dry stream bed which could get flooded, high up a mountain where you could get blown off a cliff, or in a woodland in high wind. Don’t wild camp on top of a mountain if you know there is going to be storm. If it is windy, don’t pitch the tent door into the wind as the fabric will trap it and likely rip your tent off the ground.
The second facet is the overall location of where you are. Last summer I was walking in the French Pyrenees in thick cloud. It would have been a miserable time to camp so instead I carried on until 6pm and got over the top into Spain. I was greeted by blue skies and a view that stretched for miles. So consider whether you will have better weather just a little bit further on, whether it is over to the south facing side of a mountain range, or down into a sheltered valley.
Number 3: Water and terrain
For me, water is a necessity for wild camping. Whether you choose a spot because of water or carry it to the site, it’s important to have some. You need it for cooking, washing and keeping hydrated. Water can be found in rivers and streams, small pools or public taps. Though the side issue about camping near water is that it increases the likelihood of insects so think about how much still water there is around and whether the midges and mosquitoes will appear at dusk. If its windy then insects will be less of a problem, otherwise think about moving further away from the water and carrying it to your tent.
If camping in a public area or near people also consider their location compared to yours. It’s best to be up river of everyone to avoid that slightly soapy water taste or something worse. Always be conscious of polluting water sources, so don’t tip soap, greasy food or anything else into rivers.
On the subject of water, the number one tip I have for wild camping particularly when bicycle touring is: “European churches and graveyards (nearly) always have water”. As long as you carry a way to carry water, you can camp anywhere.
Terrain is the flatness of where you plan to sleep. I’ve always found it useful to lie down to check which way it slopes and so which way to pitch the tent. Also whether it is damp/boggy, which indicates it is an area prone to flooding.
Number 4: USP
The unique selling point is the reason you would disregard all other points and decide to stay somewhere regardless. This could be because the location is ideal, because you know the sunset will be fabulous, or there is something that makes it uniquely interesting.
I once stumbled across a stone oven built against a rock when looking for somewhere to wild camp. It was such an interesting find that I decided to call it day and camp an hour earlier than planned. In Ireland I decided to camp somewhere just because it was the westernmost point of the country. Whilst all the other points here are the building blocks to a good wild camp spot, the USP is the reason you will remember it above other spots.
Don’t let the USP override common sense though, it’s much better to be comfortable all night than not sleep or be in danger.
Number 5: Noise and light
The final two considerations are noise and light. Noise (and lack thereof) is important to me when choosing where to camp. Think about how close you are to a road, cattle/sheep/dogs, and whether they will keep you awake.
Light is more about where the sun rises and where it will set in relation to your tent. It’s always nicer to pack up and carry a dry tent so try and position it to catch the morning sun. Consider which side of the valley will get light first and the obstacles in the way of it. Though remember you can always take the tent down and move it to where the light is.
And that brings me to the end of everything I consider when wild camping. It may seem like a hassle but once you get your eye in, it becomes second nature to consider these things without consciously working you way through each of them.
To summarise the key points, they were:
- Are you in close proximity to footpaths and road?
- What is the legality of wild camping in your current country
- Are you safe from animals?
- Are you safe from falling branches, flooding, etc?
- What is the weather doing? If its windy don’t pitch your door into the wind.
- Where is the closest supply of water?
- Does the USP make it worth forgoing everything else and camping there anyway?
- What is the noise and light pollution like?