While cycle touring or multi day hiking, wild camping is our preferred method of spending the night. It offers greater independence and options for you to choose where and when to set up tent for the night. It can also be the only way to spend the night when remoteness or lack of facilities means you have to lay your head where your hat falls!
However simply pitching your tent where you feel like it isn’t always a good idea. On a previous cycle tour in Poland we unknowingly ended up camping next to a badger’s set that came alive at night once we were inside the tent! So a little planning, preparation and forethought will greatly improve your enjoyment of wild camping.
There are a number of factors to take into consideration when wild camping.
Wild camping isn’t always legal. Different laws apply in different parts of the world. In countries like Scotland and Norway you are allowed to wild camp in most unenclosed land. Here in Ireland, where we are from, a lot of the land is privately owned so wild camping is a little bit trickier. In Irish law, trespassing is a civil matter not a criminal offence. It becomes a matter for the cops only when you refuse to leave when asked. If in doubt (or desperation!) you could ask the land owners for permission to camp. Discretion and common sense will hopefully guide you away from setting up camp in someone’s back garden.
Wild camping is all about blending in to your surroundings. Therefore a tent’s colour is paramount to not being spotted. Choose a tent with an earthy colour that’s similar to the area you are camping. For us in the west of Ireland with an abundance of ochre bracken, green moss fields and olive grey of the bogs, we chose a muted green tent.
There are very few natural angular, sharp edges and corners in the outdoors so to ‘fit in’ to your surroundings I prefer a dome shaped tent that has more curves and softer angles than a more angular rigid tent.
Reflective markings on the tent are obviously great for returning to the tent after your sleep interrupting pee but not great if you want to be unseen by others. So consider removing these or covering up the reflective labels with some tape.
There may be occasions when you need to quickly pack everything up and get the hell out of there! So you need to be able to take down your tent for quick get aways!
Inflatable and self-inflatable mattresses can be a pain to pack away, so maybe consider a simple roll sleeping mat instead that can be quickly rolled up, strapped to a pannier or bike rack. What you sacrifice in comfort you make up in speed and weight.
Also, make sure your sleeping bag is easy to pack. Some bags come with a small stuff sack the size of an ankle sock that stuffs and shrinks the bag down to a tight compactible size. Great for saving space but sometimes difficult and time consuming to get your sleeping bag back into the sac. To save time, consider getting a bigger stuff sac with a draw string that allows you to quickly pack your bag away.
We use an MSR Dragon Fly stove which is great for cooking but is a lot louder than other stoves. An option to consider for stealthy outdoor cooking is an alcohol stove, like a Trangia or a tin can hobo stove which are practically silent.
As much as you may love your bike you’re not going to be sharing your tent with it. We lock our bikes together close to the tent using a seven foot long kryptonite lock. We’d attach a little bell to the lock so if anyone started tampering with it in the middle of the night Laura would elbow me and demand I get out to look!
If you are concerned about unwanted guests in the middle of the night you could always strategically place dry twigs and branches in approach paths to the tent. When stepped on, the noise of broken branches should alert you.. or fuel your paranoia further!
Keep the need for using your head torch to a minimum also.
We’ve camped in some questionable locations to say the least! From spending a night on the floor of a Japanese public toilet to old Romanian graveyards! Planning before hand helps determine where a suitable location would be to set up tent in evening time. While travelling we use Maps.me, which is an offline mapping system for mobile devices. Usually, we would check the map in the morning to estimate where we will be an hour or two before sunset and we would pinpoint potential wild camping spots.
On the maps.me app we generally look for minor tracks that either take us into wooded areas or upland where there is more chance of commonage land away from towns, villages and settlements. When you arrive at your selected location examine tracks to see how frequently they are used. Certain tracks may be used by farmers in the evenings and early mornings to move their animals to and fro for milking, herding etc. So finding a place out of sight from people who may use the track is important.
Try and stay clear of fields that contain farm animals, you could either spook them which could alert a passerby or intrigue their natural curiosity and penchant for nibbling on tent fabric and leather saddles (I’m looking at you Mongolian goats!). Also, in certain countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey there are fierce shepherd dogs in some fields guarding the farm animals, that would only love the chance to chew on a well toned cyclist’s leg!
A church, mosque, temple or graveyard are options worth considering if you are stuck and don’t mind spending the night with the dead! There’s usually running water in graveyards. The utmost respect must of course be taken as these are places of worship, and are important places in the community, so discretion must be exercised.
Most large single crop forests are state owned and should be fine to wild camp. The trouble is finding a flat clearing between trees that’s big enough to lay your tent. The ground in most state owned forests tends to be pretty rough although there may be clearing set aside for the public.
If you do find yourself stuck in a city looking for a place to camp, consider public amenity areas by rivers, lakes and parks. These are obviously not ideal but maybe passersby will ignore the crazies who decided to set up tent and hurry along! And hopefully the cops will have bigger fish to fry. When we were living in Japan we hosted a cycle tourer for a night. He told us that when he was looking for a place to camp in the evenings he would try and find a multi story car park! He said he felt safer, because of the security, it was usually quiet at night, there was sufficient light and he used a free standing tent so didn’t have to worry about getting his tent pegs into the ground. Different folk different strokes I suppose!
Try and avoid setting up tent in the darkness. Aim to have your tent pitched at least an hour before sunset.
Wild camping can be fun, scary, thrilling, serene, exciting and rewarding. You should never outstay your stay. Try to move on after a night, to avoid detection and upsetting the natural equilibrium of the area.
These wild camping tips work for us but you’ll find that you’ll fall into your own rhythm of what works best for you.