The Straight Dope On Wild Camping

“If you fancy a real taste of the great outdoors – away from the mini suburbia of campsites – try wild camping… The views are much better and it won’t cost you a penny: You genuinely feel part of the countryside, not once removed from it” Dixie Wills

I wild camped for just about the whole of my 3 months solo moto-adventure from the UK to Mongolia & Siberia, and back. I simply stopped when I felt like it. Here’s my general advice to anyone new to the business of wild camping:

  • Stay away from towns and villages. My hard and fast rule is either everyone should know where you are camping or nobody should know. You don’t want to be bothered by the local drunks in the middle of the night.
  • Let go of your paranoia. Relax, no-one is out to get you, nobody knows you are even here. This will probably take a few nights but the sooner you do this the more you’ll enjoy it. Don’t listen to the horror stories and the naysayers but do trust your intuition, if it doesn’t feel right move on.
  • Stop early.  If your spot turns out to be less than ideal and you decide to find another make sure to have plenty of time to find somewhere else. So it’s very helpful if you know when the sun sets each day – not a problem with most GPS devices. You don’t want to be looking for somewhere in the dark. If you do, you might wake up to a glorious scenic view or you might find yourself somewhere very odd like on the edge of a cliff edge or on top of an ants nest.
  • Turning off. Turn off the highway then take at least two more turns before you stop – this way you’re well away from the main highway and any busybodies that might have seen you turn off. Of course you might not be on a highway – good for you, just stay off the main track.
  • Camp in groups. I came across an American couple doing the Mongol rally and we camped together for a bit until going our separate ways – it’s nice to have some company and the added security, especially when you’re flying solo.
  • Don’t be afraid of the locals. Farmers, sherpherds and or ramblers might stumble come across your pitch. Be friendly and polite and if possible offer them a cigarette to break the ice. In my experience most people are just curious, they’ll make some small talk and then be on their way. Try and be an ambassador for the wild camping moto-adventure community and leave them with a good impression.
  • Leave the area as you find it. This goes beyond leave no trace. If you can’t burn or bury your biodegradables take them with you. Don’t contaminate water supplies, dig a latrine. Try not to churn up the ground.
  • Be discreet. Don’t be a nuisance, avoid loud music, bright lights, fires and engine revving. Cover your bike at night to avoid the shiny bits… shining. I stumbled across and camped with a local fisherman in Russia, after numerous vodkas we broke all these rules, but this was his manor to do as we pleased.
  • Try out different places. Be experimental, find out what sort of places you like to camp. I found that I like camping near the water: lakes and rivers especially because I love to have a swim at the end of a hot day. I tend to have a good look at my map in the morning to see if there are any such places roughly where I want to stop for the night. Lakes surrounded by forests are my ideal wild camping spot.
  • To ask or not to ask? If the legality of your wild camp site is in question simply arrive late and leave early. If you can ask for permission I would advise you do so but you risk the vendor saying “no”. Alternatively, if nobody knows you are there and you follow all these rules then as far as I’m concerned what they don’t know won’t hurt them – but that’s your call. I’ve never asked for permission and I’ve never been asked to leave.
  • Be patient. Recce a site, wait around for a bit before setting up. If it’s not right move on. You’ll get better at finding the perfect place and you will find some beautiful spots but don’t expect this to happen straight away or every time. Sometimes you’ll have to be satisfied with somewhere merely flat and dry.
  • Ear plugs. If your campsite (wild or organised) turns out to be a noisy one you’ll be glad you had some earplugs. Leave a couple of sets in your tent.
  • Mozzie protection. For some reason the mozzies and insects love me. I usually get bitten to within an inch of my life if I don’t use a repellent. As a result, I always carry 100% deet that I spray on my skin before I set up camp. I also have a mozzie net for when it’s really bad. Mozzies are just one of the downsides to camping so you might as well just learn to deal with it. Don’t leave your mozzie door open in your tent because the little bastards WILL get in and wait for you! They’re attracted to CO2 so don’t leave your engine running.
  • Seize the day. There might be times when you struggle to find anywhere appropriate and then an amazing opportunity might present itself, be open to making new plans and being flexible. One such time I was struggling to find a campsite when I stopped at a petrol station in Croatia to get a drink and have a break when a local lady asked if I was here for the bike rally? “What bike rally”, I asked. She informed me that only 1/2 a mile away there was a bike meet with free camping – that was a noisy night but the spot by the Adriatic was idyllic.
  • Be stealthy. Whatever shelter you use try to use subdued colours, you don’t need para-military DPM, but a bright red, blue or yellow tarp/tent isn’t exactly inconspicuous. They’re great if you want to be spotted in an emergency but stealth is the name of the game when it comes to wild camping, especially when traveling solo.
  • The nervous family. If you have nervous friends and relatives take a spot satellite tracker and send them an ‘ok’ message when you do stop for the night.
  • Get off my land. I’ve never been asked to move but if you are simply apologize, plead ignorant, pack up your gear and leave without any argument. The last thing you want is to be shot by farmer maggot’s 12 bore.
  • Local knowledge. Check out the HU communities. Some areas might not be safe or appropriate for wild camping either because of the terrain, the weather or the people. Sometimes you might just be better off in an organised paying campsite, a hostel or on someones couch.
  • Have fun. Its a great way to travel and cheap too!
Mongolian Daisy Meadow
By a river somewhere in Austria

 

Finding somewhere when it’s already dark is not ideal…
…but leaving early affords the best sunrises
Adriatic Coast of Croatia
The Black Forrest was eerily dark but comfortable
Dried river bed on the Mongol Steppe

 

I was lucky enough to find the same spot on my return leg. It’s a free, public camping area, very quiet and secluded but lots of mozzies.
Sometimes anywhere in the wilderness will do. This campsite is only about 200m from the main road, albeit very quiet main road, behind a very big bush. It worked. Leaving the rain fly off means you can gaze and the millions of beautiful stars unpolluted by city lights.
I love camping in the woods and there’s plenty of them in Siberia.
The fairly touristy campsite that I blagged into for free, it was a bit noisy and a bit lousy but…
…it had a nice view of this humungous fresh water lake. The water was brilliantly crystal clear, my morning swim with the sunrise washed away the hangover from drinking with the great locals the night before

 

I met my fisherman friend here, this was his manor so I broke the rules.. do it when you can. Nothing like a fire, beers (& Russian vodka) and fresh caught lobster.

 

Group camping has it’s perks
Sometimes there are no highways and finding a wild campsite is easy peasey

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/mar/31/saturday.camping.green

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10 thoughts on “The Straight Dope On Wild Camping

  1. You make a valid point about asking permission and like you I tend not to even think about it when wild camping, besides just the act of trying to find the land owner can seriously eat into your time (and spontaneity).

    Keeping myself out of the way and cleaning up camp in the morning has always been the better option.

    Nice picture BTW

  2. Hi,

    very nice reading, thx for the effort. I just wanted to ask you: In your point BE DESCREET you advised to avoid campfires. How am I supposed to get warm, cook food or relax without a good fire? I mean I know you can use a gas cooker (I dont know how it’s called, pardon my english) if you know what I mean, but that’s just not it and you can’t really compare it to a campfire. So what do you do in case you need or just really want to make a fire? Thanks for the answer.

    1. There were lots of places that were a bit more ‘public’ that I lit fires and was more than happy to do so, I love a good camp fire. But I often found myself in areas where I didn’t want to necessarily draw attention to myself, where I wasn’t sure if it was allowed or not and not wanting to be bothered by anyone and get moved on, as such I felt the best things was to err on the side of caution and be discreet, which meant not lighting a camp fire. Basically, if I was wild camping where the emphasis was on stealth and simply getting my head down for the night I would ‘be discreet’. If I came across a site that had traces of previous camp fires and I wanted to light a fire I would and did but finding such spots was rare without some planning and forethought. Camping on the edge of a farm or just off the highway for example, and remember I was travelling solo.

  3. Great page, stories, pictures 🙂 I want to do wild camping as well but also combine it with hitchhiking….that´s going to be challenging, but let´s see 🙂

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