Planning a Wild Camping Trek
The first thing I will say is - allow plenty of time! Unless all you do is backpacking trips then you will probably have kit spread all over the place and you need to take a lot of time gathering it all together, checking it all still works and packing everything just right. It takes us virtually a whole day to get everything prepared, test kit (like the water filter and stove) and go shopping for lightweight food.
Testing the Lightwave Sigma S22 in the garden.
For this blog we will run through all the important considerations for planning a trek or backpacking trip.
Essential Trekking Equipment
As with everything backpacking - unless you are a burly hardcore trekker used to carrying a heavy rucksack you need to consider everything you are carrying otherwise it can be quite a shock going from a 3-4kg day hiking bag to the 12-14kg weight you tend to carry on longer treks. For us - having a massively heavy pack spoils the enjoyment and is also a lot of stress on your body which is needless when there is so much lightweight gear out there now. See further down the blog for tips on how to reduce weight in your pack.
Here is a list of what we carry for treks:
- Walking Poles - you wouldn't believe what a difference these make for carrying a heavy load and keeping you stable.
- Lightweight sleeping mat - We use Exped UL Synmat Winter mats. You can shave off a few grams buying a mummy shaped sleeping mat but I don't recommend it you spend most of the night sliding off them. I've gone back to rectangular shaped and have a much better nights sleep now.
- Sleeping bag (That can cope with the anticipated night temperatures on your trek).
- Waterproof rucksack liner - keep everything you want to keep dry inside this.
- Tent and footprint (to protect the base of the tent) We have previously used a Helsport Reinsfjell tent and are now using a Lightwave Sigma S22 single skin tent which is an impressive 1.5KG.
- Clothing - Underwear, socks, wool base layers for sleeping, hiking trousers, merino T-shirts, a warm down jacket and waterproofs or poncho.
- Hiking boots - Make sure they are worn in and comfy for long distances! You don't want to test new footwear on wildcamping trips.
- Hat - Depending on the temperature you may want a sun hat or a beanie if its cold.
- Food - Breakfast, lunch and dinners for the time between resupply shops (always have excess just in case shops, pubs are shut or you are delayed).
- Portable lightweight gas stove - we use a small Koro stove from Alpkit.
- Gas - enough to last for your trip (unless you are confident your resupply shops will have it)
- Water filter - we have used a Sawyer kit and a hippo from Alpkit - both are very good.
- Cooking pots, pans and a spoon - We use Alpkit titanium 650ml mugs and an MSR non stick pan (makes cleaning so much easier!) We generally just use a plastic spoon as you can eat everything with that.
- Penknife - Can be used for cutting when cooking and the other gadgets may come in useful.
- Sitting mat - They weigh next to nothing and make rests and sitting at night comfortable.
- Maps/guidebooks - ALWAYS have a backup point of reference for navigation in case you run out of power for you gadget navigational tools. A map is ideal but you can also use a specialist guidebook. We tend to download all our guidebooks onto a Kindle which as an amazing battery life and is much lighter than a guidebook.
- Battery Pack - Get a good capacity one so you are confident you can keep phones and gadgets charged (especially important if you are using phones for navigation). We use Anker and the one we currently use lasts around 7 days.
- Solar charging kit - For longer treks you may want to invest in a solar charger for your gadgets as you may struggle to keep a battery pack charged (unless doing hut to hut)
- Toiletries - Deodorant, biodegradable shampoo, soap and suncream as a minimum.
- First Aid Kit
Lightweight cooking with a view - the Koro stove in action.
As with the equipment your food needs to be lightweight too. Your trekking food can be anything up to a few kilograms so you need to balance keeping weight as low as possible with having enough to eat. With clever planning you can organise a trek around shops and pubs but you don't always have that luxury in certain remote locations like Scotland or the Lakes. Also - if you do plan it that way you will end up having to do a lot of ascent and descent to get supplies rather than staying high as much as possible.
Freeze dried food will be your friend on treks because it is light and generally small so takes up less space. You can go all out and buy expensive freeze fried trekking food from outdoor shops (at generally £5-£8 a pop for 1 person for one meal) or you can get dried pasta in sauce or other cheaper alternatives that you can generally get in supermarkets for around 70p! We generally do the later although I would say - the expensive freeze dried food do give you a lot of calories which you need to do a long distance trek where as the cheaper meals are lacking somewhat! Possibly the best idea is to mix and match.
Here are some examples of what we take trekking:
- Pasta n sauce dried pasta sachets
- Soup sachets (for lunch and starters!)
- Smash and onion gravy granules (tastes much better than it sounds and best choice for energy versus weight).
- Instant porridge - it's tricky to find ones that don't need milk but we just tend to use water regardless - it's just about edible!
- Graze bars - great for an instant energy hit and not too heavy (lunch and breakfast)
Not our usual fruit and veg but it's lightweight and filling!
How to find water when Wild Camping
If you are hiking in an area where there are plenty of water sources (pretty much anywhere in the UK!) then it's ideal if you can get water as and when you need it rather than carrying a lot around.
You can get water from tarns, lakes, streams, springs and waterfalls but you must make sure you treat it. By treat it I mean at the very least filter it and if you are not sure about the quality of it then you should chlorinate it too. Here are some rules we generally go by:
- Avoid using water from popular tarns and lakes as these are likely to be contaminated (by other people not following wild camping ethics)
- Ideally - try and get water from fast flowing sources rather than still water which is more likely to be stagnant and contaminated.
- Sounds obvious but try and use water that looks clear rather than murky or discoloured.
- If in doubt - treat it and filter it. The extra time it will take will be worth it to stop you getting ill.
Tips for Reducing Weight for Backpacking
If you hadn't guessed already - we are fairly obsessed with keeping weight down whilst trekking. For us - it means the difference between enjoying the trek and constantly being uncomfortable with a heavier pack and everything being hard work. Also when trekking in hotter climates - the heavier the pack the more likely you are to get even hotter with extra exertion.
Here are some tips for reducing weight in your backpack:
- Decant all your toiletries and carry exactly what you think you will need - We use tiny little plastic containers (old photography film containers are great) to carry deodorant, shampoo, soap and other toiletries.
- Consider all of your vital equipment and check if there is lighter on the market - you might be surprised how much lighter you can go as technologies develop. You can sell your old equipment on Facebook groups such as Outdoor Gear Exchange or eBay which will help fund the new stuff.
The main considerations are:
Tent - We recently shaved off 700g with our new tent and it's no smaller - just a better, lighter fabric and construction.
Sleeping bag - This will depend on the temperatures you will be trekking in, make sure you have a sleeping bag that you will definitely be warm in. That said you also want a bag that is able to be compressed to a small size so it doesn't take up too much room in your pack and also, of course, be lightweight! We have a summer bag for summer trekking and a winter one for treks in sub zero conditions.
Top tip do not get into your sleeping bag if you are cold you will not warm up. Take a walk, move around and eat some food to warm up. Wear a wool base layer to sleep in. If you have a nalgene bottle you can fill it with hot water and use it as a hot water bottle. Tip I learned doing Everest base camp trek and it was -15c. You can use your down jacket over the top of your sleeping bag too to improve warmth.
Pillow - We use a small inflatable pillow or a dry bag stuffed with a down jacket as a pillow so you are not carrying anything extra and heavy.
Sleeping mat - There are so many on the market now that weigh very little and pack down really small. We use Exped UL winter mats as they are lightweight, pack up relatively small and are super comfy so you actually get a good nights sleep. They have high insulation rating too so can have a slightly lighter sleeping bag as you are warmer underneath.
Rucksack - Make sure you balance a lightweight rucksack with it being comfortable with a heavy load in it. There are an awful lot of rucksacks on the market that are designed to be super lightweight but as soon as you put anything in over 10kg they feel awful. Watch out for ones that put a big curve in the back designed to give you airflow - they can actually make you feel pretty unstable as the weight feels as though its pulling you back. When trying rucksacks in shops use the weight bags they have and fill to around 12 kilograms this will give you an idea of personal kit around 8.5kg, 1.5kg food (enough 2 days) and water. Move around with the bag if it sways at the shoulders and does not feel secure don't buy it. I recently tried a light weight Gregory pack and it was very unstable even though it was designed to carry up to 15kg.
We use rucksacks which hold the weight close to your back (yes your back will get damp) but it's more stable and they also have a lot of padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt to help with comfort. To air your back simply tighten hip belt and loosen shoulder straps a little to allow airflow.
Clothing - Take only what you need. It's easy to get carried away and take away what you would if you were on a 'normal' holiday. You only need 3 pairs of pants for any length of trek (just keep washing as you go) wear a pair, wash and dry a pair, and a spare pair, 2-3 pairs of socks (same principles apply) 2 wool t-shirts (wear one and spare dry one), 1 pair of hiking trousers, 1 spare pair of trousers, a good warm down jacket (it can get cold at night), wool base layers to sleep in and a waterproof jacket and trousers or poncho. Flip flops or light sandals your feet will thank you. We don't ever take anything more than that.
We always include a spare t-shirt and trousers in our kit as listed so you can change out of your hiking kit at night, especially if hot and sweaty during the day or you've had wet muddy weather.
Water - As stated earlier, if you can get water as you move rather than carrying a lot it's ideal as it can weigh 2-3 extra kilograms (enough for overnight). We carry 1 litre where we know water sources are good. If not we carry at least 2-3 to see us through a night for drinks, rehydrate food, freshen up and following days breakfast.
Food - As stated earlier make sure it's freeze dried and lightweight.
Where to Pitch when Wild Camping
This may not be relevant for trekkers who only use huts but for those who either do a mix or only ever wild camp this is an important consideration.
Huts are great and do mean that you need to carry much less with you, however if you are like us - you get much more freedom using a tent and of course it's much cheaper. You also get that feeling that everything you need is on your back which is so freeing. It's definitely a personal preference thing and you can do a mixture of both which is sensible in bad weather. We have retreated to an Inn for 48 hours during a Lake District deluge. We camped overnight in their field and stayed in the Inn during the day staying toastie warm and dry, eating, drinking and playing games. We left the Inn as soon as it stopped raining and had a much more pleasant and safer experience than being soaked and blown about up on the fells. Always consider your safety if bad weather comes in, retreat to a safe location rather than risk it you can always go back another day.
Drying off in the Wasdale Head Inn!
Tips for Pitching when Wild Camping
- Always pitch out of sight of buildings and above fence lines at least 600m up.
- May seem obvious but try and find somewhere flat out of the wind. You will likely not get a good nights sleep if you are falling out of bed on a slope and likewise if you are being battered by the wind. Always check which direction the wind is blowing and find shelter with the barrier or hill/mountain as your shield.
- Sometimes you can pitch up near refuges which can be useful if you want to eat with them. Just pop in the refuge and check first.
- Pitching near a water source means you don't have to carry water as far and can top up as you need it. Beware though - the bugs are usually worse near water! Where we can we try and pitch near water rather than next to water so we get the best of both worlds.
- There may not be a perfect spot! Don't keep going in search of that perfect spot if you are flagging - it could be miles away if it exists at all. It's better to finish the day early where you find a spot that will work than going on until dark and then still not finding something - it can be dangerous and very tiring!
Using the mountain as a wind barrier
What are Wild Camping Ethics / Rules
- Leave no trace - that means leave EVERYTHING as you found it and take everything home with you. That includes toilet tissue pack it in a zip lock bag and take it back home. Drives us insane seeing toilet paper in beautiful locations.
- Pitch up well away from footpaths and ideally out of sight. We only ever use dark green tents they are much harder to spot than bright colours. Red and orange are great for snowy climates but in the UK green is better for being discrete.
- Don't pitch up until dusk and be packed back up by dawn.
- Pitch up above any fence lines 600m up.
- Dig it and do it away from water sources - bury number 2's and do number 1's well away from water sources and take any tissue with you.
Interested in learning more about Wild Camping Adventures?
We have written several blogs about some of our adventures (and are very busy trying to get all of them written up so watch this space!). For now here are a few to check out:
We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and it was useful for planning your own adventures. Feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.
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