I had a one-man tent, a rucksack and my camera. And lots and lots of dried pasta.
Here are a few top tips I learnt from first-hand experience of the challenges I faced, mistakes I made and advice from fellow travellers. I hope I will give you the confidence to go out and try wild camping for yourself.
1. Midge nets
I admit it. They look stupid. They’re annoying to wear. There’s the chance passers-by will mistake you for a wandering beekeeper. But they’re worth it. You can buy near enough full body suits of midge netting, but at the very least have a head net to hand for those muggy, still evenings when swarms of the little blighters are out for blood.
2. Don’t go digital
We’re out of the habit these days, but chances are you’re not going to be able to rely on your smart phone for your information and organisational needs. Write down important phone numbers for emergencies and keep them safe and dry. Take a paper map of the area you’re visiting, and if you’re travelling the islands, have a ferry timetable with you. And think about keeping a diary instead of relying on your phone camera to record your trip.
3. Watch the weather
Heavy and prolonged rainfall can turn trickling burns into raging torrents. There were times I crossed bridges to find remote spots to camp, only to find on my return journey that my exit was blocked by rising floodwater. It’s always worth scouting for high ground when selecting a pitch unless you want to wake up in a puddle.
4. Wet wipes
5. Zip-lock bags
They’re perfect for keeping socks and matches dry, food fresh and dirty laundry separate. There’s nothing worse than a soggy pack full of wet belongings, so line your rucksack thoroughly and pack your wet tent away in a waterproof bag.
6. Avoid bracken
In my experience, the best way to spend a sleepless night defending the inner sanctum of your tent from a Walking Dead- style army of invading ticks is to pitch too close to stands of bracken. No one wants that. Stick to open areas.
7. Buy local
Remote and island communities often have their own community-run stores or post offices which are great places to stock up on essentials and pick up useful local tips and news. Home-grown veg, free-range eggs and Scottish honey are just some of the delights on offer. By buying locally you’re supporting these initiatives and saving yourself the burden of a heavy pack of food to lug around.
8. Good boots
If you’re going to invest in any particular bit of gear, your boots are worth splashing out on. You’re going to be on your feet carrying a heavy pack for much of your wild camping trip, and to find the best tucked away spots you may have to walk a fair distance over difficult terrain. You want good grip to avoid slips and waterproof footwear with ankle support to keep you as comfortable as possible.
9. Keep warm
Even at the height of summer, the nights can get pretty cold. A good sleeping bag is a no-brainer, but think about thermal layers, a snug hat and a mat to keep you off the ground at night. I took a hot water bottle with me for those really chilly nights and had a couple of self-heating gel pads for emergencies.
10. Give yourself a break
If you’re planning a lengthy trip, consider booking yourself the odd hostel or B&B at strategic points along the way. It may feel a bit like cheating, but there will be times when setting up your tent in the rain (again) will be the last thing you want to do, or when you roll off a ferry in the dark and have a difficult search for a pitching spot to look forward to.
11. Menacing wildlife
There will be midges (tiny but unbelievably powerful), ticks (check yourself regularly and note that they won’t always be large and obvious – the most bitey ones are the size of a pin head) and incensed bird parents. Skuas are large and rather menacing, and make a whoosh like a jet plane as they skim past your head. Terns also use their wickedly pointy beaks to go for the most northerly protrusion of your person. Wear a hat, or travel with a taller companion.
12. Sheep rolling
You’re going to encounter a fair few of these woolly wanderers and it’s fair to say they’re not always the most intelligent of creatures. They sometimes choose ill-advised spots to have a sit down, perhaps at the top of a slope, and when attempting to get up manage to roll onto their back. They’re rotund animals, and their round bellies make it difficult for them to right themselves. So if you come across a sheep on its back, legs peddling the air and a bewildered lamb bleating at its side, do the neighbourly thing and give it a shove.
13. Be polite and considerate
I have to admit that one of my biggest concerns during my trip was that I’d inadvertently set up my camp where I wasn’t wanted. I made sure to be polite and considerate, and if in doubt asked if it would be okay to stay in the spot I’d chosen. Far from being chased off, I found people to be friendly and welcoming, happy to share advice for a good spot to try.
Have you enjoyed a wild camping experience? Share your tips and memories in the comments