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An Enlightened Fools Guide to Sleeping Outdoors

An Enlightened Fools Guide to Sleeping Outdoors
8 August 2020

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re scrolling the lcd screen of a computer, smartphone, tablet or other pricey gadget. Chances are you’re also sitting at home, a home with a roof and a bed and a plush settee. Most likely a cupboard and fridge filled with food. Chances are it's a home that's relatively warm and comfortable with everything you need to keep it that way. 

So why then, would you possibly be reading this? An article intended to encourage a night spent beneath the wide clear sky, with only a thin sheet of canvas between you and what lurks in the gloom. 

Maybe it's because you’re intimidated by the prospect. Maybe it's because you got belittled by that old crusty guy in the fusty outdoor shop. Maybe it's because you don't feel represented in the media that surrounds camping and the outdoors. Maybe it's because the stories you read are always the disaster stories, or the epic, unattainable tales of exotic escapades in distant lands. All these are valid reasons of course and good examples of some of the many issues the outdoor industry faces. 

I write this with the most positive intent. Because I see a change a comin’. A seismic shift in the outdoors from old white dudes with too much gear and seen-it, done-it attitudes to a young and vibrant community of new-comers with not much gear and an eagerness born of a never-seen-it, never-done-it attitude. 

If you’re a first timer, don’t go all out and try wild camping at the top of some frosty peak or creaking creepy Scottish woodland in the depths of winter. Go in summer. Go for one, maybe two nights. Check the weather and consider a campsite. Somewhere not too far from home to start with. Somewhere with hot showers. Eager reviewers online are your best pals in helping choose a good site. 

If you have a car this is the easiest option, cram that boot full like a dad going to Cornwall and hit those B-roads! If not, it's still easy, pack a big old bag and jump on the first train out of the city. If you do this, pick a campsite near the train station to minimize lugging a heavy bag too far too soon. 

A beginners guide to camping 1

Essential kit list 

• Tent 
NOT ESSENTIAL (Purist camping cops will want me nicked for this one. TENTS ARE NOT ESSENTIAL FOR CAMPING ANYMORE! Many places now have “glamping pods” which are essentially a wooden tent with varying degrees of comfort. Ranging from a basic setup with a carpeted floor to a pod with mattresses, heating and kettles. They’re cheap and provide a good “camping” experience without the hassle of wrestling with tents. I like staying in these in the winter when it's freezing cold and raining sideways. 
But back to the tent. Any will do if you’re starting out. It might be your parent’s old family tent that weighs 40 tonnes and takes 4 hours to erect. Or it might be that bargain tent you got for your first festival and have somehow managed to keep in your possession. If you’re on a campsite, it will serve its purpose.

• Sleeping Bag
If you’re camping in the warmer months you needn’t worry too much about the warmth of your bag but it is a worthy investment if you have the spends. A solid three season bag is enough for most people. You only really need more if you plan on camping in the dead of winter. Synthetically insulated bags are the best choice for most people as they’re robust and easy to wash. Down (feather) bags pack down smaller and are warmer but only really necessary if you’re backpacking or are concerned about weight. Snow Peak’s Entry Sleeping Bag is our recommendation for those buying their first sleeping bag.

• Sleeping Mat 
Unless your back is a silent night mattress you will want to take a mat. They range in price massively, but the lower price ones are fine for a couple of nights, if a little bulky, but very affordable. Thermarest lead the way here across the board.

• Warm Clothes
Please pack a jumper or two, a hat and a pair of warm socks or hut slippers. You will not have a good time if you’re cold, I can promise you that. There's a lot to be said for down jackets or other insulated jackets here as the warmth to weight/size ratio is second to none. A good insulated jacket is one of the best things you can invest in for any outdoor escapades. Even in the height of summer you will need warm clothes, particularly in the countryside.

• Eating / Food
One sure fire way to stay warm and happy is to eat food. You can go as fancy or as basic as you want here, I am guilty of leaning toward the former but do thank myself when I go basic most of the time. Take small but dense and filling items if you don't want to cook and want to keep it simple. Things like pork pies, onion bhajis, samosas etc. are perfect, along with a banana or two and some easy snacks like nuts or energy bars. If you want something hot I’d just get some sort of boil in the bag number so you don't make a colossal mess. There's a vac packed veg biryani you can pick up in the world food aisle of most supermarkets, which I usually take. They cost a couple of quid and are nice and small for packing into a bag. 

If you plan on boiling some bags you’ll need a stove and a pot. Get a small and simple screw-on gas stove like the Primus Mimer. If you’re just boiling water an aluminium pot or saucepan will do the trick, Snow Peak’s Kettle No 1 is just the ticket. 

Don't forget to bring a spoon.

A lot of people make a fuss about brewing artisanal coffees when out on the hills or camping. It's a nice-to-have in my opinion. If you’ve got an Aeropress or collapsible dripper with compostable filters and you want to take it that's fine. But more often than not I take a zip lock bag with some tea bags. It's less bulk in my bag and a black tea goes down quite nicely after a night under the stars. If you do this you will need a cup like the Snow Peak Titanium Single Cup 450ml.

A waterproof jacket!! 

This is the British Isles. You will need this. 

Useful extras. 
• A plastic bag for rubbish and dirty pots. There's nothing worse than realising you have to put dirty pots and sticky grubby litter in your bag with all your gear. 
• Duct tape. That 25-year-old tent your parents took to France might need running repairs. Roll a bit of it around a pencil to save space.  
• Toilet roll - you never know. 
• Bicycle puncture repair kit. Your inflatable mat, tent and other delicate technical items have an almost magnetic attraction to brambles and thorns.
• A dry bag to keep electronics and the like dry in bad weather.
• A small amount of an intoxicating substance. When the wolves are howling and the axe murderers are at large you will need this to gain access to the land of nod.

A beginners guide to camping 1 

A beginners guide to camping 4

A note on the wild side of camping.

Wild camping is a vast topic and one that warrants a separate blog post, but If you're the sort of person that’s experienced (crucial) and wants to forgo the campsite and have the primal experience of making your bed in a spot far away from others, with naught but the birds and beasts for company there's a few things you should know. 
In England wild camping is technically illegal and thus the topic is a grey area. There are a few unwritten rules that rely mainly on an unspoken trust between campers and landowners. A trust that's important to uphold! Do this by following a few simple rules... 

- Typically, you should camp above the tree-line and far away from roads and paths. 

- Please, please, please do not light a fire. This is how massive wildfires start and yes, they start very easily indeed. Don't be one of those people. 

-It goes without saying but leave no trace. Take everything home with you. Even if you have compostable packaging it's likely only commercially compostable and will take years to break down in nature. 

-Set up late and pack up early. The fewer people see you the better. Not because you're trying to be sneaky, but because other people want to experience empty spaces in nature as much as you. They might not want to walk 10 miles to see you sitting in a sleeping bag scoffing a mug of porridge. 

If you're worried about the illegal thing then just go somewhere where you can get permission from the landowner. Knock on a farmer’s door and ask nicely. Generally speaking though, if you're out of sight and follow the rules you’ll likely be fine.

The first few times you wild camp it's a good plan to go with someone experienced.

A beginners guide to camping 2Lastly, if this article has in some way inspired you to pack up a bag and head off for a weekend adventure, I’d like to include a little plug for the fellow campsite goers of our little island. If you find yourself stuck in any way, (and the likelihood of this is high!) do ask for help! Experienced people within outdoor communities tend to be more than happy to pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation. Just look for the older person with a paper map and beige zip-offs…

Here's the Lyrics to “The Outdoor Type” by 90’s alt-rockers The Lemonheads. A fitting tie-off, and clearly writer Evan Dando could do with perusing this blog.

Always had a roof above me
Always paid the rent
But I've never set foot inside a tent
Can't build a fire to save my life
I lied about being the outdoor type
I've never slept out underneath the stars,
The closest that I came to that was one time my car
Broke down for an hour in the suburbs at night
I lied about being the outdoor type.
Too scared to let you know you knew what you were looking for
I lied until I fit the bill god bless the great indoors
I lied about being the outdoor type
I've never owned a sleeping bag let alone a mountain bike
I can't go away with you on a rock climbing weekend
What if somethings on tv and its never shown again
It’s just as well I'm not invited I'm afraid of heights
I lied about being the outdoor type
Never learned to swim can't grow a beard or even fight
I lied about being the outdoor type

A beginners guide to camping 3

Words by Charlie Hitchen @uphill.downdale

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