Wild camping and sleeping outside on a road trip opens up a world of possibilities for long-term travel
Knowing how to wild camp is an essential skill to get comfortable with. This short guide to wild camping and sleeping outside is designed to be both practical and reassuring.
Curated to steer you away from the common misconceptions of wild camping towards a sound night’s sleep under the stars.
The Subtle Art of Sleeping Outside & Wild Camping
The open road, the wind in your hair, and the freedom to explore new places are all part of the allure of long-term travel.
However, finding suitable accommodation along the way can be a challenge. That’s where the art of wild camping and sleeping outside comes in.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the essentials of wild camping on a long-distance bicycle tour, hiking expedition or backpacking trip. You’ll learn the basics of choosing a good spot, setting up your camp and managing food and water.
So, grab your bivvy bag and let’s get started!
Understanding the Basics of Wild Camping
Before we dive into the logistics, let’s define what wild camping means. In essence, wild camping involves setting up your camp in the great outdoors. Typically, in deep nature, away from designated campsites or established facilities.
It’s about immersing yourself in nature and embracing the serenity of the wilderness. Think of it as a dance between man and nature, where you become one with the landscape and find harmony in simplicity.
While wild camping can be an incredibly rewarding experience, it’s important to be aware of the legalities and permissions involved.
Defining Wild Camping
Wild camping is an act of self-sufficiency. Where you rely on your wits and resources to set up a temporary home for the night. A daily consideration of a practical nature.
It’s also about finding solitude and reconnecting with the natural rhythms of life.
Picture yourself rolling through a landscape, the sun high in the sky, the wind at your back. Life feels good. This is freedom!
Sleeping outside during an adventure helps travellers to access the more remote paths.
Sleeping Outside Is An Act Of Joyous Rebellion
Imagine waking up to the sound of birds chirping. The gentle rustling of leaves, and the crisp morning air filling your lungs. As you rise to meet the new day, you are greeted by a breathtaking view of untouched landscapes.
The sun slowly rises, casting a golden glow on the surrounding mountains. And you can’t help but feel a sense of awe and gratitude for the natural world.
No rent, no rush, no worries!
Wild camping enables you to escape the noise and distractions of modern life. Helping you to truly disconnect and recharge.
It’s a chance to trade the hustle and bustle of the city for the tranquillity of nature. Where time seems to slow down and the worries of everyday life fade away.
Legalities and Permissions for Wild Camping
Before you pitch your tent in the middle of nowhere, it’s important to understand the legalities and permissions involved.
While wild camping is legal in some countries. It may be restricted or even prohibited in others. It’s like navigating through a maze, where each path leads to different opportunities.
My charity bike ride took place in Europe where attitudes towards wild camping are fairly relaxed and the practice is largely understood.
On the Hippie Trail by bike through southeast Asia, while not illegal, hiding in the jungle under canvas could be easily misinterpreted. It’s also wholly unnecessary. Accommodation is wildly affordable and a hammock makes a better bed in the Tropics.
Just as you respect the rules of the road while cycling, it’s crucial to abide by the laws of the land when it comes to wild camping.
This ensures that you not only protect nature but also maintain a positive relationship with the local communities and authorities.
Seven Principles To Guide You
Researching the regulations and obtaining the necessary permits can seem daunting, but it’ll become obvious when it’s essential. Between fellow travellers and locals, you’ll know when you need permits and when you don’t.
As a bare minimum before you embark on an overnight trip please familiarise yourself with these seven principles of ‘leave no trace’. These are your mindset and mantras for the privilege of experiencing the beauty of the wilderness.
By respecting the etiquette and legalities, you can enjoy your wild camping adventure with peace of mind.
Tread lightly and leave no trace
An Adventure Mindset
As you prepare for your journey, it’s worth considering the kind of adventure you wish to have.
Imagine the thrill of setting up your tent in the perfect spot, surrounded by towering trees and a gentle breeze. You carefully arrange your sleeping bag, ensuring a cosy and warm night’s sleep.
The sound of crackling firewood fills the air as you prepare a delicious meal, using your portable stove and utensils. The simplicity of cooking outdoors adds a sense of adventure and satisfaction to your camping experience.
Problem-Solving With A Smile
These are all possible scenarios and certainly speak to the romance of camping on the road. But unless you’re heading out into the deep wilderness on a multiday bikepacking or hiking trip, you may find a lighter option preferable.
With the right choice of gear, you can fully immerse yourself in the wild, without investing in expensive kit.
What if being prepared for whatever nature throws your way was a mindset?
It’s possible to cultivate an adventure mindset that supports you wherever you go, whatever the terrain. It’s probably the most important thing you can prepare ahead of a big trip.
How To Wild Camp On Your Trip
In addition to a positive attitude and a can-do approach to problem-solving, here are a few tips to help map your success. I have made my trips in fair weather. I purposefully followed the seasons and the sun in order to have long easy days in fair conditions.
Even with this intention, I came upon heavy weather at times. Monsoon in Vietnam, storms in Kyrgyzstan and snow in India.
Suffice to say that weather preparedness is the start of a successful expedition.
Weather Considerations and Seasonal Planning
The weather can be both a friend and a foe on your long-distance bicycle tour. Just as a seasoned traveller adjusts their plans based on the climate, you need to be prepared for different weather conditions.
Picture yourself as a chameleon, adapting to the changing environment and thriving in any situation.
Pack appropriate clothing to protect yourself from rain, wind, or extreme temperatures. Consider the seasons and plan your journey accordingly, ensuring that you make the most of favourable weather conditions.
How To Wild Camp In Heavy Weather
Imagine waking up to the sound of raindrops on your tent, knowing that you have a long day of cycling ahead. You reach for your waterproof gear, feeling a sense of gratitude for the foresight to pack it.
As you pedal through the rain-soaked landscape, you can’t help but appreciate the beauty that comes with a storm. The smell of wet earth, the vibrant colours of the flora, and the peacefulness that settles over the land.
Whether it’s a sudden rainstorm or a chilly night, heavy-duty expedition gear becomes your trusted companion. Decent kit enables you to embrace the elements head-on and survive in the most extreme conditions.
On the flip side, imagine cycling under a clear blue sky, with the warm sun on your face and a gentle breeze on your back.
How To Wild Camp In Good Weather
The world seems to come alive with vibrant colours, and you feel a sense of freedom and joy as you pedal through the open road. Embrace the different weather conditions as they come, knowing that each one adds a unique flavour to your journey.
As you plan your long-distance bicycle tour, hike or backpacking trip, consider the seasons and the impact they will have on your experience. Spring brings the awakening of nature, with blooming flowers and newborn wildlife.
Summer offers long days and the opportunity to bask in the warmth of the sun. Fall paints the landscape in hues of red, orange, and gold, creating a picturesque backdrop for your adventure.
Winter brings a sense of solitude and tranquillity, with snow-covered landscapes that transform the familiar into something magical.
By taking into account the weather and planning your journey accordingly, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of each season and make the most of your long-term travels.
Essential Gear for Wild Camping
When it comes to wild camping, packing the right gear is essential. For a bike tour, you may wish to consult this cycle touring kit list. For a multi-day hiking trip less equipment is required but it is best to be equipped.
You may want arguably the best tent in the world to sleep in. You could pack a reliable sleeping bag. Some folks even carry cooking utensils.
Shelter, warmth, sustenance
Ultimately, you need warm clothes on your back, food in your belly and shoes on your feet. The rest is optional. There is a great tradition of vagabondage and tramping in many countries.
Motivated by necessity, as tramps often are, moved to spiritual pilgrimage like the saddhus of the sub-continent or inspired by the act of walking for its own sake, sleeping outside remains the same.
Under a hedgerow wrapped in a blanket, under the stars on the banks of the Ganga or cocooned in a four-season sleeping bag in a tent, sleeping outdoors presents the same practical challenges.
Kit List For Sleeping Outside
Here’s a concise kit list for sleeping outside during wild camping:
Tent, Hammock or Bivvy Bag
A reliable shelter to protect you from the elements and provide a comfortable sleeping space is perhaps top of the list for long-term travel. For cooler climates in remote wilderness here’s a selection of the best bikepacking tents.
Choose a high-quality sleeping bag suitable for the expected weather conditions, ensuring warmth and comfort. I use a Rab Neutrino 200 for most of the year in the UK and Europe.
Go for synthetic if you want the option to wash it yourself. Plump for duck-down if you favour a lightweight option and don’t mind the dry cleaning.
Sleeping Pad or Mat
Quite brilliantly, Andrew (The Clown), who set up my Dawes Galaxy at Spa Cycles recommends cardboard salvaged from supermarkets.
Essential for navigating in the dark and handling tasks at night. I’ve used many of these in the past. Cheap and cheerful and brand names. The reality is that you’ll lose it eventually and have to replace it. Purchase accordingly.
I wouldn’t be without mine for reading books at night.
You’ll have a torch built into your phone so keep that charged. Otherwise, get a real torch. These can be mounted as bike lights should you have need. Depends on the weight/space/duration of trip conundrum.
A lightweight and compact pillow for a comfortable night’s sleep. Really? Apparently, they’re a thing so why not…
I tend to roll up my clothes if I’m in a tent, I use my pack if I’m not. A bundle of foliage is usually within reach.
A compact camping stove, lightweight cookware, and utensils for preparing meals. I’ve used the MSR WhisperLite, Beer Can Stove and a variety of the gas canister variety.
For most of my long-distance solo cycle tour, I didn’t need/use a stove at all, boiling water for tea being a minor exception in Europe.
In Central Asia, the MSR was worth its weight in gold, but elsewhere I ate on the fly: fresh fruits, cheap roadside meals and dry foods such as dates and biscuits.
Water Filtration System
A portable water filter or purification tablets to ensure a safe and clean water supply. I used a Sawyer Mini. It was small and light but took a bit of effort to pump being a manual device.
First Aid Kit
A basic first aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers. I took all sorts of stuff on my long bike tours and never used it. That said, when you need it, you need it.
Multi-Tool or Knife
Fire Starter Kit
Matches, a lighter, or a fire starter for warmth, cooking, and safety.
Map and Compass
Navigation tools to help you find your way in unfamiliar terrain. Your smartphone will have all Apps for Maps that you need. If you choose paper and a compass, I salute you!
A lightweight emergency shelter, such as a tarp or emergency blanket, in case of unexpected weather changes. Totally optional.
Protect yourself from insects and pests with a reliable insect repellent. Essential for the Scottish Highlands. Midges SUCK!
Warm Clothing Layers
Pack appropriate layers, including thermal base layers, a warm jacket, and extra socks to stay comfortable in changing temperatures.
I wore Icebreaker Merino Wool leggings and long-sleeved top until they fell off me. They were excellent. Other brands are available.
Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes
Sturdy and comfortable footwear suitable for the terrain you’ll be traversing. I wouldn’t be without my trusted bike touring SPD sandals for on the bike. I chose a lightweight trekking shoe for everything else.
Personal Hygiene Items
Include essentials like biodegradable soap, hand sanitiser, and a trowel for burying waste.
Having these essentials in your kit ensures that you are prepared for a comfortable and safe wild camping experience.
Always check the local regulations and guidelines for the specific area you plan to camp in and aim to leave no trace of your presence to preserve the natural environment.
Setting Up Your Wild Camp
Now that you’ve reached your destination, it’s time to set up your wild camp. Finding the perfect spot, setting up your shelter, and leaving no trace are all part of the art of wild camping.
Choosing the Right Spot
Selecting the right spot for your wild camp is like finding a hidden treasure in the vast expanse of nature. Look for a location that offers both comfort and seclusion.
Picture yourself as an animal seeking refuge, blending seamlessly with the surroundings.
Consider factors such as terrain, proximity to water sources, and the potential impact on the environment. Remember, leave no trace behind and respect the delicate balance of nature.
Setting Up Your Tent or Hammock
By now, you have an insight on how to wild camp successfully. Climate, trip type and desire all play a vital role in shaping how you decide to sleep outside.
Whether you choose a tent or a hammock, ensure that it provides protection from the elements and offers a comfortable place to rest.
Be sure to be out of sight in most cases unless you understand the custom and culture of the place you’re passing through.
After many months of cycle touring, I slept at the side of the road in my sleeping bag. As a result, I was often invited to stay in a communal building or family home.
On other occasions, I slept in my tent in parks or on a bench in a public square. You’ll figure out the best option each night as you travel.
Invitations will be made, opportunities will present themselves and you’ll ease into comfort with the unknowns of sleeping outside.
Leave No Trace Principles
As a wild camper, it’s essential to abide by the principles of leaving no trace. Think of yourself as a custodian of the land, leaving it pristine for future generations to enjoy.
Pack out what you pack in, respect wildlife habitats, and minimize your impact on the environment. It’s like a gentle dance, where you hold hands with nature, leaving nothing but your footprints behind.
Managing Food and Water on the Road
Keeping yourself nourished and hydrated on your long-distance bicycle tour or hiking trip is essential for both your physical and mental well-being.
Balancing your food supply and finding reliable water sources are key to a successful journey. Plan ahead with dry foods, eat fresh where you can and be flexible with what you are prepared to eat on tour.
Packing and Storing Food
Opt for lightweight and non-perishable items that provide the necessary nutrients for your energy needs. Dried fruits such. as dates, apricots and even kiwi are excellent snacks.
Simple Tupperware or resealable bags are handy for storing treats. Even beeswax paper is more widely available now too. Be mindful of animal encounters and secure your food to avoid unwanted guests.
Finding and Purifying Water
Water is the elixir of life, and finding a reliable source is as important as knowing how to wild camp. Long-term travellers need to be resourceful in locating water sources.
Research the areas you’ll be passing through, identify natural water sources, and consider carrying a reliable water purification system. I recommend the Sawyer Water Filter. It’s compact, durable and easy to use.
Final Thoughts On The Art of Sleeping Outside and How To Wild Camp Successfully
As you embark on a long-distance bicycle tour, multi-day hike or long-term backpacking trip, wild camping becomes a skill to master. Understanding the basics of sleeping outside will help to prepare you for your first night under the stars.
So, channel your inner explorer, connect with the wilderness, and let the open road guide you to unforgettable experiences.
Do you have recommendations on how to wild camp? Share your tips for sleeping outside in the comments: