I remember it like yesterday, my first wild camp. Now just because you might enjoy hill walking doesn’t mean to say that you’ll naturally enjoy wild camping, so this could have been a potential make or break. To be honest, I enjoy sleeping under canvas in campsites so I was pretty sure I’d take to wild camping.
My friend Peter asked if I wanted to camp high on The Cobbler (Ben Arthur). It would be my first wild camp and I didn’t refuse. The one problem was I didn’t own a tent, a big enough rucksack or the money to splash out on decent gear.
Luckily my Dad had a rucksack I could borrow. It was a big heavy Tiso own brand 60+5 litre sack effort. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it weighted, but surely not far off 3 kilograms. I worked part time as a Tesco delivery driver, so using my staff discount, I picked up a 2 man tent, the kind of tent you’d buy for a festival and wouldn’t be too upset if you spewed in it. The tent must have weighed at least 2 kilograms, which I suppose in backpacking terms isn’t too heavy, it was just really bulky. I already owned a Karrimor summer sleeping bag and I bought a fairly standard Vango self inflating mat, again not too heavy just bulky.
With over 60 litres to play with I didn’t waste any time in filling the rucksack with totally unnecessary stuff like loads of spare clothes, heavy camping lanterns that take massive batteries and 2 litres of tap water for you know, just in case! Even though there is no shortage of water in the Arrochar Alps.
Okay, okay I don’t condone getting drunk whilst out on the hills, but on top of the 2 litres of water I carried in 4 cans of Stella. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A can of lager can be a nice treat to wash down your dinner.
I wish I could remember what else I packed, but the geeky gear spreadsheet had yet to be created. What I do remember is consuming every last bit of space, with the tent strapped to the outside. Getting the rucksack off the ground and onto my back proved a challenge and I really struggled with the load.
If you’ve ever done any of the Arrochar Alps from the car park at Succoth, you’ll be familiar with the zig-zag path that seems to be endless. At least it felt endless to me. Now bare in mind I was carrying shopping up tenement flats on a part time basis, and against the advice given by my employers I wasn’t shy of lifting 30kg+ of bottled water, cat litter and all the other heavy groceries that dwellers of top floor flats always seemed to order. How us drivers cursed the top floor customers, who rarely offered to help!
In the end we didn’t reach the Cobbler. The heavy packs took their toll on us and we eventually caved in and camped by the Narnain Boulders, which was still a pleasant pitch.
Peter was a bit of an old hand at camping, he erected this weather beaten faded orange North Face tent that looked like it had seen all weathers. Knowing Peter he probably has camped in all weathers.
We camped right next to the river, which really rubbed salt in the wounds of carrying that 2 litres of tap water. Nevertheless I pitched my tent and all was good.
It was a warm windless night, probably just as well. I’m not sure my tent could handle much wind or rain. We watched the sun go down, drank some lager and listened to Peter’s dodgy music. Peter had brought his 11 year old son Andrew with him, he too seemed to enjoy being out despite the initial slog with heavy packs.
By now the sun had set and the Cobbler’s famous profile was silhouetted against the dark blue sky. It was a fine evening. The alcohol was now all consumed and we retired for the night.
The next again day we agreed to climb the Cobbler, but we wouldn’t be taking heavy packs. We took what we needed and stuffed it all into one rucksack and took turns of carrying it up, leaving Andrew rucksack free.
We were the first people up on the summit. I scaled the short scramble up to the top before we all headed back down to pick up our tents and head home.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and needless to say I’ve been out quite a few times since. So what have I learnt over the last 7 years?
Water – There’s loads of water to be found on the mountains across the UK, so why carry it in? Every litre of water is 1 kilogram in weight. Study a 1:25K map before you go, for streams and small lakes.
Spare clothes – You don’t need clean t-shirts and underwear for each day. Don’t worry if you smell a bit, you’re out backpacking enjoying the great outdoors. One clean base layer for wearing in the evening and sleeping in can be a bonus for damper conditions and perhaps long johns for the colder months.
Rome wasn’t built in a day – Unless you have loads of spare cash, buying all the lightest of gear takes time. Be patient, start with the core items that weigh the most:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat.
Then look at your cooking set up:
Everything else you take should be the stuff you’d have on a day hike, for example; waterproofs, warm insulated jacket, gloves, hat, head torch, first aid kit, map and compass.
Everything but the kitchen sink – It’s tempting to take more than you need. Write a list of what you need and stick to it. Tinker as you go, you’ll find certain items you won’t use or others that you could have done with.
Take a luxury – You don’t have to go too minimalistic. Take an ipod, some whisky or a Kindle. I carry a small bluetooth speaker to listen to podcasts and music with a couple of drams. These little luxuries can make the difference, particularly when the nights draw in.
Flight mode – Use the flight mode function on your phone. It saves battery and GPS still works. Also you won’t be pestered with phone calls and notifications. Carry an external battery pack for longer trips.
Use trekking poles – Poles help you keep your balance over rough terrain, take pressure off your knees and other joints. Useful for river crossings and some tarps and tents use them instead of tent poles.
First wild camp? – Don’t be too ambitious and If you’re feeling a bit anxious, don’t camp too far away from your car or start point so you can bail out if you feel uneasy.
Food – Take enough, you’ll burn lots of calories. So it’s better to return with unused food rather than running out.
Looking younger – I looked really y
Last of all – Plan ahead, check the weather forecast before you head off and of course, most important of all… Enjoy!
If you’re interested on what my gear list looks like nowadays, then feel free to take a look here.