Hints and Tips: A Beginner's Guide To Wild-Camping

My recent touring trip to France and Spain would not have been possible both financially and logistically if it was not for Wild-Camping. Firstly, we could not have afforded to stay in camp-sites or B&Bs for the whole three weeks we were away. Secondly, by restricting yourself to certain end points each day, you eliminate the fantastic ability to simply cycle until your legs feel like they are about to fall off and then set up camp (hence a few of our planned "60mile" days turned into century days!).

So what is Wild-Camping?
Quite simply it is pitching up your tent in a secluded-as-possible spot; often in woodland or farmland at the end of a long hard day in the saddle.

Why do it? Here are my 'Top Five Reasons to Wild-Camp':
  1. Cost - most campsites in Europe work out about 6 Euros a night each; this adds up for a student over a 3 week tour.
  2. Logistics - You can stop when and were you want (within reason) and don't have to worry about needing to get to a certain point each day if you are feeling tired (or energetic).
  3. Peace - There are no screaming children or noisy parties when you are camped in a secluded field - allowing you to get a good nights sleep after a hard day.
  4. Sights - We stayed in some of the most beautiful places, with the most spectacular views - something  you don't often get in a campsite.
  5. Excitement - After the initial trepidation you feel about where you are going to camp that night, and the ill-found belief that you will be thrown off by an angry farmer with a gun, it becomes quite exciting not knowing; and provides even more of a feeling of elation when you finally pitch up in a great spot at the end of the day.

Top Tips for Wild Camping:
A Riverbed in the South of France
A Field in the Alps

A Forest in the North of France
  • Don't Worry! - The first night we wild camped in Spain we were paranoid as hell. First there was the elderly man that we thought was going to turf us off, but actually turned out to just want a friendly chat. Then there was the tractor, who we hid from for a good few minutes, before realizing he wasn't coming to bulldoze our camp-site, but rather cut the grass in the adjacent field. Inevitably everyone is a bit paranoid at first, but just don't worry so much. The one time we really thought we were going to be thrown off the farmer turned out to be a very nice guy, and very jovial. If you do get approached, just be friendly, emphasise that you will not make any mess and that you will be gone early in the morning.
  • Start Looking Early - At the end of a long day in the saddle the last thing that you want is a struggle to find a camp-site. After about 6pm, and after we had met our target distance we started looking for a camp-site. The few times we left it a bit late it just caused unwanted stress and anxiety. Just remember - there is pretty much always somewhere you can pitch up a tent.
  • Expect the Unexpected - One of the most comic moments of our trip was in the South of France when we camped next to Lac Olonzac. We spotted an oasis of green at one end of the lake and pitched our tents up in what seemed like a pretty arid area. Then after finding a small metal object in the ground our worst fears were confirmed when a dog walker came over to our camp and warn us is broken English that "Er..there are..how do you say..sprinklers?" "Sprinklers?!" "Er...yes..they go off at 3am!". Sure enough when they did go off it sounded like someone firing a machine gun at our tent; we eventually managed to stop ourselves getting absolutely saturated by placing our cooking pan with a rock on top over the 'Rainbow Maker 2000'. So expect the unexpected - things will happen - just laugh them off!
  • Be Tidy - Following on from my earlier point - farmers and landowners are normally fine with it, as long as you don't leave a mess. Keep your camp-site tidy at all times, then if they do approach you there is more chance of them believing you when you say you will not make a mess.
  • Find a River (or Ocean) - After spending a few days in the South of France in 35'C heat. A wash is a real blessing. I reckon this is one of the main reasons that people are put off wild-camping: smelly kit and smelly bodies. We learnt fairly early on that a fast flowing river was a major plus to a camp-site. Have a look on your map towards the end of the day and try and spot a secluded area with a river, it is actually fairly easy (especially in Alpine areas), aim for that and often the dividends pay well.
  • Be Flexible - On our last day in France we encountered a downpour at the end of the day. It was full on torrential rain - we had to settle for a camp-site that was rather visible from a lane and a house, and quickly throw the tent up to stop us getting hypothermia. As usual no one bothered us - the usual barking dogs that you hear all over France were there, but we got a pretty good nights sleep. Sometimes that ideal camp-site isn't going to materialise in a hurry - don't be afraid to settle for second-best. 
I hope you've found this post interesting, and it will inspire you to get out there and do a bit of Wild-Camping. There are so many great places to pitch-up out there, it is a shame if people don't take advantage of them. 
Remember - Stay Calm, Be Friendly and Don't Worry. We weren't thrown off a single camping site the whole trip, and I have heard similar experiences from many tourers - keep yourself tucked away and the chances are you won't get more than a field mouse or squirrel bothering you all night.  :-)
Lac Olonzac


Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this post! Just what I had been looking for. I have never wild camped before and you have helped put my mind at ease. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Class done it for years just dont make a mess and all is fine.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post, I did a similar one a while ago. I to have never been asked to leave a camping spot. I really think it helps if you are on a bicycle, people always seem friendlier and confident that you are not causing trouble. I now see it almost as a failure when I have to fork out for a campsite, they cost money and are never as good as rough camping.

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