Rarely do we end our day on the trail without having tripped, stumbled, slipped or fallen at some point during our journey. Indeed, I believe it so that, the more beautiful the walk, the more hazards we encounter. We peer skywards towards the call of a kestrel, tripping on tree roots and slipping in mud, and at our feet we search for wildflowers and unsuspecting bugs, bumping our heads on overhanging oaks. I guess what I am trying to say is, where there is pain, there is beauty; no doubt a consideration worth remembering.
Wild camping can be a great way to enhance the adventure, solitude and self-sustainability of a multi-day hike. Yet, for many, it inflicts a bout of apprehension difficult to rid; an understandable sentiment, but one most certainly worth overcoming.
Here is a little guidance on how to feel the rewards of camping wild:
- Permission to camp: Of course, if you can ask the land owner (if indeed there is one), then do so; it will make you feel better and is, in the eye of the law, the right thing to do. More often than not, the landowner will comply. In fact, in my experience they are often excited that you chose their land over their neighbours! Whilst in France, the owner of a vineyard was so delighted to have my brother and I stay, that he let us wash in the horses drinking trough, free of charge. How lovely.
- Pitching: Soft, flat ground is favourable. However, if hard to come by, use spare clothes and gear to fill in holes and to counteract angled slopes.
- Food: Without a nearby shop, be sure to have enough food to get you through the night and on to the next town. If foraging for berries, mushrooms and leaves, be sure to know your stuff. I once ate Lily of the Valley by accident and the repercussions were, by all means, disagreeable.
- Water: Again, ensure that you have enough liquid for the night. If using river water, be sure that the flow is running with vigour and is above the livestock line. Consider using purification tablets.
- Toileting: Dig and bury.
- Fires: Only have fires if necessary (for cooking and for warmth). Yes, they may be paramount for the quintessential wild camping photo shoot, but they leave a mark. Extinguish thoroughly. Tip: campfire smoke can be a great way to add fragrance to a particularly odorous pair of socks!
- Sleeping: The sounds of the forest can be blissful, but they can also have you thinking that a foraging mouse is an angry hunter with a gun. I often wear earplugs to get me to sleep and shed them at some point in the night, allowing me to wake with the dawn chorus.
- Leaving camp: Aside from a flattening of leaves, twigs and shoots, you should leave a camping area as you found it.
But, most importantly, do not forget the essence of wild camping – your connection with the land, your freedom and your solitude – that makes the experience so special.
I read an article once, ‘Did cavemen get blisters?’ The piece adopted the very simple and highly plausible notion that, without shoes, our predecessors were unlikely to have endured the chaffing motion of skin against material. Thus, in spite of boasting a three-inch thick callus of bone-hard skin on the underbelly of their feet, it was probable that the bane of blisters was never an issue.
Whilst traveling in South America several years back, I had the accidental, yet highly informative experience of testing this theory first hand.
I was eighteen, and with that, frugal. Midway through a day hike somewhere in Brazil, my flip flops broke. Having mended the wilting footwear several times already, I finally decided that they were beyond repair and discarded them, leaving me with nothing but my bare feet on which to complete the walk. The ground was hot and a little sharp, but I arrived into camp later that afternoon feeling oddly euphoric.
The next day I ventured into the local town, still without shoes. My feet were sore from the previous day, but I felt alive, skipping from one patch of shade to the next.
An entire month passed by – from Brazil to Argentina, Bolivia to Peru, Salta to La Paz and Cusco to Lima – and still I clung on to my newfound obsession: free the feet and feel the reward.
I guess the point I am trying to make is, without shoes I didn’t get blisters. And, it’s more than likely that cavemen didn’t get blisters. By no means am I suggesting that your next trip out to the mountains should be without footwear, but I do propose that, on many occasions, unevolved is better.
Though it may not be a validated decree, spider webs imply solitude; and solitude, for many walkers, is a sensation worth pursuing.
Do not shy away from the cobwebbed forest of rooted paths and ancient trees, for it’s likely that its isolation – accentuated by the tickling spider webs that caress your face – is just what you set out to find. And, whilst others may be deterred, your ease with the spiders will allow you to adventure on, through the forest, away from the voices and into a land as honest as they come.