Back in January I wrote about the extended ban on wild camping in some parts of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park due to the mess that some roadside campers were leaving . Last year I wrote the following piece for The Great Outdoors about the ethics of wild camping.
The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs wild camping ban has set me thinking about real wild camping and how it should be done. The phrase often used is ‘leave no trace’ (it’s even the name of a very worthy American outdoor organisation) but I prefer minimum impact as I think there’s always some sign you’ve been there, even if it’s only flattened grass or boot prints in the mud. Whatever it’s called though the aim should always be to leave an area as pristine as possible so that no-one passing by will know it’s been used and if anyone ever camps there again they too can have the joy of a real wild site and that feeling of being in untouched nature.
The perfect site has a superb view; a smooth, flat, soft place for your shelter; water close by; and somewhere comfortable to sit and watch the world. And of course the weather should be warm and dry and windless. Sometimes that all comes true. More often it doesn’t. Another consideration anyway should be the nature of the site and whether you can camp there without doing damage. Luckily the places most easily damaged – flower meadows, marshy ground – aren’t generally that attractive for camping. The best sites are on firm grassy or bare ground that drains well and these are the ones that stand up best to camping. Such terrain may be on the edge of the wet meadow or marsh but it won’t be in it. Often small patches of this ground can be found along streams or on raised banks even when the surrounding area is boggy.
Once a pitch has been selected it shouldn’t be altered. Indeed if it needs altering look for somewhere more suitable. Okay, the odd rock or stick may occasionally need to be moved but if you do so put them back afterwards (especially rocks). Old camping books often describe digging scoops for your hips or gathering vegetation to sleep on. Modern comfortable sleeping mats make these practices unnecessary.
A particular bugbear of mine is the putting of rocks on tent pegs and then leaving them in a circle. I’ve spent too much time dismantling such rings over the years. They shouldn’t be necessary if you have a decent set of tent pegs (I always carry a variety for different types of ground) and if you do it all rocks should be replaced where they came from afterwards. The aim, remember, is that no-one should know you’ve been there.
Care needs to be taken when cooking too. Camp fires are out unless there’s somewhere they can be lit without scarring the ground such as a shingle bank or you know how to make a fire pit or mound and how to restore the area afterwards. Backpacking stoves can scorch the ground too though, especially low profile ones (I confess to having unintentionally been responsible for this myself in the past). A disc of aluminium under the burner can stop this as can using a flat rock as a stand.
Going back and forth to the nearest water can lead to little paths being created. This can be avoided by having enough containers that you can collect all the water you need in one go. This is easy to do with modern collapsible containers and is also convenient, especially when the weather turns wet, as you can stay in your shelter.
Finally when leaving a camp check for any overlooked items such as tent pegs or tiny bits of rubbish. After packing my rucksack I like to have a last look round to make sure the site is as pristine as possible.