Saturday 7 May 2016

Choosing A Wild Camp Site

Where possible choose a site with a view

Having seen a number of comments and queries about wild camp sites in various places on the web I thought I'd post this piece, which first appeared in The Great Outdoors a couple of years ago.

Faced with a mass of boggy tussocks on a steep hillside or mounds of bushes on a forest floor it can be hard to find somewhere comfortable to camp. Where is that nice patch of short grass you need? At the end of a long day when your feet need a rest and the pack seems to have doubled in weight it can be tempting to just stop and pitch the tent anywhere. The result though is often disturbed sleep as you twist and turn trying to get comfortable on bumpy ground. Yet good sites can be found in most terrain if you look carefully. Of course the first thing many people think of for a wild site is a great view. However comfort and, in stormy weather, shelter should come first in my opinion. That beautiful vista won’t looks so good if you’ve slept badly or spent half the night hoping the tent wouldn’t blow down. Here are some tips for finding a good site.

There was no flat ground round this loch but by searching I found a flat dry area on a terrace well above the water
1.    Take your time. If a smooth perfect pitch appears at your feet fine. That’s rare though. Scouting round an area can often come up with a good site. To make this easier take off your pack so you’re not thinking more about getting the load off your shoulders than finding a site. 

2.      Survey the area from above if possible. Before you descend into a valley or hollow stop and scan it for possible sites. Often patches of paler vegetation can mark grass rather than heather or peat bog. If you have binoculars use these to look more closely at possible sites.

3.      Check the flatness of a potential site. If it’s dry lie down and see how it feels. If wet, walk round it and view it from every side. A slight slope is bearable – most people prefer their head on the uphill side. You only need a flat enough area to sleep on, bumps and dips elsewhere don’t matter. You do need to ensure the tent is pitched just right when there’s only a small flat area though.

Amongst some very boggy terrain the driest ground was on this small island.
4.      Make sure the site is fairly well-drained. Does the ground squelch and ooze water when you press your foot on it? If so I’d look for somewhere drier. A slight slope is better than sleeping in a bog that could overflow into your tent if it rains. Camping on damp ground also leads to more condensation inside the tent.

Camping above this lochan-filled hollow was warmer than camping in it.

 5.      Hollows can provide good shelter but may also trap water. They also act as cold sinks. A flat terrace a little way up the sides can be drier and warmer than a camp in the bottom of a hollow. The same applies to narrow stream valleys.

6.      In really wet weather when all flat ground is saturated the tops of little knolls can provide reasonably dry sites. Prospect a few to see if there’s room for your tent.

7.      If there’s a wind pitch the tent so that the door is away from the wind.

On a very windy day a little searching found this flat site sheletred by trees and banks of heather and blaeberry
8.      In strong winds look for shelter for a quieter and more secure camp. Grassy banks and little crags can keep off most of the wind. If there’s a forest in sight that can provide a really calm camp. I’d rather walk a bit further for a sheltered site than stop and have a disturbed night.

9.      If midges rather than wind is the problem go uphill and look for a breezy site to keep them off.

This bank was high enough above the stream to ensure there was no danger of flooding
10.  Camping by water is convenient but check there’s no chance of a rising stream flooding your camp. If you have ample water containers you have more flexibility in where you camp. Often the best and most scenic camps are away from water. Sometimes steep or boggy banks may mean there are no sites anywhere near a lake or stream anyway.

A sheltered forest site
11.  In forests look up to see if there are any dead branches above a prospective site. Check there are no dead trees leaning towards you too. A strong wind could bring them down.

Avoiding camping on snow
12.  If there are still snow patches on the hills it’s always warmer and drier to avoid them and camp on dry ground.

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