Bikepacking in the wild

Wild Camping

With privilege, comes responsibility

When we do get to look back on 2020, we might, with time, be able to identify a few positives. People appreciating the NHS and those who work so hard to make it what it is will be one; the other is 2020 might be the year that we fell back in love with our own countryside.

Even amid lockdown, we were able to go outdoors. That was a real privilege. Ok, to start with we were limited to an hour of exercise, but that restriction was soon relaxed.

With nothing else to do, it seemed everyone went for a walk or dusted off their old bikes. The footpaths and bridleways have never been busier and cycling has boomed. People are generally more enthusiastic about just heading off to see what’s out there. As everyone grows more confident being outdoors, more people than ever are considering investing in a ‘sleep system’ and camping where their feet take them.

It’s certainly a romantic idea, conjuring up memories of Swallows and Amazons, open fires, glorious sunsets, stunning sunrises and simple, wholesome fun – the appeal is easy to understand.

BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN”

from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

The value proposition

For someone coming into this new, trust me, outdoor equipment has never been so good and so affordable. Yes, you can still buy the high-end stuff at eye-watering prices, but companies like ALPKIT are making great equipment at astonishing prices. I’m not suggesting ALPKIT is budget, but they have achieved an incredible ‘value’ proposition.

So, being outside is a privilege and with that comes responsibility. You’re confident; you can afford the kit, you could go and wild camp. The real question is, should you?

Alec camping

even in summer, a good hat can help you stay warm at night

First off, the rules around wild camping are not straight forward and I will defer to the British Mountaineering Council Guidance.

If you choose to ‘bend’ the rules, be ready to take responsibility

That said, I wild camp. I would recommend it to almost everyone, even if you only try it once and satisfy yourself that an adventure that lasts a day is more your cup of tea – there’s certainly no shame in that.

Unfortunately, as more people head outside its becoming evident that the countryside is struggling to cope. Some of the ‘best places to….’ are being positively trashed. We all have a responsibility to make sure we keep our wilder spaces clean, free from litter and beautiful so here are my top 5 rules for wild camping:

#1 Do NOT share your camping places on social media.

By all means, share your experience – just don’t tell people where you stayed. Locations becoming ‘Instagram-able’ is the absolute kiss of death and is guaranteed to ruin them. Equally, avoid looking at those websites that give ‘top five places to do…’ something. Finding a nice spot for yourself is part of the magic.

#2 Arrive late, depart early and leave no trace.

You really shouldn’t be staying in any spot for more than one night. Not only does a ‘one night rule’ minimise the impact on anyone location, but it also ensures more people have the chance to enjoy the experience.

#3 No fires, ever, anywhere.

Don’t I sound like a kill-joy. I’m sorry, but nothing spoils a spot more than a burned patch caused by a previous visitor and nothing is likely to anger a landowner more. Those folding fire-pits don’t solve the problem either. The real risk of causing a wildfire by an errant spark never goes away and its just not worth the risk.

Save your fire experiences for proper campsites that allow them, or bothies with fireplaces – the experience will be all the more special for rarity.

#4 If you bring it in, you take it out.

That’s everything—banana peels, tea bags, apple cores and of course all your plastic and metal rubbish. If you carried it in full, there’s no reason you can’t carry it out empty. Now you’re an outdoors person you’re a guardian for those spaces. Every so often, someone will drop something by mistake, or the wind will whip it away, so if you do see some rubbish that’s not yours, please be a trail-warden, and pick it up.

#5 Let’s talk about No 2 – how to crap in the woods.

There are two schools of thought here, those that dig a little hole and those that advocate taking it out with you.  Either way, you should take your used toilet paper with you, so have a bag ready!

Digging a little hole is not so bad, but lots of people doing that in even a large area, can still lead to problems – polluting water sources and introducing pathogens to an area are the worst.

In the late 90s and early noughties, some popular wild camping spots in UK national parks became so badly affected, they became self-policed no camp zones. Outward Bound, who use the National Parks more than most, have been proponents of poo-tubes for more than 20 years now, and this is the method I support. After all, we expect people to clean up after their dogs…..

Poo tubes

A poo tube is any kind of arrangement that allows you to capture and remove your waste in the least precarious way. Bikepacking is a relatively new phenomena, but there is clear cross over from the hiking and climbing worlds, and we can learn a lot from their approach to protecting wild spaces.

Here are a few options:

Tubes don’t need to be this big, especially if you’re on your own, but they need to be big enough to get your unmentionable safely to a place you can dispose of it responsibly.

If you’re not out for so long, or maybe just want to cover emergency use only, then something less robust could fit the bill. How about a Wag Bag?

Wild camping is one of life’s great adventures, but without a doubt, it’s a privilege we could lose if we don’t take responsibility for our outdoor spaces. Being considerate of others is the first step. No one should clean up after you, so please leave a campsite as you would hope to find it. ‘Leave no trace’ is a great place to start, but you could do so much more. If you see something that shouldn’t be there, don’t just tut and walk by, be the bigger person, be a trail-warden and pick it up. ‘Leave it better’ is the next step to enlightenment!

Alec is a serial biker, having dabbled in road, TT, mountain biking and gravel. If he's not riding, or dreaming of riding, he can be found in the shed tinkering…

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