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How to Go Camping and Backpacking

July 19th, 2009

how-to-go-camping.jpgCamping in a different place every night is one of the joys of backpacking. It can also be one of the horrors if you find yourself stumbling around in the rain still looking for a site long after dark, so being able to find places to camp is an important skill. It is also important to leave your site so that no one can tell you were there. This is known as minimum impact camping.

Finding a Site

For a gentle introduction to lightweight camping the novice backpacker can use organized camp sites. There are many small sites where you will not be overwhelmed by frame tents and caravans. The Backpackers Club has a list of farm sites, available to members only.

Once they have learnt basic camp craft most backpackers want to leave roadside camp sites behind and camp wild in the hills. On long distance trails and in popular areas there are plenty of well used sites. If you look carefully at these you can learn what to look for when selecting a site. If you are in an area where there are no established wild sites you can work out from the map where potential sites might be (look for widely spaced contour lines and water sources) and then plan to reach them with several hours of daylight left so you have time to scout round for the best pitch.

A superb view is always welcome but it will not look so good if the site is not comfortable. For a good night’s sleep you first need flat dry ground. If a slight slope has to be accepted it is best to pitch the tent so that you can lie with your head higher than your feet. In strong winds look for shelter from crags, trees, banks, or walls. If biting insects are a problem, a breezy site is preferable. Finally you need access to water, though if you carry a collapsible water container big enough for all your overnight needs you can camp some distance from water without inconvenience.

Leaving No Trace

Backpackers have more impact on the countryside than day walkers. In order to preserve our hills and leave them unsullied for future visitors and for the creatures that live there it is essential that you leave no trace of your passing. Everything you bring with you must be taken away.

If you camp where no one has camped before you should not alter the terrain in any way. This means not removing vegetation, shifting rocks or digging trenches. Rocks are often used to weigh down tent pegs, though this is not usually necessary if you know how to pitch a tent properly. If you do use rocks for extra security please put them back where they came from: rings of stones are unsightly and kill the vegetation underneath. Avoid camping on damp ground as this is easily damaged. Ideal surfaces are bare earth, gravel or grass. Before leaving a site check round for scraps of litter and if the vegetation looks flattened rough it up a little so that no one will ever know you were there.

In most areas others will have been there before you as good sites are not that common. If a site shows little sign of use it is best to pass it by so that it can continue to recover. A well used site should be re-used in order to limit impact to one area. If possible tidy the site up, removing litter and breaking up rings of rocks.

Setting Up Camp

When you have found a site setting up camp is usually easy. The deciding factor is the weather. If it is raining or cold and windy you will want to get the tent up quickly. When possible pitch the tent with the tail into the wind. For the best storm resistance tents should be pegged out so the fabric is taut with no folds or loose material to catch the wind. Guy lines should be fully tightened. Nylon stretches when wet so in rainy weather the tent will need adjusting every so often.

Once the tent is pitched remember to fill your water containers before you strip off wet clothing and get inside. Damp gear should be left in the porch or outside in your pack or a large plastic bag. Once in the tent put on dry clothing and if it is cold slide into your sleeping bag. Do not wait until you feel chilly — keeping warm is much easier than getting warm. Next, set up your stove in the porch, making sure there is good ventilation, and get some water on to boil. You can then cook and eat from the comfort of your sleeping bag. In good weather the procedure is the same but you can be much more leisurely about it, maybe setting up your kitchen outside and sitting and relaxing with a hot drink for half an hour before pitching the tent.

That is, if you pitch the tent at all. I view tents as a mixed blessing. When it is wet and windy or when biting insects are about a tent is essential. But all too often tents are used when they are not necessary, cutting campers off from the world they have come to be part of. On clear calm nights I often sleep out under the stars, perhaps pitching the tent nearby if I am unsure the weather will hold. And when I do sleep in the tent I only zip up the flysheet doors if it is raining, very windy or midges are about. I much prefer to leave the doors wide open so I can watch the hills darken into silhouettes as night falls, see the black shapes of deer and other creatures passing by and then wake up to the first sun and see color flood back into the land. A tent is a shelter from storms. Use it only when you have to.

In the morning if the weather is dry it helps to air your gear, especially your sleeping bag, before you pack up to keep it as dry as possible.


Amy Weber is a freelance writer and article supplier for DailyArticle.com, a source of some surprisingly inexpensive but original articles for those who are patient enough to browse through the full selection.


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