Wild Camping Part Two - Shelter
What you'll need to wild camp will depend on the weather and how close you want to get to nature. It also depends on how long you're out for. But let's assume it's a single overnighter and you can extrapolate from there.
Your basic needs when you stop for the night is food to recover from all the adventurous activities and to fuel up for more tomorrow. You'll also need some degree of shelter from the elements in order to recover and get a good night's sleep. I'll deal with food and cooking next week but for now let's look at shelter.
The greater the degree of shelter and comfort the greater the weight I'm afraid. Less of a problem when you're using something like a canoe or kayak but if you're trekking into your campsite or parachuting in and weight is an issue then you do not want to be carrying the equivalent of a fruit machine on your back. So at the top end is a tent.
A tent will keep the wind off, the rain off and give a degree of extra warmth and privacy. It's the best option as far as pure shelter is concerned, however, it has disadvantages too. Foremost is its weight. The weight can be shared between your compatriots depending on how big the tent is but it's still relatively heavy, although some very lightweight versions are now available. However, the lighter the tent the weaker it is, usually, which means something that will cope with a high altitude mountain storm will weigh more than something you use on a beach on a summer's night. Tents take time to put up which can be a pain when it's wet, windy, you're tired and just want to go to bed. But the biggest drawback for me is that it removes you from the environment. There is also bulk and I prefer to keep things small and compact, especially if I'm climbing or moving through restrictive terrain (e.g. dense forest or jungle). Although sometimes a tent is essential. If it's minus 30 outside, an eighty mile an hour wind is blowing and it's snowing (which I've experienced) you'll be very grateful for your tent. But normally I like to be out under the stars. So the other option is a bivi.
This consists of a sleeping bag and a bivi bag, which is effectively a waterproof shell for your sleeping bag. This way you can literally sleep under the stars. If it's likely to rain I often take a basha (an Army term) which is just a small tarpaulin that you can set up over you to get the worst of the rain and wind off you. You simply run a line between two trees, lay the tarpaulin over it and secure it to the ground at the corners - so it looks like the roof of a house. The worse the weather the closer you should secure it to the ground to keep drafts out. If there are no trees where you're going you can take two lightweight extendable poles or use your walking poles.
The final thing to cover is the sleeping mat. The more comfortable they are the heavier they are but that extra thickness also insulated you from the ground, making you considerably warmer, allows you to sleep on rockier ground and will allow for a better night's sleep. People are divided on this and it may depend on how long you are out for whether you can cope with less quality to your sleep but I'm a fan of sleeping well when I'm out. A little extra weight is worth the chance to recover properly during the night. The foam, inflatable mats are good. They are comfortable and warmer for their weight but expensive and can be punctured so require more looking after. The simple foam mats are very cheap and won't puncture but are less comfortable, warm and are bulky. My final top tip is, if you're bivi-ing, stick your mat inside your bivi bag. It'll keep it dry and stop you sliding off it. However, a word of caution, if the ground has sharps on it (sharp stones, sticks or bits of wire, rubbish, etc ( I've had to camp on a beach with broken glass over it once while sea kayaking)) put the mat (ideally a non-inflaltable one) on the bottom - they are much cheaper to replace than a bivi bag.
You can also consider a hammock. These aren't just for the jungle, I've used them in Scotland. You can string it between two trees, still rig your basha over the top if it's raining (although you need some extra string to tie to the corners and extend it to your ground anchors) and you won't need a mat to sleep on, thereby saving weight as a hammock weighs much less than a mat. However, the lack of mat can reduce the insulation on your back as you're lying, and crushing, your sleeping bag. I'll often pack the hammock with my clothes to overcome this: wet clothes on the outside of the bivi bag, dry ones on the inside. Obviously if there are no trees of rocks to hang a hammock it's not a great option.
And finally consider your site. Try and get out of the wind, find an area where the ground is not wet or likely to become wet (I knew someone who camped in a ditch. Dry and sheltered from the wind but when it rained during the night it became a stream...). Look for a patch of flat and even ground, sloping ground will have you waking up all night, and clear away any rocks, sticks or debris. A little time in site selection and preparation will pay dividends when you climb into bed.
Oh and one very last point - dry bags. If you only buy one then buy one big enough for your sleeping bag...in fact buy two and double bag it. If every other bit of kit gets a soaking then one piece that must stray dry is your sleeping bag. Trust me.
Next week I'll deal with food and cooking.