My Maiden Voyage
Before I start to tell you of my first wild camping experience, a bit about me:
Background: 24 Yrs Royal Navy and 15 Yrs on the Railway.
Fitness Level: Normal, nothing special.
I was diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetic in January 2018. I decided to do a lot more walking, and this as well as a controlled diet has helped reverse the T2D. I wanted to do more than just walk though, and talked to my older brother who is a seasoned trekker and wild camper, (he lives 260 miles away from me). Coupled with this, my son had (without telling anyone) started to amass a load of trekking/camping kit, and he disclosed this to me one night in the pub.
That was it, I was on the internet the next night looking at tents etc - quickly followed by Amazon! Over the next few weeks I bought a few maps of the New Forest (as well as everything else!),I will speak of the kit I have bought as I mention it. I won’t turn this into a product review though.
I decided to do a ‘trial run’ and planned a shortish walk, followed by a camp on a New Forest Camp Site. After all, I hadn’t walked with a back pack for over 30 years. (This was an attempt at the South Downs Way which failed after three days due to lack of preparation).
I picked the New Forest as it is relatively flat and there are very wide tracks that are easily recognisable on the OS maps: It would be impossible to get lost.
The day arrived and my Mrs could not believe I was going to actually do it! It was early October and not exactly hot or light in the evenings.
I won’t ponder on the initial trail run, having said that, it went OK. The tent went up a treat, but I didn’t really enjoy the camp site, as they had reduced the size of it for the winter months and it was quite well lit - no matter where you pitched.
The tent was a Hubba NX 2 man tent and as I said it went up with no problems, and the same as all the rest of the kit, was brand new, out of the box, untested anywhere. Another thing is, it poured down from midnight onwards and in the morning, it was still bone dry inside the tent.
During the trek I had walked a total of 13 miles (6.5 each way), and although I was not in pain, my back pack did not feel ‘right’. Also, I had failed to buy a Rucksack cover and on day 2, walking back to the car, it was pouring down and everything was saturated. Lesson learned.
At this point I will say I bought Berghaus waterproof jacket and trousers, and both did the job well.
I had North Face shoes and at first, they were squeaking, and it was driving me mad, but it only lasted about 2 miles, all the rest of the trip they were fine, and kept my feet dry in the downpour the next day. I have to say I am very impressed with them
When I got home, I started planning my first real wild camp, which was to be done the following week.I had to sort out the backpack as something wasn’t right. (Maybe I should have done this before the trial run??!! I had gone for an Osprey Zenith 75. I went on the Osprey web site and saw they have an App that is supposed to help with fitting the back pack, but I could not get the App to work properly. I then resorted to watching the hideous American You Tube clips, but eventually sorted it.
I was right, as it wasn’t set up anywhere like it should have been. For the first real camp I was going to fit the hydration bladder and again this took a YT clip to show me how to open the bl**dy thing, as well as fitting it. I washed it out 4 or 5 times with nearly boiling water prior to filling with cold water and then packing it.
So - I had decided it was going to be the New Forest again for my three day/two night wild camp escapade. I have to say I ‘joined’ the OS Map site. For £20 a year it seemed good value, and the planning app is very good in my opinion. I planned the trip meticulously. A triangle of basically 14 miles for the first two days and an easier 7 mile final jaunt back to the car on the last day. I packed my Rucksack the night before, (how many little compression bags does one need?!) only to have to unpack and repack it again as I hadn’t used the dry bag liner!
Once finished I weighed the pack and it came in at 32lb. I have to say I thought it felt heavy, but I couldn’t off load anything, as I thought everything, I had was essential - and so that was that.
I carried the ruck sack out to the car and after chucking it in the boot I thought ‘that is definitely heavy!’, a 3/4 hour drive saw me at my free car parking place. I got the rucksack out of the car, put my phone in my pocket and pulled the rucksack on. A quick recheck of the printed map I had done, and I was off. The weather was ideal for this time of year: it was bright and dry, with no hint of rain forecasted for the next three days.
After about 4 miles I stumbled across a pond and feeder stream and decided this was the place for a rest and a brew. Secretly I just wanted to use the MSR Pocket rocket cooking system I had bought. This is an amazing bit of (very light) kit and when using the steel firestarter to ignite the flame, I felt like a real wild camper!
Being conscious to ‘leave no trace’ I picked up all my rubbish and put it in a small polythene bag and tied this to the outside of the rucksack for when I ‘came across a bin’. The next leg saw me encounter my first serious gradient. This is where hiking (in my opinion) takes on a new dimension. In fact, I would say there is hiking, hiking with a backpack, hiking with a backpack up hill, and hiking with a backpack, uphill, in the rain. They are all completely different dynamics of walking.
Anyway, here I am half way up my Everest Base camp (!) and I need to take my first ‘live’ splodge of hydration bladder juice! Oh My God! I have never tasted anything so vile in all my life! I thought I would be waiting until I was like a shrivelled prune before I would taste that again and it would certainly be emergency only. The first hill was conquered, and I felt good.
I was now near a village and although it wasn’t on my plan, I decided to divert and walk through the village, and maybe buy ‘something’. My detour put me down some B Roads, and I could quickly sense the locals don’t like hikers. Facing the approaching traffic, on more than one occasion I had to jump up onto the very narrow grass verge to stop them from bowling me over. Soon I was in the village and although there were some nice pubs, I thought of it as a bad idea. I’m ex Navy - I don’t often go in pubs for a Coca Cola and a ploughman’s!
I decided against buying anything, and just walked through the very quaint village, back into the Forest and back to my trail. Not long after being back in the forest I got a bit lost, but within 20 minutes and a reverse back down the way I had already gone, I re-established my whereabouts. The point I’m making here is - some of those wide paths on the map aren’t wide at all! I had been keeping my friends up to date with my shenanegans periodically via Facebook and I got a text from an old work colleague saying she was in her camper van at a site near me.
A quick sit on a log, and a map check showed me I had to walk back through the village I had just walked through! About Turn! (That means turn round 180 degrees in Navy speak!). If I am honest the detour to her camp site completely ruined my plan. By the time I got to her I had covered some 15 miles and was about 6 miles off course. Something else I noticed was the owners of the site were very grumpy folk, greeting me at the entrance with a ‘You can’t camp here’ yell. After I explained what I was doing there this seemed to pacify them slightly, but they watched my every step up to my mates camper van.
Anyway, it was nice to see her; as well as the chat - I got a free coffee, a charge on my phone, top up of drinking water, and I had a rest! It was now within an hour of darkness and I was soon saying an over friendly ‘Thank you for letting me grace your amazing camp site’ to the owners as I passed them on the way out. Looking at the map I picked out a wooded pond area some 20 minutes’ walk away: I had to move fast. I was soon there and once again the Hubba was out of its sack and getting an airing, this time in lovely surroundings. My first real wild camp!
I quickly erected the tent on top of the footprint and took some photos of my idyllic location, and without any real detail posted the pictures on Facebook. I was quickly advised that I would no doubt be moved on by the wardens of doom. Well, this wasn’t to be the case. The Pocket rocket was again put to use for another brew and I was going to have some tea as well. During my trial run camp, I had had one of those boil in the foil bag meals, but this time I was having a tin of all day breakfast. This feast was all for later, as I had to get organised.
I like to try and keep things tidy. I am sure when embarked on any camping trip its essential to at least keep some order. I got out my pump up mattress. This I got from AlpKit, the Dumo. The integrated pump takes a bit of getting used to, but I soon had the hang of it. It took about 7 or 8 minutes to have it rock hard. Next was the pillow. I cannot sleep without a pillow! I had chosen the Trekology. It was ok as a pillow, but the material got on my nerves a bit and so I had to insert it into a shirt.
Next, I unrolled the sleeping bag, and positioned it all tiddly boo. I decided to empty the whole contents of my rucksack out onto my bed. (To be honest I didn’t really know what I had or hadn’t got, and this was an ideal way to find out!) I placed my empty rucksack under one of the two canopies the tent blesses me with, before going out and sorting my brew out.
Whilst the water was heating up I went back in to try and sort out everything inside the tent. I had dry bags everywhere and I didn’t have a scooby doo on what was in each one. Soon I had established order. I am 6’2” tall, but I had room at the bottom of my tent for spare dry socks and undercrackers (in a dry bag). I got out my power pack for my phone and placed that between my mattress and exit door on my side. I placed my bag of dry snacky foods next to me on the other side of the mattress. Other dry bags containing tin food etc all went under the canopy with the ruck sack. Anything electrical (headphones, headlight spare batteries etc, came next to me with the power pack.
The brew was now made, and it was dark. Headlight on, I made my supper which was all day breakfast. I have to say it was very tasty and by the time I’d finished 1. I was full, and 2. warm. I used my titanium cutlery, which was attached to a carabiner, and I have to say is a bit fiddly to say the least. The cutlery was also quite expensive as its very light. At £18, I don’t envisage the set being £16 better value than a similar set I saw in Aldi for £2, but eh oh. No doubt mine were tested in Space or something?
On the same note, you could say the same about any equipment really. Is my sleeping bag £230 better value than a£10 one from Aldi? I’d be inclined to say yes! I can honestly say that by now it was very cold outside, and I knew it would be soon time to bed down: At 7pm! This is where my take of modern day wild camping may differ from other peoples - I set up my phone on my mini tripod next to my bed and watched live football on Sky Sports! I also set my phone to charge at the same time, using the PavPower Power pack I had bought. The reviews say it will fully charge an iPhone 7 up to 7 times! In the morning the phone was at 100% and the powerpack was still showing 4/4 bars of power.
Going back to the cold - it was absolutely freezing outside, and the several times I had a piddle, each time I was so pleased to get back into my sleeping bag. It’s now I will tell about this amazing piece of kit. It’s an AlpKit Pipedream 600, and I have to say it was lovely and warm in there, and it’s very light too. During the quiet of the night (when I turned the telly off) I heard everything! There isn’t a lot to hear, but I heard it all! The rustling hedges…. ‘what can that be?’ and because I was near water, my mind was going over time at what could crawl out of the pond and yaffle me!
I heard either the bat or owl that pooped on my tent during the night! It sounded like someone had chucked a brick at it! Anyway, before long fatigue set in and the quiet was sublime as I nodded off into a deep sleep.
In the morning is when I realised how warm the sleeping bag was, because at 6am outside there was ice on the outside of the tent, and during the night I had stripped down to my t shirt (with walking trousers still on) in the sleeping bag. I had even removed my socks. Apparently, the hype will lead you to believe that the sleeping bag is guaranteed to -12 degrees. I really would rather not put that to the test, but it was very ,very cold outside, and it did its job - admirably.
Anyway, I had a brew to make, and in the cold it was very, very welcome! I put on my cold weather hat as it really was cold believe me! I now had the task of packing everything up. What I did first was wash my bowl from the night before out and my cup in the pond! There is no way I was wasting my valuable drinking water. I ‘dried’ the pots with my old socks from the night before! Whilst I was sorting the dishes out, I decided to pull the bungs on the mattress to give it a head start in deflating. This was a good move I am sure.
Packing up was just a reversal of unpacking (funny old thing!) What I did was pack everything into their relative compression bags first… Sleeping bag, pillow and mattress. The mattress folded up nicely as I’d let it start deflating earlier. I folded it downwards away from the pump end, forcing the remnants of air out of the bung holes, and it went in its bag ok - sweet.
The sleeping bag was a bit more of a struggle, and took two attempts, but I got there in the end. Everything went away - The tripod even has its own little bag. Anything that didn’t have a bag went in a dry sack, I had two, both 2 Ltr ones. Next everything goes in the rucksack. The sleeping bag has its own little section in the bottom. I then crammed everything else in on top and around it, leaving plenty of space for the tent.
The tent packed up a treat, and the bag is quite generous in size, so packing it away doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been in with Tyson. I even rolled up the footprint ‘in situ’ and the slight extra bulk had no impact. I remembered at this stage that I had read/seen that the tent should go on top of the sleeping bag, and so I emptied everything out again and put it in the right order. I have to say though that the Hubba is very light and I don’t think it makes much difference. I certainly would not have unpacked everything again, had it been raining.
I once again made sure I was leaving no trace before heading off to the main path, on my second leg. Only after 100 yards or so I saw my first dog walkers (obviously from the camp site), they were very friendly and asked me if I was cold during the night etc, and we entered into some idle chit chat before I stomped off. I saw about a dozen couples on the main path, before I headed into the forest proper, and each were friendly enough.
I was now, way off course and my original plans were totally to waste. I just sort of headed in any direction, but I knew exactly where I was because of my acute map reading skills…….. Before an hour had passed I was totally lost. I was near to a B road and had an ideawhere I was, so I followed the B road until I recognised somewhere off the map, and a road sign confirmed I was now back in the land of the geographically adept.
My son had text messaged me and said he would visit later late afternoon / early evening (after his work and 30 mile drive). He wasn’t going to walk far, so my next night camp would have to be near somewhere he could park his car! I thought I would plan where I was going to camp for night two when I stopped for my first brew, sometime around mid morning. I purposely made myself go deep in the forest to try to test my navigation skills a little more. I wasn’t happy about how poorly I had faired on day 1, (nor at the beginning of day 2!).
I did OK on day 2, and kept abreast of where I was, constantly keeping an eye on the map, and any deviation in the path noted and cross checked to ensure I was on the right one. At one point I came across a small farm, and the pigs were just wandering about on the paths that encircled the small holding! The weather was really nice, and I felt good with the back pack on. They say that back packs can sort of grow to fit the wearer, and I felt that day 2 was better than day 1, even though Day 1 had not proved to be a pain.
I found a lovely spot at an intersection of 4 paths and set out my stall to check on the maps whilst having a brew. A few cyclists rode by at about 20 MPH, and I wandered how they managed without maps! The way the cycle paths are marked is completely beyond me, I won’t even enter into it on here. I had it in my head where I was going to camp that evening. It was about 10 miles away (I had already covered about 5 miles), and it was about 500 yards from a public car park, which would suit my son.
It was at this point a young deer ran across the path in front of me, and then stopped about 50 metres away and was staring at me. I took his picture and after posing for me, he ran off into the forest! The rest of the day consisted of mainly paths in the forest, some wide. Some more narrow bridle path, but I kept track of where I was.
As I passed the 10 mile stage, I walked through a different village, and this one was no less quaint than the one the day before. This time I stopped at a pub and had myself a diet coke, and the land lord topped my water bottle up for me. Soon I was back in the forest on my last leg to my camp spot. Once at the spot, I was quite pleased at the location, as the copse was high enough to pitch the tent so that it was not in direct view of the cars in the car park.
I had a couple of hours before it was going to be dark, so got on with things almost the same as I had the night before. This time though I had some hoofed friends take a visit and they watched over the hedge as I pitched the tent!
I didn’t touch them, but they seemed friendly enough. There were 4 horses in total, and they were the first I had seen at close quarters.
On the way to my parking spot in the New Forest in the car, going through a village, the traffic was brought to a standstill by a small herd of horses all just stood in the road! It really is an odd sight. Only once I had pitched the tent and got inside to unpack the rest of my stuff did I realise I had pitched it on quite a few fine nettles, and these buggers were spikey!
Undeterred, I inflated the mattress and the job was once again a good un. I couldn’t help thinking that if I was feeling the nettles through the floor, they were actually putting permanent little holes in the tent, and I still ponder this now. Anyway, with it still really bright, I saw my son’s car arrive, and so I walked out to greet him.
He has never done the wild camp thing and so was really intrigued by everything, and we enjoyed a coffee and chat together. Seemingly out of nowhere, it went really overcast: It was about 6.30pm and getting very cold and dark. Quickly. “Now what?” he asked. “Bed and TV” I laughed - showing him my TV set up on my tripod.
With this he laughed, and we stayed a little while longer before he headed off back home. I was then snugged up in my slug once more. On this second night there was a lot more noise. I think it’s because I was out in the open a bit more, and the wind was rustling around a little, and again, I heard every little sound. There were also several horses walking about and having nosey. I don’t know how close they got, but in the morning, there was four or five of them just over the hedge again.
Unbeknown to me, the little path over the hedge from my tent was a dog walking path, and even though it was pitch black, there was the odd few people taking their mutts out and walking by my tent, on the other side of the hedge. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t see my tent, and in any case, no one said anything.
The morning was bitter cold again. I was a bit surprised about how much condensation there was on the inside of the tent, but later reading the online reviews, this is quite common. I even had the little vents open during the night, but it didn’t stop the condensation from forming on the inside. The outside had a thin layer of ice over it as the morning mist had frozen. I put my gloves and hat on, almost as soon as I got out of the tent and prepared my early morning mug of coffee.
Soon I was packing away for my final time, and I have to be honest and say it wasn’t as neat as I had packed it previously, as I knew I would be getting everything out again once I was home. I put my phone on the tripod in video mode and took a video of me packing everything up and named it ‘leave no trace’. Very apt!
As I set off on my final leg, I said goodbye the to the horses which were back over the hedge and promised them I would see them soon. The walk back to where my car was, was pretty uneventful, apart from I got a little off track, and ended up walking about a mile further than I had planned. My car was parked near a pub, and I went in for a coke, once I had put the ruck sack in the car. Someone had spotted me and asked if I had actually camped out (referring to how cold it was). I felt quite good (or stupid!) in saying “yes, for two nights!” I enjoyed the cold drink, and then drove home.
On arrival back home, I unpacked everything straight away, put my washing in the machine and draped the tent out in the spare bedroom to air. I then had a 20 minute shower!
Things I have learned:
- It gets very cold!
- I can’t map read too well
- It’s a brilliant way to get out and get some fresh air.
Planned for the future:
- Take at least one dog with me next time.
- Build a fire (to avoid having to go to bed at 7pm!)
- Learn how to map read and use compass
Plans for next year:
- Walk the South Downs Way (maybe with dog(s))
Plans on from that:
We would like to thank Phil for taking the time to write this and for allowing us to share it with you.