If you live in the UK the chances are that you live in a house with a secure door, walls and windows. Some people even have security cameras, guard dogs and alarms in the event of a stranger intruding on our personal space. Now imagine taking all of that away, walking to the top of a big hill, finding a river or settling in a small wood, unpacking your rucksack and getting into your sleeping bag to settle for the night. No walls to protect us. Free to feel the wind on your face and wake up to the sun as it rises.
For some people, this sounds like heaven. Escaping the confines of our normal home and connecting with nature. Being free. Others may find the prospect of letting go of security and safety too much to even consider.
It is completely rational to have some fears when considering wild camping for the first time. Especially if you have spent your entire life being protected by the bubble of your home. We are designed as humans to be alert when sleeping outside. Our ancestors before us had predators and rival tribes to contend with. Luckily, things have changed.
Face the fear head on
I wholeheartedly believe that the world is not a scary place. 24 hour news makes us feel like the world is more dangerous now than ever before but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When starting out to wild camp for the first time, head to somewhere you know and feel comfortable with. It can be a local park or woods or even the farmer’s field down the road. If you are unsure what to take or how to pick a spot, check out my guide to wild camping. You could try and convince a friend to come along or join a local community with fellow adventure seekers.
If you are in the UK, particularly near London, the YesTribe is a great way to meet others and head out on wild-camps. After years of spending most of my nights under the stars on expeditions or military exercises, the YesTribe gave me the opportunity to spend a night wild camping with like-minded strangers that were future friends in waiting.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
The best way to face your fear of wild camping is to get out there and do it. You can adjust the level of comfort on your own individual needs. I often sleep with just a bivvy bag. It’s light, waterproof and nothing beats falling asleep facing the stars. If you feel that you need a tent, go for it. It’s better than not spending time outside at all. There are no hard rules in place. Wild camping is effectively just sleeping outside. It sounds really simple when you put it like that.
What if I get caught?
I’ve spent countless nights sleeping under the stars on random bits of land in the UK and across the world. Occasionally I have been rumbled or disturbed by people and even the occasional animal. At first, this can be scary but after a few encounters, the fear disappears. Animals will generally want to leave you alone. In the UK, your biggest worry is probably the occasional hedgehog. When wild camping in other parts of the world, you have different worries. When I’ve been on military exercises to Kenya, my Platoon had hyenas, snakes and lions to contend with. After experiencing that, sleeping in a wood in the Costwolds sounds like a walk in the park.
When I’ve been rumbled by a person whilst wild camping, my tactic is to be friendly and open. Don’t try to hide or do anything silly. I keep my torch close by and if somebody comes along, I find putting the light on and being friendly is the best way to be welcomed.
To avoid being rumbled, try to pick a spot out of sight of buildings and urban areas. I’ve only ever been rumbled when I’ve slept near towns and cities.
I feel it is our inherent right as humans to be able to sleep on wild land. Where reasonably possible, get the permission of the landowners but as long as you leave no trace and sleep away from buildings, you will be fine.
Remember, the noises you hear are just the local residents
You will hear squeaks, hoots, toots, clicks and other strange noises when wild camping (hopefully not lions roaring unless you are sleeping near Longleat). The vast majority of these noises are made by the local residents. Wild animals often come alive at night, especially vocally. These animals couldn’t care one bit about you. If your fear gets too much you have a few options.
- Earplugs – Block out the noise for a great night. I wished I’d brought a pair with me in Nepal when the wild dogs were howling all night.
- Bring your pooch. I’ve wild camped with my dog Cleo a few times and she always loves it. Check out this post for tips on how to wild camp with a dog.
- Stay at home and miss out on a world of nature and wilderness.
Wild camping isn’t for everybody’s taste and that is completely fine. But if you are up for exploring the countryside in a way you haven’t before, give it a try. You won’t regret it.
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