Last Monday, Alastair Humphreys came down to see us in Cardigan. We'd arranged to go on a Microadventure - an adventure close to home that is cheap, easy to organise and most of all, fun!
So, what if you're new to the world of adventures? Alastair's got a few tips for you mind out of the daily grind and taking the plunge into the world of Microadventures...
It's been more than fifteen years since I began enjoying sleeping in wild and wonderful places. I guess I've spent about a thousand nights sleeping outdoors. Out of all those probably only about ten have been in a 'proper' campsite.
I've slept on top of England's highest mountain on New Year's Eve and on the northern tip of Britain in midsummer week.
I have also spent many nights without a tent -bivvying- and these are often the most magical of all. (Not always, mind!). I've bivvied on hill tops, seashores, even on a swimming platform out at sea and in sewage pipes (clean ones) on three continents!
So I know how easy, safe, simple, fun, rewarding and invigorating sleeping wild can be. It is one reason why I came up with the idea of microadventures to try to encourage people to give these things a try. But I completely understand how someone who has never done it might think otherwise.
Therefore I hope that this article will help encourage wild-campers to give a microadventure a try by explaining how to do it all, and answering a few common worries.
What is a bivvy bag and wild camping?
A bivvy bag (bivouac bag) is a waterproof outer layer for a sleeping bag. If you live somewhere it doesn't rain (ie Not Wales) then you don't need one, and you can just lie out smugly in your sleeping bag. For a one-off bivvy microadventure a cheap orange survival bag is fine (your sleeping bag will get a bit damp on the outside from condensation). That's what I used on our howies microadventure last week. A better option is one from Alpkit for about £30.
Wild camping is camping away from a proper campsite, out in the wild.
Is wild camping legal?
It's completely legal in Scotland and, elsewhere in the world, nobody has ever complained, told me off, arrested me, or been in the slightest bit concerned. In the same way that nobody would mind you having an afternoon snooze on the beach, nobody minds wild camping, so long as you're not on private land, near someone's home, or otherwise being annoying.
Is it safe?
Assuming you are out in the countryside, away from people then a night out under the stars is about as safe as a night can be. I will admit to the occasional night when strange noises in the woods have spooked me a little, but that is only the fault of an over-active imagination and a youth frittered on late-night horror movies! This goes away after a couple of nights. If you're out there with a friend it's even easier.
Where will I sleep?
Finding spots to wild camp is an art form! It's also all about compromise: sheltered in an old barn or under a cliff in case of rain versus a full canopy of stars out in the open if it doesn't rain. Getting out of the wind will keep you much warmer, so if you're bivvying on a hilltop (my very favourite place) then consider dropping just a few metres down the leeward side. If you're sleeping on a beach sleep above the high-tide mark or else you might win a Darwin Award.
You can find safe, snug wild camping spots surprisingly close to towns and villages too. Follow a footpath just a short distance away from a road then nip behind a hedge or a clump of trees. You'll feel very open, conspicuous and slightly silly as you lie down to sleep but you'll soon relax and enjoy the novelty of being right out in nature.
How do I use a bivvy bag?
Shove your sleeping bag into the bivvy bag. You can, if you wish, put the sleeping mat in there as well, but I find that's too cramped. Snuggle in and sleep. If it rains in the night just snuggle even deeper, pull the bag over your head and leave just a little hole for your mouth otherwise you end up getting way too hot!
What do I need to take on a microadventure?
The whole point of microadventures is that you do not need much time, money or specialised equipment. The trip I did with howies is a perfect example - we left their office at the end of the day's work, rode out of town wearing small backpacks, had a great adventure, and were back at the office ready for work the next morning. Granted, not every workplace will allow you to ride your bike round the office or wear merino cycling stuff as you work, but these are minor problems! A bundled up suit makes a great pillow...
Here then is an idea for a microadventure and the stuff you'll need:
- Leave work
- Cycle / walk / run / paddle / swim, even drive (if you must) out of town
- Climb a hill / go to the beach / find a lake
- Campfire (where appropriate)
- Wake up
- Find a lake / river / lido / ocean for a quick skinny dip.
- Cycle / walk / run / paddle / swim, even drive (if you must) back into town
- Greasy Spoon cafe
- Back to work
- Ask your colleagues if they did anything interesting last night
Basic Kit List
- Sleeping bag
- Cheap orange survival bag
- Cheap foam sleeping mat
- Rain coat
- Wooly hat
- Warm clothes for night (use a spare jumper as pillow)
- Food and drink that doesn't need cooking
- Water bottle
- Toothpaste with toothpaste already applied and wrapped in clingfilm
- Matches to light a campfire
- Notebook - even if you never write a diary this is a really good chance to jot down a few observations, thoughts, resolutions
- Camera - for smug self portrait
Next Step Up: take all the above plus...
- Camping Stove
- Pasta and sauce / pesto, Super Noodles, Pot Noodle etc.
- Proper bivvy bag (instead of orange bag)
Luxury Additions: take all the above plus...
- Inflatable sleeping mat instead of foam mat
- Espresso maker
- Single Malt
- Clean pants
Even if you have never cycled or walked ten miles before, even if you have never wild camped (or even if you have never camped) I really urge you to give this a try on a nice warm, dry summer's evening.
The very worst thing that's likely to happen is that you get back to work the next morning a bit tired. Far more likely is that you will be thrilled to discover wildness, nature and beauty on your doorstep. You'll probably enjoy it so much that next time you'll take the whole office with you as well!