A Wild Night Out

Lie down in a meadow on a summer’s day, or in a woodland in autumn, maybe a hilltop with a spectacular view, and listen to the bees and insects, watch white clouds lazily drift across an intense blue sky and feel your mind tuning in to the drowsy peace of the natural world.
Imagine wild camping out there, watching the sun go down and sleeping under the stars…
It’s every wild camper’s dream.

Wild Camping

Wild Camping in Devon

How could you not love waking up to this?!

Now imagine the other side of the wild camping coin! There’s a gale blowing, you can’t see anything for the fog and torrential rain and the only sound you can hear is the constant flapping of your tent!

Whatever the weather and whatever time of year you head out, it's that feeling of connection to nature, peace and freedom that every wild-camper is searching for.

And there’s something else about wild camping that’s often overlooked, which is the immense feeling of self-confidence it can give you. A solo wild camp is really empowering, especially for women – when I get back to day to day life I feel like I can overcome all the anxieties and stress thrown at me, because I know I can deal with something that deep down most people are afraid of.

Peace, challenge, connection, self-reliance, empowerment, freedom…they all add up to a heady mix that keep you going back for more, but taking that first step is often hardest. What follows is a short guide to wild camping for women, with information and inspiration to help you on your way.

Wild Camping For Adventurous Women

The 10 Mile Hike Guide

How To Keep Safe

Let’s face it, safety and fear of the unknown are probably what stops most adventurous women going wild camping, especially for a solo wild camp. Before we look at what equipment you need and where to go, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and allay some of those fears. First off:

The best thing to do is to plan ahead. Think about any potential risks and what you can do to minimise them

The Big 6

  • Leave A Route Plan This is the number one thing to do. Leave a route plan with someone and agree a time you expect to be home or to send them a message. Agree a plan of action if you’re not back when you expect to be, or can’t send an expected message (what happens if you’ve got no signal for eg) – how long should your contact wait before they call the emergency services?
  • Know The Weather Forecast, The Daylight Hours And Tide Times Check before you head out and make sure you pitch somewhere accordingly – do you need shelter from the 50mph gusts expected during the night or to make sure you’re packed up before the incoming tide reaches the beach in the morning?
  • Carry A Personal First Aid Kit (here’s what should be in it) that includes any antihistamine and pain killers that you can safely take
  • Keep Your Head Torch Handy At Night because you never know when you might need to nip out of your tent
  • Keep Your Mobile Handy (if you have service)
  • Make A Note Of Your Grid Reference/Location after you’ve pitched up. Why? Because if you have to call the emergency services in the middle of the night when something’s gone wrong it can be difficult to remain calm and get it right. You can also use the What3Words App, providing you have mobile service (so it’s best to be able to read and write a grid reference from a paper map

I suffered my first ever bee sting in the middle of the night on a solo wild camp in a pretty remote place - and I had no idea I had a severe allergy to it. But, I was prepared!
It’s pretty scary to get heart palpitations, a numb jaw and jelly legs when you’re on your own in a bivi bag in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere – I was extremely glad I was prepared with a fully stocked and considered first aid kit! (And now I to carry antihistamine with me everywhere!)

Staying Safe When You’re Going Solo

Wild camping on the cliff tops in South Devon

I had a stunning solo wild camp here on the cliffs – the moon rise was unforgettable!

All of the above points apply to solo hikers as much as group hikers, but there are some additional concerns you might have when you’re out on your own. These are some of the things I do to allay any hiking fears.

Stranger Danger: How To Minimise The Risk When You’re Wild Camping

For most of us our biggest fears come down to one thing: other people (including axe murderers and escaped lunatics!). More specifically, for most women I’ve spoken to, it comes down to being afraid of men, whether it’s being followed or being jumped on from behind a hedge.

Be Realistic

But be honest with yourself and ask how realistic these fears are. The majority of people we meet on the trail are there for the same reasons we are, and the majority of men are as appalled by that sort of incident as the rest of us – albeit they don’t have the same fears of it happening to them. So be honest, how realistic is this fear for women? I’d say it’s a pretty unlikely, but there are still things you can do to help minimise any risk:

  • Don’t Advertise Don’t post on social media when or where you plan to camp
  • Don’t Reveal Where You’re Headed When you stop to chat to people on the trail, don’t reveal where you’re headed that night or where you’re planning to stay. If a stranger asks me where I’m going I might say something like I’m not sure how far I’ll get, or say I’m heading to a campsite. If I feel particularly wary I might say that I’m meeting someone.
  • Camp Outside Of Towns And Villages Danger from other people is likely to be much higher closer to towns and villages, so camp as far outside them as possible. It’s highly unlikely someone will hide behind a hedge 2 miles down a track to ‘nowhere’ just on the odd chance you might turn up and pitch your tent (they’re much more likely to hang around the local pub!)
  • Carry A Personal Alarm (It’s also called a ‘rape alarm’) I hold it in my hand when I pass popular places around dusk/night and keep it close by in my sleeping bag over night. (There’s no use having one if it’s at the bottom of your rucksack!) It makes a piercing sound, costs little and weighs next to nothing, but make sure you have a replacement battery. Carrying knives, pepper spray and the like is illegal in the UK (this is what the Police say you can carry for self defence)
  • Be Inconspicuous If you’re worried about being seen consider using a bivi bag, which is  less conspicuous than a tent (unless it’s bright orange!)

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Tent. Wild camping in the woods. Copyright Stephanie Boon, 2018

Go to sleep in the woods listening to the owls calling to each other!

As for things that go bump in the night I’ve been woken by some strange noises:

  • a hedgehog snuffling in my bag of food (that was on a campsite though! Note to self: pack food away properly.)
  • cows chewing the cud a few metres away one morning (I should have checked for fresh dung before I got in my bivi bag that night, but it was dark and I was tired!)
  • sheep chewing the cud outside my tent in the middle of the night (a farm campsite that one),
  • vixens screaming…

The point is all night-time noises are weird and unnerving at first, but once you’ve heard something once and worked out what it is it becomes part of the fun. And you soon realise that anything that goes bump in the night is likely to be wildlife of some sort or another (or livestock of course) – and it’s just going about it’s usual nightly business! It’s a privilege to be part of their world (cows excepted!) and experience things you never would by day.

If you have any questions or tips to share for solo women hikers and wild campers let me know and let’s get talking, because here at 10 Mile Hike I believe that women have as much right to feel safe and secure on the trail as the other half of the population, don’t you?

And now, for more practical advice head back up and check out the other tabs.

Where Can I Go Wild Camping?

There are very few places you can legally wild camp in the UK, outside of the hills of Scotland. In fact, the only other place you have a right to wild camp is on parts of Dartmoor, but there are a number of other places where responsible wild-camping is accepted, for example on high ground in the Lake District.

Hikers get around these limitations in various ways, from getting permission from land-owners to asking to pitch in a pub garden. Sometimes though it’s just not practical to find the land owner (or a pub!), so many wild campers resort to ‘stealth camping’.

Stealth Camping

Sleeping in a bivi bag tucked beside a hedge on the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, UK. Copyright Stephanie Boon, 2017

When you’re south of the Scottish border ‘stealth camping’ is often going to be your only option. This amounts to trespass, but don’t be alarmed: there are many areas where it’s accepted (or tolerated) as long as you follow wild camping etiquette and the principles of the Leave No Trace movement (see the tab above).

If you plan to wild-camp outside of Scotland and Dartmoor you need to be just as thoughtful about the environment, stay no more than one night in the same place (pitch late and leave early), be considerate of other people and be prepared to move on without fuss if you’re asked to.

Experience Nature As It’s Meant To Be

Most of us want to get away from official commercial campsites (and other people) to experience the natural world and escape the trappings and demands of modern life, but even the wildest environments in the UK aren’t as natural as we might like to think. A lot of work goes into managing the landscape for the benefit of the wildlife that calls it home, as well as for profit in some cases, and, apart from personal safety, it’s these considerations that should be top of our list when we’re looking for somewhere discreet to pitch up.

In practice this means thinking about potential disturbance to wildlife and habitat. You might stumble upon the perfect-looking spot, but who’s to say it’s not the perfect spot for ground nesting birds, or plants that attract rare butterflies? A bit of research and planning before you head out can help avoid this.

Use Your Map To Plan Your Wild Camping Spot

Scour your map for places along your route with green open areas on dry, level ground, perhaps with some natural shelter. A 1:25,000 OS map has plenty of detail showing the contours of the land, open access areas, boggy land and scrub, and in some instances even who owns the land (the National Trust for example).

When it’s time to pitch up try not to create new paths, from the edge of woodland say, and look for signs of wildlife like animal droppings or footprints and tracks. Don’t move rocks or branches, pull up plants, etc; if you can’t pitch up without disturbing the landscape, move on.

How To Find A Great Bivi Camping Spot Under The Stars is a related article that will help you to use your map to find potential pitches.

Consider Other People

Think about other people too; some people prefer to stay inside and watch the Great Outdoors from the comfort of home (I know!). Respect this and pitch well away from villages and hamlets, or anywhere else you might be seen, like popular footpaths and dog-walking fields. And don’t forget that pitching up next to your car counts as ‘likely to be seen’ too!

  • Stick to camping solo or with a very small group
  • don’t light fires
  • keep noise to a minimum
  • make sure you pitch late and leave early
  • and most importantly of all Leave No Trace (see the tab above)
Head back up and check out the other tabs!

Basic Gear And Equipment For Wild Camping

For the best hiking and wild-camping experience you need to carry the minimum of kit that’s as light weight as possible, or pay the price of discomfort, aching limbs and not walking as far. Before you pack anything else, consider exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep and a couple of good meals then write a list. It should come down to a few basic things.

Wild camping on grass along the Peddars Way national trail, Norfolk, UK. Copyright Stephanie Boon, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Shelter

  • Tent
  • Bivi bag and/or tarp (colours that blend in with the environment)

Sleeping

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • A pillow if you can’t sleep without one (I find a few spare clothes rolled up in a dry bag just as comfy as a pillow)

Meals

  • A small stove and appropriate fuel (I love my mini Trangia for solo wild camps)
  • Cooking pot/mug
  • Your preferred food (dehydrated is lighter)
  • Plenty of water

Clothing

  • Extra fleece or insulating jacket
  • Clothes that you only use for sleeping
  • Waterproofs
  • Hat and gloves

(If you’re new to hiking check out The Absolute Beginners Guide To Walking Kit)

Other Essentials

  • Head torch
  • Spare batteries for any electronics, like your head torch, phone and camera
  • Map, compass, route
  • Phone, gps (for emergencies)
  • Walking poles. These will take the weight off your knees if you’re carrying a full rucksack and are also essential if you’re using a tarp shelter
  • Personal first aid kit and emergency numbers  (check out the links for what to keep in your first aid kit and what to do in an emergency)

Pack Light

Pack it all up in one or more dry bags and then pack it in your rucksack and weigh it: an optimum base weight (everything you need except consumables, including food and water) for lightweight backpacking is around 9kg. 9kg can be quite hard to achieve (especially if you’re new to backpacking and haven’t invested in hundreds of pounds worth of lightweight kit (or can’t/don’t want to)), which is why it’s really important to stick to what you actually need before considering anything else you might like to take along.

Be realistic: do you really need a winter down jacket in your rucksack in the middle of a hot summer when a lighter weight gilet or fleece will do; do you need to carry all that water when there are plenty of good quality streams nearby, and seriously, do you really need those camp slippers in summer?!

Practice Makes Perfect

A good way to find out whether you’ve got your kit right is to try it out:

  • Test whether you’ll be warm enough by sleeping in your garden for a night and estimating whether it might be chillier on the hill, or perhaps on the coast.
  • Take your cooking equipment on a full day-hike to see how it fares, did you bring enough food, fuel?
  • Pitch your tent or tarp in the garden; how long does it take, was it easy to put up on your own, have you got all the poles and guy lines you need (remember it could be windy in exposed areas)?
  • Make your first wild camp close to home (or within easy walking distance of your car at least), so that if you forget something essential you can go and fetch it, or go home to bed in the last resort!
  • Don’t plan a really long hike for your first wild camp, then if you have overpacked you won’t tire yourself out too much for the next day.
  • Always pack a few things you might need from sunscreen to insect repellent. There’s nothing worse than getting out there and having a wonderful time only discover you’re being bitten to death at dusk and burnt to a crisp the next day!
  • Plan your first trip for the summer months and always check the weather forecast before you head out, whatever season you’re camping in.
  • Make sure someone knows where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Arrange to send a text at a certain time, but bear in mind that there isn’t always a signal in the places we like to camp.
Head back up and check out the other tabs!

Leave No Trace And The Country Code

A large pile of rocks, ash and rubbish left on the coast path in Cornwall, UK. Copyright Stephanie Boon, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

This is definitely NOT how to Leave No Trace!

Leave No Trace is one of the best guiding principles for any wild camper.

It provides guidelines on minimising your impact, from disturbance to wildlife and habitats to how to best deal with your toileting needs. I’ve written a full guide on how to leave no trace with links to the original organisation as well as our own Country Code.

If you’ve never heard of it, or never been wild camping before I urge you to read it before you head out – and then pass it on.

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Useful Links

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