A to Z of Bivvying and wild camping
By Hazel Strachen.
A is for apple, B is for ball. I was teaching my friend’s little girl alphabet letters the other week. I started to wonder what words I would have in my bivvying and wild camping alphabet. I’ve tried to find 26 different aspects to what captures the heart of bivvying and wild camping. Would your alphabet be the same?
A is for Adventure Almost Anywhere. We are so fortunate in Scotland to be able to adventure almost anywhere. Our access to the outdoors is covered by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which lays out our rights and responsibilities for accessing wild land. However, it should be noted that the right to access land doesn’t extend everywhere in Scotland. The thorn in the side of this magnificent access legislation is the seasonal restrictions on wild camping in the LLTNP (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park). With the exception of Dartmoor National Park in the south of England, wild camping in England and Wales is not legal without permission.
B is for Booties. I wear a pair of down booties when bivvying or camping in cold conditions to keep my feet warm. They are a complete luxury and I sleep better as well!
C is for Condensation. Condensation can be an issue when bivvying so be prepared to dry off the excess moisture on a sleeping bag in the morning. Gore-Tex is a good fabric but even it even it cannot technically do the impossible on a very dewy morning.
D is for ‘Dreich’ a very descriptive Scottish word for a wet and drizzly day. On a Dreich day I ideally want to be snuggled up in a sleeping bag reading a book or e-reader listening to the rain drumming off the fly sheet of the tent. A dreich day lets me appreciate all the beautiful weather which I experience on the hills.
E is for E- readers, the best entertainment for a long evening especially in winter. With the advent of the back light e -reader there is no need to wear a head torch to read in the winter. How often have you woken up on a winter’s morning with dead batteries in your head torch because you fell asleep reading a book?
F is for Food be it gourmet, instant, fresh, dehydrated, foraged or freeze dried we all have our favourites. Eating enough food ensures a good night’s sleep, shortage of food a miserable trip.
G is for Ground. In good weather bivvying gives me more options where I can spend a night. The footprint is smaller and I can get tucked away in sheltered spots on ridges and rocky ground where I could not possibly erect a tent – a recipe for a unique adventure.
H is for Hills. It was noted by Hamish Brown that Scotland must be the only country in the world to describe their mountains as ‘hills’. The Scottish mountains will always be ‘hills’ to me, the hills of home which I love so dearly.
I is for Insects. Do not forget to bring midge repellent when wild camping in Scotland in the summertime. Be aware of tick habitats and how to avoid getting ticks on your body and learn how to correctly remove ticks.
J is for Jackets whether they are waterproof, windproof, or warm winter down or synthetic jackets. I own a lot of jackets as Scotland gives a lot of different weather throughout the year.
K is for Kit Care. Dry out your tent thoroughly after use so it doesn’t grow black mould – the same goes for the rest of your kit and it will last longer and maintain fabric performance.. Washing kit in Nikwax Techwash and TX Direct prolongs its effectiveness. If you can’t wash sleeping bags send them off to a specialist for cleaning. Boots should be dried out away from artificial heat.
L is for Leave No Trace. This speaks for itself: carry out all litter, even litter which you find while out walking. If you are camping on wet ground consider moving on after a couple of nights so as not to damage vegetation. Leave the area for others to enjoy as you found it.
M is for Mat. I once mistakenly took a summer sleeping matt on a winter wild camp to Loch Ossian. That night I found out how important insulation was! The rest of the night was spent sleeping on a mat which was laid upon an elaborate platform constructed from boots, ice axe and rucksack to try and keep the mat off the cold ground. A good sleeping mat should not only insulate but be comfortable as well.
N is for Newby. We all have to start somewhere. Learn from experience and be honest with yourself about your fitness and your plans.
O is for Ordnance Survey Maps. Maps make addictive ‘reading’, especially on a stormy winter’s evening. I love unfolding a map and spreading it out across the floor and looking for possible routes across the landscape. My favourite map is Landranger sheet 19 Gairloch and Ullapool. It’s a remote area – on the map there are few roads and a lot of orange contour lines which rise from big blue expanses on the map. Remember to leave a route card and travel details with a responsible person just in case something does go amiss.
P is for Pee, Poo and Periods. Ever read the book ‘How to shit in the woods: An environmentally sound approach to a lost art’ by Kathleen Meyer? It’s honest, up front and informative. I couldn’t put it down – no wonder it’s a classic! The book, however, is more relevant for the American National Park experience, but there is a lot of good information in there to answer nature’s call. Grab your trowel and dispose of your poo and pee responsibly – at least 30 meters away from fresh / running water. Ladies pack out your used sanitary products.
Q is for Quality. No mobile phone reception, no distractions from the ordinary stressed out life. Time spent in the hills and mountains is quality time, time to de-stress and reconnect to myself and nature.
R is for Responsibilities. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 lays out our responsibilities and outlines the best guidance which should be followed when exercising our right to wild camp and access wild land. If you are new to wild camping in Scotland the Act provides helpful advice.
S is for Solo. I love the freedom which going solo gives me. I can stop earlier and pitch my accommodation when I see bad weather coming into the hills. I may continue walking until almost darkness if my heart desires it. The biggest draw to going solo is that I notice more in the landscape, the plants and the birds around me.
T is for Tent. I always buy the best tent I can afford. Try and cut down on unnecessary consumption of goods with buying cheap and throwaway gear. I will thoroughly research what I want to buy and will often wait for stores to offer discount codes before I buy. I like tents where the outer can be pitched first, especially in wet weather as I can organise myself under the flysheet in the dry and keep my kit dry.
U is for Unexpected. I plan for the expected and use common sense to guide me in my decision making. However, I love the unexpected cloud inversions, broken spectres; the beautiful sunrises and sunsets which planning could never foresee.
V is for Vulnerable. I’m disappointed that the word ‘vulnerable’ appears in outdoor blogs written by women. The context can relate to feelings of insecurity which have been generated from society’s expectations of us. Go solo. Go wild camping. Go bivvying. All these activities are truly empowering. Society needs happy confident women.
W is for Water. Flowing water above farmland is generally considered safe to drink. If in doubt filter it – there are lots of lightweight filters available.
X is for Xmas. Santa always gives the best and most expensive outdoor presents. Funny, he always knows what I want as well!
Y is for Year Round. Bivvying and wild camping isn’t just for summer. Some of the best weather comes in early spring and autumn and there’s no midges to send you into a mad rendition of a ‘Highland Fling’ either. Celebrate the changing seasons: camp by a frozen waterfall in the depth of winter in a remote glen; camp on a summit in the spring when the cold has been shaken from high ground; bivvy on a high plateau in early summer in a mist of Mountain Pinks; lie in a bivvy bag in the autumn listening to rutting stags bellowing.
Z is for Zips. Unzipping the door of a flysheet to greet a sunrise; closing a down jacket to keep out the cold; unzipping a bivvy after a snowstorm to see how the snow has obliterated landscape. Zips are simple closures which we don’t give much thought to how many memories do they help to create?
This alphabet captures the heart of bivvying and wild camping for me.