In case you were wondering, this isn’t a post about Dale Winton. Although I’m sure that would be a most worthy subject for a blog entry.
No, this was inspired by a piece I read on sectionhiker.com where our man was talking about his routines for making and striking camp, It struck me that I am desperately in need of such a routine myself. Not that I don’t have one, of sorts. I do tend to do similar things in crudely the same order each time. But it doesn’t feel like a particularly slick or efficient process and seems to involve a lot of faffing about.
After finding a spot, the pack hits the ground and out comes the tent. That goes up and then a degree of unpacking takes place – sleepmat is inflated, my sleeping bag is extracted and lofted and the various dry bags strewn about the inner – clean clothes to act as a pillow, empty bags to the foot of the tent and various electronics, toiletries and food bags down the side. This gets complicated further if I have wet or dirty gear (usually the clothing I’ve just been walking in). Then it’s generally off to find water. I then tend to start on the evening meal and do my ablutions – although sometimes the other way around. Inside the tent for the night, I seem to do a lot of moving of stuff about, and the inside looks nothing like the neat and organised inners that you see in pictures. Something needs to be done.
So what are the problems?
I think it comes down to:
- I still take too much stuff.
- When tired towards the end of the walk my judgement isn’t as sharp as it could be and tends to be focussed on getting to a spot and getting the tent up. Especially so if the weather’s a bit iffy.
- I’m still experimenting to some degree.
- Recent new gear means I’ve not been taking the same things on successive trips.
- I’m just not efficient.
So what does sectionhiker do ?
Sectionhiker’s making camp routine looks something like this:
Hang bear bag (suspension system and food)
- Fill and purify water bladders. Return water filter/purifier to pack pocket
- Set up shelter
- Inflate sleeping pad/loft sleeping bag
- Pull out night gear. Pack the rest in a waterproof liner and pack
Retrieve bear bag
- Cook dinner
- Wash up, myself mostly
Hang bear bag (food only)
- Arrange night time gear
- Write or record a journal entry
- Plan next day’s route for the 40th time
- Fall aleep at sundown or earlier
Now, my routine can be simpler as in the UK it really is quite rare to be troubled by a bear, so I’ve crossed those out. The key difference is that he sources water before he even puts his shelter up, which makes a lot of sense in some ways. A suitable spot to pitch may not be found near water, and the best quality water will tend to be faster flowing either below a summit pitch or above a more sheltered pitch further down. So it makes sense to try to sort the water issue out on the way to the pitch. But what I currently do is essentially what I do at a proper campsite where water is never in doubt, and securing your pitch takes priority.
The sense of this was brought home to me on a recent trip in the Lake District’s Far Eastern Fells. My pitch near the Garburn Pass had no decent water nearby despite a wide search after putting the tent up. I was forced to put up with yellow water pouring out from under some grass. This was fine when boiled but I wasn’t going to drink it neat, especially as filtering didn’t make it look any better. Clearly water needs to be sorted out earlier.
The fact that I haven’t got this right yet is all the more incredible when I think back to my key concerns when planning my first wildcamp. Sourcing drinkable water was top of the list.
So the key making camp lessons are:
- Plan my water strategy in advance if possible.
- In any case, get water on the way to the pitch.
- Work to get my kit down to a standardised set of stuff for every trip.
- Take less stuff.
- Develop some rules for inside the tent.
Sectionhiker’s striking camp routine is as follows:
- Get dressed for the day: clothes and boots.
- Visit privy or take care of business elsewhere.
Take down bear bag. Pull out snacks for the day and stow in outer pack pockets.
- Cook breakfast if I want a hot one, or eat it cold.
- Pack sleeping bag and pad in backpack.
- Pack sleeping clothes.
- Pack food bag.
- Pack water.
- Pack shelter.
- Pack external pockets (toiletries, rain gear, cooking pot).
- Quick check of site and then leave.
Once again, no bears in the UK. My striking camp routine broadly follows sectionhikers except for two key differences (bears aside!):
Firstly, his shelter isn’t the last thing packed, so he’s packing some of his stuff in the open, and potentially in the lashing rain and wind. I’d rather pack what I can inside the shelter and make it the last thing into my pack. Clearly, if the pack is starting out wet from the previous day, then this may be academic.
Secondly, packing my rucksack usually works best if I insert the hydration bladder before there’s too much else in – it just becomes too tight a fit otherwise.
I’m not proposing any significant changes to my striking camp routine, other than just to get faster and slicker with more practice, and coping better if the weather’s a bit frisky. But there are some key things to bear in mind, nonetheless:
- Efficient striking camp and packing is related to the process of unpacking – the less I unpack or the more organised stuff is around its packing bags, the easier it will be.
- I need to find a slick repeatable way for dealing with the varying states of decay of clothing during a trip – clean stuff is ok, but what about dirty gear still in use, or dirty gear that is finished with ? And what about stuff I’ve washed and is simply getting dried ?
- A further consideration is that I may want to get my stove out at lunchtime, so it’s not always simply a matter of packing that away low down in the bag when finished with.
With every camp, I am getting better, but I’m nowhere near efficient yet. I still have lots of work to streamline the amount of stuff I take, and I think that mastering the ability to handle day after day of wet conditions and dealing with kit that isn’t dry is important too. And water needs to move back up the priority list. Certainly after struggling for water on my recent Far Eastern fells trip, it’s been brought home to me how critical this really is.