Posted by Warren Esther on 24th Apr 2016
Cycle Touring. Adventure Cycling. Expedition Biking. Whatever you want to call it – if you want to know how to go about it in comfort there’s no one better to ask than Warren Sanders. For the past 12 years he’s been, as he puts it, ‘cherry picking the best places in the world to cycle’. Here he shares some some tent tips and wild camping advice.
In fact, along with his wife, he’s peddled his way along the North Sea coast of Europe (from Amsterdam to Stavanger in Norway) and the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway of the USA’s Appalachians. Amongst other places. In fact, he’s cycled and camp his way around 39 countries in all.
His adventures have left him somewhat of an expert on putting up a tent in weird and wonderful places. And in this blog, he gives you some pointers on how and where to pitch a tent (along with some other sage advice) to ensure you get a goods night sleep when you’re out on the road.
Meet Warren Sanders – An adventure cyclist who’s camped and toured over 39 countries.
With that in mind, it’s vital you invest in a good tent and learn how and where to put it up properly. Because unless you’re staying in an expensive hotel where you’re the only guest, noise will be an issue. Campgrounds offer the delights of sanitation, but noise often a problem.
The field may be completely empty and the price more than reasonable. But you can bet that at 9.55pm a VW camper van will park so close to your tent that it’s wheel will be touching one of your guy points! It’s because of situation like this that my wife and I learned how to unstake our tent, and carry it whole (with the sleeping bagsand sleeping mats set up) to a new spot. We once moved to put distance between us and a man with an annoying laugh. Good sleep is vital.
Much of the world has fallen in love with PRIVATE signs. Some countries go as far as to make wild camping illegal, so you need a plan. My wife and I came across a saying, which we have since adopted as part of our wild camping method. “It is always faster to ask for forgiveness than for permission”, which I guess is what the Cool Kids are now calling Stealth Camping. If you do need to ask permission, pick someone with a well tended vegetable plot. It’s very little information to make a character assessment, but they tend to be good people. Recently I have used the gps to help find a wild camping spot. You want water, few or no buildings and possibly some trees to hide in. A good GPS Unit can help you find the perfect spot.
When camping under trees always check for ‘Widow Makers’ (especially when trees are this big).
Trees are great to hide behind and block wind, and stop it battering your tent. But check for ‘widow makers ‘, those large branches hung up in the canopy just waiting to crush you as you sleep. In strong winds check the health of the nearest trees as well. In a full gale try and put twice the height of the nearest tree between your tent and it (this is what they tell you at chainsaw school as everyone tends to underestimate the height of a tree).
If you’re camping near the sea, then pitch above the strand line if possible. You can check the tide by placing a memorable stone at the water’s edge. Go back to it in 15 minutes and if it is covered, it is coming in and you will have some idea of the speed. You will need specialist tent pegs or some Terra Nova Dead Guys for camping in sand, so more of that in a moment.
The web is full of forums telling you to pick a tent that pitches outer first. I’m going to be controversial, but I disagree. I like to be able to quickly separate a wet outer, from the dry inner and stow them separately. What we can agree on, is that you want to sleep with your head higher than your feet if you have a choice to avoid a headache. We have seen people take out a compass to make sure that the open door faces the rising sun, a nice touch.
A search of the web with the words – ‘How to put up a tent’, would give you the basics. But would it tell you to make sure you have a couple of those narrow spiky nail pegs? These can be stupidly expensive, easily lost and made from Titanium, which is exciting. You will be glad you have them if the ground is concrete hard. Much of the world is, so have them with you. A couple of oversized V section pegs will come in handy if you have a damp spot at a vital corner, so pack these too. Good tent pegs are a cheap and excellent upgrade. Do not trust even a very expensive tent to come with good pegs – it is one way they try to win the weight game. Expect to hit your pegs with a stone, and buy ones that will cope with that sort of occasional brutality. Pick a bright colour so you can find them. My wife and I mostly use V section pegs in bright orange with a couple of oversized ones in a dazzling red as backup.
Warren using the wind to help him put up his tent with the minimum of fuss.
Start by holding the tent at the upwind edge so that things flap away from you. On most tents you will have the foot end in your hand now and will have a lower wind profile. Remember the bit I told you about keeping your head higher than your feet – you may need to compromise between wind direction and slope. Sleeping on a cross slope is not fun either, and is hard to judge standing up. Often I will lie down on my rolled out tent, and get a feel for which way the ground slopes (this often requires a second opinion ). We carry a couple of spare lines that we can attach to the tent for peace of mind if it looks likely to be a windy night. Some tents, because of their design, will flap in the wind. No amount of adjusting tensions is going to help. This is going to drive you mad and rob you of sleep, so avoid them.
As soon as the tent is up, get the sleeping bags rolled out inside. If you use down bags, they need time to loft. When my wife and I are stealth camping, we get out of our brightly coloured cycle gear, and into drab colours for a bit of camouflage. Picking a bright red tent is going to be a problem if you’re stealth camping too. Plan ahead, as some tents do have a colour option. Whilst it is still light, get the line up for pulling your food-bag into the tree later. It is not just bears that you have to think about. Raccoons are cute, but undeniably a menace, and are spreading through Europe. They can open your bags with dextrous little fingers or tear into it with sharp teeth, so get it up the tree. This blog article on dry bags shows you how.
Most of the tents we use can be pitched using just the fly net inner. This gives you a view of the night sky as the sun drops below the horizon and the mesh vanishes. Two of our camping highlights – the international space station on a low pass and a meteor blazing across the sky, were witnessed like this. There are Terra Nova tents that you can pitch like this and they would be on my wish list. Being able to pitch free standing is something you may want to think about as well. Throwing up the mesh inner tent in a mosquito infested hotel, buggy garage or shed could save your night. We pitched our tent on a raised wooden platform at a jungle logging camp, and were glad that we could. Pick a tent with a solid inner tent for winter to keep things toasty inside. There are a few tents that offer a warmer none-mesh inner that you can swop to for a winter setup. Sleeping in a bivy bag or just pitching the mesh inner means you can see your environment. It is strange, but being enclosed by the rain-fly of the tent feels insecure and claustrophobic for a day or two after.
Warren and his wife Esther have camped in some unusual places over the years.
Is there a perfect tent? You know what, I don’t think there is. But there is the perfect night of camping, and the ones that come second, third and so on are great nights too. Get out there and do stuff, make mistakes when it doesn’t matter and learn from them. Tents have never been cheaper or better and you’ve a huge range to choose from at Above & Beyond, including award-winning designs from Fjällräven, Terra Nova and Nordisk. They also sell a selection of tent and shelter accessories which can help make your camping trips that little bit more of a pleasure.
Above & Beyond would like to thanks Warren for taking the time to share his experience and camping advice with us on our blog and you can find out more about him and his travel on his website. If you have any tent tips or camping advice of your own, let us know what it is in the comments below. We’d also love to hear about your adventures and wild camping weekends so get in touch via our contact page, and we’ve some special gifts if we feature you on our blog. And one last thing – don’t forget to share Warren’s wild camping advice with your camping and adventure cycling friends on your social media.