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Peter Gostelow

Adventure cycling, Photography, Writing

Musings on wild camping

On my last expedition I spent over 300 nights sleeping in a tent. It was nearly always free accommodation as I rarely ever paid. Campsites don’t exist in most of Asia and Africa, and by the time I reached Europe I couldn’t justify spending €10 and upwards for a place to pitch a tent. I used to bargain hotel rooms down from $4 to $3 in much of Asia. Some of these even had satellite TV.

The beauty of wild or free camping for me was about its simplicity, plus the sense of self-sufficiency and freedom of choosing where to sleep. The late Ken Kifer advocated all these Thoreauvian principles in more detail. As my tour went on I grew to enjoy the challenge of searching for suitable sites at the end of the day, even if it could be quite stressful. Sometimes I rode until late before finding somewhere I considered safe. 

Leaving the road without being seen was pretty essential. Small tracks that lead into fields with bushes, woods or some dip in the land’s topography are ideal if they exist. If you’re hidden from the road and away from human habitation the chances of someone finding you are very unlikely. In theory anyhow. In India I sometimes wanted to escape the crowds by camping out in rural areas. Villages and people were never that far away though.

There are lots of other criteria that define a good wild campsite – running water, a beautiful view from the tent, soft grass, protection from the wind.  I had my share of these in Tibet and Central Asia. Here is a selection of great, good and not so good places I’ve camped in over the last several years.

 

As the temperature plummets below zero again tonight I feel glad to have the comfort of a warm bed and a heated room. Camping out in the garden would seem shear lunacy, but I quite enjoyed layering up with thermals and cocooning myself in a sleeping bag whilst on the road.

It’s unlikely I’ll have many cold nights camping in Africa, unless I meander through the Atlas mountains too late in the year. I’ve already started researching tents. There is no reason not to go with a new version of the one I used before. The North Face Tadpole is light, freestanding, and has a large vestibule to store my gear. 

I’m tempted however to try something different. MSR and Mountain Equipment have some decent models, but its easy to get bogged down with reviews and specifications. If anyone would like to make some suggestions then please do.

5 Comments

  1. Ciao Peter!
    I like your new site. Regarding a new tent for Africa, I suggest you to have a look at MSR hubba hubba. it’s light, freestanding, overtested, has two opposite doors for ventilation, the inner tent is a simple mash, usefull in hot temperatures. available in two version, the new one is called HP it’lighter and may be more suitable for colder temperatures. The only downs are price and a quite bright color. Find very professional reviews at http://www.backpackgeartest.org find usefull pics at http://www.moontrail.com/msr_hubbahubba.php

    cheers

  2. Hey Pete,

    I think it would be a great idea for you to check out Ray Jardines website in detail: http://www.rayjardine.com. He’s done multiple years of expeditioning, thru-hiking, cycling and builts most of his ultra-lightweight stuff by himself and for cheap. He sells books and kits on how to built such things as a good, lightweight tarp with a net tent (together less than 900 gramms), quilt, backpacks. He even welded his own bike…

    I built the tarp myself, took me a weekend and was less than 80 euros including net tent and shipping. Only problem is the lack of privacy under a tarp. The good thing is that you see everything around you, always!

    Cheers to Singafora from Berlin

    Ben

  3. Peter,
    stick with the tadpole! I’ve used it and its predecessors for almost 20 years! Love your photos! Happy trails- om

  4. Thanks Nicolai, had a look at the MSR Wind II – decent tent but too heavy and unncessary for Africa.

  5. Wow! Stunning photo set, Peter. Really impressive.

    I had a MSR Wind II (2-3 persons tent) and was very happy for it. Swopped it for a much lighter 1-man tent (1.7 kg, 2 minutes set-up) from Swiss Exped which I´m very pleased with.

    Happy planning!

    Nicolai (Otavalo, Ecuador)

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