Tag Archives: camping

going wild

On Saturday night I finally went wild camping. The weather forecast was grim with heavy rain and a thunderstorm warning for the afternoon and early evening but with the worst of it to pass by 6pm I decided to plan for the best. Thankfully the forecast was right for a change and it dried up shortly after 6.

Taking my cue from a successful way to plan a bike ride I got all my gear sorted the day before and packed that morning. Taking advice from some of the YouTube wild campers I follow I took more than I thought I would need but despite being reasonably strict the volume of stuff still surprised me.

Part of my problem is that not all my gear packs efficiently. For example the cooking cup is smaller than the gas canister so they can’t be nested. Also the thermal cup took up more space than I expected and my sleeping bag is probably bigger than most modern bags.

I’d chosen a spot called Dooish Hill between Raphoe, St Johnston and Newtowncunningham. I’ve been there before and it has a great view and only a short 1km walk from the parking location in case things went disastrously wrong. It’s also one of the 50 nearest hills listed on Mountainviews.ie so starts the 50for50 ball rolling for me too.

The actual campsite was OK but far from ideal. The area of grassland I remember turned out to be quite boggy and mostly covered with low heather. This made for damp, soft ground and while heather is nice enough to lie on it doesn’t compress as easily as grass and made everything that little bit more awkward but still manageable.

the heather complicated the pitch of the tarp

nearby unmapped trigpoint pillar

I’d brought two stoves with me. My BSR gas stove I used previously on my hike up Bessy Bell and also a small wood burning firebox copy from Lixada. The plan was to use the wood burner to cook dinner, keep away any midges and provide a nice fire as it got dark. The gas stove was for the morning to make life easier. After the day of heavy rain I also decided to bring a small bag of dry tinder and sticks and a large birch branch I’d taken from my local woods a couple of months ago. I didn’t fancy hunting in the wet trees nearby and trying to start a fire with damp wood. I did process the wood on site though with my saw and knife to cut and split it and lit the fire using a fire steel rather than a lighter. It felt surprisingly satisfying to do it this way – very bushcrafty!

Dinner was kept simple too. I brought some chorizo sausage pieces and a pre cooked pack of multi grains. I just needed to boil a small amount of water and then reheat the whole lot in the frying pan for 5min. Dessert was a chocolate chip muffin. All was eaten while enjoying the views as the low clouds came and went.

Sunset came quickly with darkness pretty much complete shortly after 930. However, just before 9 I was treated to a flock of birds (swallows, swifts or martins, they all look and behave very similar!) that swooped in and spent 10 minutes showing off their aerial acrobatics as they dined on flies and other insects high above my head. Even once it was dark there was a surprising amount of light in the sky.

I read for a while by the light of my head torch and finally went to bed shortly after 1030. I slept reasonably well, waking about 1230 and again shortly after 3. I needed a pee at 3 so it took a while to settle again but I then managed to sleep until just after 6am. Not perfect but good enough and better than I expected for my first night out. Another tip from YouTube helped. I was wearing a thin thermal hat and this was big enough to pull down over my eyes and stop the early dawn from wakening me too early.

The early morning was chilly and unfortunately the view was gone as the hill was totally shrouded in a dense bank of low cloud. A breakfast bacon bap and tea was nice but could have been so much better with a view to enjoy.

lost in the mist

Packing up was quick and simple, somehow everything went back in easier this time and after a short damp walk back to the car I was home again shortly after 8am.

All in it was a really good and enjoyable first wildcamp. I’ll definitely go out again and with my first experience I have some small lessons to help make it better next time too.

backyard camping

Last night I finally got around to taking my first step towards a proper wild camp before the end of the summer. I bought a DD 3x3m tarp a few weeks ago and have been watching many videos about how to set it up as a summer tarp tent. Yesterday evening I finally got around to setting it up in the back garden as a trial run, to iron out any problems and test out some of my, now very old, gear.

this sleeping bag must be 20+ years old but very warm!

first time actually using this bivvy bag

Finding it more cramped than expected I’ve watched a few more videos this evening and realised that I should have set it up slightly differently and I would have had both more headroom and space to lie out.

Other things I learned last night:

  • I can still get excited about very simple things – took me ages to relax enough to actually get to sleep
  • Needing a pee at 3am is more complicated in a sleeping bag and tent!
  • Listening to heavy rain from the inside of a tent is strangely soothing when you are inside dry and warm
  • The flat bit of our garden isn’t – there’s a very slight slope that’s only noticeable when lying down
  • For a place in the middle of the country there’s a lot of noise at night.
  • I was very surprised by the amount of condensation inside the tarp this morning but the grass was soaked when I pitched which could have been the cause
  • The night air smells and feels different when sleeping outside

I’ve also learned from YouTube that a hot chocolate before bed is pretty much compulsory for expert level wild campers.

I have plans for further “proper” wild camps over the next few weeks but I definitely need to invest in a proper sleeping mat very soon, these old bones need a soft surface to lie on…..

diy alcohol stove and billy can

Part of the attraction for bikepacking for me is the additional gear especially tent options, sleeping systems and cooking systems. The Alpkit Bruler is currently top of my wishlist.

source: alpkit

As well as the many professional versions out there, alcohol stoves have an amazing variety of DIY options. Try a search of YouTube and be prepared to disappear down a deep rabbit hole!

One of the simplest options is the tuna can stove which sometimes referred to as the cat food stove, due to the similar can size.

I have a plan for later in the week that requires some sort of cooking system so I decided to try and create one of these DIY stoves. I watched an interesting (to me at least!) video of slightly more complex versions of the tuna can stove and picked the one I thought would be easiest to make.

stove stage 1: supplies & tools

Supplies: Tuna can x 2 (identical size), soup/beans tin x 1 (all empty and labels removed), wire coat hanger.

Tools: Needle nose pliers, tin snips, drill, 12mm, 5mm & 3mm metal drill bits.

stage 2: inner layer

Take one of the tuna cans and using the needle nose pliers put a series of crimps in the sides approximately 2-3cm apart. Do this by gripping the side and twisting the pliers to one side. This creates vents for the alcohol vapour and allows you to slide this can inside the other with the base facing upwards.

stage 3: external burners

Using the 5mm bit drill a series of holes close to the top of the outer can approximately 1-2cm apart all the way around the can. I’m not sure if it’s correct but I also drilled through the inner can.

Change to the 3mm bit and drill smaller holes in between the first set. Neatness and accuracy may help here but don’t seem to be a priority on any of the videos I watched.

stage 4: top burner hole

Using the largest drill bit you have (mine was 12mm) drill a hole in the centre of the top of the stove (ie. the base of the inside can). Using the tin snips cut slits in the edge of the hole and press the edges inwards using the side of the needle nose pliers. Repeat the cutting and bending until the hole is still roughly circular and as wide as you require. I used one of the circles on the base as a guide.

That’s the stove complete. Denatured alcohol is the cheapest and easiest fuel to source. It’s most commonly sold as methalyted spirits.

If you prefer to watch a video from someone that knows exactly what they are doing the YouTube link below is where I got the design and instructions.

billy can stage 1: body & handle

This is a lot simpler. Using the large drill bit make two holes, directly opposite each other close to the top of the soup can.

Cut a piece of the wire coat hanger approximately 20cm long. Bend back the ends of this inwards approx 1-2cm making hook shapes. Shape the rest of the wire into a curve making the rough shape of a handle. Pass the hooks through the holes in the side of the can and squeeze them tight using the pliers to stop the handle slipping out when in use.

stage 2: lid

A lid isn’t necessary but it will retain heat in the can, speed up the boiling process and use less fuel. I used the lid from one of the tuna cans. Using the large drill bit make a hole in the centre of the lid. Cut a piece of the wire coat hanger approximately 6-8cm long. Bend the two ends until they meet and push half their length through the hole from the outside. Bend the edges back to prevent them pulling back through and leave a loop on the top.

The remaining piece of the hanger can be used as a hook for lifting the lid or the whole can off the stove without burning your fingers.

That’s the complete DIY cooking system. I plan to use it later this week. This plan will involve creating a YouTube video which I’m a bit leary of but I guess it will be good to get outside my comfort zone.

Header image from kk.org

a walk in the woods

A Walk in The Woods by Bill Bryson

From Goodreads:

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America—majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way—and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I came to this book having watched the film a few days ago. The film is decent but I had a feeling there was more to the story in the book. In an unusual flip I found the book was enhanced by having seen the film. Sure, some of the scenes were modified, switched around or simply invented for the film but the spirit of the book is definitely there. What really enhanced the book though was Nick Nolte’s excellent portrayal of Katz. I couldn’t help but see and hear him jumping out of every page and piece of dialogue. Despite how it happened he ended up being a perfect casting choice.

Katz is the success of this book. Bryson himself is very straight, introspective and sometimes abrasive and arrogant. Katz provides the comedic element but also some of the most emotional and thought provoking parts of the story.

It’s hard to think of this book as non-fiction or a travelogue but it’s both. There are lots of negative reviews on Goodreads, mostly based on a negative view of Bryson but I really enjoyed it. It provides a great view of what it’s like to walk a long distance trail and also a nice historical record of how the AT came about. There are many interjections about how the nature of the American wilderness has and still is changing. Probably one for people interested in hiking and camping though.

Header image by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels