With the goal in mind to write up a reference for planning a week of photography in the wild, it's almost unthinkable to not include an article about gear an rules about sleeping in the great outdoors. Not on a campsite, not in a hotel or any form of modern comfort, but out in the backcountry, sleeping under the stars. This quickly grew out to be an article to bookmark, because I don't expect you to remember everything about this after a first read.
Planning for an entire week of landscape photography outside the realms of civilization with a camera bag strapped to your back, means that you have to create a pack list. Each season brings the need for a different set of camping equipment, but the base is always the same. Let's first discuss the gear that I always bring for a week in the wild. Later, we will add stuff based on the season we're going. Be aware that I'm not going to cover clothing in this list, because it's long enough as it is.
We're going to need a place to sleep. I either bring a one-man, three season tent (Nordisk Telemark 1 LW), or a hammock (Exped Ergo Hammock) if the area features a lot of trees and soggy soil. That hammock is a special one. Because of the way it's built, you're suspended diagonally across two points. This enables you to lie on your side or relatively flat on your back, which is great for prolonged outings in the woods. The Ergo Hammock package also comes with a fitting tarp to keep the rain and most of the wind out. It also sports a mosquito net, which is definitely something you can't do without in summer.
The Telemark tent will get you through some of the most heinous nights. The video below shows the "Tele" being tested in wind speeds of up to 25 meters per second. That's force 10 on the Beaufort scale. A wind tunnel test does not simulate strong and sudden gust, so you could say it's being tested under ideal circumstances here. But if you pitch it correctly facing the wind with all the guy ropes tightened just right, you will stay dry and safe inside. You won't get much sleep in these stormy conditions, though.
Inside the tent we have the Exped Synmat 7 LW, which is the largest single person mat they've got. What I really like about this orange monster, is its insulating capability. At an R-value of 4.9, it's useful in temperatures of down to -17 °C. Hanging above the mat is the Black Diamond Storm head lamp, keeping the tent illuminated in the hour before hunkering down for the night. This water tight torch also proved to be a great tool for night photography due to its red night mode and way finding with a 250 lumens spot light.
Water and Food
A stuff sack filled to the brim with food is most likely the heaviest part of the bag you'll bring on a week long photography journey on minimal supplies. Water is either boiled or filtered through the Platypus GravityWorks water filtration bag. That filter keeps most of the nasties out of your drinking water, although it can't deal with the tiniest pathogens or any chemical contamination. In order to cook dinner, water is boiled within two minutes inside the MSR Windburner. A single tank of fuel lasts me the entire week at 1500 meters altitude. Oh, and make sure to bring two trash bags to carry your litter back to civilization and not make it a problem of the environment.
It's a good idea to bring at least two methods for the ability to light the stove. This way, you have a backup in case one gets lost or doesn't work. A Bic lighter is very reliable. Even more reliable is the Light My Fire magnesium firesteel, which takes a bit of practice and patience to get it working like it should. I scrape the back of my Karesuando survival knife against the firesteel to rain a ton of sparks on the Windburner. I can not stress enough that making a fire is unnecessary and very dangerous to the environment. Personally, I don't create a fire unless it's a life-threatening situation.
Everything, including camera gear, is then stuffed in the Lowe Alpine TFX Appalachian. I've attached my trekking poles, put in a first aid kit, a map of the area and a compass and I'm ready to add the seasonal gear.
The high season is an excellent season to bring extras, because what you actually need doesn't weigh that much. A good book will keep you entertained when the weather isn't cooperative. We haven't covered a sleeping bag yet. I use British Mountain Equipment gear. The light and compact Helium 250 is my summer bag. A bottle of DEET will fend off most species of mosquitos and midges.
Autumn and Spring
I bring the same Helium 250 sleeping bag, but add in the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme liner to make the experience a bit more comfortable. This orange liner adds about 10 degrees Celsius and is a great alarm signal when things turn sour and you need to make yourself visible to a search party.
The Mountain Equipment Glacier 1250 sleeping bag keeps me toasty at night in all but arctic conditions. I also add a set of crampons if there's snow or ice about, but I'm not a mountaineer. So I don't feel comfortable bringing an ice axe for example. Staying safe should be your priority, so do not get yourself in areas or situations where you don't feel confident or comfortable.
Wild Camping and Legislation
Do take note that there is often a distinction between "camping" and "bivouac." Different rules apply to just sleeping and camping for multiple days. Since we want to be able to photograph natural landscapes, I assume we’re here to take pictures. Sleeping in the wild is a necessary step in creating the perfect picture if the subject is a day or more away from any road. If that’s truly the case, legislation about an overnight stay is the least of your worries. We can keep things really simple on public land when choosing a spot closer to civilization.
- Leave no trace.
- Arrive late, depart early.
- No fires.
- No hunting or using natural resources other than water.
Do not disturb local wildlife.
Staying overnight (sleeping) in the wilderness on non-privately owned land isn’t a problem in the following countries in most cases. However, there are additional rules to be aware of which I’ve linked.
- England and Wales
- United States’ National Parks
- Patagonia National Park
- New Zealand
It's my goal to provide accurate sources that help you determine if staying overnight in a certain spot with minimal impact is allowed. This list is far from complete. So I need your help to expand it. If you have better sources or additional ones, let me know in the comments and I will update the list.
Further reading and information:
Article on Permissions of Wild Camping in Europe