A Week in the Wild - Part 1: Preparing for Photography Wilderness Camping

A Week in the Wild - Part 1: Preparing for Photography Wilderness Camping

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.

Basic Gear

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.

Shelter

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.

Fire

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.

Seasonal gear

Summer

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.

Winter

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.

Nordisk tents in the snow.

Nordisk tents in their natural habitat. From left to right: Telemark 1 LW, Svalbard PU, Telemark 2 LW.

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.

  1. Leave no trace.
  2. Arrive late, depart early.
  3. No fires.
  4. No hunting or using natural resources other than water.
  5. 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.

Closing words

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:

Wildcamping Tips
http://wctips.net

Wikipedia Page (read the source)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam

Article on Permissions of Wild Camping in Europe
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/may/15/wild-camping-europe-uk-legalities

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5 Comments

Dan Crowther's picture

Looking forward to reading the additional parts in the series. I'd like to hear more about the pack and packing specifics (the pack link just goes to a generic Amazon "Lowe Alpine" search FYI). One thing I'm struggling with now, is balancing camera and camping gear. Also, I'd like to hear your methodology to site approach; eg, hike in with camera ready to shoot. Or hike only, setup camp, then unpack camera.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

I use the medium Mountainsmith Zoom case (https://smile.amazon.com/Mountainsmith-Zoom-Camera-Anvil-Medium/dp/B00EW...) when I'm hiking and backpacking for two reasons.
1. It's on the front of my body, so I always have access
2. It redistributes the weight of my heavy camera body and lens.

Your tent should be no more than 2 lbs (tough if you're tall, but still doable). Get the lightest sleeping bag and sleep pad you can afford (every ounce counts). For your backpack, go to REI (or any similar store), have them fit you, then try on all the different brands they have. They're all shaped differently, so one will work better for the shape of your back than others. I used a 70L Osprey Atmos that I bought sight unseen for about 5 years. Last year I finally tried on some other brands and ended up switching to a Gregory.

I'd like to add france to the list of country where overnight camping is tolerated. In most nationnal parks, you can set up your tent from 7pm to 9am.

Daniel Laan's picture

Thanks Thomas, have you got a reference for the legislation? It doesn't matter if it is in French. I'll add it to the list with the link you provide.

David Bengtsson's picture

I'd like to some gear I'd defdntivly reccomend that I have used in the Swedish and Norweigian "mountains" several times that in my mind are some of the best gear you can get.

First, when buying a tent I'd almost only look at tents from Hilleberg unless you are going to Everest or something like that where you need a special mountaineering tent. In my mind they make the best tents you can get basically. (Have one at home that still runs strong after 35 years out in the mountains during both winter and summer)

For sleeping pads I agree on the Exped, however I find the Thermarest All season to be more comfortable because you don't sink in so far in the middle because the air canals are on the other way so you get more stability.

Sleeping bags I agree with aswell but can also add that Marmot makes some really great bags.

Backpacks I'd reccomend the Fjällräven Kajka 65 or 75 liters. Extremely comfortable and durable.

And I'd like to add that clothes are very important and I can't stress enough of how important a good rain jacket is. You will think everything is miserable if you just get wet and comd because your jacket can't handle the heavy rain. I'd reccomend a jacket with at least GoreTex active but really a GoreTex Pro is the way to go. Arcteryx have some amazing jackets (I have used the Beta AR) and Tierra has some but those are hard to find outside sweden.