The Wild Camping Photographer

I’ve been meaning to write a post about wild camping photography for a while now. Hopefully this will help any budding photographer who is interested in getting out into the hills and trying wild camping. I’ll talk about the legality’s and ethics of wild camping and the logistics of carrying camera gear and overnight camping equipment into the hills and mountains. I’ll break down my kit list and hopefully give you some good tips for keeping your camera gear safe and dry, and also share some of my wild camping shots over the years.

So to start with we’ve got to talk about what wild camping is? The term wild camping has only come about in recent years really, and it has different interpretations for most people. But mainly it’s about camping somewhere not on a site, away from amenities and the general population. Some people wild camp in their campervans, others hammock in the forest, there’s often lots of debate online as to what classes wild camping, which I try and stay away from. For me wild camping is up the hills and mountains of the UK. As an avid hill and mountain walker this is where it’s at for me, being high up in the mountains over night is where I’m at my most peaceful.

Saying all this wild camping in England and Wales is still generally illegal except for parts of Dartmoor. Strictly in England and Wales all the land is owned so you must get permission of the owner before camping. However in places like The Lake District and Snowdonia it’s tolerated as long as you adhere to a certain set of ethics. Camp up high, above the highest fell wall, away from paths, arrive and pitch late, leave early and leave no trace. The Lake district national park website actually gives guidelines to wild camping.

I can’t get enough of heading out into the hills with my camera and my chosen shelter for the night on my back, I’ve had some fantastic nights out under the stars but also some howling nights out in the elements which I find quite exciting as long as I’m well prepared. There’s been a couple of nights I’ve had to just bivvy on top of my tent due to it collapsing, I always carry my bivvy bag with me anyway as it takes up hardly any space at all and is great if I do need to just hunker down in the elements and keep my sleeping bag dry. I’ll go through my kit list a bit later.

As far as the planning goes for my trips, I’m usually scouting a location a week before using OS maps, Google Earth, Google images etc. There’s also a great tool called The Photographers Ephermeris, which helps you plan a shot and see where, when and how light will fall on the landscape at a particular location.

As well as the location I’ll be checking different weather apps in the week before, MWIS and Met Office are two of the sources I use. Both can give specific mountain weather information, with the Mountain Weather Information Service having great synoptic charts. The weather and especially wind direction and speed can have a big influence on where and how to pitch. When I’m looking for potential wild camping spots, I’m looking for a flat enough pitch close to where I want to be shooting for the night/morning. You really wan’t to be near a water source (although I’ll carry enough if I know I’m not camping near a stream etc) Pick a sheltered spot if the weather is demanding, but I generally try and find the spot with the best view from the tent., You may want to be on the lea side of the mountain really if strong wind is forecast, but even then you can get caught out. I was once camping in a little Cwm in Snowdonia on the lea side of the hill, so the opposite side to the incoming weather. I thought I’d be nice and sheltered, but the wind was coming down off the top of the hill and causing wild eddy currents in my said sheltered cwm, which eventually flattened my tent. This was one night I had to bivvy on top of the flattened tent, but it was all worth it.

Here’s a couple of shots from that night

The little nameless lake at 600m just below Allt Maederyn, on the west flank of Snowdon

The little nameless lake at 600m just below Allt Maederyn, on the west flank of Snowdon

Lucky to capture this meteor over Yr Aran

Lucky to capture this meteor over Yr Aran

For the kit I use as far as the actual camping goes I have 4 choices of shelter. The Vango Banshee, a Selewa semi geodesic mountain tent, the DD 3x3 tarp or just my bivi bag. Each has it’s own advantages depending on weather, time of year, weight etc. For instance in the summer months when the weather forecast is good, I’ll most likely just take the tarp and my bivi bag. The DD tarp can be set up in loads of different ways and is really tough and durable with strong anchor loops. I can set this up as an open shelter or a tent config if it starts raining.

The DD tarp weighs in at 830g (excluding pegs & guy lines)., but there is a super light version. The tarp folds up nice flat so can be placed or stuffed anywhere in my pack but usually lives on the outside, leaving more room for other equipment like camera, sleeping bag etc that need to stay dry.

The Vango Banshee 300 is great if I want that extra comfort of being inside a tent. It’s a good little all in one pitch back packing tent, weighing about 2.6kg all in with pegs. Really quick and easy to pitch and has a good tension band system for extra strength. Although not the best in high winds, if you pitch correctly with the low end into the wind it can withstand gusts up to about 40 mph.

For those nights when I know there’s going to be strong winds, I’ll go to my semi geodesic Selewa Litetrek 1. This is a fantastic little tent designed for alpine terrain, and has been wind tunnel tested to 55mph. It’s a tough little 1 man mountain tent with it’s cross pole design for extra stability and the ability to pick it up move it around and pitch pretty much anywhere. This weighs about 1.9kg all in with the poles and lightweight aluminium y pegs. It’s a tad cramp inside for me at 6 foot 1, but I can just sit up and in good conditions you can fold back the inner to make more room, or leave the inner at home altogether.

I have two sleeping bags, one for summer and one for the winter months, my Mountain Warehouse microlite 700 is a cheap but great bag, I’ve had mine for about 6 years and it’s still going fine now with only slight signs of wear on the collar. It has a comfort rating of 2 - 7 degrees and an extreme temp of a whopping -13 (which I wouldn’t like to test out) but it is a really nice warm bag for the majority of the year. My other bag is a Mountain Equipment Starlite, now this is a seriously warm and comfy bag, but at the cost of weight and bulk. Here’s Mountain Equipment’s temperature ratings for it.

  • Extreme:-31°C/-24°F

  • Comfort Limit:-12°C/10°F

  • Comfort:-5°C/23°F

  • Good Nights Sleep:-15°C/-5°F

Alpkit Cloudbase

As far as sleeping mats go I have been through many over the years, but at the moment I’m using an Alpkit Cloudbase (clever name) This blow up mat is really lightweight and rolls up nice and small. It’s great for the warmer months but during the colder periods I’ll add a foam mat for extra insulation underneath the mat.

My main go to cooking set is the lightweight Vango folding stove and the Alpkit Brewpot. The Vango stove is a great little sturdy setup with a boil time of 6 minutes for 1 litre of water, together with the Brew pot makes a great lightweight setup for easy cooking and boiling when out on the hill.

I have two packs to carry all my gear in, one 33l day pack and a 65:15 bag for those colder months with more gear. The Osprey Talon 33 is a nice lightweight pack big enough to fit my summer camping gear into. Osprey are known for their high quality gear and in my opinion definitely worth the extra money. The Lowe Alpine bag is another great bag, heavier than others of the same size but that extra weight is put into the comfort and fitting. This bag sits lovely on your hips with the big padded hip belt you can hardly feel the weight when its on. It’s also got a great back ventilation system.

That’s all my main kit outlined, obviously there’s all the small bits like head torches, first aid kit etc. I use dry bags to store my gear inside the rucksack and also to keep my photography equipment in, usually wrapped up in socks, spare clothing or a microfibre towel. The spare batteries especially, I like to keep warm inside extra socks as they do drain quickly in the cold The camera gear is usually kept to a minimum, my small wide angle lens, extra batteries, shutter release cable and tripod. The shutter release cable is essential when working at night with long exposures or for time lapse work, enabling you to set a delay so you don’t get any camera shake, shooting with exposures longer than 30 seconds in bulb mode and also for setting the interval between shots on a time lapse.

One of the problems encountered when first shooting time lapses at night was the lens fogging up due to humidity levels or just moisture in the air. You can buy many different expensive lens warmers for this purpose but I came across a nice cheap solution, the hand warmers you can buy from any pound shop, I strap two of these around the lens, they’re usually sticky but I have a Velcro strap I use to hold them in place. These do exactly what the lens warmers do and keep any moisture off the lens element.

I shoot with a Nikon D7100 at the moment, but I’m soon going to upgrade to a mirrorless Sony Alpa 7r. The D7100 has been a great camera to hone my photography skills over the last several years, but it’s about time I wen’t full frame and the Sony’s are so much lighter and smaller than a big DSLR for taking out on the hill. Also the low light sensitivity on the 36.4mp sensor will give me much more quality in the shadows for my landscape astrophotography, producing much less noise than the Nikon’s crop sensor.

So anyway hope this helps any budding wild camping photographers out there, happy camping folks.