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The fine art of Wild Camping - Setting up the camp!

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That's where we usually camp...

And here we are again!

In Chapter 2 we defined what the basics of wild camping are, so it's now time to learn how to properly set up your camp.

Let's go by steps: we have found the right spot and we have gathered the stuff we need to build up and maintain the camp, how do we actually organize it then? In order to so do, we need to define what are the basic elements of it, as listed below:

- fireplace: "the fire is your friend in the wilderness".. it was so in the past, it is so now; it will provide you light, warm, a mean of cooking and boiling water and protection from most of the wild animals. Picking the right spot for the fire and building the right kind of fireplace is essential, hence some basic rules: do not put the fireplace below the trees! As obvious as it can look, that's the most common mistake people do, with catastrophic results for the most. The fireplace can be close to the threes for various reasons (mostly, to protect it from ground wind) but not right below them and also always pay attention if there are many dried out bushes close to it (in case, cut them off and use them as firewood!)
Try to understand how the wind is gonna blow during the whole day: if you are camping on mountains, there's a useful trick: air circulates in a simple way, during daytime the warm air is coming up from the plains along the slopes, at night is the cold air that is going down along them. So build the fireplace "downhill" compared to the rest of the camp, this way at night (when the fire will be burning the most and the longest) the natural circulation of air will push the smoke far from you and not towards you (this is also useful to possibly prevent random sparks to end up on your stuff or on your skin).
Choose the right kind of fireplace! There are really many different kinds of it, but I definitely prefer the "U" shaped kind, compared to the classic "O" shaped (which is very easy to build but it's intended to be very temporary, as it's meant to just contain a small fire) or the "X trench" kind (which is dig on the ground, very useful, heck no actually a must, in wide open areas or anyways in very windy spots). Why is the "U" shaped my favorite? Because a) you can position it according to the air circulation and hence get the most heat out of it (the back part will keep the heat there), b) you can "easily" make it bigger or wider by adding layers of stones to it, hence allowing for bigger fires c) it's funny to try to build it up without crushing your fingers in the process . (See below at the bottom for more details on how to build a "U" shaped fireplace).

- the tent: since if you don't rest well you won't last 3 days in a row, it's very important to use the right kind of tent (and sleeping tools) and to place it on the correct place. You don't need the most technological tent, but avoid cheap stuff or you will regret the choice. The most classic half-tent (also known as Canadian tent) should be ok, as long as you get the version with two layers (one internal "box" and one external extra coverage). Paying it around 200 for a 2-places tent should be enough, but of course the bigger the better (we have been using 12-places military tent.. for erm like 5 or 6 dudes at a time, maximum ). Put the tent below the limit of the branches of the most external tree, and point it toward West if possible and approximately in front of the fireplace (but not close to it, minimum 5 meters, preferably more). Putting the tent under external branches will help protect it from rain and excessive sun heat, pointing it toward West will allow the afternoon sun to warm it (and dry any humidity) before night time. To further protect from rain and humidity use rain slickers both above and below the tent (below is more important, though, since humidity rises from the ground).
As for sleeping stuff: my ideal and preferred solution is to use a good foldable cot bed and a good sleeping bag, but you can also sleep on the ground with just a sleeping bag if you are used to that. If you do so, at the least use a heavy blanket below you for some comfort and extra protection from humidity.

- the kitchen/storage: well you need to keep all your stuff dry and protected, plus you need to store your food and possibly cook it (I'll expand more about cooking on next chapters, when I'll talk about how to make yourself fully comfortable). Most of people would take a bigger tent for both sleeping and storing stuff.. don't to that, rather have a foldable gazebo (with extra cloths for creating the lateral walls and the floor) and place it in its own spot, which should be somewhere cold, possibly close to the trunk of a big tree that will protect it from heat with its branches. Why so? Because if you have stored food there, no matter how you bring it (frozen, packed, canned, etc) the hotter the environment, the easier it will be that it will become inedible. Use this extra tent as storage for your tools as well, in particular the ones made in metal. Remember to assemble a floor and lateral walls, to further keep the fresh temperature inside and also to avoid wild animals to enter it: big ones (boars, wolves, etc) won't approach you, even at night, if the fire is still burning low, but small ones (like foxes or wild cats) will, and they can steal your food or ruin your stuff. So, make this extra tent solid, and remember either you get a specific high-roof tent, or use a gazebo as I suggested. Also, if possible, put it close to the sleeping tent, as it will further discourage animals from entering it.
tent and "kitchen"

- the "washbasin": ok since I don't know the proper English word (I don't think it exists actually, it certainly doesn't in Italian) I'll try to explain with words what I mean. You need to wash stuff: your hands, your face, your dishware and cutlery, and possibly your clothes, and you need to do that in the most comfortable and clean way (notice: I'll talk about showering yourself in a separate chapter, since this is part of the "extra comforts"). Having clean hands and face and clean cooking/eating tool is essential for preventing possible diseases and contamination in general, so follow these advises.
1) find a place that is a) on a slight slope, b) where you won't go other than for washing yourself or stuff, c) with a natural shelf. Usually if you are in woods you can find a tree which is on a natural rise, otherwise you can build a shelf yourself with some wood and or/boards and put the water containers over there (use those plastic/metal ones with faucet, they are cheap and very useful). Having it on a slope means that the water will go away (so no mud, not much at the least). If you are using soap with a lot of foam, put a plastic basin below the shelf and once you have finished throw away the water on a ground which has no grass (this way you'll both protect the environment from direct pollution as well as not ruining your camp area).

So these are 4 most important elements of your camp: of course there would be other things to talk about, but for the most they are intuitive (like, where do I store my firewood? Obvious answer is close to the fire, so it's easier to pick it up, but not too close, so to avoid possible uncontrolled blaze; or, do I need to bring a table and some chairs? Not a must of course, but rather useful in any case!).
Below in the content box I'll expand on how to build up a fireplace, for the rest of the guide we'll see on the next chapters!

How to properly build up a "U" shaped fireplace

Since fire is your main source of a lot of things, it's important to have the most durable and reliable fireplace possible, hence it's worth to spend as much time as needed in building it.

A due introduction: when picking up the stone for building the fireplace, choose some which are not porous.. since water can remain inside porous stones for an indefinite amount of time, it's risky to use such material, since it can literally explode once the rock heats and the water inside becomes steam.

First, dig a "U" shaped trench on the ground (use a pickaxe, an extra tool which is necessary only for this job) and put the bigger stones inside of this trench, as they will serve as a base for the future layers of stones. If you can find a flat, strong stone, dig a hole inside the arms of the "U" and put the flat stone there (this will serve as preventing the bottom of the fireplace to go deeper and deeper as you use it). Once you have created the first "U" (and possibly the internal base) just expand the fireplace by adding layers of stone on the external side, and only when you have created a wider base, you can start to put up the second level of stones.. once you have put up a wide enough second level, you can start to put up the third one, etc etc... How big the fireplace has to be depends on how big the fire has to be of course or in any case on what you want to do with this fire. In general the bigger the better, but unless you want to forge a Gothic plate armor, a fireplace which is 1,5 m x 1,5 m and with a 1,2 / 1,5 m backside should be enough to lit even the strongest fires!.

And one thing more: be very careful when assembling it and take your time to learn, since stone-working is more complex that what one can think. Crushing your fingers/hands is a concrete possibility, since you have to move and turn around stones many times before you'll manage to put them in a (relatively) fixed positions, so be careful, do things slowly and use working gloves!

Updated February 04, 2020 at 09:04 AM by Flinn

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  1. Flinn's Avatar
    This one is a rather long chapter, but I suggest you to read it since there's a lot about the most important elements of wild camping

    Also, have a look at the picture above: that place (Campo Pocchio... Pocchio is the name of a legendary sprite, one day I'll maybe tell you how he ended up mixed in our history.. maybe ) is where we have camped the most during the last 25 years or so and I'd like to show it to you as it really represents the perfect prototype of a mountain/woods camp, because a) it's built on the edge of a moat (you can see the moat's line on the trees, left side of the picture) and b) it's on a relatively small but still perfect open space out of the tick wood. Also, on the right side of the picture you can see the the fireplace and the small oven on its left, as shown on the header picture of Chapter 1.
  2. Flinn's Avatar
    So, I managed to find two pictures that can visually explain what I mean.

    First one (tent and kitchen) shows the sleeping tent (the old military model), placed just outside of the coverage of the branches and the kitchen/storage gazebo, which in turn is well below the branches. You can as well see the fire extinguisher.

    Second one (washbasin) shows what we did last time (these stuff made of wood doesn't last long in winter and also boars tend to destroy them, so every 2-3 years we need to make a new one). It's easy to assemble it, you need some straight poles, a board and some long nails and that's all. Notice how much water we have stored. If you wonder, that three is an hazelnut (pretty rare in my area!)
  3. Swaeft's Avatar
    A brilliant read, I found it very interesting, thanks for the writeup! I hope to go camping one day (and be decent at it too)
  4. Flinn's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Swaeft
    A brilliant read, I found it very interesting, thanks for the writeup! I hope to go camping one day (and be decent at it too)
    oh man, sorry for being so long in answering you but I didn't notice the reply in the holidays' mayhem

    Camping it's a great to vent out stress, I suggest you to read chapter one of this series if you didn't yet

    Personally I enjoy it very much, it's not like it was, say, 15 years ago, when I both have time and money, but it still rocks.. my new goal for the next couple of years is to involve my daughter (she is 5 now) in the camping experience and possibly her mother as well (she never liked wild camping, sadly, but she has been with me for 20 years, so I'm still hoping I can convince her! )

    new chapter coming soon!
  5. Swaeft's Avatar
    No problem, I'm glad you had a great holiday

    I'll admit I never thought of it as venting stress, I always envisioned it to be something like a cool adventure, but I guess it would help alleviate stress...if you aren't a first time camper struggling to get everything down

    Good luck with the convincing!
  6. Flinn's Avatar