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Why you should try wild camping

Georgie Young meets the women going off grid and getting back to nature

It’s the dark of night in the Peak District, and the wind howls up the side of Kinder Scout. Jennifer’s tent clings precariously to the mountainside, every gust battering the canvas and leaving her so cold that she periodically does crunches in her sleeping bag to generate body heat. 

“The canvas was flapping around, and it felt kind of dangerous,” she laughs. “But I loved it!”
Welcome to the world of wild camping. ​​For anyone particularly attached to their central heating and memory foam mattress, it’s a far from appealing way to spend a weekend. Unlike traditional camping, there are no campsites, no electricity and sometimes not even a tent, just a sleeping bag (or ‘bivvy’) and the stars. It’s all about being at one with nature — or as at one you can be with an eighty quid tent and portable phone charger.

As such, most devotees see it as the perfect way to get back to nature, as well as the obvious (mental and physical) health benefits that go with it. Because, alongside the obvious physical benefits of trekking to a remote spot with a heavy backpack, connecting with nature has long been associated with reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, enhancing immunity, and boosting mood and self-esteem.

One person who has experienced the benefits first hand is Mary, a radio presenter from London, who’s been wild camping since she was a teenager. ​​“I live in London, so I’m used to having everything around me all the time,” she says, “going on trips where I can turn on my Out Of Office and ignore the outside world definitely has mental health benefits — it feels like nothing in the world can be so urgent”.

It’s a statement that rings particularly true in our ‘always on’, hybrid-working world. Research suggests that employees who work from home spend an extra two hours per day logged on at their computer, which, among other issues, causes the line between work and leisure to blur. The antidote? Getting outside and offline – which Mary sees as a form of meditation and grounding.

Wild Camping for Women co-founder and hospital director, Tanya, is inclined to agree. “My wild camps are the polar opposite of my normal work,” she says. “There’s something about cooking simple food, having a little bit of whiskey or gin, and looking at the stars that makes you feel in control and like you can do anything you want.”

But before we get carried away daydreaming about sunsets and stargazing, there are a fair few worries that can prevent people from embarking on a wild camping trip. From kit concerns (how much does a tent even cost?), to worries about phone reception, map reading abilities and the fundamental fear of being lost in the woods. The bottom line is that wild camping has the potential to be dangerous, and you’ll need to be prepared to reap those mental health rewards.

That’s where online communities like Wild Camping for Women (WCW) come in. Founded in 2020, the group aims to demystify camping and the outdoors for all female-identifying people. It now has over 4000 members who share skills, lend kit and organise meet ups — as well as offer each other practical, non-judgemental advice.

“Everyone’s really supportive,” says Tanya. “You can ask all the questions that you might feel uncomfortable to ask — like, ‘what do I do when I’m on my period while camping?’ or ‘What about weeing in the woods?’ It’s a great way to connect with likeminded people — especially if you’re a beginner.”

But as well as helping women stay safe in the wilderness, communities like WCW are working to show that outdoors activities are for everyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. “There’s definitely a disconnect between outdoor activities and a lot of non-white communities,” says Mary. “If you turn on Countryfile and don’t see anyone who looks like you, you’re not going to think that you’d like to do a hike or a camp when you’re older. I spend a lot of time debunking the myth that camping isn’t just an activity for white people or for the wealthiest people who might have all the equipment.”

So, where to start? While the resounding advice is ‘just give it a go’, Tanya has some practical tips, too. “Find a group you’re comfortable with and reach out,” she says. “In WCW, we organise meets for beginners which can help you start out, doing things like wild swimming, a few walks and having a bit of gin around the campfire while getting to know each other.” And if you do decide to go it alone, make a note of where you leave your car, plan ‘easy ways out’ on your route for emergencies and always make sure you tell someone your intended location. “If you’re going partying in a city centre, you make sure people know where you are,” says Tanya. “It’s exactly the same with camping.”

But, if you’re not sure if you’re quite ready to fully embrace the wilderness just yet, remember this: wild camping only has to be as wild as you make it. For the novice, there are spaces that offer the full ‘wild’ experience, but with a few home comforts like running water, toilets, and solar lighting. Meanwhile, packing lists can be tailored to make the experience less intimidating. For Mary, bringing home comforts – like her dressing gown and fluffy socks – is a sure-fire way to put her at ease. “My friends and I always try to make it fun,” she says. “I’ve got friends who wear make up every day, or who do their best to straighten their hair with wireless straighteners. And if that works for you, then just go for it.”

The overall message these women want to get across? The benefits of wild camping far outweigh the negatives. “You’ve just got to ask to yourself ‘do I want to do it more than I’m afraid of it?’” says Jess. “If there are things in your life that you don’t feel like you’re brave enough to do, wild camping is the best thing to help you push past that.”

Sounds like it’s not just mud, rain and wind, after all. We’ll see you in the woods.