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Your First Wild Camp Part 1 – The Big 3

By Dave Roberts   

on May 27, 2011    5/5 (3)

Your First Wild Camp Part 1 – The Big 3

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This is an introduction to the gear you might need for a back pack, cycle tour or wild camp – IN ADDITION to your usual day walk/mtb/cycling gear! You need to be happy walking the hills or cycling the trails or tracks in the day before taking this on. We assume you’ll be taking your map and compass, and for your bike you’ll have all your usual toolkits and spares. Come on now, we’re not going to hold your hand out there!

The Big 3.

The first thing you’ll need to sort out are the ‘big 3’ items. These are the heaviest and often your biggest investment financially, so it’s well worth taking some time and googling any item that takes your fancy. The Big 3 consist of your tent, sleeping bag and rucksack and the guide that follows gives you a quick overview of what to look for.

One of the first things to consider is weight. You’ll need to know the weight of EVERYTHING that you take on your overnight trips. To some, this might sound extreme, but when you realise that little items like keys, wallet and other things you’d not think of, can weigh as much as a couple of days’ food (or more), it starts adding up. Often it is just a case of leaving things behind, such as taking one pan instead of 2, or eating out of the pot instead of carrying a plate. The most obvious place to lose weight is in your big 3 of Tent, Sleeping bag and Rucksack. I’ll add the kitchen to this in the next article as in total this can easily weigh more than one of the other 3.  You’ll also need to have a rough idea of budget as that’s probably the limiting factor for most of us.

1. Tent. This is something you’ll have to throw money at as cheaper tents usually weigh more. The ultimate lightweight tent is the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 tent that tips the scales at a mind boggling 560g and the bank balance by an astonishing £650. This is as light as you can get, and there are compromises such as the size and price. I use its heavier and now much older brother, the now discounted Laser (1.3kg). This is spacious inside for 1 person and has been replaced by the Laser Competition 2. If you are willing to compromise on weight, then without doubt, the most praised tent is the Hilleberg Akto (at around 1.6kg). This is much sturdier, and is suitable for all year use, though the Laser has been through a fair bit in six years and coped admirably.

If you have less money, then there are bargains to be had. Such as the Wild Country Aspect at 1.75 kg and less than £100 if you shop around.

Further weight can be lost by the use of tarps and / or bivvy bags. Personally, I don’t think the weight gained is significant if you use both, over the tents mentioned above. Especially when you take into account British weather. It’s an interesting option, and a fair weathered bivvy for a 2 day long walk could be a good idea, especially if you take cold food and remove the need for a stove and pans. However, i’ve found that the best reason to use a bivvy is that you want to sleep under the stars rather than as a cold and calculated way to reduce your baggage.

Of course, you might want a larger porch that is enough to cover your bike, there are tents that do that, or just whack a tarp over it. I’m sure it’ll cope out there in the open for one night.

2. Sleeping bag. In winter I use an ancient Mountain Equipment Classic Dragon 750 (02/03 Season), it’s down filled and good to -12C, and, it seems, like most of my favorite gear, discontinued. It also weighs 1.3kg, about the same as my tent. In winter, the weight is perfectly ok, it is a snug and comfortable bag.However, in summer you’re carrying around a bag that’s far too warm. Odds are that you might not go camping when the weather gets to -12C, so you need something a little lighter and more suitable. There are many sub kilo bags that keep you warm to just below freezing.

Rab Neutrino, PHD Minimus and Cumulus Ultralightall offer suitable bags, but after much deliberation I went for the Alpkit Pipedream 400. It is of similar weight (750g) to what RAB and PHD offer, but it is significantly cheaper at £130 including postage. It also has a half length zip, where many light bags have none, which is useful for us less nimble types to get in (and out) and for venting. It’s been comfortable for the five years or so that I’ve tested it so far. Alpkit also do a Pipedream 600 and800 that’s good for winter, and a couple of budget Skye High bags. Seriously, I don’t work for them, and their products are often sold out, which is usually when you want them. Synthetic bags are a budget option, but they’re bulky so your rucsack will need to be larger.

Most people feel the need to use a sleeping mat. You can use a cheap foam one if you’re hard, or a full length down one if you’re soft. Usually the more comfortable you want to be, the heavier the mat. Somewhere in the middle are the Thermaret self inflating matresses, weighing from a kilo down to 200g or so, depending on whether you want a full size mat, or one that only insulates your torso. Again, those guys at Alpkit do a reasonable range of mats, ranging from the 500g comfortable Numo to a thinner and lighter 400g Airo at £35.

3. Rucksack. Not only do you want to work out what pack you need, but you’ll need to get a suitable size. Too large and believe me, you’ll fill it. Too small and you simply won’t be able to carry all your gear. At a minimum, you need to aim for about 45-50 litres for a couple of days, but this all depends on how bulky your gear is and whether you’re willing to pare down to the bare minimum or need some luxuries. I manage in warmer weather with a 32 litre OMM Mountain Marathon Classic but also have a 45 litre and a 70 litre pack for longer trips and winter camping where my share of the tent alone would fill a 32 litre pack. I’m using an OMM (again) Villain which is heavy but comfortable and a Golite Pinnacle which is lighter and holds 72 litres. You also need to make sure the pack fits well. My heavier Villain pack replaced a much lighter pack that was just not comfortable and being larger meant it filled with items I didn’t need! While my pack size became heavier (only 500g) it became more comfortable to carry, and the new pack was easier to pack.

Of course, if you’re on a bike then this is a totally different proposition. You can go for all pannier, all pack or half and half. If you fit a pannier that’s large enough, then you can fit all your gear in there. You may want to carry a small pack as well, or even a waist pack. Opting for just a rucksack isn’t the best option unless you’re going ultralight.


  • Aim for a tent that weighs no more than 2kg per person (1kg is good!).
  • Try and get a summer bag that weighs no more than 1kg, and it will ideally serve you for sub-zero temps (up to -5) for those frosty mornings.
  • Rucksacks are heavier than you think, try and keep it well below 2kg, ideally below 1.5. Cycling options vary from different panniers to rucksacks and that some sort of combination of small backpack and pannier/frame packs will work well.
  • Cyclists will need to remember that their heaviest item is their bike!

So a realistic max target weight for the big 3 is 4.5kg, though you can reduce this to around 1.6kilos if you’ve got bottomless pockets…

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Dave Roberts

siDave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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