Stage 1: "my first ever wild camp"
I camped a lot with my family as a child, but this always involved staying in proper campsites, in a tent that resembled a house, and with a car fully laden with camping equipment.
My first wild camping experience was in my first year of university. I had a very small budget, and a random selection of outdoor kit that was either borrowed, second hand, or still fitted me from when I was a teenager.
I had no idea that pyjamas weren’t essential items for an overnight camp, or that I really didn’t need a full set of cutlery as well as a plate, bowl and mug. My waterproof trousers were too small, and not waterproof enough for true Lake District rain, and I had the pleasure of a whole day of chafing once the rain had soaked in to my cotton walking trousers underneath. Going to the toilet outdoors was particularly worrying, and I would often avoid drinking much water so that I didn’t have to go regularly.
My rucksack was a huge 70 litre Macpac bag that weighed over 2kg on it’s own, and although this picture is perhaps a slight exaggeration, it really did feel that big to me!
Essentially, all of my kit was heavy, bulky and not quite fit for purpose.
My experience up to then had been following my family up hills, on good paths, with absolutely no idea what a compass bearing was or how to read contour lines.
I’ve come along way, you’ll be glad to know.
Looking back those early days were so valuable. We all have to start somewhere; I took my first steps with minimal experience and a lack of decent equipment, but I learnt so much from that, and things have only gotten better since! I really, really appreciate the good gear I own now, but also learnt how much I could still do with the things I had.
Stage 2: "a few years on"
I was still on a student budget, but had a little more experience under my belt and built up my outdoor kit bit by bit.
I realised that it’s really worth spending the money on comfortable, stretchy and quick drying trousers. I had some warm, lightweight layers and good quality waterproofs, and a lovely MSR Pocket Rocket stove with titanium pans.
I also became a lot more comfortable going to the toilet outside, and realised that drinking enough makes a huge difference to how you feel and perform.
Living on a budget still meant I had to compromise though. I bought a £90 Wild Country Coshee tent, which, despite being rubbish in the wind, lasted me around 4 years of regular camping in the Lakes, Wales and Scotland. I bought a Lowe Alpine rucksack for £20 from a friend, who had been given it second hand by his grandad, and it lasted me years of camping and climbing regularly! I also had walking boots which leaked and so for my ML assessment I wore plastic bags over my socks to keep my feet dry. I don’t think my assessor noticed! When I started winter climbing, I would even duct tape my waterproof trousers to my boots instead of gaiters.
Stage 3: "total professional" (?!)
I’m now at the fortunate stage where I have many years of building up experience and upgrading the kit that I own. I can choose from multiple waterproofs and warm layers, picking just the right weight and durability for the weather conditions. I am good at predicting how much food to take, and have camping equipment that is both comfortable and lightweight. I’m outdoors so much that I know when to worry about warmth, and when I should carry more or will get away with less. I know what the absolute necessities are, and what are the optional extras...(and yes,) I (now) even have walking boots that are fully waterproof!
My typical ‘mountain leader’ exped bag will now weigh around 10-12kg. Sometimes even less.This makes me less tired on long journeys, more stable on uneven ground, and more able to assist others and deal with any difficulties.
I’d suggest that getting to this weight requires both experience and reasonably expensive equipment. My lightweight mountain tent cost as much as my first car.
However, don’t let this put you off. Everyone has to start somewhere; begin with where you are at and move on from there, refining your kit and building up your experience. By all means listen to the advice from mountaineering instructors, but don’t be intimidated by them and their shiny kit.......maybe ask them what they started off with too?!