Wild Camping Course. How to camp anywhere.
Following my recent review of the Rab Ridge Raider bivi, a number of you asked how I started wild camping with a bivi?
Well I started in a field with a big blue Yes bus. You see, I had joined the Yes Tribe, an online community for anyone who loves an adventure. And they were running a wild camping course.
It sounded fun. I had so many questions. Where can you bivi? Is it legal? How do you avoid an angry farmer? How do you stay dry if it rains?
So what’s a bivi?
For anyone who is new to the idea of wild camping, a bivi is a waterproof bag that covers your sleeping bag so you don’t need a tent. It is great for wild camping i.e. not staying at a campsite but some where, well, wild.
Check out my review of the Rab Ridge Raider bivi
The wild camping course took place in a field in West Sussex and was ran by adventurer Dave Cornthwaite. Dave founded the community called Say Yes More, a saying which had become his mantra.
Who is Dave Cornthwaite?
Dave Cornthwaite is an explorer, speaker, author and filmmaker.
He used to be a graphic designer, with a home, a girlfriend and a cat, everything that most people world consider to be a successful life. But on his 25th birthday he realised that his cat was having a happier life than he was.
He made a decision that changed his life forever; he set himself a challenge, to make 25 non-motorised journeys of at least 1000 miles, each in a different part of the world and then resigned from his job.
What is Say Yes More?
Dave is a very charismatic and inspiring person and people started following his adventures on Facebook. He’s done 15 so far. Five years ago he invited his Facebook followers to go wild camping with him. 19 strangers met up with him at a London train station, they jumped on a train. camped under the stars together and became the first members of the Yes Tribe.
The Yes Tribe and “Say Yes More” has become a social enterprise and growing community based on helping its members to redesign their lives for the better. It’s run by a group of volunteers using social media to bring people together, encouraging adventurous thinking and organising activities and events.
The wild camping course was ran from a big blue Yes bus.
What is the big blue YES bus?
As the Yes Tribe grew, Dave wanted an office in London, but couldn’t’ afford one, so he bought an old bus, painted it blue and put it in a field in West Sussex. The bus has been transformed into a cosy space from which to run courses, festivals and for people to simply visit and unwind from daily life.
The wild camping course
It is late afternoon, mid March 2019, when Neil (partner) and I arrive at the bus for the start of our wild camping course.
The YES bus
The bus is in a field and still has its original doors, inside the driver’s cabin is space to hang our coats and a boot track. A sliding wooden door separates the diver’s cabin from the beautifully converted bus interior. It has a kitchen area with a full sized oven, sink and well stocked fridge. There’s a range of different teas and coffees and a large urn filled with hot water for drinks. Opposite the kitchen is a warm log burning stove.
Beyond the kitchen towards the rear of the bus sits a large wooden table with benches around three sides for meals and chatting. And for those who can’t be separated from their tech, there are phone charging points and other sockets. A bowl of fruit sits invitingly on the table.
I wander upstairs and find another beautifully transformed room. A large screen sits on the far end wall, seats either side with soft cushions line the length of the bus. Several stuffed bookshelves form a library of adventure; everything from how to tie knots to stories of extreme exploration.
Back downstairs and everyone has arrived. 11 keen campers all wanting to learn how to bivi camp comfortably and without getting into trouble with land owners.
Our course begins with a walk through local woodlands looking for places to sleep in a bivvy, what to look for and what to avoid.
Here’s how to choose where to set up your bivi
- Find space away from people if possible.
- Take a look around, will anyone see you from the nearest road or footpath?
- Will setting up your bivvy next to that fence hide you from sight? Be creative.
- A little bivvy bag could go next to a hedge, in between logs, in amongst bushes or beneath trees.
Check the quality of the ground.
- Is it too muddy, wet or lumpy?
- Are there spiky thorns that are going to tear through the bottom of your bivvy bag?
- If it rains, will water pool in the area you have chosen?
- Find somewhere flat if possible. But if you have to sleep on a slope make sure that your head is at the top of the slope.
“Are there ticks?” asks a worried fellow camper, more used to camping in warmer climates than a few miles south of London in March.
Dave’s enthusiasm for finding creative places to sleep is infectious. We get back to Yes Bus field and a glimpse into how Dave really wild camps while completing his 1000 mile journeys by non-motorised means.
He looks at the disabled portaloo, next to the bus and gets really excited. To Dave, this is an awesome sleeping spot. He gleefully opens the door pointing out the space on the floor that is big enough to lie down on. It is sheltered, hey it even has a roof and a loo too, with paper and is lockable. What more could any wild camper want?
If you want to sleep in a portaloo, wait until after dark and watch the loo for a while to make sure it’s not being used. Then leave by dawn.
Next we find an unlocked container with a slightly open door. What an awesome space; warm and dry.
Ah but Dave, what if someone comes and locks you in without even knowing you’re there?
“Put something heavy or noisy in the door,” explains Dave, “if anyone comes, they will wake you as they move it. Your bike for example; if you have one with you.”
Dave points out that sleeping in someone else’s container is perhaps a little cheeky, but if no one is around and you don’t disturb or damage anything, it can make a great bed for the night.
One of Dave’s favourites sleeping places is inside those long concrete pipes that are used for drainage. He prefers the twenty-meter long ones and he sleeps right in the middle.
We continue our tour of the yes bus field and find a woodshed. This would be Dave’s favourite place to sleep if he was looking for somewhere at this location. It’s covered, well insulated and there are shelves like bunk beds. You might need to move one or two things out of the way, if so, move items gently and carefully and slide onto one of the shelves for a warm and cosy, comfortable night’s sleep. But leave early in the morning and put everything back exactly how you found it.
- Don’t set up your bivvy bag until you’re ready to go to sleep
- Choose a place that is quiet and discrete where you won’t disturb or be found by anyone
- Leave at dawn without leaving a trace.
- Take all litter with you
- Don’t make fires. Building a fire is like waving a large red flag stating where you are and what you are doing.
A tarp can be strung between trees, or with a little ingenuity, can be set up using walking poles, sticks, paddles etc. to make a cover for your bivi bag if you want extra rain protection.
At dusk, Dave hands out a selection of different bivvy bags to the group and leaves us to choose one each and settle in. There are a number of outdoor wooden benches and tables, several of our group decide to drag two of them together, drape tarps over the top and put their bivvy bags underneath the tables.
Another decides to go hardcore and plans to put his bivvy bag in between logs at the end of the field without a tarp.
As for me, I string a tarp between two trees and peg down the four corners. With darkness descending, the rain is now falling heavily while the wind rips across the field. It’s going to be an interesting night!
Back in the Yes Bus and we are introduced to hammocks, Dave loves them. Attachment points have been set up in the roof in the bus, to the main frame of the vehicle.
Dave finishes the course for today, by showing us different ways of using Google maps for trip planning. Techniques for tracking our progress using phones and sat phones. How to make our location publicly visible, so that followers can track our progress, but also points out potential problems; A female explorer friend of his was hounded by Russian men who knew where she was by following the live location shown on her website. Dave suggested turning the tracker off 2 hours before reaching your intended destination for the night and switching it on again just before leaving so the location is recorded.
We had each brought food with us and take turns to use the kitchen facilities in the bus. We enjoy a very sociable meal with wine, beer and three large cakes to share, while the wind rattles and rocks the bus and the rain gets heavier.
Time to bivi – Yay.
Rolling up my thermarest and bivi with my sleeping bag already stuffed inside, I head out to my tarp. The wind has pulled my pegs out of the ground and the tarp is flailing in the wind. Rain pouring off it, pooling on the ground I am about to sleep on. Quickly re-pegging the tarp, I inflate my now wet thermarest and slide into my sleeping bag. The bivvy had done its job and my sleeping bag is totally dry inside. Yay 😁
Eventually the rain subsides to a gentle patter on the tarp and the wind calms, still occasionally tugging at the tarp and threatening to pull the pegs out again but not quite succeeding.
There is now a crisp chilli in the air and I am grateful for the warm fleece lined hat I had brought with me. The cold draught nips my face so I pull the drawcord on the bivvy bag tight and tuck my face under the cover and eventually drift to sleep.
Waking early to the sound of birdsong and pre-dawn light, I crawl out of my warm sleeping bag, grab my phone to photograph my fellow sleeping campers.
At the end of the field I find a wild camper snoring quietly (above). His bivi was done up and he looked just like the logs around him. The bright yellow dry bag lying on the ground gives him away though.
Several campers are sleeping underneath the tables draped with tarp. One has moved out to sleep in the open.
As my fingers became icy cold I head back to the warmth of my sleeping bag and bivi.
Breakfast in the bus
By 8 a.m. everyone is up and chatting about the night they have just experienced. Several comment that once the rain had stopped they had really enjoyed looking up at the stars.
We gather around the table and Emma gives each of us a bowl of porridge made with coconut milk. There is an assortment of goodies to sprinkle on top such as almonds, seeds and honey. Emma is Dave’s wife, she is also an experienced expedition leader.
We finally leave mid-morning, with new friends made and a new form of adventure just waiting to happen.
To me, I guess the biggest gain from this weekend, apart from the fun of doing it and the people that we met, was the gain in confidence to go out and wild camp. Like most others attending the course, my worries beforehand had been the legalities of where we could camp. Dave showed us that it is possible to bivi most places if you are thoughtful, careful and discrete.
Waking up to see fields and trees without even having to unzip a tent is a wonderful feeling of freedom.
This experience also grabbed Neil’s (partner) imagination. He was not interested in wild camping at all, I think he was worried about the thought of an angry farmer. He left with a ton of ideas of places he wanted to wild camp and spent Sunday afternoon researching bivi bags.
The wild camping course was a really fun way of learning more about sleeping comfortably in a bivi and gaining the confidence to go out and bivi without getting into trouble with landowners.
Since the course, Neil and I have used our bivis to camp on mountain ledges, next to streams and waterfalls and in fields in France and Wales, combining it with canoeing and hiking, to do trips we would not have otherwise undertaken. And we’re really looking forward to doing more.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are of course no courses or activities taking place at the Yes Bus at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the Yes Tribe are being inactive.
Check out the website links below to learn more, find inspiring things to do right now and podcasts to listen to.
Join the facebook groups to be the first to know when activities, courses and wild campouts re-start.
Say Yes More websites
- The Yes Tribe
- The Yes Bus
- The Yes Woods
- Find your local Yes Tribe There are Yes Tribes around the UK, Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand – it’s a constantly growing list and you can find them all here.
- Say Yes More
- The Yes Tribe
- The Yes Tribe – London
- Wake Up Wild A group which organises wild campouts
- The Yes Bus
- The Yes List For setting goals and planning adventure.