Alistair Humphreys writes frequently about the benefits of microadventures and getting away from it all, even if only for a night. He was named as National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year precisely for his pioneering work on this concept. Having just returned from a 5-day trek in the Arctic Circle with Jagged Globe, which is pretty good going as far as wilderness territory is concerned, I can only echo his feelings. Even after being back in the UK for 2 days, I’m still feeling very disoriented. Oddly, the thing that’s affecting me the most is the level of noise, and I live on the edge of Sheffield where I have stunning views of the Peak District and it’s generally very quiet. I spend a lot of my time travelling, both for work and pleasure, being away from home at least twice a month, and out of the country at least 12 times a year, and I have no issues with staying in a comfortable 5-star hotel with all mod cons. Indeed, when I travel for fun, I often pick at least a youth hostel with a minimum level of comfort (electricity, hot showers, hot food, a bar and a comfortable bed) over camping in the freezing cold rain after a long day of walking. It’s easy to forget not only how much fun, but also how beneficial for the soul a night or 5 of roughing it can actually be.
It didn’t take long on our Arctic trek – the 110km Fjallraven Classic – before I remembered why I love wild camping. On the first night, after we’d been walking for around 8 hours with 15-20kg rucksacks carrying all our needs for the next 5 days, having started at 1pm due to the necessity of leaving at the official start time rather than earlier in the day, we were all pretty tired. But as we found a suitable spot to pitch our tents, and 5 minutes later my tent was up, my boots were off, I’d collected water from the river 20 yards away, and my stove was boiling for my dinner (a delicious dehydrated Swedish game stew, in case you’re wondering), I was in heaven. I couldn’t have been happier had I been in a Michelin-starred restaurant. There was no proper darkness, this being Arctic summer and pretty much 24 hour daylight, I was warm and dry, I had stunning views and it was silent. Nothing but me, nature, and 9 other fellow trekkers (it would be churlish to mention the swearing of the person who was struggling to put up their brand new tent they’d never used before). But even the fact that I was not entirely alone was not a problem — with thousands of acres of wilderness at our disposal, we had plenty of space between our tents and I had an unobstructed view of the stunning Swedish landscape.
The fact that the mists were descending only served to make it more atmospheric as they swirled around our tents and clung to the mountain tops, emphasising our fragile vulnerability, but at the same time the sense of being at one with nature and the elements. I instantly remembered how much I enjoy wild camping, and I knew that no matter how hard the next 4 days would be, this was why I was here, miles from civilisation with only an emergency helicopter or my own two feet and several days walking for an escape route.
Having a tried and tested tent, my 10 year old Macpac Microlight Solo (known to my friends as the “hobbit tent” on account of its small size and low profile), meant I wasn’t worried about whatever weather the gods might choose to send my way (and they certainly sent some challenging conditions during the course of the trip!). The beauty of this tent is that despite its small size and weight, it’s designed with really usable space so that I can easily store my bag either in the porch or in the sleeping compartment, and can also cook in the porch with plenty of room in case of inclement weather.
There’s also something very primal about having to fetch water from a river, light a stove and cook your dinner with nothing more than a gas canister and a tiny stove (in my case the excellent Jetboil Zip, pictured above). Although admittedly there’s nothing very primal about dehydrated meals, but catching and killing our own dinner was perhaps a step too far at this stage, and besides, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to be caught (although one of our team did spot some reindeer in the middle of the night).
Of course, it was a lovely treat to come home and be able to make a cup of tea by simply boiling a kettle, not to mention having plenty of that white liquid to go in it that actually bears resemblance to something emanating from a cow, unlike Coffee Mate or skimmed milk powder. And not having to get out of the tent in the pouring rain to pee in the night was definitely a bonus. I did, however, repurpose my pink Nalgene water bottle for use in those night-time emergencies when getting out of the tent would have required full waterproofs and wasn’t really on the agenda (top tip: practise at home first before trying this in a tent with minimal space). Don’t worry, I did wash it thoroughly before reusing it as a water bottle the next day.
But oddly, the thing I found the hardest on coming back to civilisation was dealing with the noise. Everything is so quiet in the wilderness (other than the delicate snoring sounds of the local bears and lions – surely not my fellow trekkers) that it takes some getting used to even just everyday sounds of people, traffic and animals, when you’ve become used to the solitude. The comfy bed and warm duvet may be more conducive to a good night’s sleep, but there’s something about the raw primal nature of the wilderness that draws me back time and again.