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Photography & Wild Camping - what to take?

Photography & Wild Camping – What equipment to take?

Anybody can do wild camping and photography in Scotland. It’s simple really. Drive to a location, park the car by the side of the road, walk a few yards off road, set up your tent and away you go. You can leave most items in the car since it’s close by. There are a few ‘buts’ to this method. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (which came into force in 2005) gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland, subject to specific exclusions set out in the Act and as long as they behave responsibly. These rights are sometimes referred to as 'freedom to roam'.

The guidance on camping in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code relates to 'wild camping'. This type of camping should be interpreted as 'camping in the wild' and does not include camping on organised camp sites. Access rights extend to wild camping. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner's permission.

The biggest but (no pun intended), is the fact that if you camp close to your car, is this really wild camping? From a photography perspective, you are unlikely to get a unique shot (unless the weather and all other ‘photography’ elements play ball), since you will be at a location that many others have been to and possibly photographed before. To get a unique shot can mean trekking into the hills, the wilderness and / or climbing a mountain. This can be a significant undertaking, which requires planning and preparation and the right equipment.

Any research of photographers who wild camp, to get the shots that few others capture, will tell you that the amount of kit you have to take can be frightening and there is a constant battle to keep pack weights down. So let’s look at the list.

Start with a tent (obviously). You want something that may need to withstand bad weather. It’s Scotland. In my experience, you also want something that gives you a degree of comfort and space. Small one-person tents can be limiting for photographers, given the amount of additional kit you are carrying (and you don’t want to leave kit outside exposed to the elements). As a rule, photographers should take a 2-person tent for one person or a 3-person tent for 2 people. I have two tents, a Vango Banshee 200 and a Terra Nova Quasar. I prefer the space the Quasar gives. It’s a geodesic design and stands up well to all weathers. The downside is it is heavier to carry. I’ve used it on mountain tops in bad weather and it stands up well. The Vango is also a great tent but I sometimes find the space a bit constricting, however it is good for smaller spaces on mountain ledges.

Next, you need a rucksack capable of carrying all your kit. A 65 litre can take all of a photographers camping and photography gear. I use an Osprey 65L, it has additional areas in front and at the sides to stuff items and separate bottom and top sections to store photo gear.

Ground mattress for sleeping on. There are various models from basic foam to hi-tech designs. I use the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm. It provides the greatest warmth-to-weight ratio available in any air mattress. Multiple, reflective layers in the middle of the mattress mean that body heat is reflected back upwards and the cold from the ground is reflected downwards, it gives the mattress true four-season warmth without the weight or bulk usually found in other mattresses. It packs really small. The down side is the cost, about £130.

Sleeping bag. Get a bag rated to minus temperatures. If you find you are too warm you can always unzip it. But if it can’t cope with the cold, you will be shivering in your tent. Go for one with hydrophobic down to avoid dampness.

Clothing. Accept the fact that you may smell a bit, so don’t overdo the amount of clothing you take. It’s all about layers. Top half – T-shirt or modern base layer, fleece jacket, down jacket, lightweight waterproof jacket. Bottom half – climbing trousers (I use lined trousers Rab Vapour-Rise (the best trousers I’ve ever found), waterproof over trousers. I sometimes use a combo top and bottom base layer. Waterproof woollen hat. 2 pairs of gloves – heavy warm waterproof and lightweight touch screen. Neck buff that you can pull over your lower face. Boots (waterproof). If it’s the winter, they need to be stiff soled to take a crampon. I use Scarpa GTX. Crampons for winter and ice axe. Consider taking lightweight sandals (it’s good to get those heavy boots off) – you can also use them for river crossings. Good thick socks – two pairs. Take a towel. I also take a cushion cover, which I stuff with my down jacket, towel, etc. to use as a pillow. Tissue – toilet. Wet wipes. Walking poles.

Lights: Good quality Headtorch, small battery lamp for inside tent, spare batteries, UCO candle lantern (it’s remarkable how this small hanging candle kit keeps the condensation at bay in the tent).

Cooking & food: People take any number of cooking kits while wild camping. Having used many, I used to take a lightweight system with a single pot to cook, warm food, boil water. Now I take the Jetboil system together with a gas canister. I use either dehydrated food or food I can heat in its own bag, by boiling the bag in the Jetboil. I use a SIGG knife/fork/spoon and also carry a Swiss army knife. Coffee or Tea. I’m a caffeine addict, so I take Nescafe 3 in 1 sachets of coffee, dried milk and sugar. Chocolate, sweets, biscuits, oatcakes, etc. as long as they are high energy. Hip flask of malt whisky – for medicinal purposes. The killer is water. You will use about 3 litres of water, which weighs 3 kilos. You can try filling up enroute using a filtration system. In winter, you can try melting snow, but this is a very inefficient method and overly uses the gas in your gas canister.

Power: I take spare batteries for everything – headtorch, light, 6 x camera batteries, Anker PowerCore II 20100mAh Portable Charger with Dual USB Port which works for my iPhone, portable camera battery charger, tablet, etc.

Camera Kit: 2 camera bodies (Canon DSLR and Fuji XT2 with 15-45 lens, Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens and 70-200 f/2.8 lens, SD cards, Lee Filters & holders, remote release, Go-pro, DJI Mavic Drone, Benro Tripod tma38cl. Nexus 7 tablet – movies during hours of darkness and 360 degree camera.

Lastly – Maps. GPS systems and phones are OK but play safe and take maps.

Put this altogether and it weighs approx. 25-27 kilos or 55-60 lbs. No one said it was going to be easy.

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