Not exactly camping, just sleeping outdoors

After finding a 2 man tent in the street, I decided to have another go at sleeping outside. This summer I’ve made some attempts at this, but been quite limited by the fact that my kit isn’t really suitable or waterproof. My experience has been less of sleeping outside than of lying outside in the dark feeling uncomfortable. A tent could be the answer – but won’t it be conspicuous compared to my usual trick of lying on the ground in a sleeping bag?

testing the new tent, indoors.

testing the new tent, indoors.

The overall aim here isn’t to ‘go camping’. Going camping implies a holiday, to ‘go away’ somewhere, or use a campsite. The aim is to cultivate a habit of sleeping outside, therefore getting some time in nature as part of every day life – something I’ve missed since moving out of my yurt last year. Ideally I could do this any night I felt like, at a moment’s notice, provided there was some grass nearby. This is a big part of my desire to feel free in the world.

Last night’s ‘nearby grass’ was at a nature reserve near Glastonbury, under a full moon. Was it scary? At first yes. I was worried about my van being broken into. A car pulled up next to it as I was packing my rucksack. Not wanting someone to see me leave the van unattended, I made sure I spoke loudly to my imaginary friend as I got out – ‘ok, I’m just going for a short walk. I won’t be long…’

I was a little nervous pitching a tent under some trees by the light of the full moon, but by the time I lay down in bed looking up at the stars and listening to the conversations of wildlife, I felt totally safe. It felt strange to be in a tent, so I left the door unzipped so that I could see the sky, and fell asleep.

Pitched very visible from the path, with the door open

Pitched very visible from the path, with the door open

At this point, you may think I’m a little crazy. I lived in a house, then a yurt and now a van, and now I want to sleep in a field? As one college friend said ‘surely being in a house is always better? What’s the point of all this?’ And surely it doesn’t seem safe to pitch up anywhere in the dark, totally exposed and vulnerable? Isn’t it dangerous?

Let me explain.

Lately I have been missing my yurt. Many aspects of it were hard going – getting out of a damp bed to get dressed for work when it was freezing point indoors, constantly chopping wood, having no electricity and trying to hold down a normal job without anyone finding out that I lived this way. But something about it was compelling and priceless. I felt a constant underlying joy that simply came from living and sleeping so close to the earth.

When I first moved out and sold my yurt, I missed it every night. I felt lonely, as if having lost an irreplaceable friend. Now I realise that feeling never actually went away, I’ve just got used to it. It’s not my yurt I miss of course, it’s the planet. Encased in 4 walls and unable to hear the elements is strange to me now.

Sleeping in my van is better than indoors yes, but still rather too solid and out of contact with the ground. And yet it’s also good to have time in a house, which is more comfortable and usually a better night’s sleep. But hey, I stopped living in a yurt for some very important reasons; so I can travel, and so I can have nights in when the weather is bad. In theory, it should give me much more freedom to live as I do now, between van, housesits and friends houses. Why shouldn’t I camp out when the weather is fine?

However, at the moment it’s not really working. I think that to sleep outside, one basically has to do it all year around. When I lived in a yurt my body had got used to the temperature changing with the seasons. I knew exactly how many blankets I’d need on any given night. Now, I’m used to indoor luxuries, even last night I didn’t sleep so well, even though I enjoyed waking up to ducks quacking.

The sunrise over the van as I returned to it in the morning.

The sunrise over the van as I returned to it in the morning.

This is something that I seriously want to get better at. Freedom to travel and explore is very important to me. Here are some ways I could be free to travel:

– Earn so much money that I can go on holiday and book into hotels at the drop of a hat.

– Live in a van which I can drive anywhere, provided I have the money for fuel.

– Go anywhere van free, cycling, public transport, hitchhiking, Couch-surfing and / or sleeping outside.

Ideally, wouldn’t it be amazing to have all 3? But imagine the spontaneity I could enjoy if I could sleep comfortably outside. It would give me the freedom to go anywhere, with or without my van, without having to plan. I could cycle to the beach for the evening, watch the sunset and sleep there, instead of cycling back to the Vansion. Or I could drive to the beach, but sleep on it too, instead of sleeping in the van on the road further from the sea.

It isn’t all that dangerous really, although there is a risk of course. People used to worry about my sleeping in a van, but in 10 years of owning vehicles I’ve never had one broken into, whether I’ve been inside it or not, so the risks are low. Sleeping outside in a field or forrest, if some harm came to me no-one would know or be there to help. But the chances of such a thing happening are far less than the likelihood of being mugged walking through a city.

My previous attempts at sleeping outside without a tent.

My previous attempts at sleeping outside without a tent.

In this department, Richard The Piano Tuner is a good act to follow. He learned to sleep rough in a bivi-bag all year round in both cities and countryside. Aiming to always feel comfortable outside Richard says ‘A good sleeping bag is worth a whole year’s rent if you sleep in it every night’. He may well have done all the testing to find the right sleeping kit so that I don’t have to. However the right kit for me may well be different to his. My current kit is still wrong and my body is out of practice. More experimentation needs doing… Watch this space!

PS: If you’re willing to help me, I’m in need of the following, as donations, to trade/ work for, or on loan to try. I’d be most grateful since I currently don’t have the spare cash to buy camping kit just to experiment with and find out what works:

– A 2-3season sleeping bag.

– A decent 2 skinned tent (I know why I found that black tent in the street. It’s single skinned and gets wet with condensation if you shut the door – no wonder it wasn’t wanted!)

– A bivi bag (not a ‘sleeping bag cover’ but the bigger sort that you can fit your sleeping mat and bag in too).

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