10 tips for wild camping when cycle touring

While cycle touring or bike packing through remote parts of the planet it’s sometimes necessary to sleep in random places. So far I have enjoyed the comfort of sleeping in places as diverse as a bus shelter, a mosque, a Buddhist monastery, outside petrol stations in Turkey and Chile or on the tops of mountains in Tibet. Why you ask?

Put simply, sometimes you just can’t ride far enough to reach a hotel or any civilization even if you wanted to. Therefore you have to be self sufficient and just catch some sleep in the safest most comfortable camping spot you can.
As long haul cyclists also know: the less nights you spend money, the more nights you get to go cycle touring!

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So here are my tips, often learnt the hard way:

  1. In more populated or generally sketchy areas find your stealthily hidden camp spot in daylight and remember what it looks like and then cycle onwards to innocently cook your dinner in a field or village square. Then return under darkness/twilight and put up your tent safe in the knowledge no one has seen you nor will they disturb you.
  2. Always buy a tent in a darker colour, green ideally and then practise erecting it so much you know how to do it in the dark. Better still use a bivvy bag rather than a tent – it is far less conspicuous and easier to pack and unpack, but less good for covering your kit! Setting up by touch means no light because a torch beam can be seen for miles, even in trees. While being seen probably doesn’t matter if you’re away from houses, it’s better than meeting an investigating dog walker or axe murderer in the dark.

    This shot is the morning after we camped 20 metres from the border of Afghanistan, we tried to make sure we were hidden from the Afghan horsemen in the hills but it was hard to be discreet in such open terrain:

  3. Try to avoid farmers fields especially with crops or livestock. A field may look peaceful, but farmers get angry as do cows and this rarely ends well. Farmers also get up very very early to cut things, spray things, plough things and more pressingly shoot things etc. In Hungary we slept on some grass by a field of Maize the farmer went deer shooting through the field of maize overnight – it wasn’t a comfortable experience!  As with all camp spots leave no trace and never light a fire unless it’s totally safe and you’re not on private land.
  4. Stars on the Transfagarasan road

    Stars on the Transfagarasan road

  5. Never be afraid to ask people, whether on the road or in shops, restaurants or just knock on a door, it is scary and much of the time you might be blanked, ignored or apologised to.
    Using some well researched statistics:
    40% of the time you will be helped to find a great safe spot to camp.
    20% of the time you will be invited to sleep in a spare room or a friends spare room and have an unforgettable experience (mostly in a good way) 
    20% of the time you will get a blank look and a door slammed in your face!
    15% of the time you will be taken to their friends fancy expensive B&B/hotel and with no money creating an awkward situation
    5% of the time you will be abducted and never see the light of day again, only joking 5% of the time you will suspect you will be abducted but in reality all is good!
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  7. Where you can’t lock your bike up to something, tie it to the tent using some thin, hidden string, maybe drop the chain off the front rings and my favourite is to balance a loud metal saucepan on it, either way you will wake up in time to see any potential thief as he tries to pedal off.
  8. Find your spot in the mountains and then assess what might happen if you imagined the worst rain possible, think how much that little stream might flood, because unfortunately flash floods happen and pretty suddenly too. I speak from experience and eventhe level of a lake rising quickly lapped against our tent one night. Next, imagine the strongest wind possible and set up your camp sheltered from it as much as possible. While you’ll probably wake up from the rain or wind in time it’s still unpleasant to then start moving your tent in a dark stormy downpour!
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  10. Country specific tips:
    1. Albania it’s probably a lot safer than it feels.
    2. In Chile the police seemed to find us with surprisingly frequency. A flash of a torch in your face might spark fear but trust me, when they discover you’re a tourist they just want to say hello and how much they like Margaret Thatcher.
    3. In the USA and Canada be careful in national parks as you will get arrested or fined for breaking the camping rules way more easily than you might expect.
    4. Avoid wild camping in Romania outside of the wild mountains, it’s probably not as safe as you think.
    5. In areas with bears like Eastern Europe and N. America follow the bear safety tips because trust me there’s nothing scarier than a Grizzly bear stomping around your tent except a Grizzly bear stomping around your tent when you remember there’s a pack of bacon in you rucksack.
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    7. In the central Asian mountains camp near yurts to avoid wolves/Jackals becoming too inquisitive.
  11. Beaches can be the best places or the worst places depending how popular the area is.  If it is popular and illegal the police will be wise to campers and most likely move you on, if it’s remote and deserted than go for it, in Turkey along the Black Sea especially we had no problems. Again a bivvy bag is perfect for beaches – is it camping or just sun bathing in the moonlight?
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  13. Never leave your shoes outside the tent in areas with nasty scorpions, spiders etc. wild camp spots will often be alive with creepy crawlies (sorry not meant to be scary but it’s true).
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  15. Lets face it, the fear of something happening rather than the reality is the biggest issue with wild camping. We’ve had a few close shaves with bears, wolves, jackals, strong winds, heavy rains, goat herders, wild dogs across 12 years experience but nothing ever came to anything serious. I might think I had trouble e.g. a group of men surrounding the tent in a Slovakian forest who turned out to be innocent mushroom pickers, the man with a large dog and in full furs with a big knife in the Kazakhstan mountains was checking I was warm enough and so the unexpected positives of wild camping goes on.



So get out there and see the night sky and save some money too. Just remember to leave absolutely no trace you were ever there.

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2 Comments
  1. Avoid camping in Romania outside wild mountains? Maybe outside Bukarest, for the rest Romanians are friendly people. we camped wild everywhere …. 2month of bike touring in Romania, aprox 5000km

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    • Hi Stefan, I agree 99% of Romanians are friendly people and it’s a fantastic place to cycle. But having ridden across most countries in Europe without issues, Romania was unfortunately the only place we have had trouble cycle touring. in the south especially. I have also chatted to other cyclists about attacks while wild camping, some violent. I think it would be misleading to not mention this for potential visitors.

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Any thoughts or questions?