Bush Camping

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Ramona Eichhorn, Uwe Krauss

Tips and tricks to make camping a pleasant experience while traveling around the world.

For some, camping is an unpleasant prospect. Roughing it, for them, involves too much sacrifice. For others, camping out is too much fun to pass up. As with most things in life, it all depends on your point of view. We've ridden motorcycles all over the world and spent 95 percent of our nights in a tent. In the beginning, camping was a necessity; we had no other choice. In many remote places we were traveling there were no "real" accommodations, and we also wanted to go as far and as long as possible on a tight budget. Saving the expense of hotel rooms became easy, and as we would learn after a while, bypassing those comforts was hardly a sacrifice. Once in Ethiopia, for instance, when we found ourselves in a heavily populated area that radiated a dodgy feeling, we decided to splurge on a "safe" place indoors, a hotel for $ 2 a night. Our room had no window and the bed took up all but two feet of the floor space. We got very little rest and by first light we couldn't wait to leave that hot, claustrophobic cell and its half-million bedbugs behind. Falling sound asleep in our humble home (the tent) the following night felt like paradise.

Apart from saving a substantial amount of money (in five years we have each spent less than $ 500 on accommodations) there are many other advantages to camping in the bush. You can stop wherever and whenever you want. And because you don't have a strict itinerary to adhere to, with reservations to keep, there is no pressure to wear yourself out trying to reach the next town. Accidents usually occur when you're that tired too. And, of course riding after dark, especially in third-world countries (also in "moose infested" Canada) is too dangerous risk. More often than not as the sun was setting, we have found the most beautiful places to pitch our tent, with views that money can't buy.

Choosing a spot

Begin with buying the best topographic maps of the area. We pick out rivers and lakes in advance and plan our route accordingly. The basic rule goes: if there are mountains you will end up in a nice spot. So we always head for the hills and start looking for a place at least two hours before dark. That way, if we have a bad feeling at the first spot or the feng shui doesn't feel right, there's always plenty of time left to look for another, more suitable place, meaning a site that's not too popular with people and insects. Usually other humans can be avoided by setting up your tent in a place that isn't visible from the road. Believe me, I can happily live out the rest of my days without having another drunken stranger saunter up and try to engage me in a conversation about his nagging wife while I'm standing under a solar shower. And the real bugs, mosquitoes and black flies in particular, can make camping life hell on earth, too. Choosing a breezy spot away from low-lying, swampy areas normally takes care of those irritations.

Try to not expose your tent to direct sunlight. The UV rays destroy the synthetic fibers of modern tents. After three and a half years on the road we were forced to retire ours - when any stray finger-poke would project a hole into the outer layer. Trees are often a good shelter but they can be dangerous, too. Dry branches can break off. While in Africa we wanted to camp in the shade of a tall tree. Looking up, we had to let go of that idea quickly. We were standing under a "sausage tree" and it didn't take a Werner von Braun to calculate the bomb damage from any one of those six-pound fruits detaching and dropping from the tree. So we moved a few meters away. What we didn't know then but soon discovered: the sausage-fruit is a staple in the diet of hippos. When they emerged from the nearby river that night to eat them, they carried on for what seemed like hours, chomping thunderously - a sound we'll never forget.

When the area is very populated or when it's all farmland we usually ask the locals for permission to camp. In five years, we were only turned down once. Showing respect in that manner will often lead to an invitation for dinner or access to a hot shower in exchange for some stories. That's what a journey is all about for me anyway - meeting people. In the capital of Rwanda we asked the bishop for help and he directed us to the graveyard of the church. It was the safest place we could find and it even had a nice green lawn, a rare thing in Africa.

When camping for a longer period of time you have to treat yourself well. It feels so much better to climb into your cozy sleeping bag after a wash, even if only a very basic one. When there's no creek or lake near the site, we use a solar shower (www.ortlieb.com) and hang it in a tree. It holds 2.5 gallons, which is enough water for two. In slightly more civilized places we can indulge in the luxury of filling it with hot water from petrol stations.

The same applies for food. The larger of our Touratech panniers is dedicated to food only. With our easily refillable petrol stove (MSR Whisperlite) and a two-pot, one-pan cooking set, we've put on some fine gourmet dinners. During the first three years, we shared one cup between us for weight reasons. Strangely though, we never questioned the need to accumulate three hefty bottles of Argentinean wine in Patagonia when we knew that there was a "dry" stretch of road ahead. Talk about priorities. But meanwhile we've grown older and wiser and relish having two fancy, lightweight titanium cups (www.touratech-usa.com) for use. Nowadays there aren't any more arguments about who gets the first cup of wine once we've stopped for the night.

There is a direct correlation between camping equipment and the amount of enjoyment the experience of camping yields. That's why we've always traveled with the best equipment available. There's nothing worse than enduring a sleepless night due to a lousy sleeping bag or an inadequate tent that's carried away on the wind.

The tent

Versatility is important. It has to be well-vented, strong enough to withstand harsh conditions (wind and rain) and easy to pitch. Single-wall tents are light but don't work because (when not camping in desert climates) you will always end up with a lot of condensation on the inside. There is no insulation from the cold either. Two layers is the way to go. We loved our Staika model from the Swedish company Hilleberg, makers of some of the best tents you on the market (www.hilleberg.com). The Staika stands completely free, has held up beautifully in the strongest Patagonian winds, and has a pitching time of three minutes.

The sleeping pad

The self-inflating model ProLite 3 from thermarest (www.thermarest.com) is a good compromise between packing size and comfort.

The sleeping bag

Synthetic or down-filled? The advantages with the synthetic brand are that it still insulates even when it gets wet and it's cheaper. But then, how often will your sleeping bag get wet? Down bags have a much better insulation-to-weight ratio. The fluffy feeling of a down bag is much nicer too. The Phantom series from Mountainhardwear seems perfect for the traveling motorcyclist (www.mountainhardwear.com).

An incredibly fulfilling experience, motorcycle camping is about living simply on the road. Getting back to the basics. But it shouldn't be difficult. So, don't overcomplicate it or spoil it by taking too much stuff. Remember: You have to carry, pack and unpack everything every day. Traveling light also gives you much more time to enjoy the view, the campfire, your companion, and other nice rewards like a cup of fine Patagonian wine.