There are many different ways to enjoy the outdoors, some people do it for recreational benefits and some do it for personal or professional development.
But when it comes to camping in the wilderness away from humanity, for me the experience is very much focussed on therapeutic uses.
Connecting to the nature is a powerful way of understanding the meaning of life, it is great for mental health and wellbeing too. Away from the roads, no people, absent of phones and technology, it is just you, your mind and the nature.
The beauty of the mountains can be very relaxing, it has a positive influence on your attitude and behaviours. Like Sir Edmund Hillary once said, ‘It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves’. Along with Tenzing Norgay, Hillary became the first ascensionist of Mount Everest (8848m), the highest mountain in the world.
Hence why, myself and Erika have embarked on the excursion of wild camping in Brecon Beacons National Park. Getting away from the hectic world and the uncertain times, whilst the covid pandemic was slowly taking over our lives, the adventure was very meaningful to us.
Pen-Y-Fan (886m), the highest mountain in South Wales was ideal, close to our homes, easily accessible and with many suitable options.
Sleeping on one of the most iconic mountains in the country was a no brainer and what a great first experience for Erika. That was the key, a memorable experience in an exhilarating place.
Why is Pen-y-Fan so special?
The huge rolling hills are unlike any other mountains in the UK. Although they do slightly remind me of the Peak District National Park, just on a bigger scale with more wilderness beauty.
The glacier has carved out some astonishing u shaped valleys, the countryside is very diverse and not to mention the wildly beautiful forests.
It is famous for being a training area for the Special Forces (SAS), where the are numerous amounts of adventure races, such as the Fan Dance. A 24km march as part of their selection process is extremely rigorous and has unfortunately seen a handful of deaths.
There are also some crazy stories about Kings and battles, if you interested in that sort of thing (not me, sorry but not sorry).
My experience of wild camping
I have been fortunate to become a qualified Mountain Leader and so I have spent many nights in darkness in some crazy British weather, of which most have been very pleasant, when taking into consideration some of the aspects I briefly mention below on here.
I must have spent around 30-35 nights in the mountains and the favourite wild camp of all time must be on the Cuillin Ridge, situated on Isle of Skye in Scotland. Read more about the experience here ‘Attempting the Cuillin Ridge, Scottish Adventures’.
Is wild camping legal/acceptable?
Wild camping in the England and Wales is not legal, all land is privately owned including the national parks and people should seek for permission. That is because of the logistical nightmare, the policies and the countless roundabouts it would take to standardise the activity.
Imagine if they said, anyone could go camping anywhere and anytime, the private land-owners would lose control and our national parks would become a trash.
However, wild camping is still acceptable, and you will not get in trouble if you follow the best practices, like this the owners will keep control over what happens.
Not disturbing anyone, staying off the main tracks, whilst adhering to the guidelines and applying a ‘leave no trace’ attitude are the core values of sensible wild camping without any obstructions.
It is a grey area that needs a lot of caution, so doing some reading first is highly recommended.
We started our hike from the main car park (pay&display) at the foot of Pen-Y-Fan, on the Brecon side just up from Cantref (OS Grid Ref: 2467 2489). From there we headed in South Easterly direction to get on to the main ridge line leading up to the summit of Cribyn (795m).
The approach was short, quick and very beautiful. Although the sun was shining, the winds were quite strong, and Erika was certainly not enjoying the watery eyes.
The main ridge was very gradual and easy going, apart from the last small section just below the summit being a little steep, which in high winds can feel slightly nerve racking for novice walkers.
From the summit of Cribyn, after taking in the views, it was a quick escape down to the saddle, right on the doorstep of Pen-y-Fan summit.
Although there was a pretty strong venturi effect in the saddle, we managed to tuck away and find our camp spot without being battered by the wind.
Our camping location
Our five star hotel was a couple of hundred metres below the summit, in the saddle between Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn, at around 665m high (OS Grid Ref: 1896 2112). It was five stars simply because of the view down the valley across to the Neuadd Reservoir.
Setting up camp in a saddle can be a risky gamble, especially if you have a poor quality tent and you position it in the wrong place. Top tip understand your gear and make sure you trust every aspect of it. More critically, look at the weather conditions and make a calculated judgement of wind speed and direction for the next 24 hours.
Weather and Maps
I always use the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) as my primary source but will always check Met Office in parallel to triple check everything. A fine tip sharpie on a laminated map works really well for notes but will need nail varnish to clean off.
The OL12 1:25 000 map of Brecon Beacons (western area) is what you need, which can also be accessed through an online Ordnance Survey subscription. The OS locate app is also worth having but never solely rely on technology because it does not always work.
What food did we have for dinner?
Surprisingly or not, dinner in the mountains is very critical and can either make you or break you for the next day.
Fuelling your body with the right nutrients is crucial for having the ability to make well thought out and effective decisions, sometimes your life might depend on it.
Heinz tomato sachet soup with some garlic nan bread is always a must as a starter. Followed by a dehydrated ration pack from Adventure Food, Gulyas flavour was my choice and is my favourite by far. Erika had Chicken Tikka from Wayfayrer, top quality but small portions. Finishing off the three course menu with a sticky toffee pudding from Wayfayrer, everyone must love a sticky toffee pudding.
All warm and with tons of calories, full of carbohydrates and protein, you simply cannot go wrong.
All you need is water and a Jetboil cooking system. I have the MicroMo 800ml one and have been using it for over three years now. It is light, self-contained and does a really good job, your coffee can be ready in one minute. The MSR pocket rocket deluxe duo is another great option, slightly smaller in size and weight, for those ultralight backpackers out there.
My favourite piece of camping equipment?
A quality roll mat makes a big difference to your sleep and comfort, by far my top choice. I use the Exped Synmat 7 M and it does exactly what the label says. Although the integrated pump system can be a little annoying to use after 10-12hours of walking. Solid tent, with a bombproof mat and a warm sleeping bag is a winner winner combination for all.
Which backpacks did we use?
Erika was carrying the Osprey Talon 33l, which I really rate and is an ideal all around backpack for any adventuring. I simply could not say one negative aspect about the pack.
I was carrying the Osprey Exos 58l and I probably will use that pack forever. I swear by it and it would be very difficult to persuade me that there is a better expedition pack out there.
Although, you might look like a ninja turtle with the pack, it exceeds all my expectations, from good sized pockets and extra compartments to stretchy but strong material, it is very spacious. My favourite aspect is the ventilated back panel support, never failing to keep me cool when it turns very hot, nobody likes a sweaty/slimy back. The mesh hip belt is also on point, very stable and supportive.
It was a very memorable experience, the highlight was having a coffee on top of Pen-Y-Fan for sunrise, such an incredible place.
I hope that sharing my experience, with some top tips and the attached links to some of my favourite equipment, will help you embark on your next adventure.
Thank you for tuning in, we hope you have enjoyed the read! If you are looking for a reliable but stylish strap, the Sailcloth is one of my top picks, one I fell in love with on this adventure escape.