Although this setup with just a tarp, a thin mat, and a sleeping bag is really quite primitive it does the job really well.
There are only a few ways in life through which we can revive our prehistoric forager lifestyle. Wearing bear skins, gathering berries and nuts in the forest, or not taking a shower like…ever. A more 21st century way of going back to our roots is my sleeping under the stars.
Free camping refers to any form of unpaid camping. In New Zealand, for example, there is a distinction between ‘free camping’ and ‘freedom camping’. The first refers to camping on a free campsite – these usually offer nothing more than a piece of grass and a porta potty, if you’re lucky. The latter refers to setting up camp in the wild.
Laws and regulations
In the majority of the Western world freedom camping is not allowed, simply because of restraint in land. In certain parts of Scandinavia freedom camping is allowed, provided that you are out of sight for local inhabitants. A simple Search will get you a comprehensive list of laws and regulations regarding freedom camping. In my personal experience, however, I find that as long as you are not a nuisance and you camp out of sight you will probably stay out of trouble. (this is no advice, but purely informational of course)
There is something serene and magical about sleeping under the stars. Usually when you free camp (and almost always when you freedom camp) you are in rural areas with very little light pollution. In exchange for a slightly less luxurious sleeping arrangement you get to enjoy a night sky unlike any you’ll see in the city. I vividly remember the night sky while camping at Lake Tekapo (New Zealand). The place was very remote – the place was not unlike a lunar landscape. Because of the absence of light pollution the place is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site. So many starts were visible; if I hadn’t known any better, I thought I was attending the Oscar nominees.
There is a saying in Norway that goes, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Although the saying doesn’t refer to camping, the notion still applies. You might content with buying a cheap sleeping bag and tent if you’re looking to family camp or stay somewhere warm. However, I learned the hard way you might consider buying some higher-quality gear when conditions get a bit less hospitable.
Regarding the necessary gear, at the minimum you want to have a sleeping bag and some form of shelter (either a tent or a tarp). A blowup mat is another essential and they go for fairly cheap these days (even used ones will do the job). You might even consider buying a hammock and a tarp to sleep in. I’ve done it on a wildlife trip in Sweden and loved it! It was cheap, easy to set up, and did not weigh much. Of course, you can always walk up to anyone in a bar and say, “did I tell you about that time I slept in a hammock on a wildlife trip in Sweden for a week?”
When free camping, you usually take quite a bit of gear with you. However, the last thing you want to carry is heavy pans, gas pits, and the like. If you can avoid bringing water, I would absolutely recommend that. Quite often, you can find water taps, clean mountain streams, or you can bring water filters that allow you to drink water after some necessary treatment.
I prefer to bring meals that I prepare ahead of time. Sure, it’s probably not something you’ll find anytime soon in one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks, but after a long day of hiking or kayaking, any sort of calorie intake will do.
I usually take trail mix, wraps with humus and some veggies, and a couscous salad for dinner. You can find a ton of meals out on the web, but I’ve found this assortment to be both filling, tasty, light, and rather price sensitive. And if you run out of food, there is always the option to catch some of these: