Wild camping can be one of the most exciting experiences possible while traveling abroad. However, for many people, it can also be quite intimidating, especially in developing countries.
At first, it can feel like a bit of a leap to pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere, in a country that isn’t your own. However, with a few basic pointers, wild camping can be a safe, rewarding experience anywhere in the world. After wild camping in countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas, here 10 tips for how to wild camp in developing countries.
- Relax, and be friendly
The first mental hurdle most campers face in developing countries is security. To kick off, it’s worth debunking the myth that all developing nations are overwhelmingly crime ridden. In reality, every country is different. For example, Nicaragua is just as safe as many western countries for travelers, while neighboring
Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates. As a general rule of thumb, rural areas of most countries are safer than cities, and you’re more likely to be robbed heading back from the pub than while sitting around a campfire. In my experience, country folk tend to be friendlier, more open and generally less likely to hassle travelers. While camping, odds are these are the people you’ll encounter. Be friendly and respectful, and chances are your camping trip will be trouble-free.
- Consider some form of security
Although 99 percent of people mean well, it’s always worth being prepared for that other one percent. Pepper spray is a reliable, discreet self-defense option, though a machete makes a great deterrent. I’d recommend a carbon blade to cut down on weight. However, even a pen knife is better than nothing.
- Beware of dog
While most people are friendly, dogs are another story. In many parts of the world, farmers keep dogs for security, but won’t ensure they’re kept on chains. This can pose a serious threat to a passing hiker. Most aggressive dogs can be warded off with a few stones, though the aforementioned pepper spray can be great for peace of mind, or as a last resort.
- Camp out of sight
The easiest way to avoid being bothered by anyone in the first place is to camp out of sight, preferably well away from any settlements. Isolation is safety, and nobody can bother you if they don’t know where you are. Moreover, isolation means you can fully enjoy the natural beauty of the country without any distractions.
- If you do need to camp near people, then be nice about it
Sometimes, you have no choice but to pitch a tent in an inhabited area. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can actually be quite a positive experience. For example, if you camp near a yurt in Mongolia, expect to be offered tea with the family. Before setting up camp anywhere, make sure you ask permission from locals. If you’re respectful and friendly, most of the time you won’t have any issues. To minimize any inconvenience you might cause, always try to pitch your tent as late in the evening as possible, and leave early in the morning.
- Leave with grace
On your way out, consider leaving behind some kind of token of gratitude. In the Mongolian example, it’s a good idea to leave something practical, like a few dollars or batteries. Elsewhere, even something as simple as a postcard from your home country can leave a positive impression on locals.
- Bring a stove that can run on a variety of fuels
It’s often surprising to discover that many fuels are unavailable in different countries. For example, in Ecuador white spirits like kerosene are almost impossible to get hold of, but ordinary threaded gas canisters are easy to obtain. Just two countries over, in Venezuela, kerosene can be purchased at any supermarket for pennies, but threaded canisters are sometimes scarce. Instead, old style non-threaded canisters are almost ubiquitous. Comparably, head up to Mexico, and threaded canisters are easily obtainable, while nobody over there has even heard of non-threaded. The simplest solution to this problem is to purchase a stove that can run on a variety of fuels. My personal favorite is the MSR Universal. Sometimes referred to as the AK-47 of camping stoves, the Universal can run on anything from gas canisters to kerosene, and even unleaded gasoline. This means that no matter what country you’re in, you can probably find a compatible fuel.
Comparably, head up to Mexico, and threaded canisters are easily obtainable, while nobody over there has even heard of non-threaded. The simplest solution to this problem is to purchase a stove that can run on a variety of fuels. My personal favorite is the MSR Universal. Sometimes referred to as the AK-47 of camping stoves, the Universal can run on anything from gas canisters to kerosene, and even unleaded gasoline. This means that no matter what country you’re in, you can probably find a compatible fuel.
- Avoid flashy clothing
If there’s a golden rule of sensible travel, it’s to always dress down. Nowhere is this more true than during wilderness camping. Brightly colored, brand name performance clothing can easily draw unwarranted attention, and mark you as a rich foreigner. One solution is to simply dress as locals dress. Another possibility is to opt for performance gear with subdued colors and labels. That way, at least you won’t stand out from a distance.
- Keep your other expensive equipment on the down low
The same rule applies to all your other expensive outdoor kits. If you have a shiny new camera, keep it in a dull, unmarked bag. Don’t whip out your Gore-Tex shell unless it’s actually raining. Keep those wads of cash somewhere discreet, not lying around the campground.
- Take some tips from stealth campers
Finally, consider adopting some habits of stealth campers. Stealth camping is an offshoot of the survivalist movement, with a philosophy based around minimalism and discretion. Serious stealth campers try to avoid being seen, often forgo tents for improvised shelters and practice building fires that are almost impossible to spot from a distance. While some of these measures may sound extreme, many of the skills honed by stealth campers are extremely useful for ordinary hikers that just want to keep a bit of a low profile. You don’t have to be a forest ninja to appreciate that learning how to blend in and stay quiet on the trail can genuinely improve your outdoor experience.
While some of these measures may sound extreme, many of the skills honed by stealth campers are extremely useful for ordinary hikers that just want to keep a bit of a low profile. You don’t have to be a forest ninja to appreciate that learning how to blend in and stay quiet on the trail can genuinely improve your outdoor experience.
Here’s a video with some useful introductory tips on stealth camping:
What do you think of these tips? Do you have your own suggestions on camping abroad? Tell us in the comments below!