Bivouacking and Wild Camping
It’s finally the end of a working day! Computer switched off, bivouac equipment packed, and there is nothing like getting out into nature! There is nothing better than sleeping under the stars. In order to keep bivouacking an intense and unique experience of nature and you do not have to be annoyed later, you should pay attention in advance to some things and get informed about the legal situation of the country in which you want to bivouac.
The beauty and the advantage of bivouacking is that it is not equated with camping. There where camping is prohibited, bivouacking is not necessarily prohibited. Because bivouacs usually mean one night’s sleep without a tent, under the open sky or in an igloo. If you want to bivouac on a private property, you have to get permission from the owner first.
Where and when are you allowed to bivouac and camp?
Basically, bivouacking in nature and conservation areas, nature parks and national parks is prohibited worldwide! However, the legal situation differs from country to country.
Wild camping on private property is allowed after obtaining the permission of the owner. Bivouacking is more tolerated than camping. It’s important to get information direct from competent authority or municipality. Marked parking spaces are of course an exception, here you can stay overnight with the motorhome or car to be able to start the journey the next day fresh and rested.
Wild camping and bivouacking in the USA
Due to the high demand and environmental reasons there are strict rules regarding wild camping. Different regulations may apply depending on the state – but in principle it can be said that, with a few exceptions, wild camping is banned in the USA.
However, there are regions where you can legally pitch your tent away from civilization and often park your motor home. These include the National Forests, however, where you should look for a palce that is not visible from the road. Also, you should make sure that this is not privately owned and ask in case of doubt on the spot. In addition, wild camping in the US within the so-called BLM areas (Bureau of Land Management) is also often permitted.
In national parks there are often “wilderness areas” where you can also camp wild – but for this you usually need a permit (“camping permit”), which you get at many visitor and tourist centers (sometimes for a fee).
As mentioned above, regulations may vary by state, so it’s best to check the planned route before you travel.
Wild camping and bivouacking in Canada
Similar rules apply to wild camping and bivouacking in Canada – in most regions this is prohibited and is not recommended as it is frequently controlled in areas of tourist interest. Another, not to be underestimated aspect, is the danger of wild animals (especially bears) and changeable, unpredictable weather and summer forest fires.
However, Canada’s wild camping is usually allowed when you are in a National Forest, similar to the US. Again, however, you must ensure that you are not on private property or, in this case, obtain the express permission of the owner. There are also so-called “rest areas” where you can spend the night – in some areas, however, prohibition signs are set up, which prohibit camping, so take a good look around before you leave your vehicle for the night.
In national parks and large cities, wild camping in Canada is generally prohibited and can result in severe fines. Also, the regulations may differ depending on the province. Even if it is more expensive: We recommend that you always keep to the official campsites if possible. However, if you want to stay as free and inexpensive as possible, you should first inform yourself in advance in a visitor center in order to be sure.
The ideal bivouac site – recommendations for a safe and protective bivouac
Those who can’t reach their hut in time, or notice that a snowfall is brewing, should start early to look for their bivouac place. It is recommended to study the weather report and the map before each tour and to mark an area based on the topography that seems suitable.
One should always pay attention to the legal fundamentals – however, if an approaching storm should catch you, an emergency bivouac is allowed everywhere. Find a plane, dry and sheltered place. In doing so you should avoid crash areas as well as areas prone to falling rocks. So that it doesn’t get too uncomfortable at night and you have the opportunity to bivouac away from sharp stones, branches and areas where the water level (due to the rain) can rise.
For newcomers, there are places near huts or an inn. Only get the permission of the owner or host before. If it comes to a weather change, you can find shelter here.
What can help you in finding the right bivouac site, is your local knowledge (if you know the place from your walks), tips from friends or an internet community. You can also use Google Maps or Openstreetmap to see the surroundings and distances to villages, streets, cottages, and houses.
If you’re traveling longer, for example on a hike lasting several days, you probably have to expect that you will have to spontaneously find a suitable bivouac location. It is important to find a place before it gets really dark. Before dusk, or at dusk, try to reach your bivouac place and prepare everything for the night.
Clean the surface of branches, sharp stones and find a sheltered place (behind rock walls, a hedge, or build a windbreak of stones and luggage that you don’t need at night, such as the backpack).
In winter, you can dig a pit in the snow, as this will warm you and protect you from the wind. Make sure it’s not too big, because it will not keep you warm. Only you (possibly two people) and your luggage should find space in there. Take a gas cooker, as hot drinks are especially important in the morning and in the evening. You can also make ready-made soups.
When you go to sleep, pack all your things that might get wet to protect them from the morning breeze or take them with you into the sleeping bag or bivvy bag. For your shoes, you can also use a plastic bag, take it with you in the sleeping bag, or put your soles up on the floor. If you keep your shoes on, loosen them to ensure adequate blood circulation. This applies to all garments (belts) that could affect the blood circulation. Also make sure that you protect your drinks in the same way when it gets below 32 °F so they don’t freeze
Before going to sleep, always wear dry clothes. Damp clothing would cool you down unnecessarily during your sleep, so you better sleep naked. It is important that your head is always placed protected from the wind. If it gets cold at night, try to determine where the cold is coming from.
Try to protect yourself with the rest of your clothing, stuff them where the cold is coming from. Sometimes the zipper is to blame because you have folded the cover strip. Use the hood and the heat collar of the sleeping bag, put on a hat or wrap a scarf around your neck and head, even if your feet are cold, because the average person loses 20% of his body heat through the head.