The Dangers of Bush (or wild or stealth) Camping

On my journey through Africa, I was often asked by friends and strangers back home whether it isn’t dangerous to just pitch your tent in the bush or by the roadside? And I was often told by locals that it really is dangerous to camp in the wild.

What about deadly snakes and poisonous spiders? What about lions and hippos?

What about being robbed or attacked.

The reality is, of course, bush camping can be dangerous. So can crossing the road. But in the same way that you always look left and right before stepping off the pavement, it’s only common sense to be selective with your camp spot.

Road to Booue, Gabon, Central Africa
Road to Booue, Gabon, Central Africa

I always look for a secluded spot where I shouldn’t be seen by people and certainly not from the road. If I know there are ‘dangerous’ animals around, then I either don’t camp in the bush or I do what I can to minimize the risks. For example, always zipping up the tent inner to keep out snakes, spiders, scorpions etc. If there could be lions, I make sure I’m inside my tent well before sunset and don’t get out again until the sun is high in the sky (no matter how desperate for the toilet!). If there could be hippos, then I don’t camp where they may choose a route down to the river…

The Niger River, Guinea, West Africa
The Niger River, Guinea, West Africa

Well that was all in Africa. Now I’m in Canada, but the same rules apply. Only now I have to be careful about bears, rather than lions. That means carrying bear repellent spray everywhere in case of a chance encounter and keeping the camp spot spotless from food. Bears love the smell of food. So that means cooking away from the tent and storing food at a distance too. That’s not good when I wake in the middle of the night with food cravings, but it’s small price to pay.

The Chicotin Plateau, BC, Canada
The Chicotin Plateau, BC, Canada

In, 20 months of bush camping between the UK and Cape Town and now a month under canvas in Canada, I had no serious encounters.

As chance would have it, my closest encounter came just a couple of days ago, ironically, when I was in town.

Walking to the shop, a sudden gust of wind sent unsecured items flying. I had to dodge a piece of flying sheet metal by jumping into the road before continuing down the pavement, when a tree fell down just a few feet from me. I emerged, slightly surprised, with nothing more than a lot of dirt and leaf debris in my right ear. The parked car wasn’t quite so lucky!

You see, there are risks in all walks of life. Of we were scared of every potential threat or danger, then we’d procrastinate in bed all day. But that’s no way to live. Better to get out there and take a chance. You never know when fate will deal the fatal blow, but it’ll probably be when you least expect it.

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