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Camping in the woods
Travel

London to Glasgow (or St. Albans) by Foot – How I Learnt the Importance of a Good Tent

On Monday, July 13th 2020, I attempted to embark on the ever so optimistic challenge of walking from my humble abode in North London to the sunny, tartan clad, shores of Glasgow. More info on the following: https://somethingdecent.co.uk/opinions-blogs/travel/london-to-glasgow-by-foot-hopefully/

However, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, the journey didn’t quite go to plan. In fact, the plan went tits up from the first night and I barely made it out of my home county. Whoops.

So, What Happened?

To put it as simply as possible, the tent which I decided to buy for the trek (an OEX Salamanda Bivvy) was about as waterproof as an old pair of tights. And I found out the hard way.

After setting up camp and having a spot of dinner (sandwiches and tea) I received a few messages from a close friend explaining that it was due to rain. No problem, I thought. The tent is meant to be waterproof up to 7000mm so this shouldn’t be an issue.

Further to that, I had managed to pitch my tent under a canopy of trees, which provided an extra layer of waterproofing. So, completely unfazed by the impending downpour, I continued about my business and had a chilled night of watching Netflix on my phone while sat by a river bank, amongst a load of stinging nettles.

When the sun set I decided to pack up and head to the land of nod. This is where the first issue reared its head: the size of the tent. Now, being 6ft5, I’m by no means a small bloke and this was by no means a big tent. Regarding its size I can tell you one thing: I now know what it feels like to sleep inside a body bag. The thing was tiny.

However, it wasn’t the biggest issue. I remember thinking “I can deal with this” as I laid there listening to the gentle pitter patter of the rain beginning to descend from the heavens above and onto the canopy of trees which sheltered me.

I drifted off…

The Unexpected Shower

Then, I woke. Absolutely drenched. It was about 4am, I could hear the rain battering the tent and the trees above, and then I felt it. Yup, the rain had made its way through my tent which was meant to be waterproof.

Not only was it dripping down on my face but it had managed to absolutely soak my sleeping bag, trainers and rucksack. The instant thought which went through my mind was “meh… not much I can do about it now” so I tried to get in as dry a position as possible then fell back asleep before waking for the most terrifying false awakening/sleep paralysis of my life.

I was audibly hallucinating and thought I heard some people outside my tent saying “Oi there’s someone in there, let’s rob him”. Obviously worried by what I thought I heard I tried to grab my knife. But I couldn’t move.

The struggle was insane and it took a good few minutes before I realised that I was having an audible hallucination. At which point I managed to calm my mind and wake myself up, for real this time.

At this point I was pretty much swimming inside my tent and checked the time to see it was just past 5am. So I decided to wake up and make tea then assess the damage.

Upon assessment it was evident that, should I wish to continue the trek, I would need to buy a much better tent. It was also evident that there was no way I was going to be able to use the sleeping bag again for at least a few days — it was soaked.

With more storms due for the next couple days I wasn’t able to see anyway of drying my kit so I made the hard decision to pull the plug on the trip.

What Did I Learn?

To be honest, the main thing which I learnt from my night in the woods was simple: NEVER SKIMP ON YOUR TENT!

The tent I bought was under £100. When buying it I distinctly remember thinking to myself “woah, that’s cheap”. However, I was ignoring the first rule of buying tents: you get what you pay for.

The fact is that the tent weighed just over a kilo, packed down to a size which was a little bigger than a bottle of Glenfiddich and was listed as waterproof, all for under £100. It clearly was a case of being too good to be true and I should have realised that the manufacturer had to have cut corners somewhere.

All the other tents with the same functionality were well into the £200 – £300 price range, and I should have taken that as a sign that the OEX Salamanda was not going to live up to its hype. Lesson learnt.

All that said and done, I wouldn’t consider the experiment to be a complete failure. One of my biggest worries about the trek was the fear of being alone in the woods at night. However, sleep paralysis aside, my fears proved to be unfounded.

I slept like a baby and genuinely could not have cared less about being alone in the dark. So I guess there’s that. On top of the lesson in my own versatility, I also had a nice night out in the woods which was preceded by a merry jaunt up to St Albans.

Love, peace and happiness.