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Living outdoors full-time in urban areas
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Richard Roberts
(dameunmate) - F

Locale: Thames Valley, England
Living outdoors full-time in urban areas on 12/11/2012 18:12:01 MST Print View

Hi lads, thank you for a very informative forum that I have referred to many times on my steep learning curve.

20 months ago I moved out of my rented flat with the aim of learning to live outdoors. I do this in London, England. I'm writing a blog about it at - I want to share this with you because if you like ultralight backpacking and you're single with few commitments then this might be the lifestyle for you.

It means I get to spend all my money on the highest quality outdoors gear instead of making a rich landlord even richer every month. I'm getting used to it now and this has been the best year of my life by miles...

I also want to share that sleeping outdoors in the city has never got me into any trouble. On the contrary - it's much easier in the city because of conveniences like gym membership, libraries and food outlets open late like where I'm sitting right now. I'm still going to work, and with the cost of property out of the picture, the amount you can earn in London compares very favourably with the cost of living.

Some photos of where I sleep in the city are on my blog.

It's -3 Celsius tonight, I'm going out now to find a place to sleep =)

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Living outdoors full-time in urban areas on 12/11/2012 19:14:04 MST Print View

I can understand where you are coming from regarding finances, I must presume you are using a friends or family members address as your registered address for tax/bank/medical purposes.

Bets of luck and keep warm.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Living outdoors full-time in urban areas. on 12/11/2012 19:25:14 MST Print View

What a great concept! I am sure you are saving up a few pounds. But what about your street address or do they have PO Box mailing system in the UK? Street address are very important for all insurance, business and other important documents. What tent do you sleep in when it is that cold?

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Living outdoors full-time in urban areas on 12/11/2012 19:46:10 MST Print View

There is a way you could live cheaply like this and have more comfort. If you know anyone who owns land, you could ask live on it. If you could save up enough cash to buy yourself a large canvas tent, you could be pretty comfortable. You could set up a cot, a couple of tables, a wood stove, ect. It would be like a nice camping trip every day instead of sleeping around the city.

Dave Canterbury did a great video series on a yurt that he built and lived in for a while:

I realize that this might not be possible for you, but I figured I would throw it out there.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Living outdoors full-time in urban areas on 12/11/2012 20:58:34 MST Print View

I did this for 18 months but with a different twist. First off, I owned a house. So a tenant solved the mortgage problem. My job as a consultant required me to travel to client sites in the southwest. My company pays for all our travel expenses (airfare, rental cars, hotels, food, etc.). Tiring of this I decided to live in my 8 foot tent trailer. Normally I would camp in National Forests, Monuments, Parks, or BLM land if close to my destination. Sometimes I would have to camp in a privately owned campground. The most time I would spend at a client location was 4 days. Every weekend I would campout or go backpacking. With proper planning I usually had 3-4 days off in a row for camping/backpacking. Work 4 days and take 3 or 4 off. Spent most of my time in the areas around or near Flagstaff, Sedona, Tombstone, and the lower Colorado River (south of Hoover Dam) in Calif and AZ. Some challenges:

Coldest was end of October in Flagstaff, AZ -5 F
Hottest was Yuma, AZ in August 121 F

Internet & Email
There was no broadband, only dial-up. But I usually could find a pay phone with a data port - at the time pretty common in campgrounds. Email was critical in my job. Cell phone was expensive (but you need a phone), so I mostly relied on a pager and a corporate voice mail account.

Mail & Life Documentation
You need a physical address to function in society for such things as a driver's license, passport, insurance, etc. I rented a PO Box from Mail Boxes Etc. and had them forward mail to me where ever I was. .

I had to wear suits at work. I installed a clothes rack and other storage in the back of my Ford Ranger, under a camper shell. Also had an ironing board and iron. Did my laundry and ironing in laundry mats. Had enough clothing to last 3 weeks at a time. Suits went to a dry cleaners. Sometimes had them do laundry too if it interfered with my camping/hiking.

It was a great adventure and I saved a lot of money and more had a wonderful time. But marriage ended the great adventure and I moved back into my house with my new bride.

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
London on 12/12/2012 20:16:56 MST Print View

What is crime like where you stay in London? There is no way you could safely do this in the cities around here, some crackhead would bludgeon you to death with a dildo (True story, only the guy lived).

Also, it seems like you would spend a lot of time getting kicked out of places, perhaps london is different in this regard as well?

I feel like you would have to find a sweet spot, in between "out of town" enough to safely camp out, but close enough in for access to all the amenities you describe.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: London on 12/13/2012 03:23:23 MST Print View

This thread gets better and better.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: London on 01/11/2013 16:57:08 MST Print View

This thread is a gem. Have you heard of Mark Boyle? He's an Englishman.

Trouble with Santa Barbara are the anti-sleeping ordinances. You're not allowed to sleep outside. I suppose you could find places where you wouldn't be seen. In fact, I look for them as I go about my business. You never know what is going to happen or when you might just get fed up.

Richard Roberts
(dameunmate) - F

Locale: Thames Valley, England
Sleeping outdoors in the city on 01/18/2013 18:46:14 MST Print View

Thank you for all the comments.

There is plenty of gang/knife/gun/alcohol/drug related crime in London, in a city of eight million that's to be expected. However the chances of anything happening to me are remote because I keep my nose clean and I don't get involved with any troublemakers. I just go to work every day then hang out with my friends or read a book then sleep outdoors.

Of course a bit of common sense applies. I will never make my bed in the West End on a Friday night because that's where all the bars and clubs are and some drunk idiot might kick me or piss on me. But London is a big city; instead I choose a sleeping spot where nobody can see me, or if I am to be visible from street level, I choose a tranquil area that's empty at night where I only expect to encounter innocent commuters walking to work in the morning.

In one year of sleeping outdoors regularly the only 'trouble' I've ever had from strangers is people waking me up to ask: "Excuse me, but... are you OK? Would you like a cup of tea?" Even when I explained that I was absolutely fine, one guy came back in the pouring rain with a coffee and sugar cubes!

So much for street violence... don't believe all the hype in the media. The most important thing I've learnt so far in my lifestyle experiment is that most people are nice.

Although nothing has ever happened to me, I know there is always a small risk. With modern technology one can predict the weather, but one can never predict what other people will do. Indeed I know there's a risk, but for me the benefits of this lifestyle far outweigh the risk. The risk is very small, and highly unlikely, whereas the benefits are 100% guaranteed.

"Don't fill your life with years. Fill your years with life."

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Sleeping outdoors in the city on 01/18/2013 19:30:57 MST Print View

Hi Richard,

I must assume you have particular secluded places you regularly sleep, did you find these places yourself or use word of mouth?

I have spent a lot of time in Dublin, London, Glasgow and Brussels and have seen many places where one could get their head down but often not in peace.

Keep well,


James Castleberry
"Living outdoors full-time in urban areas" on 01/18/2013 20:54:01 MST Print View

Inspiring Richard! Great film. I have a "normal" residence I live in with my family and will be there for a while, but I have always been intrigued by alternate low-cost living arrangements. The Vandwellers group on yahoo, tiny houses, intentional communities like "The Farm" and yurts, cob, etc. I always thought applying ultralight techniques and equipment could really reduce the amount of space one needs while still maintaining comfort. You have gone all the way! BTW, Here's a site with good (and some not so good) links:
Dwelling Portably
There is also a drop-down menu for other similar sites such as "Livable Tents" and "Geodesic Frames".
The blog is also really good.

Richard Roberts
(dameunmate) - F

Locale: Thames Valley, England
Sleeping outdoors in the city on 01/19/2013 08:47:42 MST Print View

There are a few scenic spots where I had a good night's sleep, close to a café or public convenience, so I went back to sleep there again, but I don't like to sleep several consecutive nights in the same place. It's much safer to sleep somewhere where nobody's expecting you, and I like a bit of variation and exploration so I normally bed down in a different place every night. That way I keep learning new tricks.

The most important thing is my bicycle because it enables me to scout around for a clean, safe place to sleep, combing a whole suburb in just a few minutes, and disappearing in a flash if I don't like the look of something. I lock my bike up somewhere near where I sleep with a very strong lock. The wheels and the saddle are secured to the bike with security skewers.

When I first moved outdoors I carried an ultralight tent but I quickly realised that's not practical in the city. There's not much soft ground for pitching and a tent can attract attention. It seems to be more illegal to camp in a tent than to just lie down in a bivvy bag, so now I use the latter. There's plenty of shelter in the city, even in little villages, so a tent is completely unnecessary.

Many of the places I bed down are in private property, so strictly speaking it is illegal, but I usually make my bed after midnight and I'm up before 07:00 so nobody knows I was there. I leave no trace.

I'm used to it now, more confident; I no longer think about where I'll sleep tonight until it's time to sleep, then I have a look around. I just play it by ear. However I do check the weather forecasts in advance. There are photos of some of the places I've slept on my blog at

Bivvy bag vs tent

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Big cities. North woods. on 01/19/2013 11:19:26 MST Print View

I totally grasp the financial aspects of avoiding rent on a flat. And gas, electricity, cable TV, landline, water and sewer bills, etc. I see people do that here in Alaska by living, well, like it's 100 years ago. Log cabin or plywood shack, maybe 12 feet x 16 feet. Heat with wood, haul water from the General Store. Score lots of fish in the summer, go clamming at low tide, pick berries, etc. As such, $3,000 to $8,000 for a few remote acres, and $1,000 of building materials and you have NO overhead compared to even the cheapest apartment ($500/month?) + phone, power, heat, etc = $700-$800/month.

Some things I saw help make that lifestyle work: Be a great worker. Someone who shows up, does good work, and gets along with everyone. The best casual labor I had working on my house was a guy lived in a treehouse. Yes, a treehouse, in Alaska, year-round. There were months when we'd be fighting over who got to hire Gus. Whereas other hippie dog mushers, I'd only hire for certain low-skill, highly supervised activities.

Another is be a good guest. A pleasant conversation and helping with the dishes gets you invited back. By unspoken agreement, the smokey, sweaty, off-the-grid dinner guest arrives 30 minutes early, goes to your bathroom, takes a shower, changes into his last clean set of clothes, throws everything else in the washer and comes down for dinner. Sometime during the entree course, he moves the clothes into the dryer. After dessert, his laundry is done and really, we preferred him in his washed and changed state than how he first arrived at the house.

Managing a computer store in Berkeley in the 1980's, I had an employee who lived in his van. Took meals and showers a student housing co-op. A few more showers and more attention to his wardrobe would have made it more viable.

I've long thought that there are times I only want a bed with a bathroom down the hall. A 5' x 10' room would suffice and be so much cheaper, greener and lower-impact than a standard 300 - 400 square foot hotel room. New Yorkers are greener than most anyone else because they have small housing units, share 5 of the 6 walls (hence reduced loss of heat or A/C), all take public transit and few have cars. Going to my proposed coffin-like housing could reduce that even further.

I suspect you contribute to civil society in another way: by being an upstanding citizen frequenting parks, late-night cafes, and bookstores, you keep those places safer than if few people were around. American cities can be so devoid of decent people after work and dinner hours. Again, NY "the city that never sleeps" is safer because of average people being around at all hours. Most people would be home, watching the TV for hours a day, but you're out and about interacting with or at least seeing and being seen by other people.

Richard Roberts
(dameunmate) - F

Locale: Thames Valley, England
Sleeping outdoors in the city on 01/20/2013 07:34:23 MST Print View

Yes, I agree with everything you say, I've often thought that if many people lived my lifestyle the streets would be safer for everyone at night, with a thousand eyes of concerned citizens watching the streets and helping each other out.

This brings out an important point, that I'm currently doing this on my own, but if a group of friends were to live like this it would be much safer. I've never had a problem but it's just a thought...

I don't think the lifestyle will work for everyone, but it was the perfect solution for me and perhaps could be a viable option for many other able-bodied and adventurous types. I started blogging just in case such people find my learning experiences useful.

For everyone else, regardless what lifestyle, I hope to demonstrate how little you need to be happy. I believe that the ultralight philosophy applies to everyday life, not just to camping trips: LESS IS MORE.

Edited by dameunmate on 01/20/2013 07:37:35 MST.