Where you can camp
In national parks and areas that get frequent visitors, there are designated camping sites, usually at restcamps. Most people never need to venture away from these.
Outside the parks, you should ask the local landowner, or village head, if they are happy for you to camp on their property. If you explain patiently and politely what you want, then you are unlikely to meet anything but warm hospitality from most rural Namibians. They will normally be as fascinated with your way of life as you are with theirs. Company by your camp fire is virtually assured.Choosing a site
Only experience will teach you how to choose a good site for pitching a tent, but a few points may help you avoid problems if you're in a very remote area:
• Avoid camping on what looks like a path through the bush, however indistinct. It may be a well-used game trail.
• Beware of camping in dry riverbeds: dangerous flash floods can arrive with little or no warning.
• Near the coast, and in marshy areas, camp on higher ground to avoid cold, damp mists in the morning and evening.
• Camp a reasonable distance from water: near enough to walk to it, but far enough to avoid animals which arrive to drink.
• If a storm with lightning is likely, make sure that your tent is not the highest thing around.
• Finally, choose a site that is as flat as possible; it will make sleeping much easier.
Camp fires can create a great atmosphere and warm you on a cold evening, but they can also be damaging to the environment and leave unsightly piles of ash and blackened stones. Deforestation is a cause for major concern in much of the developing world, including parts of Namibia, so if you do light a fire then use wood as the locals do: sparingly. If you have a vehicle, then consider buying firewood in advance from people who sell it at the roadside in the more verdant areas.
If you collect it yourself, then take only dead wood, nothing living. Never just pick up a log: always roll it over first, checking carefully for snakes or scorpions.
Experienced campers build small, highly efficient fires by using a few large stones to absorb, contain and reflect the heat, and gradually feeding just a few thick logs into the centre to burn. Cooking pots can be balanced on the stones, or the point where the logs meet and burn. Others will use a small trench, lined with rocks, to similar effect. Either technique takes practice, but is worth perfecting. Whichever you do, bury the ashes, take any rubbish with you when you leave, and make the site look as if you had never been there.
Don't expect an unattended fire to frighten away wild animals – that works in Hollywood, but not in Africa. A camp fire may help your feelings of insecurity, but lion and hyena will disregard it with stupefying nonchalance.
Finally, do be hospitable to any locals who appear – despite your efforts to seek permission for your camp, you may effectively be staying in their back gardens.
Using a tent (or not)
Whether to use a tent or to sleep in the open is a personal choice, dependent upon where you are. In an area where there are predators around (specifically lion and hyena) then you should use a tent – and sleep completely
inside it, as a protruding leg may seem like a tasty take-away to a hungry hyena. This is especially true at organised campsites, where the local animals have got so used to humans that they have lost much of their inherent fear of man. At least one person has been eaten whilst in a sleeping bag next to Okaukuejo's floodlit waterhole, so always use a tent in these restcamps.
Outside game areas, you will be fine sleeping in the open, or preferably under a mosquito net, with just the stars of the African sky above you. On the practical side, sleeping under a tree will reduce the morning dew that settles on your sleeping bag. If your vehicle has a large, flat roof then sleeping on this will provide you with peace of mind, and a star-filled outlook. (Hiring a vehicle with a built-in roof-tent would seem like a perfect solution, until you want to take a drive whilst leaving your camp intact.)