Wild Camping in the UK

A Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping

Want to go wild camping, but worried about starting on the wrong foot? You’re not alone. With some conscientiousness for the environment and the right gear, you can start your adventures in the wild straightaway.

There is something uniquely liberating and beautiful wild camping. It offers hikers the freedom and opportunity to venture anywhere in nature, and enjoy all the delights of the outdoors without the crowds: counting shooting stars, awe-inspiring sunrises from the cosiness of your sleeping bag, waking up in some of the prettiest places in the UK….

Equally those two words, ‘freedom’ and ‘opportunity’ also strike anxiety for some hikers when it comes to wild camping. Questions like, ‘Will I harm the environment?’, ‘What are the consequences if I do it wrong?’ or ‘What if I pitch my tent in the wrong place?’ frequently crop up. So first things first:

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What is wild camping?

Essentially, wild camping is the fine art of pitching a tent anywhere in the wilderness and waking up in the morning, away from the hubbub of cities or noisy campsites. True wild campers leave the area as they found it, and carry everything they brought up the mountain back home with them, including rubbish.

Is wild camping illegal in the UK?

It depends on where you are. It is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Dartmoor National Park has specific wild camping areas. Scotland has public access to land (with some exceptions), and more info on this can be found on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. If you do decide to wild camp, make sure you have the landowner’s permission, pitch late and leave early, and leave the area as you found it.

Before venturing anywhere, it is also worth checking the national park websites for updates to bylaws so you’re in the know of any changes.

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Some preparatory planning is also useful if you’re new to wild camping. Check the essentials  (your map, your proposed route, and the weather forecast) before heading out on an adventure. It helps to have a few wild camp spots in mind; what might look like a flat area could be boggy on arrival from lots of recent rain, or particularly gusty if there’s high winds.

It never hurts to have an escape plan too, especially if you’re feeling anxious. Check if there’s an official campsite within walking distance of your proposed wild camp site, in case conditions are dire. The mountains will always be there for you to snooze under in the future!

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Kit for Wild Camping

Now that you have planned your weekend hike, it’s time to pack for a wild camp. Make sure you stuff the following items in your rucksack:

  • A sleeping bag
  • Roll mat or camping air mattress
  • Portable camping stove and the appropriate fuel
  • Lighter (matches can get wet and be tricky to light in windy conditions)
  • Eating utensils
  • A tent (check those tent pegs before leaving home!)
  • Food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking
  • Headtorch (going to the toilet in the dark might lead to some nasty surprises)

Packing for Wild Camping: Top Tips

  • Make sure your sleeping bag and spare clothes are in waterproof bags – a spongy sleeping bag is the worst when wild camping in the rain!
  • Weight can be the deciding factor as to whether or not you enjoy wild camping. Choose gear that is lightweight yet durable.
  • Pack your bag before leaving and see if it can sit up without falling over. If it falls to one side, it might mean the weight is unevenly distributed, and can cause issues later when hiking.
  • Practice setting up your tent beforehand; then you’ll be prepared if you have to pitch up in the rain or dark

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Choosing a Spot for Wild Camping: The Basics

When wild camping, waking up in a breathtaking mountain range or on a beach is all part of the experience. In fact, it’s easy to get carried away and forget about the practicalities of camping, and wind up somewhere totally unsuitable. There’s even an Instagram account dedicated to farfetched wild camp sites – @youdidnotsleepthere!

If you are deciding whether to wild camp somewhere, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it flat, non-boggy, and there’s no rocks underfoot that will dig into your back as you sleep?
  • Is it a remote spot, and it doesn’t obstruct other paths?
  • Are there any potential hazards nearby?
  • Will camping there cause any distress to wildlife or the environment?
  • Is there a water source nearby?
  • Do you have a toilet spot at least 60 metres away from a water source?
  • Is it too exposed to wind or other inclement weather?

All that’s left to do then is pitch tents and enjoy a night out in the wilderness!

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If it’s your first time wild camping in the great outdoors, bring some friends along for the experience, or something to distract yourself from paranoid thoughts. Sometimes your brain can transform the most innocuous sounds into a mountain lion prowling around your camp (which, just to be clear, is unlikely in the UK). I particularly enjoy bringing a paperback, a harmonica, or a card game. A few (lightweight) creature comforts are handy too – my go-to luxuries are my travel pillow, and my down jacket for when I get the chills at night.

When you wake up in the morning, there’s a tranquil, satisfying moment when you realise you successfully made it through the night with zero bear attacks or landslides, and didn’t destroy an entire ecosystem. As you pack up all your stuff in the morning (food waste and toilet paper included) it’ll give you a confidence boost, encouraging you to tread ever farther towards more adventures outdoors. I hope you do, and share your tales below!

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