Want to try wild camping but don’t know where to start? Hopefully in this blog I can give you some of my top tips so that you have the confidence to give it a go. You don’t need lots of equipment, if the weather is good and you choose the right spot you may not even need a tent. So read on to find out what you do need and how to decide where to go.
My first wild camp was scary, I had only ever camped in a proper campsite and had no experience of wild camping. I was with a friend and her dog and we were on the Pennine Way. The campsite we had planned to stay at, having seen the symbol on the map, had closed a couple of years previously. We kept going for a few more miles until it was starting to get dark, found a suitable spot to set up camp, ate dinner and then promptly fell asleep. The dog was completely out for the count and did not move all night even when, in the early hours, the tent was lit up from a torch outside. I lay so still, not even daring to take a breath, waiting to see what happened next. Would the person approach? Were we going to be told to move on? Were we about to be attacked, here in the middle of nowhere on the moors?
What actually happened next was absolutely nothing, whoever it was simply looked in our direction and then continued on their way. A few hours later as the sun rose we were up early and cooking breakfast and packing up like seasoned wild campers.
Wild camping, like any new experience, can be daunting at first but with a bit of research and a few helpful tips it can be a great way to spend the night.
What is wild camping?
Different people will define this in different ways depending on their perspective. As a general definition it is camping that is not in a paid for campsite. For me, however, wild camping needs a journey, it is not just about walking a few hundred metres from a car park carrying loads of kit and equipment! I usually wild camp because I am on an expedition or some type of adventure. I might also wild camp between work days as a 5-9 adventure. I go light weight with a minimum of kit and apply the ‘arrive late and leave early’ rule. Also as with all outdoor activities it is important to leave no trace and that includes not having a fire. In some areas I may also carry out human waste (more about that later).
Is wild camping legal?
The answer to this is, it depends on where you are. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland wild camping is not legal unless you are on Dartmoor.
In Scotland the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives access rights that permits wild camping on unenclosed land. But you still need to do your research as this does not include all areas. For example on the East shore of Loch Lomond you will need a permit to wild camp between March and October.
You can also seek the permission of the landowner to wild camp and if approached with the understanding that you are on an expedition and are just looking for a place to sleep for the night in a small tent are most landowners and farmers are amenable to this.
In upland areas of Wales, The Lake District etc it is generally ok to wild camp and quite normal to find others doing the same around some of the more popular tarns. Stick to solo or small group camps, leave no trace and all will be good.
Be aware however that many moorland areas are used for other activities. One of these is the management of Grouse for shooting and the gamekeeper may not be happy to find you camping right in the middle of it. Stay away from areas of patchwork Heather with wooden grouse butts situated at regular intervals.
Where can I wild camp? How do I find a suitable spot?
I have a few methods for this. The first is to look on the map, when considering a suitable place I am looking for a flat, sheltered area where I have access to running water so a small stream or beck. A small tarn or lake is also nice to camp near to and can offer the possibility of a wild swim. I am looking for areas that are away from habitation or farming activity so usually high up and a few miles from the nearest road. I also like to be away from the main path to avoid being disturbed.
Another way to find a spot is to check out areas in advance. Maybe plan a route to an area you would like to camp at and see what is there. Sometimes whilst on a walk or run I might see a perfect wild camp spot so I just take a note of the location for another time.
You can also get ideas from other people and from social media. The only thing is that others might be doing the exact same thing and the last thing you want is an overcrowded or over used wild camp area. Sometimes the best thing this does is to highlight areas not to go!
Finally there is the walk until tired method and then find somewhere out of the way to sleep. This is what I did for a bivvy camp whilst walking the East Devon Way in January 2020. I walked for about 20 miles until 1am and then started looking for somewhere to camp, I entered a woodland area following the footpath until I found a reasonably flat spot on which to put my bivvy bag. I was only just off the footpath but hidden behind a clump of bushes. At first light I was up and on my way again.
Will I be safe?
I can’t really give a definite answer to this but I can say there are no bears or mountain lions in the UK to worry about. Stay away from areas of habitation, carparks and other public areas. The more remote you are generally the better. Remember that most people who are out in the hills are doing the same thing as you. If you are concerned about safety then go with a friend or in a small group. Some people also take their dog as a companion and also for safety. It is important to let someone know where you are going and that you plan to camp out, plus a time to expect you to return home by. You could also use a tracker device such as a Spot Tracker – this will enable you to send a message to let a designated person know that you are ok. You can do this even if you don’t have a phone signal. The Spot Tracker will also send a GPS ping to a website and that means you can give someone a log-in and they can see your location. Where these devices really come into their own is the SOS button which when you press sends a distress call to alert rescue services. You will need to buy the device which will cost around £100 and then also pay for a subscription.
How do I top up my water?
I always carry a couple of 1 litre bottles when on expeditions and may also have a few soft flasks so that I can carry extra if needed. If you run out of water there are various options for topping up. Firstly find a free flowing stream, the higher up the mountain the better, I have topped up my bottles from streams many times and never had a problem but if you are concerned invest in a water filter. There are a few different kinds, some such as Lifestraw are bottle which you fill and then you drink through the filter. Another kind is where you pump the water through a filter and into a bottle such as the MSR trailshot. This is a better option if you want to get water for cooking or adding to food. You can also buy water purification tablets to add to any water that you have scooped out of a river or stream and then wait 30 minutes for the tablet to work. Make sure that you get the ones where 1 tablet will purify 1 litre of water as some are designed for much larger quantities.
What about the toilet?
When setting off on an expedition or passing through villages or towns always use public toilets if they are available. When out on the hills you will need to ensure that you are carrying appropriate equipment to enable you to dig a hole and bury any human waste. If this is not possible then you may need to remove waste using a dog poo bag and carry to a suitable bin. You should also remove any tissues, wipes and sanitary products that have been used. These should be bagged and binned on return to civilisation.
What kit do I need?
I try and take minimal kit and stay as lightweight as possible when wild camping, however we all have different needs and likes so you need to ensure that what you take is right for you. My kit will also vary depending on the weather and if I am using the tent or the bivvy. My basic list would be Tent/bivvy, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, stove and gas, food, water, coffee, headtorch and spare battery, phone and charging block, first aid kit, waterproof coat and trousers, down jacket, spare layers, spare socks, hat and gloves, trowel, tissues and dog poo bags.
I currently use a Vango Nevis 200 as my tent, it is a little larger and heavier than I would like but at under £100 it was a great budget buy. Click on the link to read my blog – Vango Nevis 200 Review.
My Hunka bivvy bag and Pipedream 400 sleeping bag are both from Alpkit and have been excellent kit choices. The Hunka bivvy bag is dark green and great for stealth camping when I am expeditions and may need to sleep in less remote places. I can hide away in a small woodland or field edge and nobody would know I was there. The Pipedream 400 sleeping bag is filled with hydrophobic down and weighs 865g. With a comfort rating of -4.2 deg I have found that it keeps me warm all year round, I used it in -5 deg last year in Scotland and slept well wearing just my thermals and a hat.
I carry all my kit in an Osprey Tempest 30 litre rucksack, I line this with a 30 litre drybag and then place other items in individual drybags.
Always make sure that you have suitable kit for the terrain, weather and length of time that you plan to be out for. If you are not sure or still learning then go for an easier, shorter option in poor weather conditions or even save your trip for another day.
What food should I take?
The food and drink that you take will depend on your own likes and dietary needs. It also depends on how many nights you are planning to wild camp. Most of my expeditions last for one or two nights before passing through a town or village where I can re-stock. My basics to take would be a dehydrated meal for dinner and another for breakfast. I would also pack cereal bars, chocolate, fruit cake, nuts and dried fruits for additional snacks for the day. My drinks consist of water, coffee and maybe a sachet of hot chocolate.
I have tried many dehydrated meals but one that I have really enjoyed is ActivEat Foods. These are made local to me in Essex and have some fantastic flavours. One reason for using this type of meal is that all I have to do is boil water and add it to the packet, no washing up!
On a longer expedition it is great to visit local coffee shops and cafes as you pass through villages and towns. This is also a good way of contributing to the local economy. In places like France it is also possible to buy saucisson, cheese and bread from local markets to take with you for lunch later on. Some of our UK mountains like Snowdon and Cairngorm offer cafe options for some of the year, but even more so in Alpine regions where the mountain chalets offer welcome refreshments.
Let me know in the comments below if you have tried wild camping, where did you go and how did you find the whole experience? If you have any questions please ask away and I will try and answer.
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