Wild camping is a great way to get some exercise, de-stress yourself, and enjoy the world around you. Our guide to wild camping will help you get started. Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- How to pick the best campsites
- Camping tips for getting in and out safely, quickly, and easily
- Making the best shelter choice for your situation
- Choosing the best sleeping gear to get a good night’s sleep
- Planning for what you’re going to drink
- Easy ways to organise food for your trip
- Getting ready for visitors to your campsite
- Basic emergency preparedness
You can also enjoy wild camping on any budget. Just walk out your door with some gear, pick a nice place, and pitch up for the night. Our checklist is going to give you great camping tips and show you what to take wild camping.
Where to Go Wild Camping
In most of the UK, wild camping is illegal. Land Reform is needed to make wild camping legal. Currently, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have bans against wild camping. Wild camping in Scotland is the only place it is legally permitted. In practice, you can go wild camping just about anywhere if you do so safely and without annoying people.
The best choice in the UK is to get permission from the landowner for your destination. Here are three simple rules for wild camping:
Arrive Late to Avoid Annoying People
Plan your trip so you arrive at your camp late in the day. An hour before dark is a good goal. If your campsite is well out of the way, arriving a little early isn’t usually a problem.
Leave Early to Stay Out of the Way
Similar to arriving late, leaving early is essential for keeping people happy. At the very least, pack up your camp early. Once you’re awake, plan on getting your gear together within an hour. Packing away your sleeping system and shelter will keep you out of trouble with most people.
Try to Avoid Being Too Visible
Plan your camp so you are out of the way and hidden. Organise your activities so you clean up after yourself when you leave. If no one sees you or knows you were there, you won’t have any trouble.
Picking the Best Location for Wild Camping
While you can camp anywhere, some places are better than others. Here are some simple tips for picking a great spot:
- Choose a location where you can be out of sight. Woods and trees are obvious choices. Mountains, hills and cliffs also offer simple hiding places.
- Plan for the weather. Sleeping on top of the highest hill sounds great, but it’s not a brilliant idea sometimes due to the wind and exposure.
- Get off the beaten path a bit. Walk away from where others are walking, hiking, or exercising their dog.
- Stay off clearly marked private property. If you have to climb a fence and ignore warning signs on your hike to your camp, you’re doing it wrong.
Leaving Your Car When Wild Camping
Now you know where you’re going, how do you get there? You don’t have to drive. In fact, your car is the clearest sign you are in the area. Instead of camping next to your car, park it somewhere and plan for a hike. Pack your rucksack and walk for a mile and then pick a place to camp.
There are other options for getting to your campsite:
- Just walk. Go out your front door with your rucksack on and hike somewhere four or five miles from your front door. You might be surprised at what you can find on your doorstep.
- Pack some panniers. Panniers are the bags that go on either side of the back wheel of a bicycle. Load some up with your gear and cycle to your site. This expands your traveling radius and bicycles are much easier to hide than cars.
- Take a train. A great way to get into the country is to catch a train to a rural station, hop off, and walk to a campsite. Just make sure you know the schedule for getting home again!
The basic idea of responsible wild camping is to enjoy nature in a low-impact way. Walking is the best choice to get to your camp. Cars, bikes, and trains help you get closer to your spot before you walk.
What Weight Tent for Wild Camping?
The weight of your tent is really determined by two things: how big it is and its material. For wild camping, you’re probably going to be carrying your tent, so keep it small and light. As a simple guide, anything more than 3kg is getting too heavy. There are three types of shelter setups you could choose:
- Tent with sleeping bag. Tents are common and probably what many people think of first. A small tent is usually cheap and light for beginners. For advanced campers, ultralight tents are available, but these come at a premium price.
- Bivvy bag on the floor. A bivvy bag is a bag that goes over your sleeping bag and lets you sleep on the ground. It’s really a small tent and should be waterproof. These are very small, so some people find them to be a little claustrophobic.
- Tarp shelters with bags or hammocks. A tarp is the lightest choice for a shelter, but you must know how to set it up. There are options for setups including trees or without trees. Tarps are also cheap and versatile, so they are a great choice. Hammocks can be super simple for less than £30 on Amazon or they can be all-in-one units that come with bug nets, underquilts, and other bling.
How to Sleep Better While Camping
You can always sleep better if you are at the right temperature and on a cushion. Since you’ll be carrying your bed, your whole sleeping system should also be as light as possible. You really only need two things:
- A sleeping bag. Your sleeping system should keep you warm in every season. Bags filled with synthetic material are easier to maintain, but not as warm. Down-filled bags are much warmer but can be difficult to dry when they get wet. Four season bags or winter bags are your best choice because you can always unzip them if you’re too warm.
- A sleeping mat. The worst culprit for making campers chilly is the ground. Pointy sticks and sharp rocks have also wrecked many good nights of sleep. You need a good sleeping mat to keep you off the ground and away from anything that will poke you. Aim for a pad that is durable and made from quality foam. Self-inflating mats can be great, but be sure to protect them from punctures.
What Do You Drink While Camping?
The most important drink is, of course, water. Plan to drink at least 4 litres of water if you’re a man, and slightly less if you’re a woman. If you have a long hike or some exercise while camping, then you need even more water.
You can clean and filter water in the wild. Water from lakes, streams, and ponds and any other clean water source can be made safe to drink. You can do this with special filters, iodine tablets, or just a small fire. Here the two main points to remember when drinking water from natural sources:
- Filtration removes dirt from the water. It doesn’t make it safe to drink, just more pleasant.
- Sanitation kills bacteria. Chemical sanitation, such as water treatment tablets, is effective. Boiling water also works every time.
You can also drink anything else you choose to carry. Our favourite choice is coffee and tea. You can pack a small gas stove to boil water in a few minutes for your favourite beverage.
Food for Wild Camping
Everyone needs to eat, and camping makes people hungry. Thankfully, there are more options than ever for eating in the wilderness. To start with, you can decide whether you want to heat your food or eat cold food. The second choice is undoubtedly easier, but having a meal while camping makes a happy camper.
If you opt to cook, then you should pack a stove. Small gas hiking stoves are inexpensive and very light. You could choose a wood stove as well. Modern wood hiking stoves are small, portable, and very easy to use.
Whatever you choose, plan on taking your rubbish and litter away with you. Camping in the UK is a privilege and messy campers should be fined.
Can You Light a Fire When Wild Camping?
Wild camping in the UK is illegal, except in Scotland. One of the main reasons is the failure of some people to leave no trace when they camp. Lighting a fire, if done responsibly, is not a problem.
Another thing to consider is visibility. Lighting fires makes your campsite easy to see from a long way away. While a campfire may be warming and comforting, it is not always the best choice for staying hidden in locations around the country.
If lighting fires outdoors is part of your plan, then here’s what you can do with any campfires to respect wildlife, the public, and landowners:
- Keep your fire small. Don’t light a bonfire when a little cooking fire is all you need.
- Control your campfire. Use stones and a fire pit to keep the flames where you want them.
- Bury the ashes. When you’re ready to leave your camping spot, bury any ashes. Use a sharp stick to turn up the dirt and then cover the area with leaves.
We like fires on a camping trip. We also strongly prefer stoves to make sure we leave no trace of our campsites. This makes returning to our wild camp much easier and safer.
Plan for Visitors
The British countryside is a surprisingly busy place. You are likely to encounter other members of the public while you’re on a wild camp in the UK. This is especially true around farmland or a national park.
While some groups are trying to make wild camping legal, others are not friendly to wild campers. There are some simple rules to follow to make sure you have a good experience.
- Get permission from the landowner if you can. This is the best option.
- Follow the Golden Rule: Arrive Late, Leave Early, and Leave No Trace.
- Move on if you’re asked.
- Be kind and considerate to each other to avoid escalating any conflict.
While members of the public might meet you, you are more likely to encounter natural visitors. Being outdoors means sharing the land with animals and insects. Be prepared for any animals by being calm and ready to move away.
Dogs off leads are your most likely visitors. If a dog approaches you in an aggressive way, then shout for its owner. Don’t be ashamed to be there, but be polite and ask them to restrain their dog.
Be Ready for Emergencies
Your safety is your own responsibility. Put a first aid kit in your rucksack with the rest of your kit. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be home. Take your mobile phone. Plan for the weather to be worse than you think.
The Best Wild Camping Advice
The best way to enjoy wild camping is to get out and do it. Your first camping trip should be somewhere close, so you can bail out if there’s a problem. As you gain more experience, you’ll be prepared for a wild camp on any weekend or in any weather. Follow our simple camping guide to get outdoors and enjoy yourself.