An Introduction to Wild Camping in the UK

If you’re interested in sleeping outside in one of our remote places, we have compiled our answers to some common questions from others who are just thinking of getting into wild camping.

I’m sure you’ve seen the photos on Instagram or watched “Wild camping Youtube” and seen people, just like you and me, pitching their tents high up on the slopes of Snowdonia, in the Highlands of Scotland or on the moors of Devon and thought “Holy Smokes that looks cool”. But as with any new adventure you may have some apprehension about heading out with just a tent and a stove for company.

What do you need? Where can you go? Is it even legal to just pitch a tent on a hill? and what about the toilet? Hopefully my experiences wild camping can help answer some of those burning questions.

what is wild camping

Very simply, wild camping refers to the act of spending the night outdoors, in nature.

You go for a hike, find a nice spot to camp and sleep there. Of course there are no facilities like on a traditional campsite but it’s this back to basics approach, along with the solitude and connection to the landscape that is bringing more and more people to wild camping

It’s an approach traditionally used by long distance hikers who travel light and carry the most basic kit but more and more people are taking a few home comforts with them and finding great joy in just spending time in our wild spaces

where can you go wild camping in the uk

At the moment, wild camping is only legally allowed in Scotland, where they have reformed land access to allow RESPONSIBLE access and wild camping in most of the country, and on parts of Dartmoor National Park in Devon where bylaws allow for camping as part of a walking or hiking trip.

Outside of Scotland and Dartmoor wild camping falls under the Vagrancy Act of 1824 (Yes 1824, thats not a typo) However as almost all land is owned by someone, if you gain permission from the landowner, you can camp anywhere.

However, large parts of the country have a long tradition of wild camping. The old adage of “pitch late, leave early” has served all parties well, despite the nuisance of irresponsible campers.

If you are camping in one of our wonderful National Parks and are challenged by a land owner or Park Ranger, its best to just move on to another spot. Personally, I have wild camped in many of our National Parks over many years and have never been asked to move on. I’ve even had park staff point me in the direction of a good spot!

Let’s be blunt. The police have much better things to do than arrest you for sleeping on a hill so as long as you behave responsibly, don’t leave a mess and move on if you’re asked to then you shouldn’t have any bother.

If you’re fortunate to be in Scotland or near Dartmoor just get out there and have some fun and wherever you choose to wild camp, just remember a few “golden rules”

our golden rules of wild camping

  • Pitch late and leave early
  • Leave no trace
  • Keep groups small
  • Don’t light fires. Ever. Unless it’s a survival situation there’s no need.
  • Dig your “facilities” at least 30m from water and paths
  • Don’t be a nuisance or a noisy bugger. The sound of a bluetooth speaker travels a long way in the still of the night.
  • Hand Sanitiser is your friend. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t take it wild camping. The last thing you want is bad guts and no facilities. Trust me.

what to take wild camping

One of the joys of wild camping is the simplicity of the equipment and gear required.

You’ll need a form of shelter, usually a tent but other options can be lots of fun, a sleeping bag and mat and a bag to carry it in. Anything more than that could be labelled a luxury!!

Of course if you’re planning to eat then you need to take food, as well as a method to cook it, so a stove and a pot is usually a good addition although there are many “stoveless” options for food while hiking and wildcamping.

Just like your shelter and sleep system there’s loads of options when it comes to cooking in the outdoors but the simplest solution is probably the gas canister stove

You’ll probably want a change of clothes, some waterproofs and a way of carrying water. If you want to limit the weight of your backpack you might like to carry a means to filter or treat water and camp close to a natural water source.

As you’re potentially away from facilities for 24 hours or more, you’ll need to carry a means to dispose of your “waste”. A trowel to dig a hole is the traditional option but some areas may be particularly sensitive so you might need to be prepared to carry “everything” back out with you. Hand sanitiser is a must have.

You’ll be surprised just how dark it can get out there so a torch is usually essential, even if just for searching your tent for the extra socks you brought with you.

how to find the perfect wild camping spot

Apologies up front. If you’re expecting a lovely flat, well mown lawn on which to wild camp then you’ll be out of luck. Your pitch will never be perfect but there’s a few tips you can follow to make a more comfortable nights camping.

“if you can find a spot as cool as this then you’re doing very well!”

  • Look for the flattest area for your shelter. Obviously the smaller your shelter is, the easier it will be to find a suitable spot.
  • Watch out for the lone rock that sits just under your head. Or worse, your bottom.
  • Try and steer clear of places that livestock may gather. You should be able tell from the conditions underfoot.
  • You’ll want to be near a water source but away from streams and rivers especially if heavy or sustained rain is forecast
  • While summits and Tors can offer spectacular 360° views they are also more exposed to the wind and can be a lot colder than 50 metres down hill in a more sheltered spot.
  • Be prepared to change plans. What looks like a perfect spot on the map can be quite different on the ground. Those nicely spaced contour lines designating flatter ground also provide great conditions for knee high heather and even taller gorse bushes.
    In recent years, our planned stays in the forest have had to be adjusted on the fly after finding forestry works and clear fells on our perfect wild camping spots

time to go wild camping

So if you’ve got this far I’d imagine your pretty committed to heading out into countryside to spend a night or two under the stars.

Remember, it won’t be perfect. You might be cold, you might be uncomfortable but there’s no feeling like waking up on a still, misty morning and watching the clouds lift and revealing your location as you sit in the warmth of your sleeping bag, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee. (You did bring the stove right?)

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