Until a few years ago I’d never even heard of the term ‘wild camping’. But now it’s one of my absolute favourite outdoor activities. It’s free, not particularly strenuous and really connects you to nature. In this guide to wild camping UK, I’ll cover everything you need to know about etiquette and gear to get you started.
Often the biggest barrier to wild camping for the first time is getting over the fear of being caught. With the information below, I hope to ease your worries. With an understanding of good wild camping UK practices there is no reason why your night outdoors shouldn’t go unoticed.
What is wild camping and why the fuss?
Wild camping is simply camping somewhere that is not on a designated camping site.
Sometimes there is a need for a wild camp. For example, if you are on a multi-day hike and far away from campsites and accommodation options.
Most people choose to wild camp though because it adds to the outdoor experience. There really isn’t anything quite like waking up right in the heart of nature. Or sleeping under stars miles from the nearest light.
The biggest deterrent for wild camping is probably the idea of needing to carry all your gear with you. And also coping with no facilities – no taps, showers or toilets. Alongside that feeling that you might get caught out in the middle of the night.
These are easy to get used to though. Choosing the right gear and learning wild camping etiquettes will make the process easy and stress free.
Wild camping UK legalities
The only places you can legally wild camp in the UK is in Dartmoor and Scotland. However, wild camping is tolerated almost entirely across the UK as longs as you follow these basic rules:
- don’t camp if the land is obviously private, there are houses/farms within sight or if you need to jump a fence (unless you ask for permission first)
- be quiet and respectful
- pitch late and leave early and never stay more than 1 night
- follow Leave no Trace – more on that below
- don’t light fires
There are some protectect areas where you can absolutely not camp and these are usually marked with no camping signs. For example, the New Forrest is an area that does not tolerate wild camping and they have rangers who patrol at night to enforce this.
The way I see it is there are 2 types of wild camping.
The first is camping in the big National Parks (Lake District, Brecon Beacons, Peak District, etc). It is such commonplace to wild camp in these places that you don’t need to worry about being moved on as long as you follow the above rules.
The second type of wild camping is what I see as more ‘stealth camping’. This is camping in natural spaces that aren’t far from towns or villages, or in smaller less rural parks (such as the South Downs Way or a nearby hill top). This requires being a bit more discrete and generally not being seen from any path.
Stealth camping can be just as fun and can provide a bit of time in nature right on your doorstep. Usually this requires a bit more confidence but once grasped it can open up a whole new world of adventure.
I’ve wild camped without disruption in parks, on rugby pitches and even in London!
What happens if I get caught?
If you are wild camping somewhere near a town or village, you have to accept that there is a small chance you will be asked to move on by landowners.
This is not something I’ve experienced myself although I’ve heard stories of others being moved on in the middle of the night. It’s all part of the adventure!
If it happens to try and reason with the person (who is most likely going to be the landowner) and reassure them you won’t leave a trace. If they are insistent – which they have every right to be – just move on and find another spot.
Mostly though it’s not something you need to worry about too much. I’ve been seen plenty of times and nothing has happened.
Imagine if you were walking in the woods and saw a tent, would you do anything? Probably not!
The first night you camp will probably feel a bit strange but the more you do it the easier it becomes and the more relaxed you feel knowing that you really can find a sleeping spot anywhere.
Where to go wild camping in the UK
For wild camping in the big National Parks, you don’t need to do too much planning in advance.
If looking for somewhere near a town or village you can use Google maps to look for green spaces or woodlands. If you don’t know the area I’d suggest doing a recce in the day. Checking there are no fences and that there’s a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
I’ve writen some comprehensive area spefic guides to get you started:
- Wild camping Snowdonia
- Guide to wild camping Lake District (coming soon)
- Wild camping Brecon Beacons
- Wild camping Peak District (coming soon)
For more suggestions and ideas of where to head, I can really recommend getting a copy of Phoebe’s Smiths Britain’s Best Small Hill’s.
Using a tent vs a bivvy bag
There are 2 ways to wild camp. The first is using a tent. Your tent should be small and discrete (ideally a colour that won’t make you stand out and preferably no bigger than 3-man).
My favourite wild camping tent is the MSR Hubba Hubba.
Alternatively, you can use a bivvy bag. A bivvy bag is effectively a waterproof bag for your sleeping bag. You lay it down in a quiet spot and sleep out under the stars with no cover!
If you want to try using a bivvy bag check out my bivvy bag camping guide.
If you are still undecided if you should take the bivvy bag or the tent then this short film might help:
How to choose a wild camping spot
When I look for a wild camp spot I’m searching for the following:
- flat spot (nothing worse than sleeping on a slope)
- quiet and out of view (especially important if in a less rural area)
- big enough space to fit my tent or bivvy bag
- not in the middle of a path or space that people will be walking through
- soft underground (not too many rocks or roots)
- not at the bottom of a slope that may flood if it rains
What to pack for wild camping
I would say the most important thing to consider when wild camping is making sure you have plenty of warm clothing and waterproofs in case it does rain on you!
People often underestimate how cold it can get when camping. Make sure you have lots of layers, a warm hat and clothes. Read my guide to staying warm when camping – you can follow some basic rules to help you keep the heat in. Once you get cold camping the only way you are going to warm up is to get up and move to generate body heat.
The other important bits of kit include:
MSR Hubba Hubba is not cheap but I have had this tent for years and it really is the Ferrari of the tent world. For a cheaper alternative, I can really suggest getting a Vango Banshee….I’ve been in a serious storm with this thing and water never gets in.
If you don’t want to invest in a bivvy bag until you’ve tried it then just use a Survival Bag. You get a lot of condensation though so they are only good for one night! I’d recommend a Mountain Warehouse bivvy bag for a simple but effective bit of kit.
I use a Thermarest which is very luxurious although a cheap roll mat will also do. If you are sleeping on soft ground (grass or woodland) you could even get away without one, especially if it is overnight.
My Tundra Pure and Dry 0 is an epically warm and lightweight sleeping bag. As a cold sleeper, I found a good quality sleeping bag makes all the difference. There’s no need to spend so much starting out though. A basic Vango sleeping bag will get you through a summers night.
Other gear will need is…..
– headtorch (I use a Petzl Tikkina) in case you need to go for a pee in the night. Alternatively, you can just use the torchlight on your phone.
– Water bottle
– Food and snacks
– Rucksack to carry your gear (I use Osprey Eja 38)
– Phone (as a safety precaution even if you don’t intend to use it)
– Anker Power Bank as a backup charger for your phone
A few luxury items worth considering, especially if you don’t have far to carry your kit: book, journal and a small pillow
Make it comfortable
Being warm and fed has the biggest effect on how much you will enjoy your overnight camp.
Being well fed is easy to take care of. Staying warm though can be a little trickier. Check out my guide to staying warm when camping for my top tips.
Second to food and warmth for me is having a comfy pillow which is why I always take my travel one with me to ensure a good nights sleep.
Safety when wild camping
As with all adventures, make sure you tell someone your rough plan and where you intend to go.
There are very few dangers when it comes to wild camping. Pitching under trees comes with a risk of falling branches – especially in high winds or storms.
In wet weather or cold, wet kit can be a killer as it leads to hypothermia very fast.
As for being a female on your own, logic says you will be fine. If this is something that really bothers you then why not simply head out with a friend. You could camp together of, for reasurance, within a short distance from each other. Knowing there is someone nearby can be a real comfort.
Leave no trace!
Following these simple rules ensures you do the minimal damage possible to our natural spaces when you wild camp.
- Pick a spot that requires the least amount of disruption (moving rocks and stones) while avoiding trampling on flowers or plans
- Take away all your litter
- Don’t light fires and use a camping stove if you do decide to cook
- Follow the toileting rules below
- Never wash in the streams or rivers with soaps or pollute the area with non-eco-friendly products
- Be quiet
How to go to the toilet when wild camping
This is a big concern for first time wild campers but it’s not hard to get to grips with it once you’ve tried it a few times.
For wee’s, you just need to pick a bush out of the way from any paths where someone may see you.
For poo’s you need to dig a hole in the ground using a camping shovel (like this one). Make sure the hole is at least 15cm deep, at least 30 meters away from any water sauce (so you don’t contaminate the water) and covered up entirely when you finish.
Bring hand sanatiser with you to clean your hands afterwards.
All tissue paper and sanitary items need to be carried away with you. The cleanest way to do this is to use nappy bags.
Top tips for wild camping UK
Hopefully, you are all set now to head out into the UK countryside for a wild camp! Before you head out, check out my final top tips for wild camping UK:
- For your first ever time wild camping, I’d recommend having a plan B! A get out in the middle of the night should you want to bail – leave your car nearby or have an all-night taxi number to hand
- If you are nervous about going alone then go with a group first time. For women, you can post in the Love Her Wild adventure group or the Yes Tribe regularly organise group wild campouts
- If you want to try an even ‘wilder’ experiecne, you could leave the tent behind and opt for a bivvy bag instead. Check out this guide to bivvy bag camping for more advice
- Set a date and commit to making it happen. The first wild camp is the hardest!
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