Until a few years ago I’d never even heard of the term wild camping. Now it’s one of my favourite outdoor activities. It’s free, not particularly strenuous and very relaxing. If you are a newbie, here is my beginners guide to wild camping and bivvys to get you going…
What is wild camping
Wild camping is camping somewhere that is not on a designated camping site. Sometimes I wild camp because I am on a multi-day trek or high up in the mountains and campsites are too tricky to access. Sometimes I wild camp though just because I prefer it – it’s quieter, you get the place to yourself and it’s free!
The downside (for some) is that you don’t have facilities such as running water, showers and toilets. But this is something you can easily get used to.
The legality of wild camping
In most places in the UK it is technically illegal to wild camp unless you are in Scotland or Dartmoor, where it is allowed. Don’t let that put you off though! Generally speaking if you follow these basic rules it is tolerated and you won’t run into any trouble:
- don’t camp if the land is obviously private (without asking permission first)
- be discrete – camp somewhere a bit hidden and don’t be noisy
- pitch late and leave early
- don’t leave a trace – that means tacking all rubbish with you and leaving the place as you found it
- don’t light any fires
You have to accept that there is a small chance you will be asked to move on by landowners. However, in all the times I have wild camped, this has never happened to me. While doing my Scoop the Loop challenge, I found places to sleep in London including a rugby pitch and a small well-used park. I didn’t get any bother at all.
Where to go wild camping in the UK
In the UK, one of the best places to start is the Highlands, Lake District or Snowdonia where you are so remote and out of the way. It is easy to find running water and a suitable place to camp. Another good place to try is Peak District, Yorkshire Downs or the South Downs where you will have no bother pitching, even if it is just off a track. On the top of Box Hill is a favourite of mine!
Do not camp in the New Forrest….I’ve heard they are very strict with wild camping!
I can really recommend getting a copy of Phoebe’s Smiths Britain’s Best Small Hill’s which lists loads of suggestions. Or to get you going, check out:
– Ellis Brigham; 10 Wildcamping spots
– Red Bull: Wild camping spots in the UK
– Countryfile: 10 Wildcamping spots
How to choose a spot?
When I look for a wild camp spot I’m searching for a quiet and flat patch that I can lie down in. Preferably out of view of any paths although in remote places this is less of a problem. And also without obviously damaging any wildlife.
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.
What does it mean to Bivvy (or bivvi)?
It simply means sleeping out without a tent. There are lots of advantages to bivvying over a tent such as you have less to carry, bivvy bags are cheaper, you are more inconspicuous making it easier to stay hidden. You are also properly outside which you’ll either love or hate. I really like it but only for a couple of nights.
What do you need?
For starters, you are going to need plenty of warm clothing and waterproofs (in case it does rain you don’t want to get your clothes wet). My advice would be to take more warm clothes than you think you need. There’s nothing worse than feeling cold! Bring a beanie or hat.
A roll mat to sleep on. 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.
You will need either a sleeping bag or bivvy bag. I can recommend:
Tent – 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.
Bivvy – 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’ve tried a couple of bivvy bags and for me nothing beats the Alpkit Hunka. Simple but effective!
Finally, if there is a risk it is going to rain, you can pitch up a basha (tarp) to keep your face and bags from getting wet. Again you can improvise with a cheap plastic tarp you get from the garage or invest in a good quality one for around £30. I use a DD tarp which is great.
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
– Bag to carry your gear
– Charged phone as a safety precaution
Make sure you tell someone your rough plan and where you intend to go. You should always do this when going on an adventure!
And for more tips on keeping the cold at bay check out my 8 top tips for staying warm while camping.
How to use your bivvy
To use a bivvy just pull it over your sleeping bag and over your head, but leave a gap for your mouth to breath – this will reduce condensation. It is up to you if you have your roll matt outside of the bivvy bag or inside. I prefer mine inside – It protects it, stops it getting wet and prevents me from sliding off. If you sleep with your legs bent though, you may find it more comfortable with the roll matt outside.
I set everything up first, get myself changed into my sleep gear and then slide myself in.
Remember that a bivvy is noticeably colder than a tent so bear this in mind when checking the weather and deciding what to take.
If you have never wild camped before, I really urge you to give it a go. If you are nervous, join a group to do it with for the first time. I spent a night wild camping with the Yes Tribe and had a great time.
For any women reading this, join the Love Her Wild group where you can connect to other women in the area who might be keen to go together!