Wild camping season is here! The days are drawing out, the sun is shining (sometimes) and the countryside is a million shades of green. If you haven’t already dusted off your tent or bivvy bag, now is the time.
Whether you’re new to wild camping, or just looking for a few new ideas, here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about wild camping.
What’s the Difference Between Wild Camping and Camping On a Site?
This may be a dumb question. (But there is no such thing as a dumb question, right?) It’s pretty obvious that camping in the wild is going to be a different experience to pitching up in a serviced campsite. There are no showers for one thing. Or toilets. Or other people. If any of these things are essential to your love of camping, then you may want to give wild camping a miss.
On a more serious note, whereas you may pitch your tent in a campsite for a weekend or week-long trip, this is not the done thing when wild camping. The unwritten rule is ‘dusk ‘til dawn’. Pitch up late in the day and move on early the next morning. You’re a wanderer. An explorer. If you pitch up twenty metres from your car and spend the weekend relaxing in your folding chair next to the barbeque, you’re kind of missing the point.
Is Wild Camping legal?
This depends on where you’re looking to camp. In Scotland, wild camping is permitted as long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code. Leave no trace, follow the ‘dawn ‘til’ dusk’ guidelines and don’t get in anyone’s way and you’re unlikely to have a problem.
In the majority of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you have no legal right to camp wild and technically you should ask the landowner’s permission (except for Dartmoor where you’re allowed to wild camp for one or two nights on open land). However, in many remote areas, wild camping is tolerated as long as you pitch up well away from roads and farmland.
Essential Kit for Wild Camping
Wild camping kit can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. At one end of the scale, you can have a perfectly good night with a cheap plastic bivvy bag, a sleeping bag and a pack of sandwiches. But if you’re planning on making a regular habit of wild camping, or if you’re backpacking then you may want to invest in some specific gear.
Here are the main essentials you’ll need for Wild Camping:
- Bivvy bag or tent – bivvy bags are perfect for microadventures and single nights out, but if you’re doing a long trip then a small tent can be worth its weight in gold. Particularly if it’s raining.
- Sleeping bag – even in summer, you’ll have an uncomfortable night without your bag.
- Sleeping mat – ideally a lightweight, blow up mat such as a Thermarest.
- Warm jacket – always worth carrying a spare layer, especially if you’re likely to be sitting around in the evening.
- Torch – to be fair, at this time of year, it’s light late into the evening. As long as you don’t need any night-time toilet stops you may get away without one.
- Stove and pan – something small and light is ideal.
- Lighter – you will regret forgetting this. Take two, in case one doesn’t work.
- Water bottle – if you’re planning on filling up from streams, then one with a wide neck is ideal.
- Mug – not your best china.
- Spork – the only implement you need for eating.
- Food – see below for ideas.
- Insect repellent – you may consider this optional until you’ve been attacked by the dreaded midge. No one wants to wake up with a face full of itchy bites.
- Fold up trowel – for your DIY toilet.
You should be able to fit these into a small rucksack, particularly if you’ve taking a bivvy bag rather than a tent. If you’re planning on camping in the woods, then a hammock and tarp is a great alternative to a tent.
Pick Your Perfect Wild Camping Spot
Perfect camping spots rarely appear just when you need them. It’s worth having a rough idea of where you want to camp before setting out.
A couple of things to bear in mind:
- Popular spots tend to be, well, popular. If you head up to a classic wild camping spot with a beautiful view on a summer Saturday in the Lake District, then you’re unlikely to have it to yourself.
- Look at the weather forecast before heading out. If it’s due to get windy overnight, you might want to avoid camping on an exposed mountaintop.
- But if it’s looking calm, an exposed location may help keep the midges at bay!
- If you need to collect water for cooking or drinking, then plan to camp near a reliable water source. If it’s been a dry summer, small streams may be more of a trickle near their source. If in doubt, fill up your bottles before heading to high ground.
Once you’ve found the area you’re going to spend the night it, spend ten minutes walking around to find a good spot. If the ‘perfect’ spot you picked on the map turns out to be a man-eating bog, then be prepared to look again. Sadly, maps can’t tell you everything.
Cook Up a Feast
Cooking over a campfire can be the epitome of wild camping. But you should only light a fire where it’s safe to do so and there’s no chance of you starting a wildfire. Seriously, wildfires are a big deal. Don’t be the idiot who accidentally starts one. If you do build a fire, make sure you clear it up afterwards. Leave no trace, remember?
Cooking on a stove may be less romantic, but it’s much more practical. And just because you’re wild camping, doesn’t mean you’re restricted to instant noodles. If you’re out for a single night, then pick up some sausages or cheese to include in your feast. Packing for longer trips requires a bit more thought, but there are lots of tasty meals you can cook up in a single pan. If you’re looking for inspiration, the Dirty Gourmet blog has some great recipes.
When Nature Calls
If you’ve grown up in the outdoors, then you can probably pass over this section. But if you’re new to wild camping and spending time away from ‘real’ toilets, then there are some things you need to know.
Firstly, choose a toilet spot well away from water – at least 30m.
Secondly, leaving toilet paper littered around is the ultimate no-no. I see this all the time when I’m out hiking and it really gets on my nerves. There’s no excuse for it. Ideally, bag up toilet paper and sanitary products and take them out with you. Alternatively, you can burn them VERY CAREFULLY (see point above about wildfires) and bury the ashes, or in a worst case scenario, bury them in a hole in the ground.
Finally, if you’re going for more than a wee, dig a hole. What if you’ve forgotten your trowel? Use a stick. Or a rock. Or your bare hands. Just bury it somehow. Got it?
Wild Camping is Supposed to Be Fun
Ok, so camping in the middle of nowhere with no pub or toilets isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But I suspect if you’re reading this, you’re at least willing to give it a go. If you’re in need of a break from the hectic world of work, people and social media then I can recommend spending a couple of nights wild camping to recharge your batteries.
Of course, this being Britain, the weather is never guaranteed. And to be honest, if it’s lashing rain then camping in any situation isn’t that fun. So keep an eye on the forecast and if it’s looking bad be prepared to change your plans. If you’re determined to go ahead anyway, then check out my top tips for staying dry when camping in the rain.