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From leaving no trace to ensuring you’ve packed that vital piece of kit, our essential wild camping guide explains how to get started, where you can legally camp in the UK, kit to take and safely tips.
What is wild camping?
Wild camping involves setting up camp outside of a campsite or caravan park and sleeping in your tent the wilderness. You might be doing a multi-day hike and camp in a national park (checking first it is legal to do so) or fancy a micro adventure sleeping in nature. Tempting though the peace of the wilderness may be, wild camping can be daunting for first-timers, which is why our handy guide explains how to wild camp legally and safely in the UK.
Where is wild camping legal in the UK?
The general rule for wild camping is to check whether you can legally camp – or get permission and to leave no trace.
Before heading to the wilderness to wild camp, it’s important to check the rules in your region. The majority of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, campers have no legal rights so check before you camp or get the landowner’s permission. Some sites in Scotland, including Loch Lomond now require campers to get a permit so do your research before you go.
Where are the best places to wild camp in the UK?
More related content:
- Britain’s best beaches
- Best kit for multi-day hikes: boots, clothing, bags and camping equipment
- Britain’s most unusual campsites
Find a remote spot – but tell someone where you’re going
One of the many joys of wild camping is that it gives access to remote and wild places. Finding a remote spot with a view to enjoy at sunrise will make all the aches and pains of hiking through the wilderness seem worthwhile. However, it is also important to let others know where you’re planning to go in case of emergency. It doesn’t have to be the exact location, but leaving a rough plan of your route could be vitally important in a rescue situation. If you’re staying in a hostel or guesthouse, let the owner know your plans and when you expect to return.
What should I take wild camping in the UK?
Remember the essentials
Finding yourself without a vital piece of kit in the wild is not only annoying – it can be life-threatening. While packing that extra warm layer or waterproof might add a bit of weight to your pack, if the weather suddenly changes it will make a night outdoors much more enjoyable – and safe. Being a bit cold and wet could soon turn from a miserable experience to a deadly one if the weather takes a turn for the worse, so don’t risk it.
How to go wild camping
Arrive late and leave early
Plan arriving at your chosen location late in the day to avoid disturbing others and leave early before other walkers are out and about.
Source clean water
Water is heavy to carry, so chances are you will need to camp near a water source. Running water is generally safer than still and is best collected as close to the source as possible. Check immediately upstream for animal carcasses or waste. Use a tried and tested water filter or boil any water before drinking.
The wild camping code: Leave no trace
This is the crucial rule of wild camping and ideally you will create minimum impact on your desired area so it still remains natural and wild. Better still, you should leave the site so no one can tell you’ve even been there.
Litter – this goes without saying, but ensure you collect all your rubbish and take it with you. Walk the site slowly before leaving to check that nothing is missed.Leave the site as you found it – don’t leave holes, fire damage, litter, and take care not to damage vegetation. This includes toliet duties, which should be well buried and covered with turf so your waste can biodegrade naturally.
Fire – If you are allowed to light a fire, ensure you do so correctly and leave no trace that you were ever there. Many sites don’t allow fires so again do your research.
Keep group numbers small – try to minimise disturbing wildlife by camping in a small group and reduce noise and light where possible.
Stay just the one night – and then move on. It is possible to stay more than one night in some areas but try to limit your stay.
Basic gear for wild camping
Here are some suggestions for the kit you will need to ensure a safe and comfortable night of wild camping. Hunt around for the kit that works best for you. If you can, try camping at a campsite or even back garden to test your kit out before heading to the wild.
Start with a tough and light tent
You’ll be carrying everything on your back, so the weight can soon add up. Carrying too much can turn an enjoyable hike into a slog, so you may want to consider shopping around to find the best quality and lightest equipment you can afford.
If you’re hiking alone and only camping out a night or two, then smaller is better. However, if you’re walking with company or very tall, then you may want to share the load and opt for a roomier tent. Tent size very much depends on how comfortable you are in a fairly cramped surroundings, so if possible visit an outdoor store to get an idea of what size would suit you.
Outdoor addicts can camp all year round in this tough and relatively affordable 2-person tent. Alloy poles and robust fabrics are designed to cope with high winds, heavy rain and other nasty weather. The design is so stable that Wild Country reckon that it can usually be pitched without guying out – for example on soft ground.
Keep comfortable at night: pack your sleeping mat
Overnight adventures are more fun if you get a good night’s kip. A sleeping mat not only makes the ground softer to lie on, importantly it will also help keep you warmer. Choose from the cheaper, foam roll-up mats or a self-inflating sleeping mat. The pros of the foam mats are the relatively cheap cost and weight, but the cons include bulk (they generally have to be attached to the outside of your bag, which isn’t ideal in wet conditions). Self-inflating mats can pack down incredibly small and provide a softer and warmer bed for the night
For a blend of comfort, size, weight and price, this mat by Nordisk is a really good option. It clocks in at 720g, and costs less than leading sleeping mat brands. At 2.5cm thick it will insulate you from cold ground, while rolling up to a compact 17cm x 28 cm. It’s no feather bed, but reasonably comfortable for a few nights. Thale 2.5 sleeping mat, Nordisk, £33.
Stay warm: sleeping bag
A good quality and lightweight sleeping bag is essential for a good night’s shuteye. This Ultralite 600 sleeping bag, Vango, £80: Breathable, comfortable and just 1.1kg, this lightweight three-season sleeping bag is a good, solid all-rounder. I like the anti-snag zip and the additional chest room, which means you can turn over in the night without getting tangled up. 01474 746000, www.vango.co.uk
Windboiler Stove, MSR, £110: Jaw-dropping fuel efficiency, impressive wind resistance and a speedy boil time all wrapped up in a thermos-sized package. If you walk in all weathers and need a compact, fuss-free cooking system then this award-winning stove is for you.
A hands-free, guiding light for those night time re-adjusting-the-guy-rope-sessions or for a spot of nocturnal wildlife watching. If you’re planning on doing the latter, try and source a head torch with a red light feature, so as not to disturb nesting animals. Try ‘Petzl’ for a reliable, versatile model: www.petzl.com/GB
Beat the bugs: insect repellent
Despite our temperate climate, our rivers and lakes still seem to attract those pesky midges. If you’re planning on venturing up into the highlands or camping near a water body, be sure to pack some insect repellent to ease the discomfort of being nibbled. If you are sensitive to the ‘Deet’ component found in most insect repellent’s, Cotswold Outdoor offers a skin-friendly alternative
Other useful items include: box of water-proof matches, first-aid kit, spare set of warm clothing, water-proofs and coffee for the morning. Sleep tight!