first timer's guide to wild camping

If the idea of getting far away from the herd and spending some time alone in the wilderness appeals to you, then wild camping could be right up your street!

Related Read: The 4 Different Types of Camping

Although wild camping is undoubtedly a wonderfully relaxing, cathartic experience, you’re essentially just wandering out into the middle of nowhere and staying the night, which can be somewhat daunting for newbies.

So, here’s my essential first-timer’s guide sharing tips on where to wild camp, what to take, and how to keep on the right side of the law when wild camping in the UK.

Where is it legal to go wild camping in the UK?

In the majority of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you must check with the landowner and obtain their permission before you camp. That said, Dartmoor generally welcomes wild campers.

In Scotland, you can wild camp pretty much anywhere, although some places now require that you obtain a permit, so be sure to research your proposed campsites thoroughly before you go.

That said, I have wild camped in The Peak District and The Lake District “illegally”. There is no rule that allows wild camping in these national parks, but I have found that if I stay out of the way and follow the “wild camping code” (as below) then there are usually no problems.

However, if you do accidentally pitch your tent in the wrong place and are asked to move on, the best thing to do is to apologise and to do so.

The wild camping code

Wild campers observe three main unwritten rules.

These are essential to ensure that we protect our countryside and so we can all carry on enjoying wild camping in the future.

1. Arrive late and leave early

When wild camping you should arrive late in the day and leave early in the morning.

You do not stay for several days.

Wild camping is more of a quick stop-over before packing up and carrying on with your journey.

2. Leave no trace

This is a crucial wild camping rule.

You must leave the area you visit untouched and with no visible sign that you were ever there.

Rubbish

Before you leave, check the site carefully to make sure that you are leaving no litter or rubbish behind. This also includes things such as banana skins and apple cores.

You must leave the site exactly as you found it.

That means no holes, litter, fire damage, or spoiled vegetation. Toilet duties must be buried and covered with turf so that all waste will biodegrade and disappear naturally.

Fire

If you have permission to light a campfire, make sure that you do so correctly, and don’t leave any trace of the fire afterward.

Double-check before you go that you are permitted to light fires and don’t do so unless you’re allowed to.

3. Do not disturb

Rather than wild camping, think of it as stealth camping.

You want to be able to leave the next day without anyone knowing that you were there in the first place.

Do not disturb wildlife and livestock, do not play loud music or make excessive noise, and if you’re going wild camping in a group keep the numbers to a minimum.

Exercise your inner ninja!

What to take when wild camping in the UK

Here are a few suggestions for the gear you’ll need to keep you safe and comfortable for a night away wild camping.

If possible, practice camping at a local, fully-serviced campsite or try out your kit in your back garden first.

TIP: Weight Matters!

Remember that when wild camping you’re going to have to carry everything, usually for several miles up a hill!

Although everything may seem light individually, it soon gets heavy when lumped together and strapped to your back for several hours.

So, the key is to pack as light as possible!

1. Clothing

Having the right clothing is essential when wild camping, and lots of layers are the way to go.

Choose a warm base layer, mid-layer, a waterproof, and a windproof jacket. Merino wool is lightweight and extremely warm and makes the ideal base layer. You can even get merino wool underwear!

Bring spare clothes too. If you get wet, you’ll need something dry to wear. Never underestimate the joyous feeling of slipping on a clean and dry pair of socks after accidentally getting your feet wet!

Related Read: How to Stay Warm When Camping

2. Tent

When camping on serviced campsites, I usually recomment people get a bigger tent than what they need. For example, if there are two people, get a four person tent. You’ll be glad of the extra space.

However, when it comes to wild camping, the opposite is true; get the smallest and most lightweight tent you can get away with whilst still maintaining a reasonable level of comfort.

Look for a sturdy, waterproof tent that has super-light yet robust poles.

I wild camp in my Phoxx 1 Backpacking tent, pictured below. I don’t think it’s available to buy anymore, but it helps to give you an idea of what to look for.

wildcamping the gritstone trail travel blog roseanna sunley
roseanna sunley travel blog wildcamping bosley cloud

(Mine is a one-person tent, but there are also two-person tents that would still be suitable for wild camping.)

3. Sleeping mat

For a good night’s sleep, you will need to take a sleeping mat with you. A mat will keep you warm, as well as protecting you from any lumpy ground.

Choose a lightweight, roll-up foam mat or a self-inflating one.

Foam mats are generally cheaper, but self-inflating mats pack down into tiny packages and will provide you with a softer, warmer bed, too.

4. Sleeping bag

When choosing a sleeping bag, pick one that’s good quality, lightweight, and breathable. Ideally, you want a sleeping bag that can be squashed into a small package, too.

Related Read: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

5. Camping stove

A reliable, easy-to-use, small camping stove is an essential piece of kit for wild camping. You can’t rely on a campfire for cooking even if you are camping in a place that allows fires, especially given the vagaries of the great British weather!

At the very least, you need to be able to make a hot drink or a Pot Noodle, and a camping stove is ideal for that.

6. Food

If you’re only away for one night, you won’t need a vast amount of food.

Take dried foods that are high in carbs and protein and easy to rehydrate and heat up over your camping stove.

Examples of food you can take include porridge, soup, noodles, coffee, tea bags, and the like. Chocolate bars and energy bars are also a handy addition to your supplies.

7. Head torch

A head torch is essential, as wild camping sites don’t include electricity or lighting and it’s a lot darker up on those mountains!

A head torch allows you to move around in the dark safely and make any essential night-time adjustments to your tent without juggling a torch at the same time.

If you want to enjoy a spot of nocturnal wildlife watching, buy a head-torch with a red light, night-vision feature.

8. Insect repellent

Unfortunately, many of the most beautiful wild camping locations in the UK are also home to a range of midges and other biting insects that can make your life a misery.

If you’re planning on holidaying in the Scottish Highlands or wild camping close to water, remember to pack some good quality insect repellent and keep your tent door closed at all times.

Related Read: 9 Tips For Avoiding Flies, Midges, and Mosquitoes

9. Other essential items

It goes without saying that you should take a first-aid kit.

It’s also a good idea to take some gel hand sanitiser, a small portable shovel, and loo roll!

A fully charged phone with GPS is also an essential piece of kit to take with you, especially if you’re planning on climbing, kayaking, or undertaking some other potentially risky activity while you’re away. It can also be handy to take a power bank should your battery die.

Also, make sure you download the app “What 3 Words” so that you can easily be located by the emergency services and mountain rescue should the worst happen.

Wild camping tips

Here are a few extra wild camping and safety tips to help make sure you have an awesome time!

1. Tell someone where you’re going

The whole point of wild camping is that it takes you away from popular, crowded areas and regimented sites to remote, wilderness areas. That’s fantastic from the point of view that you can enjoy peace and quiet, but many wild camping locations require a long hike to get there and have no amenities whatsoever.

So, always tell someone where you’re heading and give them a rough plan of your intended route. It’s also sensible to let friends or family know how long you intend to be away and when you plan on getting back. That way, you’re more likely to be found if there’s an emergency.

2. How to a locate a pitch

If possible, pick somewhere south-facing so that you get to enjoy the sunrise and sunset. Also, you want somewhere with very little light pollution so that you get the most spectacular view of the night sky.

Stay out of the way of livestock, roads, off personal property, and away from houses and dwellings.

Related Read: 18 Tips When Pitching a Tent

3. Locate clean water

It is recommended that you drink at least 2 liters of water every day. However, you’re probably going to need more than that since you’re going to be physically exerting yourself, and especially if the weather is warm,

Water is too heavy to carry in any quantity, so you need to know where you’re going to get your water from.

Running water is safest and should be taken from as close to the source as possible. Always boil or filter your water before you drink it or use it for cooking.

Enjoy your wild camping adventure!

If you crave solitude and a quiet night or two somewhere peaceful and close to nature, wild camping may be the ideal holiday for you.

For your first wild camping expedition, don’t go too far into the back of beyond. Instead, try to camp in a place that you are familiar with and take someone knowledgeable with you.

Have a great time!

Roseanna x

P.S. Share your favorite wild camping spots in the comments below!

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Roseanna
Currently winging my way through life and putting most of it on the internet. This is my personal website where I share my business book reviews, my adventure tips and stories, and my general musings on life as a solo entrepreneur.

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