How To Guides

Wild Camping – The Basics

Wild Camping – The Basics

Camping in an organised site is fine, but there’s something about
unzipping your tent in the morning and looking out to find a
breathtaking lake surrounded by mountains of your very own. No noisy
neighbours, no officious campsite owners, no queue for the showers,
just you, your tent and the outdoors.

Camping away from an organised site is called wild camping
and while in essence it’s very simple – find a suitable place and put
up your tent – it also brings responsibilities with it. Our latest
basics article tells you what you need to know to wild camp
comfortably, responsibly and legally.

What Kit Do I Need?

Virtually all wild camp sites are reached by walking, so while
there are no particular requirements in terms of kit capability beyond
what you’d need to camp at a site, bear in mind that you’ll almost
certainly be carrying your home on your back.

That means that using a lightweight tent, sleeping bag and other
equipment is always going to be easier, though obviously if you can
carry it, you can camp with it. The same’s true of food; keep it
light and you’ll keep it enjoyable, though you can’t beat a nice
bottle of red wine with the sun setting over the tops.

If you’re planning a wild camp high in the mountains, bear in mind
that the weather could turn nasty even when it’s relatively calm in
the valleys, so make sure your tent is suitable and your sleeping bag
is good enough for the expected temperatures.

You may also need to consider some form of water purification
system, unless you’re planning to boil all the water you use, and a
travel towel for washing use. Finally, while there’s no right answer,
a discrete coloured tent means you blend into the landscape rather
than sticking out like a sore thumb.

Choosing A Site

It’s no secret that there are lots of well known popular wild
camping sites around; pitch up at Sprinkling Tarn, for example, and
there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing it with a few others. It
makes more sense to choose a less popular spot.

In pure camping terms – we’ll get onto legalities later – all you
really need is access to a reliable water supply, unless you’re
prepared to carry water in, and a patch of ground flat enough to
pitch your tent on.

Beyond that, if you’re high up, some form of shelter from the wind
is a good call. Avoid passes and cols because they tend to funnel
wind and, if you can, pitch on a well-drained area that’s slightly
higher than the surrounding ground to avoid getting bogged out if it

Finally, camping on the same spot for longer than a couple of
nights harms vegetation – check out organised sites for proof – so
move your tent.

Be Considerate

The key to wild camping is to make as little impact as possible
and leave minimal traces while you’re there and after you

Keep numbers down and moderate noise as much as
possible. Make an effort not to damage vegetation and don’t light
that could spread and cause a major conflagration at any
time of year. Don’t burn dead wood either, it can be a habitat for

Remember that lakes and watercourses are habitats for birds and
animals, so try not to camp directly beside them. If you do disturb
wildlife, be prepared to move elsewhere.

Finally leave the site as you found it, so you should pack
out anything that you pack in. Don’t be tempted to burn or bury
rubbish; bag it and take it with you.

Human Waste

Human waste disposal is a bit of a taboo subject, but if you’re
wild camping, it’s crucial that you dispose of your excrement
properly. There’s an excellent guide at the Mountaineering Council of
Scotland web site
which is well worth a read.

In brief though, don’t defecate within 30 metres of any running
– when camping take water from above your site and wallk
downstream to defecate – and dispose of your excrement by
burying. Use a small trowel to dig a six-inch hole and bury
it. It’ll decompose faster if you do this.

When it’s impossible to dig a hole, choose a discrete place and
spread your excrement out well before covering it with soil,
vegetation or rocks; this will help it to decompose faster. Don’t
cover it with a rock.

Toilet paper should ideally be burned carefully, but if
there’s a risk of fire, consider carrying it out. Don’t bury it
unless you have no other choice.

Female sanitary items like tampons should also be carried
out as they decompose slowly.

Always wash your hands, though don’t use soap directly in running
water. One option is an alcohol-based cleaning gel.

The Law – Scotland

In Scotland there’s now a statutory right to camp on access land
which comes with certain responsibilities. You can find full details
– much of it is common sense, like not camping in enclosed field
of crops or animals and keeping away from buildings, roads and
historic structures.

The Law – England And Wales

In England and Wales things are more complicated as there’s no
general right to camp unless you obtain the landowner’s permission.
In upland areas however, it’s often tolerated and there are
established wild camping spots in areas like the Lake District.

Often your best bet is to check the park authority web site for the
area you’re considering – see
The Dartmoor Park Authority, for example, has a wild camping page at
which positively encourages wild camping while giving you
information on where you can and cannot camp in the form of a

The Peak District Park Authority, on the other hand, specifically
points out that you shouldn’t camp on open access land particularly
with the high fire risk in summer.

In the Lakes and Snowdonia, the practice is generally tolerated on
high ground and they’re the two most obvious areas to wild camp for
this reason.

The bottom line is that you should check usual practice in the
area and, if necessary, ask the landowner / farmer for permission if
you’re unsure.

Thousands have wild-camped successfully and without problems by
being discrete, following common sense guidelines like the ones above
and breaking camp early, but technically you don’t have a right to
wild camp south of the Scottish border. If you do so and you’re asked
to move on, then you must do so.

Common Sense

Follow the above guidelines and use some common sense and you can
wildcamp in most popular outdoor areas; a lot of it is down to
discretion and showing consideration for the environment and those
who own and work the land. It may sound cliched, but the rewards
really are worth it.


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