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. In this article we’ll provide you with all you need to know to wild camp comfortably, responsibly and legally.
This is a guide to post-pandemic wild camping by the way! Make sure to check the local restrictions before any planned trips.
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.
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 rains.
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.
The key to wild camping is to make as little impact as possible and leave no trace while you’re there and after you go.
Keep numbers down and moderate noise as much as possible. Make an effort not to damage vegetation and don’t light fires 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 insects.
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. For more on respecting the landscape while camping, check out our guide on how to leave no trace.
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 website which is well worth a read.
In brief though, don’t defecate within 30 metres of any running water – when camping take water from above your site and walk 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.
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.
Wild Camping And Access Laws
In Scotland there’s now a statutory right to camp on access land which comes with certain responsibilities. You can find full details at outdooraccess-scotland.com – 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.
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. There’s more on that in our guide to wild camping in the Lake District.
Often your best bet is to check the park authority website for the area you’re considering. The Dartmoor Park Authority, for example, has a wild camping page at www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk which positively encourages wild camping while giving you information on where you can and cannot camp.
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.
View this post on Instagram
Follow the above guidelines and use some common sense and you can wild camp 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.