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Imagine this: You’re nestled in a cosy sleeping bag, the gentle rustle of leaves and the distant hoot of an owl as your only companions. Above you, the sky is a tapestry of stars, unspoiled by city lights. This is the magic of wild camping, an experience that brings you as close to nature as you can get. But if you’re new to this adventurous form of outdoor living, you might be wondering where to start. That’s where this guide comes in.
Welcome to “Your First-Time Guide to Wild Camping in the UK,” your comprehensive source for all things related to wild camping. Whether you’re a seasoned camper looking for a more rustic experience or a complete newbie, this guide is designed to give you all the information and inspiration you need to embark on your own wild camping adventure.
In this post, we’ll delve into the legalities of wild camping, the essential “leave no trace” principle, and why wild camping is such a fantastic way to connect with the great outdoors. We’ll also provide an overview of the types of tents and bivvy bags you could use, along with a basic kit list to get you started.
So, if you’re ready to swap the hustle and bustle of urban areas for the tranquillity of unenclosed land, read on. This is your first step towards a successful wild camping trip in the UK.
What is Wild Camping?
Wild camping is the practice of setting up camp outside of designated camping areas, usually in remote or wilderness settings. Unlike traditional camping, which often involves amenities like toilets and showers, wild camping is a more immersive experience that brings you closer to nature. It offers the freedom to choose your own camping spot, but it also comes with the responsibility to follow local laws and leave no trace.
Why Wild Camping is a Great Thing to Do
There’s something inherently liberating about wild camping. Unlike formal campsites or caravan parks, wild camping offers you the freedom to roam and set up camp in places that truly resonate with you. But the benefits go far beyond mere location. Here’s why wild camping is a great thing to do:
Freedom and Connection to Nature
When you wild camp, you’re not just a visitor in nature; you become a part of it. The experience allows you to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the natural one. As the motivational quote goes, there’s no Wi-Fi in the forest, but you’ll find a better connection.
Adventure and Unpredictability
Wild camping adds an element of unpredictability that you won’t find on the usual tourist routes or well-trodden spots. Every trip is a new adventure, whether you’re hiking up the highest fell in the Lake District or finding a secluded spot in the Scottish Highlands.
Community of Like-Minded People
One of the great things about wild camping is the community you become a part of. Whether you’re camping in small groups or meeting other wild campers along the way, you’ll find that the wild camping community is full of like-minded people who share your love for the great outdoors. There are dozens of Facebook groups for wild campers, sharing tips, locations and well-kept secrets.
If you’re planning a multi-day hike through places like Dartmoor National Park or along the South Downs, wild camping allows you easy access to your next day’s journey. It’s not just a place to sleep; it’s a strategic part of your adventure.
So, if you’re looking for a way to truly immerse yourself in nature, experience the thrill of the unknown, and join a community of people who value responsible access to the great outdoors, wild camping is a great idea for your next adventure.
The Legalities of Wild Camping in the UK
When it comes to wild camping, the legal landscape in the UK is a bit of a patchwork quilt. Different rules apply depending on where you are, so it’s essential to be well-informed before you set out. Here’s what you need to know:
England and Wales
In England and Wales, the general rule is that you need the landowner’s permission to camp on private land. This includes most of the countryside and virtually all of the coastal areas. However, there are some exceptions, like Dartmoor National Park, where wild camping is allowed on common land under the Dartmoor Commons Act.
Often, the unspoken rule of wild camping is that if you arrive late, depart early and leave no trace, you should be okay in most places. For first-timers, this can feel a little bit daunting, but I’ve heard of very few wild campers being ‘discovered’ and asked to move on while stealth camping.
Thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, Scotland is a bit of a haven for wild campers. You have the legal right to wild camp on most unenclosed land, provided you follow the “leave no trace” principle and respect the local environment.
In Northern Ireland, the situation is more similar to England and Wales. Wild camping is generally not permitted without the landowner’s permission. However, there are some areas where it is tolerated, so it’s always a good idea to check local council guidelines.
Each National Park in the UK has its own set of rules. For example, wild camping is generally not allowed in the New Forest but is tolerated in certain parts of the Lake District National Park and the Brecon Beacons National Park. Always check the specific guidelines for the area you plan to visit.
High Court and Court of Appeal Rulings on Wild Camping in Dartmoor
A landmark case recently went through the UK courts, focusing on Dartmoor, one of the few places in England where wild camping had been generally accepted. The case was initiated by a wealthy landowner who argued that wild camping did not qualify as open-air recreation. The Dartmoor National Park Authority and Open Spaces Society contested this, stating that camping is a form of open-air recreation.
The Court of Appeal ultimately ruled in favour of the Dartmoor National Park Authority. They clarified that under the Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985, the public has the right to rest or sleep on Dartmoor Commons, whether in a tent or otherwise. This ruling overturned a previous High Court decision that had limited the definition of “open-air recreation,” effectively securing the right to wild camp in Dartmoor for future generations.
Where You Can and Can’t Wild Camp
Finding the perfect spot for your wild camping adventure can be both exciting and challenging. While the UK is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes, it’s essential to know where you can legally and responsibly set up your tent or bivvy bag. Here’s a breakdown:
- Dartmoor National Park: One of the few places in England where wild camping is permitted on common land.
- Lake District: Tolerated in higher fells, away from populated areas.
- Brecon Beacons: Certain areas allow for wild camping with landowner permission.
- Scottish National Parks: Generally permitted due to Scotland’s more lenient laws.
- Although there are no specifics as to where wild camping is tolerated along the coastline, there are many people who tackle long-distance walks like the South West Coastal Path, wild camping along the 630-mile route.
- Wild camping is generally not advised in urban areas due to legal restrictions and safety concerns.
Resources for Finding Spots
- Google Maps: A useful tool for initial scouting.
- Local Council Websites: Often provide information on camping regulations.
- Interactive Maps: Some National Parks offer these to help you find the best spots.
Tips for Choosing Your First Wild Camping Spot
Instagram might show you a thousand images of summit wild camps, where the lucky campers are waking up to a beautiful cloud inversion, but if you’re a first-timer then you should really start with something more local and less challenging than the highest peaks.
For your first attempt, try something local and somewhere you know relatively well. Then, if something does go wrong you won’t be quite so far out of your comfort zone. As your skills and confidence grow you can start thinking about heading further afield.
If you’re thinking that a local adventure isn’t going to tick the box of the ‘big’ adventure you were looking for, I urge you to read Microadventures, it will completely change your perspective on this.
By taking the time to research and plan, you can find a wild camping spot that offers both the beauty and solitude you seek, as well as the legal peace of mind.
Leave No Trace Principle
Wild camping is a privilege that comes with its own set of responsibilities. One of the most important principles to adhere to is “Leave No Trace.” This ethos not only ensures that you minimise your impact on the environment but also helps to preserve the natural beauty of the land for future generations. Here’s how to practice it:
- Research the area and camping regulations before you go.
- Obtain any necessary permissions.
- Stick to established trails when travelling.
- Choose durable surfaces for setting up camp.
- Camp at least 200 metres away from water sources.
- Remove all rubbish and litter.
- Avoid disturbing local wildlife.
- Use a camping stove for cooking.
- If fires are allowed, safety is paramount.
- Keep noise levels low.
- Respect the privacy of other campers.
- Leave the campsite as you found it, or better.
By following the Leave No Trace principle, you’re not just a visitor but a steward of the great outdoors. It’s a simple yet effective way to ensure that the wild spaces we love remain beautiful and accessible for years to come.
Essential Gear for Wild Camping
When it comes to wild camping, choosing the right gear is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here, we’ll delve into the specifics of tents and bivvy bags, two popular shelter options for wild campers.
- Size: Consider how many people will be camping and how much gear you’ll have. Tents are usually rated by the number of people they can accommodate.
- Weight: If you’re hiking to your camping spot, weight is a critical factor. Look for lightweight, backpacking-friendly options.
- Hydrostatic Head (HH) Rating: This measures how waterproof the tent is. A higher HH rating means better water resistance. Aim for at least a 2000mm HH rating for UK conditions.
- Compactness: Bivvy bags are generally much smaller and lighter than tents, making them ideal for solo trips or when you need to keep your pack light.
- Breathability: Look for a bivvy bag with good breathability to avoid condensation inside the bag.
- Weather Resistance: While not as robust as tents, many bivvy bags offer decent weather resistance. Check the material and any HH ratings if available.
Tents vs. Bivvy Bags: A Quick Comparison
- Best for Tents: Tents are ideal for longer trips, harsh weather conditions, or when camping with multiple people. They offer more space and comfort but can be heavier to carry.
- Best for Bivvy Bags: Bivvy bags are perfect for solo adventures, quick overnight stays, or when you need to keep your pack as light as possible. They offer less space but are much easier to set up and take down.
- Temperature Rating: Choose a sleeping bag that’s appropriate for the season and weather conditions you’ll be facing. Look for bags with a comfort rating that matches the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.
- Insulation Type: Sleeping bags come with either down or synthetic insulation. Down is lighter and more compressible but less effective when wet. Synthetic insulation performs better in damp conditions.
- Weight and Packability: If you’re hiking to your campsite, opt for a sleeping bag that is lightweight and easy to pack.
- Foam Mats: These are the most basic and usually the cheapest. They provide a layer of insulation but are generally less comfortable.
- Self-Inflating Mats: These offer a good balance between comfort and weight but can be bulkier than other options.
- Inflatable Sleeping Mats: These are a great lightweight option that doesn’t compromise on comfort. They can be inflated to your desired firmness and are usually very compact when deflated.
By investing in a quality sleeping bag and mat, you can improve your comfort and the quality of your sleep while wild camping. Inflatable sleeping mats, in particular, offer a fantastic blend of comfort and portability, making them an excellent choice for those looking to keep their backpack light without sacrificing a good night’s sleep.
Cooking and Food Storage
A lightweight stove is an excellent choice for wild camping, especially if you’ll be hiking to your camping spot. These stoves are perfect for quickly warming up food or boiling water for hot drinks. They usually run on small gas canisters or alcohol, both of which are easy to pack and carry. Some models are even compatible with multiple fuel types, offering greater flexibility. Pair your stove with lightweight, durable cookware like titanium or aluminium pots and pans for the best experience.
When it comes to food, opt for non-perishable items that don’t require refrigeration, such as canned goods, pasta, or dehydrated meals. Planning your meals in advance can help you bring the right amount of food, minimise waste, and make meal preparation easier. A lightweight stove allows you to enjoy the luxury of hot meals and drinks without the burden of carrying heavy cooking equipment, enhancing your wild camping experience.
- Water Filter or Purification Tablets: Essential if you’ll be sourcing water from lakes or streams.
- Water Bottles or Hydration System: Make sure you can carry enough water for your trip.
- Map and Compass: Even if you use a GPS, always carry a traditional map and compass as a backup.
- GPS or Smartphone: Useful for tracking your route but remember to save offline maps.
- First Aid Kit: Should include basics like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medication.
- Emergency Whistle and Firestarter: Important for attracting attention in case of an emergency.
- Headlamp or Torch: For navigating in the dark.
- Multi-tool: Useful for a variety of tasks, from cutting rope to opening cans.
Remember, the key to a successful wild camping trip is preparation. Make sure you have all the essentials to ensure your safety, comfort, and enjoyment while out in the great outdoors.
How to Find the Perfect Wild Camping Spot
Choosing the right spot for your wild camping adventure is crucial. Not only does it need to be a legal and responsible choice, but it should also offer the kind of natural beauty and solitude that makes wild camping so special. Here are some tips to help you find that perfect spot:
Utilise Online Resources
- OS Maps: A great starting point for scouting potential locations. Look for remote areas away from roads and urban centres.
- Forums and Social Media: Communities of like-minded people can offer valuable insights and recommendations.
Check Local Regulations
- Always verify the rules and regulations for wild camping in your chosen area. Websites for national parks or local councils often provide this information.
- Public Roads and Car Parks: If you’re driving, consider how close you can get to your chosen spot without breaking any rules.
- Public Transport: For those without a car, look for spots that are a short walk from public transport links.
Assess the Terrain
- Water Sources: Proximity to fresh water is essential, but make sure you’re not too close to avoid flooding risks.
- Safety: Avoid cliff edges, unstable ground, and other potential hazards.
Test for Mobile Reception
- While the idea is to disconnect, having some mobile reception can be a safety net in case of emergencies.
Visit in Daylight
- If possible, scout your chosen spot during daylight hours to assess its suitability and to familiarise yourself with the area.
Trust Your Instincts
- Sometimes a place just feels right. Trust your gut when choosing your wild camping spot.
Do Wild Campers S*!t in the Woods?
Even in the great outdoors, nature’s call is inevitable. However, it’s crucial to handle this in a way that’s both respectful to the environment and other people. Here are some tips:
- Dig a small hole at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites. The hole should be about 6-8 inches deep.
- Use toilet paper sparingly and pack it out in a sealed plastic bag. Alternatively, use biodegradable wet wipes and pack them out as well.
- Urinate at least 200 feet away from water sources to prevent contamination.
- Choose a spot that’s well away from trails and campsites to maintain privacy and respect for other visitors.
- If you need to wash, use biodegradable soap and scatter strained dishwater at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites.
Leave No Trace
- Always fill in any holes you dig and ensure you leave no trace of your stay.
By following these guidelines, you can answer nature’s call without leaving a lasting impact on the natural environment, ensuring that the great outdoors remains a clean and pleasant place for everyone.
Additional Tips and Tricks
Wild camping is an adventure, and like any adventure, it comes with its own set of challenges. However, a little preparation and some smart choices can go a long way in ensuring a successful wild camping trip. Here are some additional tips and tricks:
- Always check the weather forecast before you head out and prepare for all conditions. Wet weather gear is a must, even if the forecast is clear.
- Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return. Carry a fully charged mobile phone and a portable charger for emergencies.
- Respect local customs, especially in rural areas. If you’re unsure about the rules for a particular area, it’s always a good idea to ask local residents or consult local council websites.
- Be aware of the local wildlife and take necessary precautions. We don’t have to worry about bear spray in the UK, but some midge repellant is a necessity.
- The less you have to carry, the more enjoyable your hike to the campsite will be. However, make sure you have all the essentials for safety and comfort.
- If you’re new to wild camping, it might be a good idea to start with just one or two consecutive nights to see how you fare.
By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to a successful and enjoyable wild camping experience.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wild Camping in the UK
What is Wild Camping?
Wild camping refers to camping outside of designated camping areas, allowing you the freedom to choose your own spot in natural settings. It’s a way to connect more intimately with nature, away from the amenities and crowds found in formal campsites.
Is Wild Camping Legal in England?
In England, wild camping is generally not permitted without the landowner’s permission, especially on private lands and coastal areas. However, there are exceptions like Dartmoor National Park, where wild camping is allowed on common land.
Can You Wild Camp in the Lake District?
Wild camping is tolerated in certain parts of the Lake District, particularly in higher fells away from populated areas. However, it’s crucial to follow the “leave no trace” principle and to be aware of any specific local regulations.
Can You Wild Camp in Wales?
Similar to England, wild camping in Wales generally requires the landowner’s permission. However, if you follow the unspoken rule of arriving late, departing early, and leaving no trace, you’re less likely to encounter issues.
Where Can You Wild Camp in the UK?
You can wild camp in various locations across the UK, but the rules differ depending on the region. Scotland is the most lenient, allowing wild camping on most unenclosed lands. In England and Wales, Dartmoor National Park and some parts of the Lake District and Brecon Beacons are among the few places where it’s tolerated.
Can You Camp Anywhere in Scotland?
Thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, you have the legal right to wild camp on most unenclosed lands in Scotland. However, you must adhere to the “leave no trace” principle and respect the local environment.
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK?
The penalties for illegal wild camping can vary depending on the location and the landowner’s stance. You could be asked to move on, or in more severe cases, face a fine. It’s always best to research the specific rules of the area you plan to visit and to obtain any necessary permissions.
Enjoy the Experience
Remember, the goal is to connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. Take time to appreciate your surroundings, whether that’s by taking photos, sketching, or simply sitting and taking it all in.
Wild camping is more than just a way to spend a night; it’s an experience that can deeply connect you with the natural world. From the freedom of choosing your own camping spot amidst the beauty of the UK’s diverse landscapes to the sense of community among like-minded outdoor enthusiasts, wild camping offers a unique and enriching experience.
Share Your Wild Camping Tips
We’d love to hear about your wild camping adventures or any tips you might have for newcomers. Feel free to share your stories or questions in the comments below. And if you found this guide helpful, please consider sharing it with others who might benefit from it.