The Ultimate Guide To Wild Camping In The UK
- What Do I Need?
- Where Can I Go Wild Camping In The UK?
- Leave No Trace
- Staying Safe
- Things That Go Bump In The Night!
- Where To Try It – National Trail Guides
The Dream V The Reality!
Wild camping is the ultimate experience for hikers… Lie down in a meadow on a summer’s day, or in a woodland in autumn, maybe on a mountainside with a spectacular view. Listen to the bees and insects, watch white clouds lazily drift across an intense blue sky and feel your mind tuning in to the drowsy peace of the natural world.
Imagine wild camping out there, watching the sun go down and falling asleep under a twinkling, starry sky…
It definitely captures the imagination doesn’t it? It’s that feeling of tranquillity and intangible ‘connection’ that many of us hanker after. And wild camping can really be like that.
It can also be the complete opposite: there’s a gale blowing, you can’t see anything for the fog and torrential rain and the only sound you can hear is the constant flapping of your tent! It’s at moments like these you wonder what happened to your sanity and how long it will take you to get home, or at least find a warm, dry bed. Oddly enough the latter scenario seems to fade into distant memory pretty quickly and you find you keep going back for more.
Solo Wild Camping
There’s something about solo wild camping that’s often overlooked, which is the immense feeling of self-confidence it gives you.
I found this out when I decided to go solo wild camping after I split up with my son’s dad. We’d always gone to Dartmoor as family before then, but I realised if I was going to carry on doing something I loved I’d have to quell my anxieties and just go for it. I’m so glad I did, because that was over 12 years ago now and I’ve never looked back.
Going solo is really empowering, especially for women I think. It takes a lot of guts to overcome the anxieties at first but as a result you realise you can deal with something most people are afraid of. In other words it makes you feel like you could rule the world! There are other huge benefits too of course: peace, challenge, connection, self-reliance, freedom… They all add up to a heady mix, but taking that first step is often hardest. So
What follows is a guide to wild camping for beginners, including tips and advice for women who want to go solo wild camping. And rule the world!
1. What Do I Need?
Basic Gear And Equipment For Wild Camping
For the best hiking and wild camping experience you need to carry the minimum of kit that’s as light weight as possible (so that it’s comfortable to carry). So before you pack anything else let’s take a look exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep, meals, and a few other essentials:
- Other Essentials
- Packing Light
- Bivvy bag and/or tarp
The first few times I went solo wild camping, I admit didn’t take either! It was just me, a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat.
It’s a great way to see if you like it before you invest any money, but you won’t get the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had. This is mostly because you’re likely to wake up soaking wet with condensation!
Once I’d been out a couple of times though I knew I’d be heading out on a regular basis so that’s when I invested in a bivvy bag (basically a waterproof sleeping bag cover). After that I bought a tarp for extra protection from the elements, before I eventually bought a one-person tent. I still use all these items today, so
I recommend borrowing a bivvy bag or tent for the first few times, if you can, to see which you prefer
If you’re intrigued or tempted by the idea of using a simple bivvy bag for wild camping, it’s also worth checking out my 4 part series Beginners Guide To Bivvy Camping, which goes into more detail
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- A blow up pillow (I find a few spare clothes rolled up in a dry bag just as comfy)
You don’t need to worry about the best sleeping bag on the market. All you need is a summer-weight sleeping bag that rolls up small enough to stuff in your rucksack – and a warm summer night! A sleeping mat can be as simple as a cheap foam roll mat laid out on grass (or a sandy beach), but obviously an air filled mat will be a lot more comfortable. Try not to be tempted to take your bed pillow. A small blow up travel pillow will do just as well, but I prefer to roll a few clothes up in a dry bag so I don’t have to carry anything extra.
Clothes For Sleeping In
- lightweight pjs or merino underwear (which is an expensive option)
- A fleece or insulating jacket for extra warmth
- Lightweight hat and gloves (I usually take a thin balaclava and running gloves, just in case)
- Pair of fluffy bed socks – these are a comfort thing for me and obviously not necessary!
Whatever you plan to wear for sleeping in should only be for sleeping in – there’s nothing worse than getting ready for bed and realising all your clothes are wet. Keep your night clothes in a separate dry-bag.
If you’re completely new to hiking check out The Absolute Beginners Guide To Walking Kit, which gives straight forward advice and ideas for where to get your gear without spending a fortune.
- A small stove and fuel – I love my Mini Trangia!
- Cooking pot/mug
- Food you know you enjoy (dehydrated is lighter to carry). Check out some ideas for simple camp meals here
- Plenty of water
- A Swiss Army knife is also useful
- Head torch
- Spare batteries for any electronics, like your head torch, phone and camera
- Map, compass, route
- Phone, gps (for emergencies)
- Walking poles. These will take the weight off your knees if you’re carrying a full rucksack and are also essential if you’re using a tarp shelter
- Personal first aid kit and emergency numbers (check out the links for what to keep in your first aid kit and what to do in an emergency)
- Rucksack – if you’re in the market for a new rucksack check out my review of the Osprey Renn 65 and other gear reviews
Pack all your kit and clothes into one or more dry bags (even zip-lock plastic bags will do for now, or dustbin liners for your sleeping bag/mat) and then pack it in your rucksack and weigh it. An optimum base weight (everything you need except consumables, including food and water) for lightweight backpacking is around 9kg. 9kg can be quite hard to achieve (especially if you’re new to backpacking and haven’t invested in hundreds of pounds worth of lightweight kit), which is why it’s really important to stick to what you actually need before considering anything else you might like to take along.
Be realistic: do you really need a winter down jacket in your rucksack in the middle of a hot summer? And seriously, put the -10 camp slippers back in your cupboard! (Say a big yes to fluffy socks instead!)
Have You Got Your Kit Right?
Practice Makes Perfect
A good way to find out whether you’ve got your kit right is to try it out before you go. Try these four suggestions:
- Pitch your tent or tarp in the garden; how long does it take, was it easy to put up on your own, have you got all the poles and guy lines you need (remember it could be windy in exposed areas)?
- Test whether you’ll be warm enough by sleeping in your garden for a night and estimating whether it might be chillier on the hill, or perhaps on the coast.
- Take your cooking equipment on a full day-hike to see how it fares, did you bring enough food, fuel?
- Always remember to pack a few things you might need from sunscreen to insect repellent.
2. Where Can I Go Wild Camping In The UK?
There are very few places you can legally go wild camping in the UK outside of Scotland. In fact, the only other place you have a legal right to go wild camping is in parts of Dartmoor National Park in south west England. But don’t let that put you off (it certainly doesn’t put the rest of us off, and why should it?). There are a number of places in the UK where responsible wild-camping is accepted, for example on high ground in the Lake District National Park. But of course there’s always another way…
Getting permission is one way around it, whether it’s asking to pitch in a pub garden or in a farmer’s field. Sometimes though it’s just not practicable to find the land owner (or a pub!), so many wild campers resort to ‘stealth camping’. Stealth camping follows the etiquette of the Leave No Trace movement and is a responsible way to get a few hours sleep under the stars. Probably the most important tenets are
Be respectful of the environment and other people, stay no more than one night in the same place, pitch late and leave early.
You should also be prepared to move on without fuss if you’re asked to, though this has never happened to me.
Experience Nature As It’s Meant To Be
(Without Destroying It)
Most of us want to get away from commercial campsites to experience the natural world and escape the trappings and demands of modern life, but even the wildest environments in the UK aren’t as natural as we might like to think:
A lot of work often goes into managing the landscape for the benefit of the wildlife that calls it home, as well as for profit in some cases. Apart from personal safety, it’s these considerations that should be top of our list when we’re looking for somewhere discreet to pitch up.
In practice this means thinking about potential disturbance to wildlife and habitat. You might stumble upon the perfect-looking spot, but who’s to say it’s not the perfect spot for ground nesting birds, or plants that attract rare butterflies? A bit of research and planning before you head out can help avoid this.
Use Your Map To Plan Your Wild Camping Spot
Scour your map for places along your route on dry, level ground with some natural shelter (if possible). A 1:25,000 OS map has plenty of detail showing the contours of the land, open access areas, boggy land and scrub, and in some instances even who owns the land (the National Trust for example).
When it’s time to pitch up try not to create new paths, from the edge of woodland say, and look for signs of wildlife like animal droppings or footprints and tracks. Don’t move rocks or branches, pull up plants, etc; if you can’t pitch up without disturbing the landscape, move on.
If you’re completely new to wild camping it makes sense to stay local, or at least in an area you know well:
- Make your first wild camp close to home (or within easy walking distance of your car at least), so that if you forget something essential you can go and fetch it, or go home to bed in the last resort!
- Don’t plan a really long hike for your first wild camp, then if you have over packed you won’t tire yourself out too much for the next day
- Plan your first trip for the summer months and always check the weather forecast before you head out, whatever season you’re camping in
Consider Other People
Think about other people too: some people prefer to stay inside and watch the Great Outdoors from the comfort of home (I know!). Respect this and pitch well away from villages and hamlets, or anywhere else you might be seen, like popular footpaths and dog-walking fields.
- Stick to camping solo or with a very small group
- don’t light fires
- keep noise to a minimum
- make sure you pitch late and leave early
- and most importantly of all Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace Etiquette For Wild Camping
Wild camping is about being in tune with the environment and knowing how to make the least impact on it. So, importantly, this is where Leave No Trace comes in: it’s one of the best guiding principles for any wild camper.
It provides guidelines on minimising your impact, from disturbance to wildlife and habitats, to how to best deal with going to the loo outside.
And because it’s so important I’ve written a full guide on how to leave no trace with links to the original organisation as well as our own Country Code. So if you’ve never heard of Leave No Trace, or never been wild camping before, I recommend having a read before you head out.
6 Ways To Keep Safe
Safety and fear of the unknown are probably what stops most of us going wild camping, especially for a solo wild camp. So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and allay some of those fears.
Above all the best thing to do is to plan ahead, so think about any potential risks and what you can do to minimise them:
- Leave A Route Plan with someone and agree a time you expect to be home or to send them a message. Make a plan of action if you’re not back when you expect to be, or can’t send an expected message – how long should they wait before they call the emergency services?
- Know The Weather Forecast, Daylight Hours And Tide Times Check before you head out and make sure you choose your pitch with the information in mind.
- Carry A Personal First Aid Kit (here’s what should be in it – and here’s how to add your emergency details and contacts to your phone that can be accessed when it’s locked).
- Keep Your Head Torch Handy At Night because you never know when you might need to nip out of your tent
- Keep Your Mobile Handy (and don’t forget to add your emergency details to it)
- Make A Note Of Your Grid Reference/Location after you’ve pitched up. because if you have to call the emergency services in the middle of the night it can be difficult to remain calm and get it right. You can also use the What3Words App, providing you have mobile service.
Wild Camping Safety Tips For Women
All of the above points apply to solo hikers as much as they do to groups. But there are some additional concerns women might have when we’re out on our own. For most of us our biggest fears come down to one thing: other people (including axe murderers and escaped lunatics!). In other words,
The fear of going solo wild camping for most women I’ve spoken to comes down to being afraid of men.
Which includes the fear of being followed or jumped on. The majority of people we meet on the trail are there for the same reasons we are though. And the majority of men are as appalled by that sort of incident as the rest of us, so
Is this a realistic fear?
I’d say it’s a pretty unlikely, but there are still things you can (and should) do to minimise any risk.
5 Ways To Minimise Risk
- Don’t Advertise Don’t post on social media when or where you plan to camp
- Don’t Reveal Where You’re Headed When you stop to chat to people on the trail, don’t reveal where you’re headed that night or where you’re planning to stay. If a stranger asks me where I’m going I might say something like “I’m not sure how far I’ll get”, or say I’m heading to a campsite. If I feel particularly wary I might say that I’m meeting someone
- Camp Outside Of Towns And Villages Danger from other people is likely to be much higher closer to towns and villages, so camp as far outside them as possible. It’s highly unlikely someone will hide behind a hedge 2 miles down a track to ‘nowhere’ just on the odd chance you might turn up and pitch your tent. (They’re much more likely to hang around the local pub, surely?)
- Carry A Personal Alarm I hold mine in my hand when I pass popular places around dusk/night and keep it close by in my sleeping bag overnight. It makes a piercing sound, costs little and weighs next to nothing, but make sure you have a replacement battery
- Be Inconspicuous If you’re worried about being seen consider using a bivvy bag, which is less conspicuous than a tent (unless it’s bright orange!)
Things That Go Bump In The Night!
It’s true, you do hear some strange noises sometimes…
Here are a few of the bizarre sounds that have woken me up:
- A hedgehog snuffling in my bag of food (I keep my food in the main compartment of my tent as a result!)
- Cows chewing the cud a few metres away one morning (I should have checked for fresh dung before I got in my bivvy bag that night, but it was dark! Still, I learnt my lesson after that!)
- Sheep chewing the cud outside my tent in the middle of the night (A farm campsite that one.)
- Vixens screaming…
But I survived!
The point is all night-time noises are weird and unnerving at first, but once you’ve worked out what it is it becomes part of the fun. In short, this is the UK where there are no bears or mountain lions so there’s really not much to worry about!
What’s the weirdest sound you’ve heard when you’ve been camping? (Let us know in the comments.)
Where To Try It
Hopefully, you’re itching to get out and give it go now, but where? All my guides to national trails have sections on wild camping, so why not check them out for some ideas? Here are just a few:
Thank you so much for reading this guide, I hope you enjoyed it and get something useful from it.