Now imagine what wild camping is really like! 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!
But whatever the weather and whatever time of year you head out, it's that feeling of connection to nature, peace and freedom that every wild-camper is searching for.
And there’s something else about wild camping that’s often overlooked, which is the immense feeling of self-confidence it can give you. A solo wild camp is really empowering, especially for women – when I get back to day to day life I feel like I can overcome all the anxieties and stress thrown at me, because I know I can deal with something that deep down most people are afraid of.
Peace, challenge, connection, self-reliance, empowerment, freedom…they all add up to a heady mix that keep you going back for more, but taking that first step is often hardest. What follows is a short guide to wild camping for women, with information and inspiration to help you on your way.
Let’s face it, safety and fear of the unknown are probably what stops most adventurous women going wild camping, especially for a solo wild camp. Before we look at what equipment you need and where to go, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and allay some of those fears. First off:
The best thing to do is to plan ahead. Think about any potential risks and what you can do to minimise them:
I suffered my first ever bee sting in the middle of the night on a solo wild camp in a pretty remote place - and I had no idea I had a severe allergy to it.
All of the above ideas apply to solo hikers as much as group hikers, but there are some additional concerns you might have when you’re out on your own. These are some of the things I do to allay any hiking fears.
For most of us our biggest fears come down to one thing: other people (including axe murderers and escaped lunatics!). More specifically, for most women I’ve spoken to, it comes down to being afraid of men, whether it’s being followed or being jumped on from behind a hedge. But be honest with yourself and ask how realistic this is. The majority of people we meet on the trail are there for the same reasons we are, and the majority of men are as appalled by that sort of incident as the rest of us – albeit they don’t have the same fears of it happening to them. So be honest, how realistic is this fear for women? I’d say it’s a pretty unlikely, but there are still things you can do to help minimise any risk:
As for things that go bump in the night I’ve been woken by some strange noises:
The point is all nighttime noises are weird and unnerving at first, but once you’ve heard something once and worked out what it is it becomes part of the fun. And you soon realise that anything that goes bump in the night is likely to be wildlife of some sort or another (or livestock of course) – and it’s just going about it’s usual nightly business! It’s a privilege to be part of their world (cows excepted!) and experience things you never would by day.
If you have any questions or tips to share for solo women hikers and wild campers leave them below and let’s get talking, because here at 10 Mile Hike I believe that women have as much right to feel safe and secure on the trail as the other half of the population, don’t you? And now, for more practical advice head back up and check out the other tabs.
There are very few places you can legally wild camp in the UK, outside of the hills of Scotland. In fact, the only other place you have a right to wild camp is on parts of Dartmoor, but there are a number of other places where responsible wild-camping is accepted, for example on high ground in the Lake District.
Hikers get around these limitations in various ways, from getting permission from land-owners to asking to pitch in a pub garden. Sometimes though it’s just not practical to find the land owner (or a pub!), so many wild campers resort to ‘stealth camping’.
When you’re south of the Scottish border ‘stealth camping’ is often going to be your only option. This amounts to trespass, but don’t be alarmed: there are many areas where it’s accepted (or tolerated) as long as you follow wild camping etiquette and the principles of the Leave No Trace movement (see the tab above).
If you plan to wild-camp outside of Scotland and Dartmoor you need to be just as thoughtful about the environment, stay no more than one night in the same place (pitch late and leave early), be considerate of other people and be prepared to move on without fuss if you’re asked to.
Most of us want to get away from official commercial campsites (and other people) 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 goes into managing the landscape for the benefit of the wildlife that calls it home, as well as for profit in some cases, and, 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.
Scour your map for places along your route with green open areas on dry, level ground, perhaps with some natural shelter. 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.
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. And don’t forget that pitching up next to your car counts as ‘likely to be seen’ too!
For the best hiking and wild-camping experience you need to carry the minimum of kit that’s as light weight as possible, or pay the price of discomfort, aching limbs and not walking as far. Before you pack anything else, consider exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep and a couple of good meals then write a list. It should come down to a few basic things.
(If you’re new to hiking check out The Absolute Beginners Guide To Walking Kit)
Pack it all up in one or more dry bags 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 (or can’t/don’t want to)), 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 when a lighter weight gilet or fleece will do; do you need to carry all that water when there are plenty of good quality streams nearby, and seriously, do you really need those camp slippers in summer?!
A good way to find out whether you’ve got your kit right is to try it out:
Leave No Trace is 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 your toileting needs. 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.
If you’ve never heard of it, or never been wild camping before I urge you to read it before you head out – and then pass it on!
Left: This is definitely NOT how to leave no trace!