A beginner's guide to wild camping

One of the great joys of wild camping is the chance to sleep under the stars in beautiful rural locations. Our essential beginner's guide shares expert tips on how to camp safely, kit to take and the best places to wild camp legally in Britain

19th July 2017
Wild camping with lightweight dome tent along the River Etive in Glen Etive near Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands/Credit: Getty

Tempting though the peace of the wilderness may be, wild camping can be daunting for first-timers. From leaving no trace to ensuring you've packed that vital piece of kit, here's how to get started...

Before you set up camp

Here are six useful tips to think about before you even so much as unzip your tent bag:

1. Check whether you can legally camp - or get permission

Before heading to the wilderness to wild camp, it's important to check the rules in your region. The majority of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, campers have no legal rights so check before you camp or get the landowner's permission. Some sites in Scotland, including Loch Lomond now require campers to get a permit so do your research before you go.  

2. Find a remote spot - but tell someone where you're going

Having a solo spot to yourself is one of the many joys of wild camping, but for safety let Mum know where you're going/Credit: Getty
Having a solo spot to yourself is one of the many joys of wild camping, but for safety let Mum know where you're going/Credit: Getty

One of the many joys of wild camping is that it gives access to remote and wild places. Finding a remote spot with a view to enjoy at sunrise will make all the aches and pains of hiking through the wilderness seem worthwhile. However, it is also important to let others know where you're planning to go in case of emergency. It doesn't have to be the exact location, but leaving a rough plan of your route could be vitally important in a rescue situation. If you're staying in a hostel or guesthouse, let the owner know your plans and when you expect to return. 

3. Remember the essentials

Finding yourself without a vital piece of kit in the wild is not only annoying - it can be life-threatening. While packing that extra warm layer or waterproof might add a bit of weight to your pack, if the weather suddenly changes it will make a night outdoors much more enjoyable - and safe. Being a bit cold and wet could soon turn from a miserable experience to a deadly one if the weather takes a turn for the worse, so don't risk it. 

4. Arrive late and leave early

The golden rule of wild camping: arrive late and leave early - remembering to leave no trace! Credit: Getty
The golden rule of wild camping: arrive late and leave early - remembering to leave no trace! Credit: Getty

Plan arriving at your chosen location late in the day to avoid disturbing others and leave early before other walkers are out and about. 

5. Source clean water

Try to collect water from as close to the source as possible/Credit: Getty

Water is heavy to carry, so chances are you will need to camp near a water source. Running water is generally safer than still and is best collected as close to the source as possible. Check immediately upstream for animal carcasses or waste. Use a tried and tested water filter or boil any water before drinking. 

The wild camping code: leave no trace

This is the crucial rule of wild camping and ideally you will create minimum impact on your desired area so it still remains natural and wild. Better still, you should leave the site so no one can tell you've even been there.

Litter - this goes without saying, but ensure you collect all your rubbish and take it with you. Walk the site slowly before leaving to check that nothing is missed. 

Leave the site as you found it - don't leave holes, fire damage, litter, and take care not to damage vegetation. This includes toliet duties, which should be well buried and covered with turf so your waste can biodegrade naturally. 

Fire - If you are allowed to light a fire, ensure you do so correctly and leave no trace that you were ever there. Many sites don't allow fires so again do your research. 

Keep group numbers small - try to minimise disturbing wildlife by camping in a small group and reduce noise and light where possible. 

Stay just the one night - and then move on. It is possible to stay more than one night in some areas but try to limit your stay. 

Basic gear for wild camping

Here are some suggestions for the kit you will need to ensure a safe and comfortable night of wild camping. Hunt around for the kit that works best for you. If you can, try camping at a campsite or even back garden to test your kit out before heading to the wild. 

Start with a tough and light tent

You'll be carrying everything on your back, so the weight can soon add up. Carrying too much can turn an enjoyable hike into a slog, so you may want to consider shopping around to find the best quality and lightest equipment you can afford.

If you're hiking alone and only camping out a night or two, then smaller is better. However, if you're walking with company or very tall, then you may want to share the load and opt for a roomier tent. Tent size very much depends on how comfortable you are in a fairly cramped surroundings, so if possible visit an outdoor store to get an idea of what size would suit you. 

 

Trisar 2 tent, Wild Country £190
Trisar 2 tent, Wild Country £190

 

Outdoor addicts can camp all year round in this tough and relatively affordable 2-person tent. Alloy poles and robust fabrics are designed to cope with high winds, heavy rain and other nasty weather. The design is so stable that Wild Country reckon that it can usually be pitched without guying out – for example on soft ground.

 

2. Keep comfortable at night: pack your sleeping mat

Don't try to save weight in your pack by leaving your sleeping mat at home. We promise, you'll sleep so much better with one!
Don't try to save weight in your pack by leaving your sleeping mat at home. We promise, you'll sleep so much better with one! 

Overnight adventures are more fun if you get a good night’s kip. A sleeping mat not only makes the ground softer to lie on, importantly it will also help keep you warmer. Choose from the cheaper, foam roll-up mats or a self-inflating sleeping mat. The pros of the foam mats are the relatively cheap cost and weight, but the cons include bulk (they generally have to be attached to the outside of your bag, which isn't ideal in wet conditions). Self-inflating mats can pack down incredibly small and provide a softer and warmer bed for the night

For a blend of comfort, size, weight and price, this mat by Nordisk is a really good option. It clocks in at 720g, and costs less than leading sleeping mat brands. At 2.5cm thick it will insulate you from cold ground, while rolling up to a compact 17cm x 28 cm. It’s no feather bed, but reasonably comfortable for a few nights. Thale 2.5 sleeping mat, Nordisk, £33. 

3. Stay warm: sleeping bag

Sleeping bag

A good quality and lightweight sleeping bag is essential for a good night's shuteye. This Ultralite 600 sleeping bag, Vango, £80: Breathable, comfortable and just 1.1kg, this lightweight three-season sleeping bag is a good, solid all-rounder. I like the anti-snag zip and the additional chest room, which means you can turn over in the night without getting tangled up. 01474 746000, www.vango.co.uk

4. Anyone for a cuppa: outdoor stove

stove

Windboiler Stove, MSR, £110: Jaw-dropping fuel efficiency, impressive wind resistance and a speedy boil time all wrapped up in a thermos-sized package. If you walk in all weathers and need a compact, fuss-free cooking system then this award-winning stove is for you. 07734215821, www.windboiler.eu

Shine a light: head torch

A hands-free, guiding light for those night time re-adjusting-the-guy-rope-sessions or for a spot of nocturnal wildlife watching. If you’re planning on doing the latter, try and source a head torch with a red light feature, so as not to disturb nesting animals. Try ‘Petzl’ for a reliable, versatile model: www.petzl.com/GB

Beat the bugs: insect repellent

Despite our temperate climate, our rivers and lakes still seem to attract those pesky midges. If you’re planning on venturing up into the highlands or camping near a water body, be sure to pack some insect repellent to ease the discomfort of being nibbled. If you are sensitive to the ‘Deet’ component found in most insect repellent’s, Cotswold Outdoor offers a skin-friendly alternative: www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/smidge

Other useful items include: box of water-proof matches, first-aid kit, spare set of warm clothing, water-proofs and coffee for the morning. Sleep tight! For more kit ideas see: www.countryfile.com/country-kit/best-kit-lightweight-camping

Places to camp wild or semi-wild in Britain

Fancy sleeping under the stars this summer? Here's our pick of six places you can camp - either wild or semi-wild at a campsite.

1. The Isle of Mull

Isle of Mull/Credit: Getty
Isle of Mull/Credit: Getty

The Isle of Mull is the largest of the islands of Argyll and welcomes wild camping in certain areas of the island. Enjoy its 300 miles of coastline, which provides a haven for birds and wildlife. Lochbuie Estate has also created a site specifically for wild camping, which can be viewed here: lochbuie.com/map-of-lochbuie.html 

2. Cairngorms

Cairngorms/Getty
Cairngorms/Getty

This breathtaking National Park in the eastern Highlands of Scotland is home to mountains, glens, moorlands, rivers and lochs and a vast array of wildlife.  It is legal to wild camp here - provided you do so in a responsible manner. 

3. Loch Lomond & The Trossochs

Getty
Such is the popularity of Loch Lomond that campers now require a permit to camp/Image: Getty

Wild Camping is a great way to experience the spectacular scenery of this National Park. Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. New seasonal by-laws came into force restricting camping around Loch Lomond and in the Trossachs earlier this year, so you will need to get a permit before pitching up. 

4. Dartmoor

Dartmoor Commons Act allows wild camping without asking permission/Credit: Getty
Dartmoor Commons Act allows wild camping without asking permission/Credit: Getty

Usually in England you need the landowner's permission to camp, but in the areas covered by the Dartmoor Commons Act you are allowed to camp without asking permission. Some areas are excluded from the right to camp by the Dartmoor Commons Act Byelaws. Find out more information about where to Wild Camp on www.dartmoor.gov.uk/visiting/vi-enjoyingdartmoor/camping

5. Beech Estate Woodland Campsite, Sussex

camp

Nestled in 20 acres of a 600 acre woodland, within the 2000 acre private Beech Estate; this is a close alternative to wild camping. Try one of their 'Faraway Tent Pitches' to feel more removed from the campsite, which are set on top of a hill looking over either the Bracken Valley or Beech Creek Valley. 

Inspired? Here are 10 adventurous places to wild camp in Britain

Getty
Remember the golden rule: arrive late, leave early and leave no trace/Credit: Getty

Pack your tent or bivvy bag, remember a wilderness lover’s simple rules (arrive late, leave early, pack out all rubbish with you, go to the toilet at least 50m clear of any streams and leave no trace of your visit) and prepare to go wild. Here, author Phoebe Smith shares her 10 favourite spots: www.countryfile.com/explore-countryside/places/ten-great-places-wild-camp-britain 

Or, if you don't fancy wild camping, here are five of the best tiny campsites in Britain

Wild camping
Badrallach, Ross-shire, Scotland offers spectacular views

Explorer Dixe Wills has been searching for perfect campsites for many years – and he's written a book about them – Tiny Campsites. Here are five of his favourites: www.countryfile.com/article/five-best-tiny-campsites-britain

Main image: Wild camping with lightweight dome tent along the River Etive in Glen Etive near Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands/Credit: Getty

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