Wild Camping in the UK: The Ultimate Guide
In this all-new guide you’ll learn:
- The laws on wild camping
- Basic equipment list that you should have
- Where to go and how to find a place to camp
- Setting up your campsite
- Lots of tips and tricks
So if you want to have an unforgettable experience wild camping this year, you’ll love today’s guide.
Let’s get started.
Chapter 1:The Laws on UK Wild Camping
Rather than ask the question, what are the laws on camping. The question should be, Can I wild camp in the UK? Then the answer is:
People have been camping in the mountains, forests and the coastline of the UK for years, without hassle.
The issue with most of the UK - England, Northern Ireland and Wales excluding Scotland is that there is no “wild camping” law. The actual legal rules pertaining to camping on somebody else’s land aren’t precisely clear and are bound up in archaic and historic assertions of property and personal rights.
In this chapter we'll cover the laws for wild camping for each region in the UK.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Current legislation for England, Wales and Northern Ireland focuses more on the actions of new age travelers, gypsies and other migratory groups that may park on land with vehicles and caravans. These said individuals also tend to migrate in bands.
The Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 opened up huge swathes of the English and Welsh countryside to the general public to explore and roam. Effectively copying the Scottish Law of having the “Right to Roam”. This act effectively opens up most of the mountainous, forested and coastal parts of the UK to exploration and recreation.
Bearing this in mind, almost all of the land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is owned by someone, or somebody. It may be an individual, a commercial organization, a charity (The National Trust), the government or similar authority. These entities are effectively referred to as a “landowner”.
Therefore in England, Wales and Northern Ireland you legally do not have the right to pitch a tent, hammock, bivvy bag or tarp on land belonging to somebody else without the said consent or permission of that landowner. To do so without permission of that landowner means you are committing trespass - which is a civil offence (non arrestable). However, if you do not leave immediately when directed to do so by the landowner, or somebody acting on their behalf (gamekeeper, security agent, estage agent etc) then you may be committing a criminal offence known as aggravated trespass, something that the Police can arrest you for.
What if someone approaches my pitch whilst wild camping?
Firstly, be apologetic and explain to them what you are doing (wild camping whilst out hiking enjoying the natural environment etc. You pitched up after dusk and plan to leave first thing in the morning, and that you are not going to make any mess or create litter when you go). Just be honest with any landowner, explain calmly and nicely.
If after explaining what you are doing you are asked to move - be as polite as you can and say “that’s fine, no problem”. You will need to immediately pack up your equipment, gear and accept that you have no legal right to stay - otherwise if you don’t leave when asked you are committing a criminal offense.
Despite the laws stating that it is technically illegal, the act of ‘wild camping’ in itself is generally tolerated as long as you are not being a nuisance and are simply there to enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings and environment.
The law in itself is aimed at protecting landowners from the said migratory groups of people, not ‘wild campers’ who wish to explore nature and are only out for recreational purposes.
The best guidelines for wild camping in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be as follows:
- Avoid detection by landowners if possible
- Camp above the highested fell wall (This practically means camp on high as ground as possible)
- Avoid lighting fires (If you absolutely must have a fire - use a portable BBQ or portable firepit) and only collect dead wood - don’t chop down any trees or you could get done for criminal damage
- Pitch up at dusk and leave as early in the morning as you can
- Pitch far away from roads and pathways
- Leave no trace of ever having been there
- Don’t camp in sight of any buildings
That being said, there are numerous spots in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where it is fine and permitted to camp without landowner’s permission.
Dartmoor and The Lake District both permit camping without permission in England.
Permitted Wild Camping Spots in England
The Dartmoor Commons Act (1985) permits and allows wild camping in large parts of the North and South Dartmoor National Park as long as the rules set out in the bylaw are followed:
- You are not camping in a vehicle
- You take all litter home with you
- You are camping 100 meters away from any roads or footpaths
- You must bury human waste and take away any toilet paper you have used
- Do not light any open fires
The Dartmoor National Park authority has provided a map which shows where wild camping is permitted.
A common and picturesque part of England. There is a reason why wild camping is allowed here, it’s because you’re amongst natural beauty. One of the many reasons why we choose to wild camp in the first place.
The rules to wild camp in the lake district are as follows:
- You must camp above the highest fell wall.
- Leave no litter
- Stay for only one night
- No fires or BBQs
Now that we have the covered the laws in England, Wales and Northern Ireland we get to glorious Scotland.
Yes, we finally arrive at our top country of choice for wild camping, simply because the law is now in our favor. The Land Reform Act (2003) which took the idea of the CROW act as mentioned earlier allowing the “right to roam” and developed it further. It created a legal framework for land access in Scotland and included the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
One of the main takeaways of the Land Reform Act was that everyone has the right to access the land and lochs of Scotland for recreation and exploration so long as they do so responsibly and without encroaching on the rights and freedoms of others. The Scottish Access code clearly states that wild camping is permitted under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code as long as you:
- Are not camping in enclosed areas ( fields with crops or animals)
- Are not camping close to buildings and historic monuments
- Are camping away from roads
- Leave no trace
- Keep fires small and easy extinguishable
- Maximum stay of 3 nights at one spot
There have been bylaws introduced since this code was introduced, most notably the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park now needed a camping permit to wild camp there. This was due to foolish hooligans who would make a disastrous mess, often buying cheap tents - having a rave for two or three days then leaving everything that they came with at the camp sites.
It was ruining the natural beauty of the place and thus it got banned.
So there you have it, the laws for the certain regions within the UK. Boring stuff I know. Now on to the good stuff!
Chapter 2:Basic Equipment List
So before you set out, you will need a basic equipment list. This is essential for surviving in the bush, and there is a whole topic devoted to this - it’s called bushcraft - think Ray Mears or Bear Grylls, but in this article we won’t be going to such extremes.
This is a post for those who want to spend up to a maximum a week in the wild. We will also try and keep your equipment to a minimum so that you can get to remote locations easier as the more you carry, the harder it is to make progress.
So let's dive right in
Items to pack
Alright, so we'll try and keep this as inexpensive for you as possible.
We don't feel the need for acquiring £300 sleeping bags (think Rab) for just 2/3 nights out in the wild.
Some old bushcrafters even recommend using an old fashioned wool blanket, but we'll recommend a more modern approach.
We have prepared a kit list as follows. If this is your first time wild camping, we recommend you obtain these items. Then, if you enjoy the activity you can do your own further research as to what items you think you should personally carry.
An equipment list is only a guide, or reference. Understanding your needs as you go out to adventure will give you a better insight as to what you need, or don't need.
3/4 Season Sleeping Bag
We'll start with the most essential bit of equipment.
There are many choices when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag. But ideally you want something with a temperature rating that will go down to 0C.
It's no fun sleeping in a bad sleeping bag, that doesn't insulate properly as you will often be awoken in the night with drafts and cold air. In the UK, even during peak summer times, the temperature drops considerably at night time so you need to have an appropriate sleeping bag for the conditions.
Investing in a good sleeping bag will avoid serious disappointment whilst you go wild camping.
These are usually labelled as 3/4 season sleeping bags, and they can range from £40-£250.
Unless you'll be wild camping in the winter, a 3/4 season sleeping bag should cover you for most of spring and late autumn weather conditions.
You don't want a 4 season sleeping bag as it is considerably heavier,bulkier and usually pricer than their 3 season sleeping bag counterparts.
The sweet spot price point is around £50-70 for something that will cover most of the UKs conditions when you will be venturing outside.
Avoid cheap sleeping bags from Amazon, despite the positive reviews and invest in something branded.
For those on a budget under £100 we recommend sleeping bags from SnugPak, Vango, Forclaz or one of the newer issue sleeping bags from the British Army.
For a top of the range sleeping bag, Carinthia or Rab reign supreme. This is because they contain either down or advanced loft fillings that help to compact down, saving weight and bulk.
We highly recommend that you go visit a camping store to purchase your sleeping bag first hand. Often touching and feeling the fabric, along with the filling will give you a good indication of its insulating and comfort properties.
Shelters - Tents / Bivvys / Tarps + Hammocks
The second most essential bit of equipment you can carry whilst wild camping is a form of shelter.
Shelters for wild camping come in many forms.
TentsYour tent needs to be light enough to carry yet strong and durable enough to withstand areas that are exposed to the full force of the wind and rain. Sacrificing a porch for weight savings is one way to make your load a fair bit lighter and little changes such as aluminium rather than steel pegs soon add up.
We recommend you acquire a tent with a double skin, i.e a tent with a tarp over the top. The reason being is that the single skin variants don't hold up well to rain. Plus it also provides more insulation and protection from insects.
BivvysIf you’re solo camping you can use a bivvy for protection against the elements while massively decreasing your pack size and load.
If you really want to get close to nature and ‘become one’ with the authentic spirit of wild camping then a Bivvy bag is an experience like no other. Sometimes called Bivi bags or Bivouac sacks, these are waterproof enclosures which surround your sleeping bag, forming a cocoon of protection against the elements.
We recommend getting a hooped bivvy bag from either alpkit or the dutch army hooped bivvy bag.
Basha + Hammock Combination
Another option for wild camping, if you plan on camping in the woods is a basha + hammock combination
This is an extremely lightweight option. And the basha can be tied to poles if need be, making it more like an open tent.
However, this option isn't the greatest in the North of Scotland as you will be swarmed by midges during the night, and will still require a bivvy bag.
2 Lighters (Clipper, Bic or better)
I know what you're thinking - "Hey man, I don't smoke!" - but it's not for lighting cigarettes, it's for lighting a fire!
Always carry 2 lighters, just in case one fails. And get good branded ones likes Bic or Clipper - the cheap ones blow out very easy, not ideal when you're in the hills and the midges are swarming!
To carry your equipment, including the two biggest items (a tent and sleeping bag) you will need at least a 45L Rucksack.
A rucksack with thick straps, padded back and waist straps will help you to carry the backpack greater distances, so make sures it ticks all those three boxes.
It also helps a ton if they have external compartments, zip pockets + can zip fully open like the one shown.
The last thing you want to do is have to empty your whole rucksack just to get to your sandwiches, wallet or multi-tool when you need it most.
5mm Rope 45L+ Rucksack 3 Season Sleeping Bag Lightweight tent or hooped bivvy 2 Pairs of Socks 2 x Bag liners or 2 x plastic bags Wood cutting device (list the pros and cons of axe / pocket chainsaw / folding saw) Bamboo underwear Wooly gloves Appropriate footwear (boots or trainers - if you don’t mind getting feet wet) A good knife Inflatable roll mat 1 Gallon / 4L Water Carrier Waterproof jacket 2 Pairs of trousers Fleece jumper 2 Tshirts (coolmax active - fast drying style) Powerbank for mobile phone charging (needed for GPS trails etc) Your earbuds or speaker Small folding gas burner + gas cartridge Cooking set with frying pan KFS Set Washing up sponge Correct foods (explained later) Toothbrush + toothpaste 4.5L TupperWare Box
Chapter 3:Where to Pitch your Tent
Knowing where to pitch your tent, is probably the best takeaway of this article.
If you want to save on campsite fees, explore the unknown or fancy trying something new - then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got the ultimate tips right here for you to get your next outdoor trip up and running.
Using the exact strategies I’m going to share with you in this chapter.
”Leave no trace”
The single best bit tip we can give when it comes to wild camping is to remember the motto, “leave no trace”.
I know this sounds simple, but if you remember this motto, you will run into less hassle while you go wild camping.
Nothing beats the feeling of leaving the beaten old path and setting up somewhere completely remote, set away from civilization and returning back to our natural hunter gatherer roots. Or perhaps the world has gone full apocalypto and we’re all running for the hills. Who knows? But we think the next few tips will help you get a good night's sleep and avoid any run-ins with folk!
Alright, so first get the app Park4Night installed on your iPhone or tablet.
Once installed add the filter “Surrounded by nature”
This will give you a list of locations on the map to investigate that are generally in off-grid locations. What’s more they’re already pretty much camper-van friendly, so wild-camping near these spots is generally tolerated.
To further investigate the area before you head off. Click the itinerary menu, then load it up into 360view on Google Maps. This will give you a quick scan of the area.
It’s better to have some forests + a stream nearby for cover rather than open farmland.
The ideal wild camping spot is somewhere close to a stream with a flat level surface for you to pitch your tent on. Having access to a running stream provides you with somewhere to clean your dishes after your meal and also to top up your water resource.
We highly recommend you boil your water before consumption, however most stream water is safe to drink. It’s the water that lies in slow moving rivers and lakes / lochs that is generally unsafe due to algae and other bacterias that grow more easily in said conditions.
You also want your ideal spot to have a source of wood, so some trees nearby would be ideal. Often you will find plenty of driftwood / dead branches on the ground to burn that will last a couple of hours.
For me personally, the ideal spot to do wild camping is near a lake. Having a view of the water is hard to beat. Just tucked up and away around the corner somewhere is ideally what you want. Be careful of pitching up too close to a lake, check the sogginess / saturation of the grass - it should be dry and firm indicating no water rises here - and you should be fine.
If you can’t get access to a nearby lake whilst on your hike- then the next best bet is to find a running stream or river. Ascend a hill if you can, people don’t like climbing up hills and you will often find a space near the top of the hill.
You must also avoid certain locations whilst wild camping.
Avoid farm land at all costs as cows are territorial and may stampede you. If you come across a herd, remain calm and keep walking, don’t turn your back and avoid eye contact. Watch out for cow pats and fields that have those metal swing gates.
Farm land with sheep should also be avoided as farmers often patrol these early in the morning and farmers have a sixth sense of knowing someone is near their livestock.
Avoid spots directly next to a trail (you want to be at least 100m away from any trail). Dogs will often find you and come running up sniffing you inside the tent wondering what’s going on. It’s funny the first couple of times, but just avoid it and you will feel more comfortable waking up in peace.
Avoid spots that are close to points of interest - again these will be visited by walkers early in the morning.
Like the above advice, avoid being close to a road (at least 50m) - the sudden whoosing of a car passing by at 11pm isn’t the nicest of sounds when you’re trying to relax.
Chapter 4:Setting up of fire + tent + wood collection
Now that you have found the ideal spot, away from buildings, humans and animals.
You have become in the wild
The first step is to obviously set up your tent and camp.
We recommend that you have set up your tent at least once before arriving at your wild camping spot. Testing how your tent is setup makes the process go a whole lot smoother when you’re ready to start wild camping.
If you're wild camping in the forest avoid sleeping underneath a widow maker (a tree where the main branch has snapped)
If you're next to a stream, lake, loch or river avoid pitching too close to where the water may rise at night
Try to find a flat spot with plenty of grass. This makes it more comfortable and sometimes negates the need to have a blow up airbed.
Now that your tent is set up, go and collect some firewood. Take one of your empty plastic bags that you carried with you.
Collecting wood that has fallen from trees is your best bet. Avoid cutting down live trees, you’ll be damaging the ecosystem. You’ll soon have enough branches and twigs to get something going for a couple of hours.
Collect wood that is dry and has been dead for sometime. It should snap quite easily. This stuff burns better and doesn’t give off smoke when on the fire.
If you can find one decent 2-3inchs width log that is 0.5-1m long, that is all you’ll need to have a small fire burning in your portable BBQ / fire pit for quite some time. Couple that with some twigs to add if the heat gets a bit low and you’re all set. Don’t go around collecting every single log and branch, just enough to get a fire going. Filling a plastic shopping bag is a good measure.
If you’re going to be using an Axe to chop up the wood. You must take extreme care and caution when chopping wood. All too often beginner wild-campers have cut their legs wide open by misjudging a strike.
When using your Axe, go on your knees and keep the wood one arm's length away from you. This will prevent any mishaps and keeps you focussed on cutting the wood.
Having an emergency situation in the middle of nowhere on your own like a forest could be fatal! Following that one tip above could save your life.
Starting a fire is pretty straightforward also.
Using a piece of paper, scrunch it up into a ball. Then using some small twigs, the driest of the bunch. Put them like a teepee shape on top of the paper ball.
What you want to do now is try and light the paper ball. You could use a match, or light another piece of paper and stick that to the ball till the ball catches. Once the ball catches, let it light up until the twigs start catching. Once a couple of twigs have caught and are lit, add more twigs. You now have yourself a small fire!]
Now to keep it going, try and get small cuttings of the bigger log. This will save you having to add small tigs and bits of wood to keep it going.
Chapter 5:Recipes and Food
In your equipment list you have a 4L bottle of water. This is needed per person as hiking and trekking does bring a lot of dehydration.
On top of that you will need to carry some food.
You can buy such things as military ration packs, or the firepot dehydrated meals that will take the guesswork out of preparing your lunch but we recommend you prepare from your local grocer.
Good Food Ideas
Firepot meals and the pre-packed camping food are super expensive for just 1 meal! So here are some great suggestions.
- Instant noodles
- Microwave rice
- Instant oatmeal packages
- Pretzels + Chips
- Freeze Dried Fruits
If you want some more inspiration, head on over to Google and type in “hiking recipes”
If you took our advice and obtained the small BBQ / Firepit - grab some burgers, cheese and good brioche buns. These things rock when you’re wild camping!
Alright so you got your food sorted out and planned your meals for the next 3 days. Remember don’t take more than you need to. A cafe or shop is not very far away.
Less is better when it comes to carrying your food supplies. Now is the time to store it, so it doesn’t go bad or crush when you’ve got the kit on your back. You should be able to pack all your food supplies for 3 days in a 10L tupperware box.
Anymore and you’re carrying too much, or not prepared what you plan to eat.
Chapter 6:Packing up and clearing the site
Once you have eaten well, slept well for the night and have awoken, had your breakfast and are ready to leave.
It’s time to do a quick checklist to ensure that you leave nothing behind. If you’ve been keeping tidy whilst camping that’s great!
That’s the way to do it.
This makes your life easier when you depart.
Come on baby light my fire!
Sometimes especially whilst wild camping in Scotland, the midge will be waiting for you in the morning. So if you wish, set up the fire again to get some smoke going to clear them off, you don’t need a raging fire - just enough smoke to deter them whilst you make your breakfast and pack away everything ready to leave.
Whilst there is some smoke, clear away all your things and belongings. Pack away the sleeping bag, tent etc.
Just leave out your gas stove, and pan for cooking, plus some porridge / sausages whatever you wish for breakfast.
Put your rucksack next to the fire (for a seat to sit on), cook your breakfast and get ready to leave once you’ve finished up. Once breakfast is cooked, eaten and you’ve cleaned your plate at the nearest stream. It’s time to remove traces of the fire.
Fill up your cooking pot with fresh water for the fire when you go to clean them and return to camp with it.
If you want, you can take the small twigs with you if you’re going to be headed to another spot. Same goes with any unused chopped up logs that you collected. It’ll save you searching around trying to get a fire lit when olives and midges are nipping at you come dusk!
Now, once everything is packed away, all logs etc - the last thing you want to pack away is the fire stove or BBQ, it will take around 2/3 mins to cool down before you can safely pack away.
Douse the fire with the water to ensure it goes out - wait a minute because the metal will still be hot - then empty the charcoal remains in some grass or bush nearby.
Don’t empty a burning fire onto grass or earth, it will leave scorch marks which you want to avoid. Make sure it’s completely out by drowning it with water. If the metal is cool to touch you can safely pack it away.
Finally, before you leave ensure that you have collected all your litter and place it in a plastic bag, ready to drop off at the nearest bin.
Chapter 7:Prepare for the next wild camping spot
If you’re the spontaneous type and decided whilst you were wild camping that this activity completely rocks, then you should probably be looking at where to go next.
Sometimes if you’re on a hike or a trail, you know the path that you’ll be taking - but we’re not all that prepared.
Below is our top tip for continuing on your wild camping adventure.
Technology is your friend
To find your next spot, pull up the Park4Night app and locate a reasonably close location for your next night.
It doesn’t have to be miles away. Somewhere that you can get to in a couple of hours if you’re walking or an hour or two if you’re driving. Again check that the “Surrounded by nature” filter is on.
The more that you do this activity of scouting out locations with the help of the app, you will come across locations that aren’t on the app. Which is even better! You will start to get a feel of where to go and what to look out for. You’ve just gotta get out there and start exploring, it’s the only way.
So congrats on finishing the guide you are now becoming a wild camping, bushcrafting ninja!
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