There are hundreds of campsites across the UK offering hot showers, cabins, yurts and more if “glamping” is your style. But for those wishing to enjoy nature in its purest form, wild camping offers an experience like no other.
Traditionally, “wild camping” means pitching your tent somewhere that isn’t a designated campsite. “That might be in woodland, on a mountainside or in a field,” explains Dan Yates, founder of outdoor accommodation and booking platform Pitchup.com. “Generally, the term is also synonymous with going off-grid and properly back to basics in terms of kit and facilities.”
However, due to the restrictions on wild camping in the UK, getting “off-grid” is surprisingly difficult. More than 200 people were caught illegally wild camping in 2020 in the Lake District – and those who refused to leave peacefully were issued with fines.
Fancy giving a wild camping a try but don’t know where to start? Here are the dos and don’ts you need to know.
Do get clued up on the law
This is a crucial first step, as wild camping is mostly illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the exception of some parts of Dartmoor. The laws are different in Scotland, however, where wild camping is legal.
If getting to Scotland isn’t an option, you can wild camp in other parts of the UK as long as you have the landowner’s permission. If you’ve got your eye on a spot, it’s time to do some befriending.
Failing that, there are a number of campsites across the UK that advertise themselves as “suitable for wild camping”. The “wildness” of these sites can vary – you may find yourself in an empty field, or there may be water and toilet facilities – so do your research to ensure you get the experience you’re looking for.
Of course, these campsites don’t always offer the complete solitude of traditional wild camping, but for first-timers or those who can’t get to The Highlands, they provide a slice of the experience with no legal worries.
Don’t camp in enclosed fields of crops or animals
When choosing a wild site, whether in Scotland, Dartmoor or somewhere with the landowners’ permission, you should pitch your tent with consideration of farmers and their livelihood.
“Keep away from buildings, roads or historic structures and take care not to disturb activities like deer stalking or grouse-shooting,” says Yates. “It’s also worth knowing that water attracts midges so you might not want to camp right at the edge of a loch.”
Do make sure there’s water nearby
While you don’t want to be right by the water (due to the aforementioned midges) you should make sure there’s a water source close by if you’re staying on a wild site without taps.
“Remember running water is generally safer than still, which may be stagnant,” says Yates. “Check for waste or animal carcasses upstream as these could contaminate the water. Ideally boil any water before drinking to be on the safe side. You can also buy filters or purification tablets which will treat the water you’ve collected to make it safe.”
Don’t expect to have phone signal
Planning in advance is key, because you can’t rely on your phone once you’re there.
“If you’re going truly remote, there’s no guarantee that you will [have phone signal] so it’s a good idea to let someone back at base know your plans and when you expect to return too, just in case,” says Yates.
Do pack carefully
You’ll want to pack light to save tent space, while ensuring you’ve got the essentials. Yates’ packing recommendations include:
A lightweight tent or bivvy bag [individual waterproof shelter]
Sleeping bag and mat
Water bottle and food
Swiss army knife
Map and compass
Small trowel and a carrier bag
Clothing to suit various weather conditions
Don’t assume a fire is safe
Sure, you’re outside and no one is around, but this isn’t the time to create an enormous bonfire.
“Check wind conditions, nearby vegetation and campfire rules before you spark up, and be thorough about ensuring your campfire is contained, won’t spread and is put out and covered thoroughly before you move on,” says Yates. “If the weather’s been very dry, use a camping stove instead.”
Do dispose of human waste properly
This might mean digging a hole and burying your own poo. Yes, really. This can sometimes put people off who’ve never tried wild camping, but trust me, you soon get used to it. On a site without formal toilet facilities – or out on a day-long hike – disposing of your bio waste with care is an essential part of the ‘leave no trace’ ethical principles.
It’s vital to dispose of poo properly to “minimise the possibility of spreading disease and maximise the rate of decomposition,” says the Leave No Trace site. “In most locations, burying human faeces in the correct manner is the most effective method to meet these criteria.”
It’s important to pick your spot carefully, though. “Make sure you’re at least 30 metres away from open water, rivers or streams and as far away from any buildings as possible,” says Yates. “Take a small trowel to bury the biodegradable evidence in a shallow hole and take any used toilet roll away with you.”
In some ecologically sensitive spots, burying poo isn’t recommended, according to Mountaineering Scotland. In these areas, you should carry out any human waste in a sealed container, then flush it down the loo and disinfect the container once you reach a toilet. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t use this container for any other purpose. Research the area you’re going to in advance to see if burying or containing poo is advised.
Don’t be a selfish camper
Hopefully, this doesn’t need to be said, but taking all litter away and leaving the site as you found it is key to considerate camping and will help protect wildlife and the spot for future campers.
It’s also courteous to keep noise and time spent on the site to a minimum. “Another general rule of wild camping is to arrive late and leave early,” says Yates. “So factor that in to your plans.”