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Wild camping guide

May 11, 2023

Wild camping is sleeping in the great outdoors, but not on an official campsite. It is pitching your tent on a mountain summit, snuggling into your sleeping bag in a secret cave, or sheltering under your tarp next to a tranquil tarn.

But get it wrong and wild camping can be a torturous, sleepless experience. If you’re not careful, you’ll be lying awake all night as your tent is thrown around by the wind like a rag doll. Pack inadequate kit and you might find yourself shivering uncontrollably at 4am, or enduring what feels like a lumpy, slanting and wholly uncomfortable mattress for eight restless hours.

So, to make the most of your wild camping experience and to avoid the schoolboy errors, it's important to get the basics right – and that's where this guide comes in. Our experienced team (learned from their own errors) has compiled our ultimate guide to wild camping, covering everything from toilet duties to water filtration and tent pitching.

There aren't any (or at least very few) axe-wielding maniacs roaming the British hills after dark. Bogey monsters don't exist and werewolves are fictional.

If you’re scared of things that go bump in the night, please don't let that put you off wild camping forever. The stark truth is you’re far safer out in the hills than you are walking home from the pub at 12am on a Friday night.

A lot of this is self-explanatory. You’ll obviously need your tent, sleeping bag (with optional liner), and sleeping mat. For cooking you’ll need a camping stove, gas canister, lighter, pot, mug and spork, and for morale a flask of whisky or pack of Percy Pig sweets are irreplaceable.

Other essential items include headtorch, trowel, several dry bags, rubbish bag, emergency rations and spare pegs and guy lines. A power bank for recharging devices.

But don't overdo it – an exceptionally heavy rucksack will give you backache and spoil the adventure. Be efficient with your packing and only take what you really need.

Always carry basic safety equipment with you – map, compass, GPS device, mobile phone, headtorch and first aid kit. And let someone know your approximate route, where you’ll camp and what time you’ll be home. That way, in the unlikely event of an emergency, they can raise the alarm and provide useful info to Mountain Rescue.

You want to find a patch of flat, soft and dry grass, devoid of any rocks or puddles of water. This will give you the best chance of a comfy night.

One trick is to lie down on the ground before you pitch your tent to check your chosen spot is sufficiently flat and dry, without any annoying grassy lumps or spiky rocks below your body.

If the weather is very gusty, some shelter from the wind – perhaps in the lee of a hill or shielded by a crag – is important too. Your tent should be parallel to the wind direction, with the lowest and narrowest part facing into the wind, ensuring gusts flow aerodynamically over your flysheet.

Fine-tune the flysheet's tension to maximise clearance between the fly and inner; open the door and any vents to aid circulation and reduce the chance of condensation; and use guy ropes for added stability.

Nothing too complicated here. Simply inflate your sleeping mat and lay it in the centre of your tent. Place your sleeping bag over it and slide your sleeping bag liner (if you have one) inside your bag.

A dry bag stuffed full of spare clothes can act as a makeshift pillow, if you haven't packed a camping pillow. Remember also to ensure your sleeping bag's temperature ratings are season appropriate. A good strategy is to aim for something slightly warmer than you’re likely to need – that way you’re prepared for an unexpected cold snap.

Organise your tent pockets so the things you need are close to hand: your headtorch for midnight loo breaks, toothbrush and phone. If you’re bivvying, put them in a dry bag near your head.

Put the stuff sacks for your sleeping bag, mat and any other camp kit into the tent bag, so it's all safely stored together and easy to pack away when you leave.

Stake the trowel outside your tent, or if you’re camping in a group put it somewhere in the middle so it's easily accessible.

You can make things as simple or complicated as you like, be it the humble Pot Noodle or a five-star gourmet steak. A simple and tasty option, however, is an expedition meal from a brand such as Summit To Eat or Firepot.

These dehydrated or freeze-dried meals come pre-prepared in a pouch and all you have to do is add boiling water. There's no washing up either, as you eat them out of the pouch. For breakfast, porridge pots and a coffee sachet are popular choices.

Water is heavy, so you’ll probably need to re-supply at a water source such as a stream or tarn. Running water is generally safer than still water and it's best practice to collect from as close to the source as possible. Remember to check upstream for dead sheep or waste too.

For drinking water, bottles with integrated filters such as the LifeStraw Go are your best bet – simply fill up and drink. It's that simple. But for cooking water, you’ll need to boil it, add water purification tablets or use a more advanced product water filtration system. If you’re only going for a one-night wild camp, however, you might be able to carry enough water, thus avoiding the need for filtering.

Yes, it's the last thing you want to do before bed, but it's better than trudging to the stream before your first cup of tea to scrub off last night's crusty noodles. Heather makes a great scouring brush.

If you go to bed cold, it's unlikely that you’ll warm up. Instead, think about retaining body heat. Keep your insulated jacket on and go for a brisk stroll to raise your body temperature before hunkering down.

First thing in the morning, if it's been raining or your tent is covered with dew, give it a good shake to get the worst of the moisture off. With any luck, the sun will burn off the rest while you have your morning brew and ponder the spectacular view.

Little things like tent pegs and gloves are easy to leave behind. When you’re packed up, do a final sweep of your campsite to make sure you haven't left any kit or litter behind.

The law varies across the UK. In all of Scotland (except parts of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs) wild camping is legal so long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code (leave no trace and do not disturb people or animals).

Outside of Scotland, there is no legal right to camp wild in the UK. Technically, in the rest of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can only wild camp if you have the landowner's permission. However, in many hill areas such as the Lakes, there is a long tradition of wild camping and sleeping in the fells has been unofficially tolerated for decades.

COVID-19 led to a rise in irresponsible camping. Media reports told of hordes of illegal campers wrecking Britain's beauty spots with a tsunami of human waste, litter, campfires and discarded equipment – a reprehensible trend that's known as ‘fly camping’.

Fly camping is brazenly camping close to roads, lakeshores, farms and villages, without permission nor consideration for the impact on nature and local communities.

Wild camping is the opposite: it is responsible and inconspicuous and adheres to a clearly defined code of ethics.

Wild camping is sleeping in the great outdoors, but not on an official campsite. It is pitching your tent on a mountain summit, snuggling into your sleeping bag in a secret cave, or sheltering under your tarp next to a tranquil tarn.