Top tips and what to look out for when picking a wild camping spot
If you’re here, then chances are you’re aware that wild camping enables you to explore further and adventure more into your natural surroundings. Whether you’ve done it before or you’ve recently been inspired to take a walk on the wild side, choosing the right wild camping spot can really make or break a trip.
When fatigue kicks in it’s easy to just throw down your tent where you stand but that easy option can lead to a sticky situation later on. With a little know-how, simple recommendations and some planning, your wild night can be as smooth as your roll mat!
In this article you will find:
- What is wild camping?
- Why go wild camping?
- Basic principles of camping in the wild
- How to pick a wild camping spot
What is wild camping?
Also known as free camping, stealth camping or rough camping, wild camping encompasses any type of camping done outside a designated camping ground. Camping in campsites, at festivals or in your garden, that’s just camping. Pitching anywhere else is wild camping. Sometimes legally, sometimes illegally and quite often vaguely in between…
Wild camping is permitted across most of Scotland but in other parts of the UK it’s a pretty grey area. Technically illegal (except for Dartmoor where it’s legal – yay), but if you respect the land and don’t cause a disturbance, chances are you can pitch for the night without anyone being any the wiser. The laws are similar in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal.
In Scandinavian countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden, the common right of access means you can wild camp on open land (though there are some restrictions such as it can only be for a night and you have to be travelling on foot). In Germany and Italy, wild camping is pretty strictly prohibited compared with the rest of Europe, though that’s not to say you won’t find a pitch.
In North America, land is owned either nationally, by state or local governments and although it’s legal in some places, this is on a case-by-case basis.
As you can see, the laws and regulations differ all over the world. It’s best to have a little knowledge on how to pick a wild camping spot and do your own specific research for the place you’re travelling.
New to camping? Our beginner’s guide has a bunch of tips and resources to help you experience more of your surroundings. If you’re going to Scotland you might want to check out our specific wild camping guide too
Why go wild camping?
Wild camping allows you to do and experience so much more. You can venture further into rugged landscapes and then hunker down as the night draws in. You’re not tied to finding or returning to a campsite either.
Instead, you can follow your feet or blaze your own trail and end the day with a cracking view, away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation. For many types of outdoor trips wild camping is the most practical option. Just you, your shelter and the frenzy of nature around you.
Basic principles of wild camping
Similarly to whenever you venture outdoors, there are a basic set of principles that allow us all to make the most of these captivating places.
- Leave no trace – as simple as it sounds basically after your night in the wild there should be no sign that you were there, except perhaps for some slightly flattened grass.
- If someone asks you to move on, do so politely and without any fuss.
- Pitch as the sun sets and leave before sunrise.
- Try to practice zero waste as much as possible. Where you can’t, take all your rubbish with you to dispose of properly.
- Keep group and campsite size to an absolute minimum.
- Avoid moving or damaging and vegetation or rocks.
- Camp at least 200 feet/60m away from a water source.
- Keep noise levels to a minimum.
- Respect the local wildlife.
The basic ethos to wild camping is to remain undetected for your own safety and the comfort of others. If you’re not causing a nuisance then chances are no one is going to bother you; which is exactly as you want it. To do this properly, picking the right wild camping spots is key.
How to pick a wild camping spot
Know what you’re looking for and you’ll soon find yourself scoping out spots whenever you hike. When picking a camping spot you need to be mindful of your wider and immediate surroundings. There are some safety and practical points but when you’ve done it once, it’ll become second nature.
Before heading out on your wild camping trip you can do a little planning to make sure you’re prepared:
- If possible, plan to camp in areas you know so you have an idea of the environment and good places to pitch.
- If you’re cycle touring or in a new area, use a GPS or Google Maps to scope out good places in the area that are concealed and away from residential homes or private property.
- Nowadays there are Facebook groups and forums where people share tips and advice for specific areas. Use these to your advantage and ask any questions to get an idea of what’s permitted.
- Check the weather! this could massively impact where you camp and the type of trip you have.
- As you’ll be aware from civilisation, think carefully about your food and drink to make sure you take enough. Our Adventure Food section has lots of ideas.
- Try to opt for national parks, woodland areas, nature reserves or public lands over farmers fields or privately owned land. This isn’t always possible and if you practice leave no trace then there shouldn’t be a problem but if someone asks you to move off their land, do so politely.
Want more adventure fodder and outdoor tips straight to your inbox? Sign up to our newsletter to be the first to receive the inside scoop
When trying to find a wild camping spot, look out for these things:
- You want to be as far away from roads and civilisation as possible. This is for the comfort of others and your own safety. If people can’t see or hear you, they’re probably not going to bother you. Plus you’ll have a much better experience nestled in your sleeping bag, surrounded by peacefully swaying trees and the glow of the night’s sky without the interference of a road or locals.
- Survey the area from all angles if possible. This will ensure you’ve picked a good spot and give you peace of mind knowing what lies over that ridge when you zip up for the night.
- Don’t pitch somewhere too high or exposed, instead opt for somewhere that has some natural shelter from the wind such as boulders or trees.
- Try and stay away from exposed ridges as you never know where your sleepy feet might take you.
- Try and camp near a water source so you can refill but make sure to camp at least 200 feet away. This keeps you safe in case it swells with the rain, allows animals to access it and prevents anything from your camp polluting it.
- Think about sunrise and sunset. In the summer you want to camp in the shade whereas in the winter the opposite applies and the sun warming your tent is a welcome feeling. Also waking up to a cracking sunrise view is the best way to start the day.
- Avoid spots where rain could gather as this could lead to a soggy sleeping bag – not fun!
- Camping in hallows and valleys can be damp and cold so best avoided in cooler seasons.
Finally, when you’ve found a good wild camping area check your immediate surroundings:
- Pick a spot with naturally cleared flooring.
- Try to pick flat surface by laying down to test the ground or stepping with your feet if it’s wet. No one wants to sleep on a hump but if this isn’t possible sleep with your head on the higher ground.
- Check the surrounding trees for any dead branches that could potentially fall on you in the night.
- Test the ground – Does it squelch? If so pick another camping spot as you don’t want to sleep anywhere boggy.
- Pitch your tent door away from the wind to keep warmer in the night.
- Are midges and mosquitos a problem? If so camp uphill where it’ll be breezier.
- If setting up a hammock, be sure to pitch to sturdy trees.
Top Tips for Finding the Right Wild Camping Spot
The main thing to take away when camping in the wild is to leave no trace. Remain undetected and respectful of the land, locals and wildlife; chances are you’ll have an awesome night. If it looks like you were never there then you’re doing it right!
Hopefully, these tips on how to pick the right camping spot will give you a bit of confidence to head out free camping. Once you feel comfortable with the rawness of a wild night it’s incredible how the possibility for adventure broadens.
If you have any questions about wild camping, drop us a line. Plus we’d love to hear some tales of success or mishaps from your nights in the outdoors in the comments so don’t be a stranger!