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Wild camping: a beginner’s guide 

Wild camping is all about getting back to nature, usually in peaceful, remote countryside away from any habitation. However, a bit of planning is required to make sure you’re wild camping in a safe and legal way. Whether you are keen to take the plunge and try wild camping, or would rather initially opt for a nearly wild camping experience instead, this guide takes you through all the basics: how to wild camp legally, how to find a wild camping spot, what to pack, and a rundown of the rules of wild camping to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.   

Wild camping allows you to immerse yourself fully in nature (Daan Weijers / Unsplash)

Jump to:

What is wild camping?

Is wild camping legal?

Where can I wild camp legally in the UK?

Where can I wild camp legally in the rest of the world?

The rules for wild camping

How to find the perfect wild camping spot

What to pack for wild camping

Are there any alternatives to wild camping?

Wild camping FAQS

What is wild camping?

Wild camping means setting up your tent anywhere other than a designated campsite, and generally away from other people too. It’s about taking life back to its basics: just you and a shelter in the natural world. That might be in woodland, on a mountainside or in a field. Generally, the term is synonymous with going off-grid and back to basics in terms of kit and facilities.

Is wild camping legal?

Different rules apply for wild camping in different countries, so it’s important to check what restrictions apply in your chosen country. Even in countries where wild camping is legal, rules can vary from area to area, so you’ll still need to do some research into any local rules or guidelines to make sure that you’re wild camping in an approved spot.

Wild camping is legal in vast tracts of Scotland, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most land is privately owned. As current law does not give people access to someone else’s land, strictly speaking wild camping is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, many landowners are happy to host wild campers if they ask permission first and are respectful of the land. It’s up to you to ensure that you ask permission and follow the wild camping rules.

If you are caught wild camping without permission, you may be found guilty of trespass. As this is classed as a civil offence, it’s unlikely that you will be arrested but you will be asked to move on. As long as you do so, that will be the end of the matter. If you are repeatedly caught wild camping without permission, you may be fined.

Where can I wild camp legally in the UK?

As mentioned above, the wild camping laws vary between Scotland and the rest of the country, with Scotland benefiting from right-to-roam rules. Below, we’ve outlined the general wild camping rules for all parts of the UK. 

Wild camping in Scotland

Scotland is currently the only part of the UK that allows wild camping pretty much anywhere. Following the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, people are allowed to camp on most unenclosed land, including many of Scotland’s national parks, as long as you act responsibly and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is an exception to this rule: overuse of the land means that wild camping is banned in areas of the park between March and September, unless you buy a camping permit in advance.

Wild camping in England

Dartmoor National Park is once again the only place in England where wild camping is officially permitted. Following a legal ruling in July 2023, wild campers on Dartmoor no longer need to seek the permission of individual landowners before pitching up.

Lake District National Park authorities are generally tolerant of responsible wild campers who follow ‘leave no trace’ principles, although they don’t have designated wild camping areas.

Wild camping in Wales

The wild camping rules in Wales are similar to those in England: you’ll need to seek the landowner’s permission before setting up camp. This means that it is possible to go wild camping in Snowdonia or near the Wales Coast Path if you can find out who owns the land.

Brecon Beacons National Park authorities have a list of landowners who allow campers on their land, so you can seek permission from the right person. Pick up a guide from the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre at Libanus.

Wild camping in Northern Ireland

Wild camping is illegal in Northern Ireland unless you have gained the landowner’s permission. However, wild camping is allowed at some Northern Ireland Forestry Service sites if you book ahead or buy a permit.

Where can I wild camp legally in the rest of the world?

Europe

Wild camping laws vary from country to country around Europe, so it’s best to read up on the laws for your chosen country before setting off. 

The best countries for wild camping in Europe are Norway, Sweden and Finland, where the law of allemansrätten guarantees access to nature. Certain rules apply (such as staying a certain distance from houses and not lighting fires), but largely wild camping is possible here.

Wild camping is also possible in France and Spain as long as you follow both national and local rules. Read these carefully and choose your spot wisely, as you can be fined for camping in the wrong place.

In many other countries, you may be able to find areas where wild camping is either permitted or at least tolerated for a single night. However, there are some countries where wild camping is generally illegal and to be avoided: these include Belgium, The Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland (where you can be fined up to €10,000 for illegal camping).

USA and Canada

Wild camping is accepted in many parts of the USA and Canada: these include Canadian Crown Land, US national forests and grasslands, national parks and national monument areas. There are, however, some restrictions – such as not camping on Indian Reservation land. Different states and parks have different laws and regulations.

Australia and New Zealand

Wild camping is not officially permitted in Australia, but the country has a number of free sites where camping is allowed on a first-come-first-served basis. 

In New Zealand, ‘freedom camping’ is generally allowed on Department of Conservation land, with certain exceptions such as Maori burial sites and protected animal habitats. Some councils allow campers to stay on their land too, as long as they follow local guidance.

The rules for wild camping

The number-one rule for responsible wild camping is ‘leave no trace’: your camping spot should look exactly the same when you leave it as on arrival. 

  • Arrive later in the day and leave early, where possible

  • Keep groups small

  • Bring food in sealable, reusable containers

  • Take all your rubbish away with you

  • Bury human waste in a hole at least 15cm deep and 50 metres from any trails or water sources

  • Only light fires when it’s safe to do so, and keep them small

  • Try not to move anything like rocks or logs, or remove any vegetation

  • Don’t stay in the same place for more than one night

How to find the perfect wild camping spot

Once you’ve chosen your area you will need to pick a suitable spot in which to spend the night. So what should you look for in a wild camping pitch?

  • Use mapping apps such as Google Maps to look out for places well away from residential properties, footpaths and tracks.

  • Arrive before dark so that you can check the terrain in the daylight, looking out for evidence of wildlife that might disturb you (or that you might disturb) during the night.

  • Look out for wildlife signs on nearby roads to be aware of any animal habitats in the area, particularly in mating or nesting seasons.

  • Be aware of water sources: it’s good to be fairly near one for cooking and hydration purposes, but in general you should aim to stay at least 50 metres from a natural water source to avoid contamination (and boggy ground).

  • Look out for a spot that is naturally quite flat, where you can camp without the need to damage plants or move rocks and stones.  

  • If possible, find an area that’s sheltered from the wind, but don’t stay too close to trees that might creak all night or catch sparks from your campfire.

Picking lightweight but waterproof camping kit is vital for wild camping (Marek Piwnicki / Unsplash)

What to pack for wild camping

Packing for a wild camping trip is about finding the balance between complete self-sufficiency and keeping it lightweight enough to carry easily. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a packing list of wild camping essentials.

Tent

Buy a tent that’s as lightweight but strong as you can afford; a tent weighing 2kg or under should be fine to carry. 

Sleeping bag

Again, it’s a balance between practicality and weight; obviously if you’re wild camping in the UK in winter, you’ll need to buy a sleeping bag that’s appropriate for the weather.

Sleeping mat

Vital for a comfortable and warm night’s rest, sleeping mats come as roll-ups that you can fasten to the top of your rucksack, or inflatable (preferably self-inflating) mattresses that fold away into a small bag. 

Pillow

Pack a travel pillow or an inflatable one (the latter takes up much less space). 

Bags

Keeping your gear (and yourself) dry when wild camping is of paramount importance, so protect kit in your rucksack by using an inner dry bag.

Clothes

Take a change of clothes (keep them dry in a waterproof bag), and remember that layers are your friend. Top everything with waterproof clothing and boots. Hats and gloves will help to keep you warm too. 

Cooking gear and food

A portable stove and pan are handy to have, as well as a knife and fork. Keep your food in resealable containers, and take rubbish bags with you too.

Water

You may be able to access water from a stream or other fresh water source, but it’s best to carry a couple of litres in case there’s nothing close to your chosen wild camping site.

Hygiene essentials

Pack wet wipes for keeping clean and basic toiletries (in mini-sizes to lighten your load if possible) in a waterproof bag. Microfibre travel towels are light, fold into nothing and dry easily. Toilet paper is also an essential, as well as a trowel for latrine digging.

Emergency kit

Include a mobile phone and a GPS device for navigation, plus a power bank or extra batteries. A map and compass will help you find out exactly where you are if there is no mobile signal; take a torch and spare batteries for finding your way around after dark; and always have a first-aid kit to hand, containing include plasters, antiseptic cream, insect repellent, suncream and a tick-removing tool.

Are there any alternatives to wild camping?

In this guide we’ve focused on wild camping in a tent, but there are other ways to find similar experiences, such as staying at a nearly-wild campsite. There are many campsites across the UK that offer nearly wild camping in England, nearly wild camping in Wales, nearly wild camping in Northern Ireland and nearly wild camping in Scotland.

Booking a pitch at a nearly-wild campsite will give you a taste of aspects of the wild camping experience such as remote locations and quiet surroundings, but often with the addition of basic facilities such as toilets. There’s also the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re camping in a legal spot.

See all of Pitchup’s nearly-wild campsites

Wild camping FAQs

Is wild camping legal?

The laws of wild camping are different in each party of the country – for example, wild camping is generally legal in Scotland, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is only legal if you obtain the landowner’s permission. Failure to ask permission can result in punishment in the UK, such as a fine.

Is wild camping safe?

Wild camping should be relatively safe as long as you choose your spot well, pay attention to local guidelines regarding things like wildlife and fires, and pack everything you need. 

What are the rules for wild camping?

The main rule for wild camping is always to ‘leave no trace’, making sure that you leave your camping spot exactly as you found it.

Where do I go to the toilet while wild camping?

Stay well away from any natural water sources, and dig a hole at least 15cm deep so that you can bury solid waste. Take used toilet paper away with you in a sealed bag and dispose of it in a bin.