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Wild camping: a beginner’s guide 

Wild camping can be an incredibly peaceful and even spiritual experience, but it takes a bit of planning to make sure you’re doing it in a safe and legal way. This guide will take you through the basics of wild camping: where to go, what to pack and how to do it legally, safely and responsibly.

Jump to:

What is wild camping?

Is wild camping legal?

How to find the perfect wild camping spot

How to wild camp responsibly

What to pack for wild camping

Alternatives to wild camping

Wild camping FAQS

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

What is wild camping?

Wild camping means setting up your tent anywhere other than a designated campsite, and generally well away from other people too. It’s about taking life back to its basics: just you, a shelter and the natural world. 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, or taking a motorhome to a remote location for the night.

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.

Below, we’ve outlined the general wild camping rules for all parts of the UK, along with selected other countries around Europe and beyond.

Wild camping in England

Generally speaking, wild camping is only legal in England if you’ve asked for the landowner’s permission – and most land in England is privately owned. This doesn’t mean that wild camping is completely banned, just that you’ll need to make the effort to gain permission first. In fact, chatting to the landowner can often bring rewards too: they may well be able to direct you to the best spot in the area, or tell you which parts to avoid (because of boggy land or other reasons).

There are, however, a few areas of England where wild camping is easier:

  • Dartmoor National Park is the only place in England where wild camping is officially permitted. However, there are still restrictions on where you can set up camp: check out these areas on the wild camping map published by the national park authority.

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

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 (this may be the National Trust or other private landowners).

The easiest place to wild camp in Wales is the Brecon Beacons National Park – here the park authorities compile a list of landowners who are willing to have campers on their land, making it much easier to contact the right person. You can pick up one of these guides from the park visitor centre.

Wild camping in Scotland

Right-to-roam laws are still in place in Scotland, which means that wild camping is still legal here. Meaning you can set up camp wherever you like in Scotland, as long as you act responsibly and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

The one exception to this rule is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park: overuse and misuse of the land mean that wild camping is now banned in some of the park between March and September, unless you are able to buy a camping permit in advance.

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.

Wild camping in 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).

Wild camping in the USA and Canada

Wild camping is accepted in many parts of the USA and Canada: these include Canadian Crown Land and US national forests and grasslands. There are, however, restrictions to be aware of – such as not camping on Indian Reservation land. Different states and parks have different laws and regulations, so check ahead while planning your trip.

Wilderness camping in national parks and national monument areas is also permitted, but you’ll need to check local regulations and may need a permit.

Wild camping in 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. The CamperMate app is a useful way to find your way to these spots.

Over 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.

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.

How to wild camp responsibly

The golden rule for responsible wild camping is ‘leave no trace’: your camping spot should look exactly the same when you leave it as when you arrive. 

  • 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 (including toilet paper)

  • 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

  • Avoid staying in the same place for more than one night

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.

  • Lightweight tent or bivvy bag

  • Lightweight sleeping bag (if not taking a bivvy bag)

  • Sleeping mat (ideally lightweight and self-inflating)

  • Cooking kit (portable stove and pan; spork and knife)

  • Food (for main meals and snacks, all in well-sealed containers in a waterproof bag)

  • Water (at least a couple of litres, even if you’re planning to find a water source)

  • Mobile phone (plus GPS device if you have one)

  • Power bank or extra battery for phone/GPS devices

  • Map and compass (even if using GPS devices)

  • First aid kit

  • Torch and spare batteries

  • Wet wipes, toilet paper and basic toiletries in a waterproof bag

  • Resealable rubbish bags

  • Small trowel for latrine digging

  • Waterproof clothes and shoes

  • Spare clothes including base layers in a waterproof bag

Alternatives to wild camping

If you’d like to try wild camping but aren’t sure about the idea of a completely self-sufficient stay, a great alternative is to stay in one of our nearly-wild campsites.

See all of Pitchup’s nearly-wild campsites

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 being sure you’ve camped in a legal spot – this is particularly important if you’re travelling in a foreign country where you’re not 100% sure of the rules.

Wild camping FAQs

Is wild camping legal?

The laws of wild camping are different in each country – for example, wild camping is generally legal in Scotland, but in England and Wales it is only legal if you obtain the landowner’s permission.

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.