Of recent, there has been a massive uptake in the ‘staycation’ approach to holidays in the UK. As a result of the pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, we are all starting to discover the wealth of opportunity that the UK has to offer; From tranquil lakes to rugged mountaintops, there’s pretty much something for everyone.
However, with this increase in people embracing the great outdoors, there has also been an increase In the visibility of what has quickly became known as ‘fly-camping’. Fly-camping is the act in which a gaggle of people may set-up camp, in an area that may not be well suited and fail to follow the ‘Leave-No-Trace’ approach that many of us have come to know.
The mainstream media has been jumping all over this, with pictures of abandoned camps, beer cans and even tents set up on the bed of a temporarily empty reservoir plastered all over the papers, often alongside with headlines depicting the squalor of the scenes.
But one recurring issue I’ve had with these reports are the completely incorrect classification of these scenes as ‘Wild Camping’. Nothing could be further than the truth, and the people that embrace this awful approach to nature are often woefully undereducated and lesser willing to learn the damage that their actions can cause, so not wild campers at all.
So with that said, I figured that it wouldn’t go amiss if I were to write up something of a guide in how you should approach wild camping; from planning to vital equipment, I’ll try to touch on it all. If my words encourage just a single one of my readers to re-consider their approach to wild-camping, then I’d be happy. The words written here are supplementary to my previous Getting Started – Hiking guide, so be sure to give that a read to lay down the basics of heading off into the wilderness.
Time and time again I see this question asked. Is it illegal? Yes. In England & Wales. Without prior permission from the landowner, Wild-Camping is considered a civil offence of trespassing. (Apart from certain areas on Dartmoor).
However, and this is where it gets sticky; many of the national parks and publicly owned lands tend to turn a blind eye to the real wild campers among us, for reasons that will become obvious further on.
With that said, there are changes in the pipeline that could turn this on it’s head. There are conversations echoing through the authorities’ corridors that the act of trespassing should be a made a criminal offence, hereby warranting a response from the police, while also aligning Scotland with the rest of the UK.
These conversations seem to have tallied pretty well with the emergence of the fly-camping epidemic we have seen in the news; so the more of us that follow the words of the wise, the less likely this will gain any traction.
All in all, the one rule I would advise you following is that should you ever be asked to move on from land you have no legal right to camp on, regardless of who they are and for what reason they are asking, do so with minimal fuss or argument. Attempting to be ‘at one’ with nature, but finding a reason to argue with someone, pretty much ruins the entire experience.
Picking a spot.
If anyone frequents social media, or simply just follows the chatter in the grapevine, then I can guarantee that you’ve came across the good old ‘Does anyone have any good wild camping places?’ posts.
I cannot stress enough how significant a part of wild camping (as a newcomer or a veteran) finding your own spot is. I could send you co-ordinates to some flat ground on the edge of a mountain, but it’s unlikely to feel any more rewarding than driving to your local campsite by following the signposts.
If you’re considering wild camping, I can only recommend one approach to picking a spot; and that is visiting it beforehand. Whenever I go for day hikes in an area, I will always take the time to note potentially good camping spots. This is the only way you’ll be able to fully appreciate how appropriate (or not) a spot may be.
Another iteration of this may be to grab the relevant OS map and mark off a few potential sites. Take the time to visit these sites on a day hike and gather the information you need to embark on your wild camp having already addressed most of the issues!
My personal preference is to set up camp at least an hours hike away from any major arteries such as roads, out of sight of any obvious footpath and above 500m. Following these rules means that I have never had the displeasure of being moved on, or being disturbed by anything other than the sunrise (or, more likely, poor weather).
Leave No Trace (LNT)
This is pretty much the most important point I’ll make in this guide. Leaving no Trace is the process of ensuring that the environment is in no way worse off after your visit than it was before.
Short of flattening some grass, there should be no way in which someone, or something, could tell that you’ve been there the night before. And yes, that includes fires unfortunately! Without a pretty intrinsic understanding of the ground beneath your feet, there is no way of knowing the true damage a fire could cause. Peat bogs can appear to be like any other mountainside, but can and will burn for months, if not, years.
I recommend, in the name of LNT, that you consider the packaging of food and what not that you plan to take with you. Some of it is unavoidable, but the idea of lugging glass bottles of wine up a mountain, to then have to lug them back down isn’t exactly ‘efficient’. Cans and freeze-dried food pouches are my go to – the packaging to both can be crushed and easily wrapped up into the bottom of your bag to be binned appropriately.
An often neglected consideration when planning a wild camp is your water needs. On a day hike in normal UK weather, you could probably get away with half a litre of the good stuff – but when you add in cooking requirements, coffees, general cleaning and hygiene? Wild-camping demands a lot more water.
Now you could just carry out what you think you would need; but with water weighing in at a pretty hefty 1kg per litre, I’d recommend that you instead invest in a filter/treatment tablets. That way, you can set up camping having avoided carrying any excessive weight, find the water source you know is round the corner as a result of your day hike look-see and filter what you need to be comfortable!
I like to hike upstream slightly to ensure there are no nasties lurking in the water, only draw water from running sources and be careful of the thermal shock cold winter water can have on your hands!
This approach does require a little more planning in respect to ‘picking your spot’, but reducing any extreme weight on your back will only payoff in the long run.
Pitch late & Leave Early.
This piece of advice is more about limiting the inconvenience you may place on other people out in the wild, and reducing the likelihood of getting caught.
My general rule of thumb, wherever you may be in the world, is to pitch at a time that everyone else would be settling down for their evening meals – very few people are going to hike to 500m (see previous point) to move on a wild camper.
On the other hand, it is common practice to leave as early as is reasonable. When I first started out, I took this literally and would be packed up and ready to take on the day at the crack of dawn. This isn’t necessary; But it’d be nice if you had packed away your things before the first morning hiker may come across you as to reduce the chance of the views being spoilt. If you’re super, super remote, this is less of a worry than if you decided to pitch within shouting distance of a town.
This is pretty much a non-negotiable in the UK. Our crazy weather patterns (or lack off) can catch even the most seasoned of us out. Your tent is your shelter from this – your home from home – your base in which you pretend you’re not the slightest bit unnerved at the thought of being completed isolated from the world.
My main advice in this respect is to really consider your needs. You won’t need the 12-man Supercamper 3000 for a wildcamp on the side of Haystacks, and you certainly wont appreciate the damage that sort of weight can do to your legs and back.
I’ve recently reviewed a couple of tents that go some distance in showing what is suitable for wildcamping. Minimal, functional and reliable is all you need, regardless of the price!
Without a doubt though, do yourself a favour and practice pitching your shiny new tent before you embark on your camps. You really won’t want to discover you have no idea how guy-lines work when the wind in whipping up and the temperature is taking a dolphin dive off the side of the mountain.
This is pretty subjective, as we all have our own tastes and priorities. So this is more of a tip than a rule of thumb! Eat. Eat a lot. When you’re this active, you’ll be far more comfortable and able to look after yourself if you’re appropriately fuelled.
When you’re wild camping, your pack is going to be heavier than your typical daysack. As a result, the grams can matter! I love using de-hydrated meals for this reason – super lightweight, no need to protect them and if you don’t use them, they often have very very long expiry dates!
The same goes for your tipples, if that’s your kind of thing. 4 cans of ale can really start to become noticeable on your back after a 16km hike to your chosen spot. If you can stomach spirits, then a hip flask with your favourite may well be the answer!
There are so many options out there, this choice can be extremely daunting and unnecessarily expensive. If you’re using my advice in using de-hydrated meals, then all you need is something that is efficient and effective at boiling water.
There are very fancy and complicated cooking systems available that are more than capable of boiling water quicker than you can say ‘Christ, it’s much colder out than I thought’. Do you need one for your first time? Probably not. I’ve had a couple of different systems now, and my favourite is still a tiny little gas burner and titanium pot. Light and effective!
Just keep in mind that your Leave no Trace principles should be at play when you cook too, so maybe avoid anything that’ll require you to burn anything other than gas/alcohol fuels.
Unlike day hikes, the likelihood that nature will come calling while you’re wild -camping is pretty damn high.
The TFD (Tactical Field Dump) is certainly not the most elegant way to really connect with nature; but there is a proper way to go about your business.
First off, make sure you take tissues & hand sanitiser. Secondly, dig your hole before you need it. I’d sooner take a few minutes repairing a hole before moving off in the morning than realising just how violently impatient Mother Nature can be when I’m wielding a mini-shovel like there’s no tomorrow.
Carry out anything other than the business – For some reason not known to myself, animals love to dig up toilet paper and proceed to spread pretty dangerous stuff about the place, and toilet paper will not rot at any great speed, unlike ‘the business’.
And lastly, make sure you’re digging your hole 8 inches deep and at least 50m away from any water sources – this is pretty obvious but you’d be surprised from the stories I have to tell!
My final tip would be to not underestimate how cold it gets at night. Have you ever had that feeling as you step out of the pub on an autumn night and instantaneously regret not bringing a jacket? Well that feeling gets much, much worse when you’re 500m up in the middle of nowhere and very much exposed to the elements.
A warm sleeping bag, a warm ‘mid’ layer, gloves and hat will work wonders when the cold starts to bite. I personally love down clothing for the super soft and plush feeling it gives – but it is useless if it gets wet. Lots of companies have started kicking out some pretty spectacular synthetic materials that can parr down on most of it’s qualities.
If anything is going to absolutely ruin your camp experience, it’ll be the cold making you feel like it’s now a survival exercise instead of a pootle into the hills.
This has by no means been an exhaustive list of do’s and don’s, more of a helping hand into the experience that is wild camping. Follow the advice and you can’t go wrong! If you can think of any more, please drop them down below for everyone else to see?