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Wild Camping Guide

By Leanne Downs13 November 2017

The freedom to be able to choose your own spot to pitch-up and sleep under the stars is one of the biggest draws of wild camping. However, there are some rules you need to follow.

IS WILD CAMPING LEGAL?

In England and Wales, wild camping is illegal, except for certain areas within the Dartmoor National Park (view the area map here). This is because all of the land in these two countries is owned, so if you want to wild camp, you must ask permission from the landowner. However, responsible wild camping is often tolerated in upland areas such as in the Lake District or Snowdonia, but you should always be respectful if asked to move along.

Scotland allows wild camping legally across the entire country, however, in recent years overuse in certain areas such as The Loch Lomond National Park has resulted in restrictions in certain areas (you can still camp in most of the park but in a restricted area you need to use a campsite or acquire a permit to do so). The access rights which permit wild camping do have some limitations (such as not camping on farmland or enclosed land) so you must familiarise yourself with these before choosing a place to pitch your tent.

Find out more about your rights and responsibilities for wild camping in Scotland on the Scottish Outdoor Access Codewebsite.

HOW DO I WILD CAMP RESPONSIBLY?

The access rights that you benefit from in Scotland only apply if you use them responsibly, so to ensure these rights apply for yourself and for us all in the future, you must camp responsibly. Follow these simple rules and enjoy wild camping trouble free.

  • Arrive late and leave early. Only pitch your tent when you are getting ready to bed down for the night, and pack it away once you are awake and dressed. Doing so preserves others enjoyment of the area and avoids encounters with passers-by.
  • Do not make a campfire. Wild campers are generally advised not to make fires and should use a stove instead. This is because fires can easily escalate and get out of control, especially on dry or peaty ground. In Scotland, you may light a fire but it must be small, kept under control and supervised at all times. You must hide all trace of it before you leave (ie. digging a hole to make it in and then burying it). Never cut down trees to start a fire, you should only use found kindling.
  • Stay away from buildings. You should well camp away from any buildings, somewhere where you can’t be seen from a dwelling or road.
  • Leave no trace. When you leave, you should be able to look around and see no trace of your presence in the area. Take all rubbish with you, bury any trace of a fire. Use toothpaste and detergents sparingly to lessen their impact on the environment (use biodegradable where possible). Do not even leave banana skins or orange peel as these take a long time to degrade fully so are unsightly for other visitors and they can be damaging to local wildlife. If you find someone else has left litter, do a good deed and take that with you too if you can.
  • Choose a suitable toilet. Never relieve yourself near a water source. Best practise is to do any toileting 100 metres away from water. You should also use a small trowel, your hands or your boots to dig a 15cm hole relieve yourself in and then refill after use. You should take any loo paper or wipes home with you. (Tip. Carry a biodegradable dog poop bag or nappy bag with you for these and dispose when you next find a suitable bin).
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. One or two nights in one spot is plenty. The longer you stay, the more you will damage the ground around you.

HOW DO I CHOOSE A SPOT TO CAMP?

  • Before you set off on your wild camping adventure, you should study a map of the area you will be in to identify some suitable wild camping areas. This is so that when you are tired from the day’s activities, you have a clear idea of where you can go instead of wandering around searching for a good place aimlessly.
  • Avoid places near buildings and enclosed farmland. Ideally higher ground is more suited for wild camping as it tends to be unsuitable for both these things.
  • A spot near a river or lake can be good, as it means you won’t have to carry loads of water to cook with and you may be able to refill. Remember to choose where you collect from carefully and boil it first and/or use purifying tablets to make sure it’s safe to drink. Also remember, no toileting near the water!
  • Try to avoid camping near a path or a track. Stay out of site and avoid getting in the way of passers by.
  • Observe the weather. Choose a spot sheltered by a line of trees or a crag if it’s windy.
  • Avoid boggy or soft ground as it is more sensitive to damage from trampling around the tent.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • If possible, use a tent that is a more natural colour such as a dark green. It’s better to be inconspicuous.
  • Do not spit toothpaste or dispose of any kind of chemical or detergent into a water source. You will contaminate it for others, including wildlife.
  • Leave what you find. Do not take natural souvenirs home with you such as stones or flowers. If every visitor to place took something from it, you’d be surprised at how quickly the area diminishes. Plus, you could be taking a creature’s home!
  • Respect wildlife and leave it alone. Do not feed any wildlife you encounter or do anything that could harm it. Remember that you are a guest in their home. Do not make excessive amounts of noise.

WILD CAMPING KIT LIST

Here’s a handy checklist to help you pack for a wild camping adventure. It might look quite long and overwhelming but you might be surprised to find what you already have or can borrow.

  • Tent
  • Rucksack (aim for no bigger the 45 litres and 10kg of weight for a short wild camping trip)
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Roll Mat
  • Pillow (if required – you could also use your clothes in a drybag as a pillow)
  • Headtorch (with spare batteries)
  • Map & Compass (and the knowledge to use them)
  • Water Bladder and/or bottle (if collecting water from a source, it’s good to have a ‘dirty’ bottle and only decant clean water from your stove into your ‘clean’ bottle).
  • Stove and gas (and the means to light it such as matches or a firesteel)
  • Food (and plenty of teabags, of course)
  • Plate/Bowl/Cup/Cutlery
  • Wool base layers – top and bottom with socks (also good for sleeping in)
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Warm mid layer (such as a down jacket or fleece)
  • Durable trousers (such as walking pants)
  • Underwear
  • Hat and gloves
  • Walking socks
  • Walking boots
  • Toiletries – toothbrush, toothpaste, small mirror, wipes, toilet paper, biodegradable multipurpose detergent
  • First aid kit – including any personal medication
  • Rubbish bags – for general waste and toileting
  • Toilet trowel (or use your hands or boots)
  • Mobile phone (and solar/battery powered charger)
  • Camera (don’t forget a memory card!)

ANY QUESTIONS?

If you have any questions or comments about wild camping, feel free to comment below and we will do our best to answer you. Here are some other resources you might find useful:

The Countryside Code

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Open Access Land – Management, rights and responsibilities

Leanne Downs

About Leanne Downs

Leanne Downs is the content editor for Thryve and works as an outdoor writer, blogger and photographer. She loves hiking, hillwalking and wild camping.

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Wild Camping Guide