A couple of people have asked me about wild camping recently, so I thought I’d create a post to share what I know.
My wild camping experience is predominantly from time spent backpacking the USA. The first time that I wild camped by myself and without guidance was on the John Muir Trail. Although, now I think about it, my first ever time wild camping was in Australia aged 18!
From my limited experience of wild camping in the U.K. I would say that it’s a bit easier in America and feels more part of the culture. This is particularly true of long-distance trails, which in America are primarily routed through wilderness, whereas in the U.K. (and Europe) routes often pass through small towns. This is generally due to their long history as communication or pilgrimage routes and perhaps also because of the lack of actual wilderness in this part of the world.
However, much of my US experience is certainly transferable to the U.K. and I was recently able to use what I learnt there to wild camp in the Lake District. It felt a real treat to do something that I associated with being far from home, close to home, and it was a wonderful experience.
I can’t wait to do more wild camping in the U.K.!
So, what do you need to think about when planning to wild camp?
Where should I go?
You’ll obviously need to give some thought to where you want to go. This will impact a number of things, including the legality of, or conventions around, wild camping, as well as what terrain and weather to expect.
For example, in Scotland it is legal to wild camp anywhere, provided you follow the access code. Whereas in most of England and Wales (including the Lake District) it is not technically legal but is “tolerated”, provided that you respect certain conventions. You can find out more here.
Wherever you are, its extremely important to respect any applicable conventions and codes of conduct. We are so lucky to have access to public (and private) land in the U.K. and have a duty to respect these rights and our environment. I was dismayed when walking the West Highland Way to see how much litter was left by people wild camping next to Loch Lomond. What possesses someone to leave a load of plastic in such a beautiful place?
In America, they follow Leave No Trace principles, and these provide excellent guidance for anyone planning to wild camp.
Where is a good spot?
I would recommend camping as far away from civilisation as you can get. This may be easier said than done in the U.K., but in general – and in addition to any legal requirements – this means being fairly high up, away from roads and the trail, and hidden from plain sight.
A flat, level, piece of ground is ideal, and you want to avoid any sneaky rocks that might make for an uncomfortable night. Ideally you’d choose a spot that someone appears to have camped at before, to avoid further damaging plants or fauna. Try not to be too exposed, especially if weather conditions are bad.
It is also a good idea to be close to a water source, so that you don’t get caught short. Once you factor in cooking, washing and having enough to get you to your first stop the next day, you can end up needing a lot more than you think. In Colorado we had to ‘dry camp’ once or twice, and each carried around 4-5lts from the final water source to our site.*
To gain inspiration of where to go in the Lake District I looked at backpacking blogs and at OS maps. It’s also a good idea to keep your eyes peeled along the way – I saw some really great spots that I’d like to return to one day.
What gear will I need?
This depends very much on the weather that you expect and what level of luxury you need. I have only ever wild camped as part of an onward journey, so have always tried to be pretty lightweight – although I still get teased a lot for the size of my bag.
If wild camping is the focus of your trip, and you don’t have to hike far to get there, you might consider carrying more, or including some luxuries. But, regardless of the type of trip, you will generally need to include;
- a tent
- sleeping bag and mat
- kitchen items including a stove and water filter
- health and safety precautions including a map and compass and headtorch
- warm clothing and plenty of layers
- a trowel (yep)
My full gear list for the John Muir Trail may provide some guidance.
What should I eat?
Mmm food. This is obviously pretty personal and is likely to depend on how long your trip is and how far you need to carry the food. A longer, more challenging route, may require lighter, higher calorie, and potentially more processed, food. Whereas a shorter or less strenuous route may give you a bit more flexibility.
Whatever my route, I try and keep my food as ‘real’ as possible and I’m not really a fan of backpacking ready meals. I always take a stove, as I like to cook in the evening and have hot coffee in the morning. But you may decide to go stove less.
For our recent trip in the Lake District I brought some fresh food for the first couple of nights. It felt such a luxury to have my little cherry tomatoes, although my friends found the pictures hilarious for some reason. How rude. We also bought eggs from a farm shop and boiled them in the JetBoil. Yum.
Are there any safety measures that I should take?
I have fortunately never felt unsafe whilst wild camping. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I have always been pretty far away from civilisation. If anyone wanted to come and harm me they’d have to have been following me on foot for a fair few miles! Or be a fellow hiker, which fortunately has never felt at all likely.
In the Lake District I decided against one spot as we were in view of a pathway and against another due to our proximity to a group who gave me funny vibes. This was probably completely unfair, but you have to go with your gut in these situations.
I always let someone know when to expect me home or when to hear from me. I haven’t felt the need to share my nightly plans with anyone in the past, but you may wish to do this too. You could also consider taking a tracking device to allow others to see where you are, or to be able to call for help.
Where do I wash?
Erm, you don’t! Well, you do have a few options if you want to. You can go down the wet wipe route which I’m not too keen on for various reasons, including environmental. Or, you could have a wash in a lake or river.
Bear in mind that you should avoid getting any kind of product into natural waterways as this damages the eco system. You can use biodegradable soap if you are 200ft or more away from a water source. A good way to do this is to bring a collapsible lightweight water carrier.
And you know, go?
For number 1’s you’re pretty sorted. Make sure that you are a good distance (ideally 50 paces) away from camp, water sources and the trail.
For number 2’s things get a little more complicated. Aim to be 200ft from camp, water sources or the trail. You need to dig a 6 – 8 inch hole and cover and disguise the hole when finished.
If you use any toilet paper or other hygiene items make sure that you take them with you (a doubled up ziplock works fine) – do not leave or bury anything! This may be TMI, but for number 1’s, I think that moss is the way to go.
Is there anything that I have missed?
Shout if you have any questions, I’m really happy to help.
*My hiking partner just reminded me that I actually carried about 3lt and that he had about 6 😝