Wild camping gives us a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with nature. For a complete beginner, it can also seem a bit daunting.
Not to worry, this article will tell you everything you need to know before heading out on your first trip!
Why Choose Wild Camping?
When we choose to wild camp instead of heading to a camping ground, we get the opportunity to immerse our bodies in the rhythms of nature and remind ourselves how little we really need in order to thrive. In exchange for this wonderful gift, we must choose to wild camp in a way that leaves no trace, and that preserves the few wild places that we still have left to enjoy.
Nothing beats packing your camping gear together and setting out into the wilderness. To cook your supper on a camp stove as eagles fly high above you, swim naked in an alpine lake, or to sip hot coffee from a tin mug as the sun rises slowly over the mountain peaks.
Having wild camped for many months at a time, in some of the most remote and beautiful locations that you could imagine, I now share this knowledge to help you get started on your own wild camping adventures.
Deciding where to pitch up your tent is one of the most important aspects of wild camping. Depending on which country you are in, wild camping might be legal, illegal but tolerated, or illegal and criminalised.
Check out the rules and regulations for the area that you are planning to camp in. Personally, I have wild camped in countries where it is not strictly allowed. So long as you stay well out of the way and don’t make noise or a mess, you are unlikely to come across any problems.
You want to pitch up your tent somewhere that you have some protection from the wind, somewhere that isn’t going to annoy the locals and have them asking you to move on, and somewhere that is not going to frighten livestock or disturb local wildlife such as nesting birds.
Try to pitch up out of sight, for both your own safety and privacy, and out of respect for other people.
Whenever possible, ask permission from landowners. When this is not possible, pitch your tent somewhere as discreet, and make sure that you set up late in the day and pack up early in the morning, leaving no trace that you were there.
You will probably find that you lie awake all night at first, convinced that someone is walking around the tent. Realistically, it will just be a deer or a curious badger coming to give your tent a good sniff, or simply the wind. Just because we have seen a lot of horror stories based in the woods does not actually mean that there are a loads of psychos out there in the forest, waiting to descend on happy campers in the middle of nowhere.
Wild camping has brought me no end of joy.
This is because I know how to keep myself safe in the outdoors, and it is something that you need to learn for yourself before you head out into the wilderness with your tent too! This might seem obvious, but it is incredible how much people do not even realise that they don’t know when it comes to the great outdoors.
If possible, you should tell someone you trust where you are heading and when you plan to come back. If you do not check in with them on the designated time and day, they can alert the local authorities who can come and make sure you haven’t been injured.
You should have plenty of warm and waterproof layers with you, even if the weather seems mild, and ensure you have a good quality sleeping bag that will keep you at a safe and comfortable temperature. I never set out without my emergency blanket, first aid kit and extra batteries for my head torch.
When camping in Scotland, my flimsy little emergency blanket was literally a life saver, when I got caught in a storm in the mountains and started to enter thermal shock.
Do not forage for food like mushrooms unless you have done some research beforehand, as you can easily poison yourself with mushrooms that look remarkably similar to ones that you are accustomed to eating. You should also not drink water that has not been boiled, filtered, or sterilised – even if the water source seems clean. You never know when there might be a dead sheep caught in the water around the bend, and it is just not worth the risk.
As much as you might not want to head out into the rain, I wholeheartedly beg you not to cook your dinner or light a cigarette inside your tent. You might think that this is totally harmless, but I know a wonderful man who did this and set his tent alight.
Within a few minutes it was up in flames and the burning plastic had melted into his skin. It is not worth it, keep fire out of confined, plastic spaces. Whilst we are on the topic, cigarette butts absolutely count as waste and should never be left on the floor!
Realistically, your biggest threat to yourself is you! Animals are likely to keep well out of your way and it is extremely unlikely that you are going to run into any trouble with people in the wilderness – outdoors people are nice folks!
If you do feel unsafe, trust your gut. It is more important to be safe than to be polite.
Leaving No Trace
When I say that you should leave no trace – I really mean it!
All of your rubbish should be taken out with you, and you get bonus points for every piece of litter that you pick up that was not even yours. This includes toilet paper, which should not be left in the countryside, but put in your trash bag and carried out to a bin, however many miles away that might be.
When it comes to doing a number two, you don’t have to carry that along with you (unless you really want to, by all means!) You do need to make sure that you go for a poo well away from any paths or dwellings, and bury it under a little earth where it will decompose.
When you walk away from your ‘camp site’, you want it to look cleaner than it did when you arrived. Don’t be one of those muppets turning the area behind a perfectly good rock into a human toilet ground covered in paper and poop. Naughty campers!
We all like the romantic notion of a crackling campfire by the tent.
You may not realise that fire can easily spread through the underground root system of grass and trees, and before you know it, you may have started a wildfire that has got completely out of control.
Campfires, though lovely, only have a place at the beach, or on very rocky ground where there is no risk of spreading.
The best thing about beach fires, is the driftwood makes an incredible crackling because of the minerals it soaked up in the ocean, and the flames will come out in beautiful different greens and purples and pinks!
Never, ever, cut down a live tree to start a campfire.
This may seem obvious but following the popular marketing of the North Coast road trip in Scotland, first time wild campers literally started going at the trees with chain saws because they fancied a fire. Firstly, this is pointless, because firewood needs months to dry after being cut. Secondly, the trees in Northern Scotland take decades to get established, and one thoughtful swipe of your chainsaw can undo 100 years of growth.
We come to wild places because their beauty calls to our very deepest human instincts, but try not to let the other human instinct of destroying that beauty come along for the ride.
What to Take On a Wild Camping Trip?
It can be hard to get the balance right between packing light and having everything with you that you need. Here are my recommendations for a wild-camping packing list. By all means adapt this to your needs!
Warm and Waterproof Clothes
Layers are key!
You might be surprised how cold it gets at night, even if you are in a warm climate. My boyfriend spend 5 years hitchhiking and wild camping around Europe, and he still got caught out in the South of Spain. The desert conditions meant that nightfall brought a shocking change in temperature and the poor bugger was shaking in his emergency blanked with blue fingers after a day of 40 degrees centigrade!
Try storing your clothes in waterproof bags. Bin liners would do, but better to use something more sustainable in the long run like these dry bags. Even if you get caught in a downpour, at least you’ll be sure or a dry change of clothes.
A Good Quality Tent
You want to go for a tent which is both lighth weight and high quality. Don’t forget to consider second hand tents, as you may snap up a bargain and do the planet a favour. Go for a neutral green or brown colour to help you be more discreet.
If you’re camping in the UK, you probably want to go for a 3 season tent.
Make sure you practice putting it up at home first, so you know if it’s missing any pieces and aren’t trying to work out the logistics in a downpour!
My tent was a ridiculous bright yellow because I bought it before I started camping in the wilderness. I didn’t buy a new one because I didn’t want to be wasteful, but it meant hiding my tent 10x more difficult.
If you have this problem, you can buy a camo tarp to place over your tent. It makes you so much stealthier!
To be fair, my little yellow tent that saw me safe and dry on my first adventures as I cycled from England to Germany, on wanderings through Iceland and throughout 3 months camping in Scotland. It’s a low to mid range price, but super light and decent quality. You can check it out at this link.
A Gas Cannister and Camping Stove
Personally I go for two mini gas cannisters rather than one larger one, because this way I know when I’ve used half my gas and need to try and source some more. I learned this hard way, after hiking for 6 hours into the wilderness and then ran out of gas before I could cook any dinner. You can imagine the expletives!
I bought these cheap mini camping pans. They came with the stove, and can fit a gas canister inside, so it’s all really compact. It just about served two people, though if I had more space I would have definitely brought along something a bit bigger.
If, unlike me, you have a bigger budget – then you HAVE TO GET THIS JET BOIL COOKING SYSTEM. It boils water in just 3 minutes, and none of the gas gets wasted in windy conditions. So compact, so streamlined, so out of my price range!
Slob tip: we just eat straight out of the pans to save on washing up!
You need to think of easy and simple meals to cook with your limited camping supplies. Personally, I love tins of vegetarian sausages and beans, or quick meals of pasta or rice with pesto. You want food that will not get too damaged in your backpack, and that is easy to heat up and cook with really limited cooking facilities. Jars of ravioli work, as do tinned veggies in tomato sauce with a big hunk of bread. Cuppa soups, instant coffee and tea are also a great shout.
I prefer not to go for especially designed camping meals because I am a full time nomad and badly paid travel writer – it just wouldn’t be affordable over the long run. However, dehydrated camping meals are getting better and better in quality and are a great option to consider for shorter trips.
You can even get super healthy vegan camping meals now!
A Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bag
Always get the best sleeping bag you can possibly afford. It’s much better to kick it off in a sweat than be shivering miserably (or maybe the Outer Hebrides just traumatised me for life!).
For a sleeping pad, consider one of these foldable ones if you will be camping a lot. Although inflated pads are more comfortable at first, they can get worn and deflate over night, or you can get a puncture on rockier ground.
If you’re camping in cold weather, make sure your sleeping pad is insulated or you will get a very cold back!
A Water System
You need a way to carry your water. Collapsable platypus style water pouches are a good shout, although they can be a bit harder to clean than a classic bottle.
Personally, I just boil all my water and drink bucket loads of herbal tea, even after it’s gone cold. However, you could consider getting a nifty little water filter if you want to make your water safe without wasting gas or getting that bitter aftertaste of purification tablets.
First Aid Kit
I reccomend doing a free online first aid course to brush up on your skills. You never know when it could save a life!
I pack a mini version of a first aid kit, picking up the essentials for a few pennies at a cheap drug store. Make sure you bring bandages, dressings, plasters and an emergency blanket. I’d also recommend a sugary energy gel that long distance runners normally use, in case you need a boost in a tight spot.
Soap and Sponge
Sadly, even wild campers have to wash their dishes.
Buy an ecological washing up liquid that won’t harm the local environment. For washing yourself you can get zero waste plant-based shampoo and conditioner bars that won’t leave a trace, and are really light weight to carry.
A Good Quality Knife
Take good care of your knife, and your knife will take good care of you!
Always comes in handy to rescue a sheep from a rogue fishing nest at the coast, or get a bird out of a plastic bag. A decent quality knife is a must have, and you’ll be amazed how many uses it has once you hit the outdoors.
Bits and Bobs
Some other things to remember:
- cutlery, mug, bowl etc
- toilet paper (which you are not going to leave behind remember!)
- trash bag
- a flannel (wet wipes are wreaking havoc on the environment but lets not get into that now)
- tooth brush and toothpaste (consider a wooden toothbrush for good old mother nature)
- bug repellent spray, Smidge is the BEST for Scottish midgies (and consider a bug net where the insects are hardcore)
- period protection (personally I use a moon cup because tampons and sanitary towels are full of plastic and I don’t really want to cart around soiled pads. They last for 10 years and save thousands of tampons from polluting the earth!)
- sun cream
- hat and gloves
- hair brush and nail clippers (I always forget these and look like an old witch)
- a good old fashioned book for those stormy nights
- a head torch with spare batteries
Get Out There
You can read a million articles about wild camping, but you will learn everything you need to know through trial and error. You are sure to forget some things at first, and bring along other things that end up being a deadweight.
So long as you respect the environment and the people you come across, you can’t go to far wrong.
Wishing you many safe and joyful adventures!
If you liked this article, you might like to check out The Highly Sensitive Nomad book.
You also might like to read:
- Everything You Need To Know About Ticks
- Vegan Wild Camping Food
- To travel off the beaten track. (But really though.)
Thanks to Florian Roquais for the photos.
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