Going solo: the call of wild camping

Posted by Tina Gardner on 24/07/2014
A camp beside mountain lakes and tarns can offer spectacular views but beware of midges and mozzies and be mindful of rising water levels. Respect the water source - dispose of any soapy water well away from water courses and toilet areas must be at least 30 metres from water. Also if you're likely to disturb lakeside flora and fauna then choose another spot.

Once you start wild camping alone you'll never want to wait for an adventure again. And you won't need to – it's right there and ready for you. Sarah Ryan encourages you to discover the beauty of wild camping, but make sure you know the legalities – whereas wild camping is legal in Scotland, it is a civil offence in England and Wales unless you get the landowner's permission.

It's possible to let fear get in the way of heading out alone on the hills, especially when that fear is graphically informed by horror movie images. Even more so when those images parade through your mind in the darkest hours of the night as the tent rustles and the wind blows. Far from being  dangerous though, assuming that you're adequately prepared, discovering new places alone can be as refreshing as a fortnight away and incredibly liberating. Here's why you should pack your tent and do it:

1. It'll skill you up

Almost every time you wild camp alone you'll come back with a shortlist of things you could have done better: food you didn't need but dragged 1,000m uphill and back again and kit you definitely did need and didn't have. It's harder to notice this stuff when there's two of you because there's double the chance you'll have it, but it's a brilliant way of highlighting areas where your skills are a little lower. The same applies for navigation and camp craft. You'll come back with a much clearer idea of what you could develop and after a few trips you will have fine tuned your kit and navigation to an impressive degree.

2. It sharpens your intuition

It's much easier to hear that little voice when there's only you around and it's an important one to listen to. Your intuition could well be informed by something you hadn't consciously clocked. This can be really important when it comes to decision making in poor weather or in hairy situations. It's also useful to know how to differentiate between a subconsciously informed sense that something isn't right and simple, garden-variety fear. It's a subtle but important difference. Fear can stop you doing something but intuition is information.

3. The freedom to do what you want, when you want

It's fantastic to go away with friends; to share a breathtaking view, pool your food at the end of the day and chat late into the night. But don't let everyone else's busyness stand in the way of your awesome weekend. If you've got time to get away and a plan for where you want to go, then pack your rucksack, dubbin your boots, and do it. It's too easy to let perfect weekends slide away. After you've done it once, you'll find yourself eyeing up every vacant diary space.

4. Look impressive

You'll find yourself with some cracking pub stories and can absolutely use it on your CV. “Independently organised several multi-day expeditions,”? Why, yes. Yes, I have.

5. It's brilliant

These are all quite considered reasons to go out camping alone but the real thing, the real reason, is that it's just fantastic and never stops being so. Having the mountain to yourself as the late day's sun drops below the horizon creates an unmatchable feeling of freedom and elation. Waking up in the night with a desperate need to pee is horrible until you clamber out of the tent to see the darkened night sky glimmering with stars. And waking up, alone, looking out across the hillside as the sky glows from dawn red to pale morning blue and the mist lifts from the valleys below. Well, it's frankly just amazing.

All of this assumes of course that you're properly prepared, you have the right kit and you know how to use it. Don't venture out unless you feel confident in all of these areas. Check the weather and always leave a note detailing your route and plans. Check out this essential hill walking know-how.

And now a quick reminder from the BMC...

Know before you go! 

The legal status of wild camping

Under CROW wild camping in England and Wales is prohibited but this has yet to be tested in law.  When land is common land it does not mean there is a right to camp on it. Some National Parks do welcome wild camping, as long as you act responsibly and leave no trace of your visit behind you.  For instance, Dartmoor National Park has a map of areas where you can camp on common land. If in doubt, find an official campsite and do some preliminary research.

Wild camping is permitted in Scotland on the proviso that you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) and provided that you do so responsibly.
 

Minimise your impact on the environment

If you do choose to go wild camping, or experience something close to wild camping, think carefully about your impact – both physically and visually. Whenever you wild camp (aka ‘no trace camping’) leave the site as you find it. For instance, respect water sources, carry out all your litter, avoid trampling sensitive habitats and only camp in one place for one or two nights on dry/well-drained ground that won't be easily damaged.

The Mountain Bothies Association deliberately don’t advertise where bothies are located for good reason; it retains the wild experience and minimises environmental impact.

Find out more about the do's and don'ts of wild camping

Watch a clip from 'The Cairngorms in Winter' of BMC Ambassador Chris Townsend wild camping in Glen Feshie, Scotland.


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1) Anonymous User
26/07/2014
Ive wild camped since i was 14 , memoreies which will last forever , im form greenock , scotland , just an hours drive from ben lomond and across the loch to the cobbler which we have spent many a weekend throughout the years weather , then a two hour drive to glen orchy and glen etive where you have buchaille etive mor in your sights from your tent ,i feel very lucky indeed , nothing beats waking up in a freezing cold morning nestled in among the mountains and having the place too yourself apart from a few roe deer , i mostly go alone or with a friend , theres nothing wrong with it , , never been one to use a camp site in fact i have only ever stayed at the red squirrel camp site in glencoe because all the available spots in the glen was taken , thats if im not planning to go higher up ,but its still better to have your own wee spot , do it but be responsible and take your litter home with you so its clean for the next adventurer to set up camp and most importantly......ENJOY
11/08/2014
There is no doubt that wild camping is a great experience wherever this takes place. and that it should be done with care, skill and sensitivity - low impact and leave no trace etc. However, the legislation in England and Wales does not lend itself currently to wild camping per se as it does in Scotland and generally landowners permission is required. If possible and I would encourage those wild campers to break some bread with some of the landowners in those areas more frequented and arrange this to everyone`s satisfaction. of course we would also always encourage people to follow sensible guidance and the code for wild camping always. Peter Rutherford Access Officer Snowdonia National Park.
3) Anonymous User
03/09/2014
Fo those of us south of the border, about as useful as a camping guide to the Moon. I'm astounded in this day and age that between them the various organisations trying to promote the outdoors (from tourist boards, clubs, national parks right down the the larger outdoor equipment suppliers) cant produce a usable online resource to show who permits wild camping.

I would say no individual just looking for a night under the stars has the time/inclination to seek permission, which makes the law an ass.
4) Anonymous User
13/11/2014
So how do you explain to people that you want to head out alone? I've gotten some weird looks when I said the whole point was to go alone, and not with other people. Which admittedly can be fun aswell, but is not what I want in a solo camping trip. How do you react to that? :)
5) Anonymous User
19/11/2014
You’re right, wild camping is very much legal in Scotland. The best spots are in there too. Every enthusiast knows it. Every benefit of wild camping on your list is absolutely true. I especially like the one you said about it sharpening your intuition. Looking impressive when you add it on your CV too! Anyway, here’s more about wild camping in Scotland that you might find useful for your next adventure: <a href="https://wildcampingscotland.org">Check this out</a>
6) Anonymous User
03/05/2016
There is an organisation that connects potential wild campers with land owners so you may camp with permission for a small fee. www.nearlywildcamping.org
7) Anonymous User
06/10/2016
Nice post. I would just add that wild camping requires planning. The last thing you want is to arrive somewhere and realize that it is overgrown or so rocky that you can't pitch your tent anywhere. I talk about it in this post -- http://momgoescamping.com/choose-camping-spot/ -- specifically how you need to really read the map BEFORE you head out so you can scout out a good spot.

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