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