Camping ‘wild’ is a different way of spending the night outdoors but it isn't allowed everywhere - with a responsible approach however, there are many remote areas where you can still rest your weary head under a star filled sky.
Camping ‘wild’, snowholing and bivvying are very different ways of spending the night outdoors than staying at an established campsite. Contrary to popular belief, wild camping is not permitted by right on open access land in England and Wales without express permission of the landowner. However it is permitted in Scotland on the proviso that you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) and provided that you do so responsibly.
When land is Common land, like a lot of the New Forest, it does not mean there is a right to camp on it, especially as this could conflict with commoners’ rights to graze animals. Some farmers and landowners may allow camping if you ask them but if in doubt try and find an official campsite.
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 – there are some websites that recommend ‘remote’ camp sites and the National Parks website gives details of camp sites and camping barns in each of our National Parks.
The do’s and don’ts
If you do choose to go wild camping, or experience something close to wild camping, think carefully about your impact – both physically and visually. Here are some suggestions;
- Whenever you wild camp (aka ‘no trace camping’) leave the site as you find it.
- Keep your group small and as discreet as possible.
- Camp away from popular areas – your presence may attract other campers to your unofficial ‘site’.
- Be inconspicuous. A green tent may blend into the landscape whereas a brightly coloured tent can spoil the view. It is best to remove your tent during the day, especially where other walkers are likely to pass by.
- Camp in one place for only one or two nights and on dry / well-drained ground that won’t be easily damaged.
- Pitch the tent in a way that avoids having to cut drainage ditches or move boulders. If you do have to move large stones replace them later - these are likely to be the homes of small insects and plants.
- Try to avoid picking a site that means you have to cross sensitive areas to collect water or go to the toilet. If the campsite is on soft or boggy ground pitch the tents further away from each other, this will minimise trampling between tents.
- Litter – plan ahead. If you brought it all in you should be able to take it all out! Carry out all litter – even biodegradable material is slow to decompose in the mountain environment and may be scattered by animals. Do not dig rubbish into the ground or try to hide it under boulders. Try to take away any other litter left by people less considerate than you.
- Fires can be highly destructive. Apart from the risks to you, wild fires can be very damaging to vegetation. Heathland fires on blanket bog can burn into the peat and destroy the habitat. The limited amounts of dead wood in the uplands are also essential habitats for the insects on which birds and other animals feed. Charred fire sites are also unattractive. Use a stove for cooking and put on more clothes, or snuggle down in your sleeping bag to keep warm.
- Clean, pure water is a valuable resource relied upon by many people living in the mountain regions. The nutrient content of streams in most upland areas is low, and altering this by adding pollutants and soap could kill local insect and plant life. If you have to wash, dispose of soapy water well away from water courses. All toilet areas must be at least 30 metres from water. Always consider your impact downstream.
Don’t always head for the most obvious sites: they can suffer from overuse. If a site looks well used then try to find an alternative and let it recover. When choosing a location, remember that it’s not just humans that are attracted to water. Your lakeside spot might be a great place to spend the night, but it’s also a natural habitat for some pretty specialised flora and fauna. If you’re likely to disturb them, choose another spot.
Keeping warm and dry
Be ruthless when planning what to take. Identify what you won’t need and leave it all behind. When packing, the knack is to minimise the weight of each individual item, so that together there is an appreciable saving. For wild camping, ideally take a one-man tent, a three-quarter-length lightweight self-inflating mat, a summer-weight down sleeping bag, a Jetboil stove plus small canister, a plastic mug and spoon, some boil-in-the-bag rice and some dehydrated or boil-in-the-foil food.
These days boots and waterproofs are watertight, so there is little need for spare clothing and your tent should keeps you dry in the rain, so there’s no need for an additional bivi bag. You can of course take even less than this, and bed down in the open under a foil blanket, nibbling dried fruit for tea. It all depends upon the type of ‘memorable experience’ you want to have.
Finally, think about what you’re carrying all your kit in. Whatever size your rucksack, you’ll fill it and larger sacks are heavier, especially when incorporating adjustable back systems. For a three-day trip, take a simple 45-litre sack, weighing about ten kilos when full.
Finally, and most importantly, check the weather and pack accordingly. A cold and wet forecast could see you taking extra food and another drybag containing spare thermals etc. Enjoy!!
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