Wild Camping 101

Words By Phoebe Smith

I don’t usually know exactly what’s waiting for me outside my tent. It’s not because I’ve been walking into my chosen wild camp spot with my eyes closed, nor have I been so intently concentrating on my map that I haven’t given myself a moment to lift up my eyes and take it all in. It’s just that, as a stealth tent-pitcher – given that wild camping is not strictly legal without permission in Wales and most of England (Dartmoor National Park being the only exception) – I usually head in at dusk.

by the time I get there, the last of the sun’s illuminating rays have normally gone, leaving merely a faint outline of my surrounds.

Ahh, dusk.  That wonderful in-between moment of the day where the light seems to turn a whimsical shade of lilac-blue and the whole world takes on an other-worldly, ethereal quality. It’s a magical experience walking into a place when everyone else is heading home. That feeling of doing something slightly clandestine, of willfully going against the flow, of heading off on a little adventure when those you pass are ending their day readying for a night in front of the television, eating and chatting, warm and content in their centrally heated houses. But you, you have other plans…

I always work out where I will be going on my OS map before I leave, naturally. I will have scoped out a suitable plan A, B and C by looking at the contours and rivers marking the places I might need to go - in particular, flattened ground and a water source. But, by the time I get there, the last of the sun’s illuminating rays have normally gone, leaving merely a faint outline of my surrounds.

It's not until the morning when woken naturally by the first hint of dawn lighting up the walls of my tent, I get to see the true nature of my camp spot. It’s become a sort of ritual. I unzip my sleeping bag, turn to face the door and slowly and deliberately unzip it. I refuse to take a peek until the whole thing is open. Then, in a single moment, I allow myself what I call ‘the reveal’ where I finally see what awaits – be it a view from the summit, the rocky flanks of a mountain, the edge of a loch, the trees of a forest – all there, right outside, for me to enjoy.

While everyone else is still in bed, I’m there, in the thick of it, ready to do whatever I want

While everyone else is still in bed, I’m there, in the thick of it, ready to do whatever I want. Be it go walking, take a dip in a loch, challenge myself to a run before breakfast or – quite simply – to take a deep breath and just allow myself to ‘be’ with the outdoors, without having to think about anything or anyone, not needing to worry about emails, deadlines or social media, just existing and enjoying the moment I am living.

In a world where we try to plan ahead and book everything, control everything, a wild camp reminds us that sometimes the very best thing, is not knowing – just for a moment – exactly what awaits for us outside the door.

Intrigued to experience wild camping for yourself? Here’s Phoebe’s Wild Camping 101 guide to all the things you need to know before you go…

So what is wild camping?

In a nutshell, wild camping is simply pitching your tent, bivvy or hammock outside of an official campsite. It can be in the countryside, on a beach, in the mountains or the woodland. You get to choose your spot and have to take everything you need in with you and, most importantly, leave no trace you’ve been there.

Is it allowed?

In Scotland, 100% yes – in fact, the Land Reform Act of 2003 enshrines it in law that you have the right to do it. Recently Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (40-minutes outside of Glasgow) made the headlines as it controversially passed a byelaw making it illegal to do so around most of the shorelines in the park, but the good news is that there’s plenty of other places you can pitch outside of that area – Scotland is, after all, blessed with a multitude of dramatic landscapes just begging to camp on.

In Wales and England (with the exception of Dartmoor National Park where an ancient byelaw actually allows it) you are supposed to, technically, ask for the landowner’s permission. However, this is usually impractical and sometimes impossible – it can be tricky even finding who the landowner is. So as long as you practice good wild camping etiquette you should have no problems.

Wild camper’s etiquette – what’s that?

Several things. The first is, as I mentioned earlier, always arrive late and leave early. Wild camping is not the time to enjoy a lie in. You need to be heading in when most people are going home and be packing up well before the dog-walkers are out.

Secondly, use some common sense and common courtesy. Camp well away from people’s houses, stay off paths and look for somewhere discreet where you won’t even be noticed.

Third, leave no trace of your visit – that means taking in a bag with you specifically for packing out all your rubbish. Also don’t be tempted to get a roaring campfire going unless you know beyond a doubt it’s ok. Not only do you run the risk of starting a fire that can get out of control on some terrains, but you won’t know the eco-system of the place you’re in and don’t want to damage it irrevocably.

Where should I go?

For the first one head to somewhere you know well and feel familiar with. Grab an OS map of the area and look for flat spots (denoted by spaced out contour lines) and easy access to water sources such as lochs, lakes or llyns and streams (denoted by blue).  Then, if you can, recce it first in the daylight, even without all your kit, to be sure it’s suitable. Always have a plan b (and even c) in case when you get there it’s not the idyllic pitch you thought it would be.

No, I mean, where should I ‘go’?

Ah, the toilet question, always a common concern. Not to worry, ‘going’ outside is one of the most natural things in the world. For number ones, it’s simply a case of finding a discreet spot behind a rock or tree – at least 30m from watercourses, buildings or paths (remember you will be sourcing water to drink from them too) and doing what you need to do. For number twos, you need to dig a shallow hole, do your business – don’t put any toilet paper in there – then cover it back up when you’re finished. Remember that all paper should be carried out, so do take a special bag for this purpose. And it really is as easy as that…

What about getting water for drinking or cooking?

This can be sourced from streams and rivers, but do boil it first to kill any invisible nasties that may be lurking. Always take a camping stove for this reason.

What kit do I need?

This will depend on your plans, time of year and the weather. The list below is a good starting point.

  • Something to sleep in: a tent (good all year round) or bivvy bag (for summer when good weather is forecast).
  • Something to sleep on: a camping mat, a sleeping bag (I also always take an inflatable pillow – ‘enjoy not endure’ is firmly my motto).
  • Eating & Drinking: a camping stove (and fuel), a water bottle, a mug, a spoon, food – and lots of it.
  • Hygiene and Safety: a plastic bag for your rubbish, tissue paper, first aid kit (include some duct tape – a good repair all in case something tears your tent), headtorch, map (and waterproof case) and compass.
  • Clothing: a warm insulated jacket – it will get cold when the sun goes down even in summer, waterproof jacket and overtrousers, hat, gloves.

It’s a good idea to organise these items using colour-coded drybags.

The Backpack

Then, of course, you need something to carry all that gear in. I use a 50-60 Litre backpack as it allows enough room for all the above to fit easily, but also offers extra space if needed for rubbish or winter gear.

As it will be heavier than a daypack you need one with a good back system that holds it away from your body to allow the air to circulate, so you don’t get too sweaty. Also be on the lookout for padded and vented shoulder straps and hipbelt.

Wand pockets and compression straps on the sides enable you to carry walking poles and a water bottle easily, and a good front pocket is great for stashing items you want to reach fast or for storing wet gear. A lid pocket is also handy for keeping snacks close to hand.

What's the main difference between packing for a day walk and a wild camp?

A lot of the basic kit is the same in terms of layering your clothing and taking food and water. However, as you'll also be carrying sleeping apparatus (tent, sleeping bag, mat etc) as well as a camping stove and extra food how you distribute the weight and organise your gear (so that you don't have to keep taking everything out and re-packing it all away again) will be key. Divide it up as follows:

  • Bottom of the pack: put in your bulky items not needed until you camp - so sleeping bag, mat, tent.
  • Middle Section: heavier items not needed regularly such as camp stove, fuel, first aid kit.
  • Top section: your more regularly used items needed on the walk - that's your waterproofs, gloves, hat, food etc.
  • Pockets: great for stashing frequently used items such as map and compass, phone/camera, an emergency bag of sweets.
  • Wand pockets and Daisy Chain: a good place for walking poles (when not using), tripod (if needed), water bottle.

And finally, it’s late, I’m snuggled up inside my sleeping bag and I hear a noise outside my tent – what is it?

The first thing I can tell you it’s not is an axe murderer. When you’re new to wild camping it’s always slightly nerve-wracking and anyone who says it wasn’t for them is simply lying. It’s perfectly natural to be jumpy sleeping out in the wilds the first few times, but nine times out of 10 that sound is a rabbit or squirrel – the other time? It’s a sheep…

Happy camping!

About the Author

Phoebe Smith is an adventurer, author, travel writer, presenter, and filmmaker. She has written seven books all on the outdoors including Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper and Wilderness Weekends: Wild Adventures in Britain’s Rugged Corners.

If you want to keep up to date with Phoebe's latest adventures and sleeps you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Kit for Wild Camping

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Cholatse 55

Cholatse 55

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Drysac for safely storing your first aid kit.



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Lightweight, waterproof nylon stuffsac with roll top closure. In sizes XXS to XXL.

Drysac (multipack)


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