There’s nothing quite like stirring at daybreak to the gentle rustle of canvas, unzipping a tent to glimpse the morning light dancing over dew-soaked grass, or the gentle murmur of a gas canister heating your morning coffee. If the heavily booked up campsites are anything to go by, it seems like the U.K. enjoyed a major resurgence in camping enthusiasts this year. Due to the changeable nature of travel during the pandemic, vacationing in the country we reside in has provided a safer option for those looking to escape the four walls of their homes, and with that, numerous people seem to have turned to back-to-basics staycations as a way of quenching their thirst to explore. Many campsites are now closed over the winter months, but you don’t have to be at the mercy of campsites if you know how to go wild camping–so confidently plan a wild camping trip in the UK with this guide!
Interested in backpacking in the U.S.? Check out our guide for backpacking in the U.S. national parks! Want to plan a trip with the whole family? Read this guide on planning a family backpacking trip! And if you’re in need of some outdoor inspo, see our list of outdoor accounts to follow on Instagram.
Where to Go
Whilst it’s illegal to wild camp in much of the U.K. without first seeking permission, there are still options available.
Dartmoor National Park
Certain areas of the wild, open moorlands of Dartmoor are the only area in England where you can legally wild camp without having to request permission beforehand. Check Dartmoor’s online map for the areas open to wild campers, as they sometimes shut areas to allow regeneration. You can wild camp for up to two-nights in designated areas of Dartmoor, so it’s a fantastic way to explore this beautiful national park.
Wild camping is permitted in most areas in Scotland, from snow-capped mountains to the expansive Scottish Highland’s and areas overlooking their untamed beaches; the variety Scotland offers wild campers is vast. Furthermore, Scotland (and a few places in England and Wales) offers bothies (modest cottage structures). Traditionally, a bothy provided shelter for itinerant workers, but they’re now free-to-use shelters utilized by explorers seeking overnight refuge. Each bothy provides different amenities – but don’t expect anything too fancy, bothies are essentially glorified tents made from bricks and mortar – so you’ll want to pack and prepare like you would for camping. As you can’t pre-book, you may find yourself in a bothy with other people, so it’s prudent to bring along a small tent or bivvy bag in case there’s no space inside the building. The area surrounding a bothy is often a popular spot for those looking to sleep under canvas, as it can be a great place to meet like-minded people. Much like wild camping, respect the environment and always leave the bothy in good condition for the next group.
At the time of writing this, bothies are not currently open across the U.K. due to the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic; check Mountain Bothies for updates on the properties they manage.
Seek the Landowner’s Permission
You can personally seek landowner permission before setting out on your trip, or you can use Nearly Wild Camping, which is a fantastic online resource, pairing wild campers with landowners that are happy for you to use their land. Nearly Wild Camping lists what the landowner allows and offers on-site before you book, so you can prepare your trip beforehand.
Leave No Trace
When leaving your camping spot, respecting the land is paramount, and you should leave nothing but footprints. Always tidy up afterwards, taking out what you bring in.
Packing an unobtrusive tent is the best way to wild camp. The general rule of thumb is to stick to a one or two-man tent in a neutral color – if you can’t fit the tent in your backpack, it’s too big.
Arrive late, leave early
Practice the art of setting up and packing down your tent by the light of a head torch prior to leaving for your trip. Arriving late and leaving early ensures you’re not disrupting the view, therefore respecting the landowners and other people that may be hiking through the area you’re camping in.
Do’s and Don’ts
When wild camping, ensure you’re at least a 20-minute walk from any nearby buildings or roads and avoid areas close to flood plains and archaeological sites. It’s advisable to check if you’re near any military ranges when planning to hike/camp through remote regions in the U.K. Firing range information should be easily accessible up to 6 weeks in advance, and ranges are normally clearly marked.
Preparation & Packing
Most importantly, is your gear weather appropriate? Ensuring you have the correct equipment for the season you’re camping in is a must. In the colder months, this will be a warmer sleeping bag, a tent that can withstand rain and wind, and a lightweight sleeping mat that offers insulation from the ground below.
From essentials like food supplies to gas, flashlights, cooking utensils, hydration bladders, and water filtration systems, to things like tissues, biodegradable wet wipes, and a small shovel (we’ll let you use your imagination for its use), you don’t want to find yourself caught short when exploring the countryside. Whilst preparing for your trip is paramount, it’s important to not overstretch yourself when it comes to the accumulative weight of your backpack. Once you’ve decided on the basics (food, water, warmth), consolidate your gear and save space where possible; what items can you pack that double as other things (i.e. a pocket knife) and what can you do to lighten your load?
Packing light will come with practice, and it’s not unusual for your packing list to change as you become accustomed to camping in the wild. As a general rule of thumb, skimp on the non-essentials to ensure you have enough room for the necessities. Water and nutrition will be more important than cramming in one too many bowls.
Whilst there are great hiking apps, if you’re hiking in a remote area, it’s imperative that you don’t solely rely on your phone, so ensure you can map read effectively, and that you’ve planned your route in and out of a location. Research the area beforehand, so you know where the nearest freshwater sources are situated, and it’s always good to know your proximity to the nearest village/town.
Lastly, have fun! The outdoor scene in the U.K. is a friendly one; people are as generous with their directions as they are their cookies.