A Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping – Safety Tips and Essential Things to Know

Travelista contributor and experienced wild camper Maja Proescholdt shares her ultimate wild camping guide for beginners, with plenty of essential tips and tricks to make you feel confident and safe for your first wild camping experience.

Wild camping is always an adventure. Pitching my tent in nature and waking up to beautiful scenery gives me a special feeling of freedom – it’s something I’ve loved both with others and as a solo wild camper. It can also feel empowering: there’s nothing that makes me feel stronger than hiking and navigating a trail, carrying all my gear myself and setting up camp on my own. The sense of accomplishment the next morning, successfully returning home, is second to none. I’ve wild camped all around Britain: in a number of destinations in Scotland, along with the Lake District and the North York Moors in England. 

Article Contents

  1. An Introduction to Wild Camping
  2. How to start Wild Camping
  3. Essential Things to Know about Wild Camping
  4. Top Safety Tips for Wild Camping
  5. Best Places for Wild Camping in the UK
  6. Packing Essentials for Wild Camping

A Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping – Safety Tips and Essential Things to Know

An Introduction to Wild Camping

One of the main reasons to try wild camping is to experience nature in a different way. You’ll gain a deeper connection with your environment, as you become part of the landscape yourself; you can enjoy peaceful scenic areas from right outside your tent door. Wild camping affords an innate feeling of freedom: the freedom to explore, to sleep somewhere different, to immerse yourself in nature. It’s also a wonderfully budget-friendly way to travel. After the initial investment to buy the necessary camping kit (check the packing essentials section). It’s a cheap and affordable holiday as it costs nothing. 

How to start Wild Camping

If you’re nervous to start wild camping, start small. Camping at a designated campsite, or car camping in a vehicle, is a fantastic way to ease yourself into camping. You’ll practice setting up your kit, sleeping outdoors and waking up somewhere different. There are many different vehicle setups now, with rooftop tents gaining popularity. Car awnings are a great addition to any camping vehicle setup – having a place to sit where you’re sheltered from the elements makes a huge difference on wet weather days. These steps help build up confidence and skills as you have a few nights under your belt in easier conditions.

For a happy medium, try spending a night in a bothy. Bothies are basic shelters in remote parts of Northern England, Scotland, Wales and Ulster – they are free and available for anyone to use. Each bothy layout is different, but they’ll typically have a raised platform for sleeping, a stove for a fire and some kind of seating. It’s important to bring a tent – if the bothy is full, you’ll need to sleep in your tent outside. But these basic shelters are perfect for dipping your toe into wild camping, while providing some security. My favourite bothies in the UK are Camasunary Bay on the Isle of Skye, Burnmouth at Rackwick Bay on Orkney, and Glas Allt Shiel and Gelder Shiel in the Cairngorms.

tent and hammock wild camping guide

Essential Things to Know about Wild Camping

The most fundamental part of wild camping is to Leave No Trace. Do not leave any rubbish behind at your camp – when you leave, no one should be able to tell you camped there. This includes fires; do not create fire pits and light fires, as these scorch the ground, leave a noticeable mark and can cause devastating fires if not extinguished correctly. This minimises the impact of your camp – our outdoor spaces are beautiful, and we should all work to protect and preserve them for future generations.

Wild camping is legal in Scotland through the Right to Roam, enshrined in law by the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act, and detailed in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Provided you follow the code and leave no trace, this means you can wild camp anywhere (within reason) in Scotland – avoiding fields with crops or livestock, houses and buildings. The exception to this is the camping management zone in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which has byelaws in place from March to September that prohibit wild camping. To camp in these zones of the national park during these months, you will need a permit or to stay in a campsite.

Wild camping is illegal in England and Wales unless you have the permission of the landowner. However, it is widely tolerated in remote parts of England and Wales, provided you follow Leave No Trace principles. Pitch late and leave early; camp only in small groups; stay only one or two nights in one place; and camp above the highest fell wall. Personally, I only ever stay one night when wild camping. 

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code doesn’t extend access rights to motorised activities, such as wild camping in or next to a vehicle. However, provided the vehicle is parked legally and considerately, campers are respectful and no trace is left after the camp, this is also widely tolerated.

Top Safety Tips for Wild Camping

It wouldn’t be a wild camping guide without including some essential safety tips for wild camping, Staying safe while wild camping is paramount – especially for solo wild campers. Follow these tips for complete peace of mind whilst on your first wild camping adventure.

  • Always let someone back home know where you plan to sleep. This could be a general area or a specific grid reference on a map.
  • Bring a fully charged powerbank to ensure you always have a phone with battery. But don’t expect there will be phone signal; download anything you may need offline.
  • Carry a first-aid kit and a whistle in case of emergency.
  • Plan out water sources before you leave – whether you carry all the water you need for your route with you, or whether you fill up and filter on the trail.

    You don’t want to run out of drinking water in the great outdoors. 
wild camping guide tent view on lake

Best places for Wild Camping in the UK

Scotland is the easiest place for wild camping, simply because it’s legal there. I’ve loved wild camping in Orkney and the Isle of Mull, around the North Coast 500 route, in Glen Affric and on the Isle of Skye. I’ve also wild camped in the Lake District and the North York Moors – some of my favorite wild camps in the UK have been in the Lakes.

It takes time to build up the skillset to find wild camping spots. With some basic map-reading skills, you can find good wild camping spots using Ordnance Survey maps – I love the OS Maps app and use it on every hike or camping trip I take in the UK. Look for flat ground somewhere remote, and vaguely close to a path (unless you’re confident navigating off-path). Beaches, lakeshore and near rivers can be good options in Scotland – just watch out for midges in summer. In England and Wales, you’ll need to camp up high, above the highest fell wall – check the area on the map to see where the highest walls are.

wild camping guide

Packing Essentials for Wild Camping

Here are my packing essentials for anyone starting out their wild camping journey, and a good reminder for already confident campers.

  • A tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Maps
  • A good quality backpack
  • USB Power bank for phone charging
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Baby wipes
  • Drinking water
  • Toilet paper
  • Dog poo bag for small bin bags
  • Waterproof clothing layers
  • Studry footwear
  • Dry sacks
  • Camping stove, fuel and lighter for cooking
  • Mosquito repellent if camping in summer
  • Thermal layers if camping in winter
  • Snacks

Wild camping can be intimidating for first-timers – it’s a lot more work and effort than pitching up at a campsite. But the experience to immerse yourself in the landscapes and connect with nature – and the feeling of freedom doing this – is well worth it. With time and plenty of practice, it’s possible to become a considerate and confident wild camper.

Was this wild camping guide helpful for planning your future adventures? Leave a community comment below to let us know.

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.

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