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Go Wild – Top Tips for Wild Camping

Wild camping in the Lake District
Written by Kirstie

Go Wild – Top Tips for Wild Camping

The wilderness is a rewarding place to camp. It has none of the restrictions of campsites and almost none of the noise. No neighbours. And no fee. But with wild camping comes responsibility, restrictions you may not know about, and a whole new packing list. In this feature, a sponsored content collaboration with Halfords, we share some of our wild camping tips, drawing on seventeen years of experience of camping wild, with kids and without… 

Moonlight bivi on Skiddaw, Cumbria

You don’t get views like this from many campsites

Wild and edgy

Wild camping. In my dreams it is always awe inspiring. In my memories it is always edgy. In seventeen years of hiking, cycling and canoeing, wild camping has delivered some of the best and worst night’s sleeps we have ever had. But all have been unforgettable. And how often in life can you say that?

We’ve camped high above the cloud on a volcano in Ecuador. We’ve camped in a storm drain on the windiest road in Argentina. We’ve camped on a Ninety Mile beach in New Zealand. We’ve survived threats from weather, wildlife and water. We almost left our tent pegs on a tree in the Andes and almost lost our nerve in a field of cows in the Pyrenees. We’ve got photos to prove we were there and tales to tell about it but never left a trace. Unlike campsites that keep everything out, wild camping exposes you to all kinds of weird and wonderful things. And while you can never tell what’s going to happen, you can prepare for many eventualities.

Read on for our top five tips for camping wild.

Camping on Hvar in olive grove

Camping wild by a roadside olive groves on Hvar

1 Choose your location carefully

Just like buying a house, it’s all about location, location, location. The legality of wild camping varies from one country to another so you are well advised to get informed about that before pitching your tent. In England and Wales wild camping without permission from the landowner is illegal so seeking permission is not only courteous but a legal imperative. (Although it’s often considered permissible to camp above 600 metres on high fells and mountains.) Always ask if you can, and look out for signs that prohibit tents. Respect people’s privacy and stay away from houses or settlements. Set up camp as late as possible, be gone at first daylight if you can and leave no trace.

If you are really remote then there’ll be no one to save you if something goes wrong. So be sensible and do your research. Check the local weather forecast before finalising your plans. Check tide times if on or near a beach. Look for high ground where there is little chance of flooding and find shelter from the wind. Get hold of local emergency contacts.

Wild Camping while Cycle Touring

Camping wild in a copse, out of sight and out of mind

2 Avoid bite in the night

A location that may look friendly in the daylight can suddenly buzz with insects that like to bite once the sun goes down. Pitch after dusk if you don’t want to be part of mozzie Armageddon. Avoid pitching in long grass, and steer clear of places where bugs and beasties are known to hang out like swampland and Scotland. If you can’t escape them take repellent, citronella sticks, an insect head net or a tent with good insect netting.

Bigger beasts can be a menace too. If there’s a procession of horses or cows going through woodland, check you aren’t about to camp on the main route to their watering hole. Take nappy sacks to seal up food in the night so foxes, dogs, lions or bears don’t come to sniff it out. A goat once stole one of our baby’s nappies in the night. Weird stuff happens.

Face to face with a cow in the Pyrenees

You probably don’t want to share a camp spot with this

3 Check for signs of human life

I find humans more worrying than insects. We’ve been caught out a few times pitching in a quiet spot only to find it overrun when we are all snuggled up. Once we camped in a deserted Rodeo in Argentina only to find out it came to life at 10pm. In Chile we pitched next to a lay-by on the Pan American highway only to find coaches stopping all night to let passengers out to pee. And in New Zealand an out of town pitch turned into an F1 track at night with racing teens in battered old cars. As a local explained “Ah yeh, the hoonies come out to do doughnuts here when the sun goes down.” I had to look up both expressions in the Kiwi phrase book.

How to spot the danger traps? Look for signs of human life. Cigarette ends and empty beer cans can signal a party area better than a red balloon. If the path is well trodden, you may get hikers at dawn. A great view with an adjoining patch of concrete can be a magnet for campervans later on at night. And car tracks are an obvious danger. You’ll see the cars coming but they might not see you.

Camping at Modrudalur in Iceland

Looks like we’ve got this place to ourselves… but look for signs of parties that start later

4 Make yourselves invisible

Sometimes you can rock up in a farmer’s field, gain permission and have your own mini Glastonbury. But when cycling we often have to pitch uninvited. And when canoeing we have had to resort to sneaking onto islands to rest for the night. When stealth is key, look for a spot behind a wall or in a patch of trees. Try to get as far as possible from a busy road or every time you see headlights you will snap awake.

One of the keys to making yourself invisible is colour. Look to buy a green tent or canoe that will blend in with the trees. Source other kit in muted colours. Take a black or green groundsheet to cover up your bikes or canoe. If you are cooking, bring a quiet stove; the latest MSR Dragonfly is likely to be noisy. If you can, avoid cooking at all. Picnics are best. Don’t leave litter or give anyone any reason to come after you. Don’t light a fire. The best case scenario is no one will even know you’ve stayed.

Wild camping with children

Blend in to the night so as not to draw attention

5 Be flexible and prepared

Look out for a suitable camp spot well before dark falls or you may find yourself on a road or cliff top late at night without being able to easily choose a spot. If you are getting caught out, don’t look for perfection or a view, pick the first level space you can find. And make sure you get up early to decamp. Be prepared for all eventualities. Take more water than you think you need as running out on a wild camp is nerve racking. We’ve found water bags to be useful for storing fresh supplies.

Don’t follow the crowd. If lots of people are telling you (or a guide book is telling you) there’s a wild empty spot somewhere then it may not be very wild by the time you get there. We once drove all the way into the Iceland exterior to camp near a hillside of rhyolite at Landmannalaugar to find the rest of the world had the same idea and it was almost full.

The best wild camps are impromptu – have a tent ready in a bag and be prepared to head up a fell when the weather is good. Take a flask. Everyone knows the best accessory for a really wild camp is a nice cup of tea…

Camping on Farleton Fell Cumbria

Blend in… choose a tent that conceals and you are less likely to be noticed

Want more camping tips?

Halfords invited us to contribute some of our experience to the Halford’s Camping Guide, which is neatly organised to help different kinds of campers and holidaymakers get tips and ideas relevant to their interests, personalities and adventure preferences. So whether you are a beachgoer, sightseer, cycling lover, adventurer or caravanner there’s something useful there for you, together with a gear guide and a recipe for camping sausage pasta. For more camping tips from us check out the other posts on our site below.

Read more of our camping posts, tips and experience

Buying a Tent for Family Camping Gear Guide

Click to read our Gear Guide: Buying a Tent for Family Camping

Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in a collaboration with Halfords, who asked us to share some of our wild camping experience and help promote their 2017 Camping Guide. As ever, the practical experience, tips, photography, opinions and sleepless nights in dodgy camp spots are entirely our own.

About the author

Kirstie

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...

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