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A Beginner's Guide To Wild Camping

11 June 2020
A Beginner's Guide To Wild Camping

Words by: John Gordon

Do you like the idea of packing all your kit into a rucksack and heading off the beaten track for a few peaceful days in the British countryside?

There are a lot of mental and physical benefits to getting away from our busy lives and enjoying the peace and simplicity of sleeping out in the wilds. But while wild camping can be a little daunting for first-timers.

Do you know exactly what to pack and how to travel light? Do you know where you can wild camp? And have you thought about how you will cope if the weather turns a little... British?

WIld Camping

John Gordon, a regular wild camper from Scotland, smiles wryly as he recalls his first back-to-basics camping trip. He says: "I remember I was worried about taking all the right kit and making sure I was well-fed and warm overnight".

"I packed too much, and I found the rucksack pretty heavy, so I only walked a few miles to find a camping spot. But I loved it, camping away from other people and surrounded by nature. It was peaceful, thrilling, beautiful and more."

These days, John has his wild camping kit list down to a minimum. "I know what I need to take to stay safe, warm and well-fed and this means I can travel lighter and further. I would find it hard going back to a campsite because I like doing my own thing so much."

Basic Kit For Wild Camping

Wild Camping Equipment

Take a look at our wild camping kit list for a breakdown of equipment needed for a successful wild camp.

If you are keen to go wild camping, the chances are you are already a walker. You don't need to be an intrepid walker but being able to use a map, compass and knowing the correct clothing & equipment to bring is important. 

It's important to consider the weather on an outdoor trip that will last a few days or more. In the UK, conditions can change from from hour to hour and will rarely be the same for a few days in a row.

A walker's kit list will already include baselayers, a mid-layer, a high-quality waterproof jacket and trousers, several pairs of walking socks, a hat and gloves.

As well as a map and compass it's a good idea to take a mobile phone, portable phone charger and GPS unit. Nights can be chilly even in the summer in the UK so an insulated jacket stuffed into the bottom of your rucksack, inside a dry bag, will be a bonus on a wild camping trip.

Best Tents for Wild Camping

Wild campers should look for a tent that is lightweight but robust and durable. Choose a one-man tent for one person and two-man for two people. This might sound obvious, but wild camping is less about lots of interior space and more about weight-saving.

If you are carrying the tent, set yourself a maximum weight limit of between 1.5kg and 2kg. If you are sharing the load with a fellow wild camper, you might allow the weight to creep up to 3kg.

In general, the more you pay, the lighter and better designed the tent will be. This is because lightweight fabrics that are also strong will tend to be pricier.

Backpacking tents will be one or two-man and usually of the low-profile, outer-and-inner-pitched-together design with two or three colour-coded foldable poles and a bag of lightweight pegs.

Two wild camping tents to recommend are:

MSR Tent

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2P

  • Weighing in at an ultra-light 1.75kg (1.54kg min) (perfect for two people), the tent boasts a good weight-to-strength ratio.
  • Its unique pole configuration results in maximum comfort with ample head and elbow room.
  • It is classed as a three-season tent so will work well in the UK spring, summer and autumn and at lower altitudes in winter.

Vango Tent

Vango Soul 200

  • The Soul is a very easy-to-pitch lightweight two-pole tent that packs down small.
  • Its high-quality PowerFlex fibreglass poles create a strong, light and reliable structure that results in a tent that is straightforward to pitch with increased stability for all weathers.
  • The value for money that this 1.90kg tent provides makes it an ideal first-time wild camping option.

Bivvy bag

If you want to lighten your wild camping rucksack, even more, a bivvy bag is a neat solution. It offers a low-hassle, quick-to-set-up alternative to pitching a tent.

Essentially, a bivvy bag is a sleeping bag that is also waterproof and windproof. It is easy to erect (you just place your sleeping bag inside your bivvy bag), without the need for pegs or poles. Some bivvy bags have a small pole to keep the fabric away from your head, while many others do not.

A bivvy bag can take a bit of getting used to, but if you are looking for an adventurous night, sleeping beneath the stars, it's an excellent choice.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping Bags

A sleeping bag that suits the seasons and conditions is vital. Again you will tend to pay more for lighter-weight bags. In all but the warmest situations, a three-season sleeping bag is a safe option for keeping you warm while wild camping in the UK.

While down bags offer the greatest warmth, a synthetic fill is usually lighter and keeps you warm when damp.

A self-inflating mattress or foam roll will help keep you away from the cold and damp and also offer comfort on the hard ground. Choose a mattress that quickly deflates and rolls up into a small bag for ease of carrying.

A pillow can be created by stuffing the clothes you wear in the day inside a dry or stuff bag.

Cooking Gear & Food

Campin Cookwear

You could pack a range of items, but as a minimum, you'll need a lightweight single burner stove, gas canister and lighter, pot, spork and mug for a hot drink.

Taking dehydrated camping food is one option or pack lightweight foodstuffs such as couscous, pasta or flavoured rice.

Tuna and dried meats add extra ingredients and calories to meals. For breakfasts and lunches, choose long-lasting products such as oatcakes, cereal bars and porridge rather than bread. Energy snacks are also a good idea.

Water is another essential, but if you know you'll be camping near running water you can carry less bottled water with you. Boil collected water for cleanliness or bring a water filter bottle, or take a water purification device with you.


There are a few things to think about when choosing a backpack for wild camping.

If you buy a lightweight pack, it will likely be more minimal so offers less comfort, such as cushioned shoulder straps and waistband

We recommend you go for something in the middle. Choose a good quality hiking pack rather than a running pack. Go for a 45l or 55l pack to ensure your kit is kept to a minimum, although if you are going for a longer trip take a 60+ pack.

Added Extras For Wild Camping

You'll also need a head torch and if it will be chilly take a lightweight insulated jacket to sleep in and a small hot water bottle.

Wearing a warm hat can be a life-saver on a chilly night.

It is vital that you have some method of dealing with waste while wild camping. Take a pocket trowel and dog poo bags, or similar.

Other useful items are dry wash gel or baby wipes, for a substitute “shower”, and a tick remover.

Where Can You Wild Camp?

Wild Camp

There are distinct differences in wild camping laws between Scotland and the rest of Britain.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, was introduced in 2005, sets out the rights of access and the right to camp throughout of Scotland. The Act established a legal right to wild camp anywhere in Scotland so long as campers follow a few guidelines. Camping must be lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in one place. Campers must act responsibly, cause no pollution and leave no trace.

The only exempt areas are enclosed fields of crops or farm animals, and campers must pitch tents well away from buildings or roads. In recent years, some smaller areas such as Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park have introduced by-laws that restrict wild camping requiring you to have a permit/camp in designated areas.

In England and Wales, it's the opposite. There is no right to camp in the wild without the express permission of the landowner. There are some areas where wild camping is common. For example, in the Lake District and Snowdonia, there are large areas where camping is accepted, providing reasonable precautions are taken, and campers must be out of sight of all roads and human habitation. But it's still not a right.

Dartmoor is a little different because you have a de facto right to camp and the national park does encourage responsible wild camping. See this useful Dartmoor camping guide.

The advice is to camp high up, pitch late, strike camp early, and to leave no trace.

Other wild camping tips

    • Take care not to damage vegetation, especially at higher altitudes where it can be susceptible to human trampling.

    • Do not light fires on top of peaty soils and dry grass because of the risk of fire.

    • Do not pollute water courses with careless camping – and never go to the toilet within 30m of fresh or running water.

    • Carry all waste home or to a proper bin.

    • If it's not possible to take toilet waste away make sure it is buried at least 15cm below ground and covered. Do not bury used toilet paper.

    • Remove all food and waste that might attract scavengers and put animals at risk.

John says:

"From the very first wild camping trip I was hooked. I love the adventure of walking all day and camping surrounded by the natural environment. I have now become an expert at what to take, and in summer I do not need a heavy pack. So long as everyone camps responsibly we will continue to be able to enjoy our incredible freedoms for a long time to come. I recommend everyone gives wild camping a go."