Wild camping is nothing special to me. It is routine, commonplace, just something you do on the weekend.
I went on my first mini wild camping expedition age 12 (and insisted on carrying the tent). As a teenager, I wild camped every other weekend for more than half the year.
In fact, given that I’ve just had to go back and add the word “wild” into the last three sentences, wild camping for me is synonymous with camping.
As a rural child, brought up in the hills, it seems ridiculous to pay to pitch in a hard, noisy, people-ridden field when you’ve got miles of open moorland.
Wild Camping Night Out
Last weekend I took part in the Wild Night Out, leading a group of newbie wild campers with Anna McNuff’s Adventure Queens. Well, it was supposed to be a group. People have busy lives and we ended up just two of us, but it was a great evening out. The weather was abysmal (thick fog) but dry and quite windy overnight.
It was great fun, but it made me realise just how clinical and practical my approach to wild camping is now. It’s not something you make a special occasion of… it’s sleeping mid-expedition. Going out onto the hill late and leaving early without going anywhere was bizarre. I walked home to make up for it.
What to Take Wild Camping?
Now, this is going to be a bit different if you go camping in a local park – not what I’d call wild camping, but which people seem to be doing in its name. This is a list for wild camping in the hills, mountains and moorland of the UK.
- Sleeping bag
Appropriate for the season – the key to a good night’s sleep. More here.
- Roll mat
Or inflatable mat – but not lilo or air bed!
- Tent (or bivvy bag)
With tents, the smaller the better as long as you can still fit in it. Get one with sturdy structure to withstand the wind and weather. I swear by my Vaude Taurus II.
- Waterproof (coat and trousers)
Will keep the wind chill down in the evening, even if it’s not raining.
- Spare warm layers
Even if you don’t wear them, they make a great pillow.
- Warm hat and gloves
It gets pretty cold at night!
- Map and compass – do NOT use your phone, please!
I have helped to rescue enough people who have followed their phone GPS or used a compass app. You cannot rely on this to really tell you where you are and need to go on the hill. Learning to read a map will last you forever.
- Emergency phone
Make sure someone’s phone has battery left at the end of the trip, just in case.
Funnily enough, it gets quite dark sometime in the middle of wild camping…
Just in case…
When you wake up early feeling rough, the best thing to do is eat some breakfast.
- Midnight munchies
- Camping stove, cutlery, gas – if you want hot food!
These are the basics. Of course, you will probably fill any space you have left in your rucksack with technology, games, pillows, watermelons and all sorts you regret later. But never mind…
How to Find a Wild Camping Spot
Things to consider…
- Slope Aspect
Look for somewhere flat. The bigger the slope, the more likely you are to end up at the bottom/side/outside the tent in the morning. If you have to pitch on a slope, then make sure you put the end your head will be at (usually the door) uphill. Else all the blood will run into your head overnight…
This is kind of linked to weather, but pitching on top of an exposed mountain ridge is probably going to be more uncomfortable than in a valley. Probably. Remember that they call it “shelter” for a reason. Try to find a location that will be as kind to you as possible.
- Ground Type
Flatness is again important, but this time in how lumpy the ground is. I have slept on some very non-flat surfaces and would not recommend it! Also consider what’s on the ground before you pitch. Rocks, sticks, reeds and animal poo can make your night less comfortable and maybe even damage your equipment. Don’t camp in a bog unless you really know your ground sheet is waterproof.
YOU CANNOT JUST CAMP ANYWHERE! I’m very lucky to live near places where it’s completely okay to wild camp. But rules still apply – like don’t camp in sight of the road, don’t have open fires, don’t leave a mess…
I recently read someone describing their first wild camp as “cheating” because someone asked the land owner for permission. This is NOT cheating. Imagine if someone you didn’t know showed up with a tent in your back garden. How pleased would you be?
If you don’t gain permission somehow, explicit or implicit, then you are trespassing.
We touched on this before, but think about the weather conditions. If it’s a really hot, sunny day you probably want to be close to a water source. If flooding is forecast, then the same camping spot would be a very bad idea.
You should be thinking about proximity to water, rain/snow forecast, wind speed and direction.
The mountain weather forecast is available on MWIS.
What Is Wild Camping Like?
Recently, I went camping on Dartmoor with Joe and made a little film about it. It’s worth watching just to see my face after a sip of hot chocolate made with spinach and ricotta pasta water…
Books and Resources
Phoebe Smith’s Extreme Sleeps: http://www.phoebe-smith.com/books/
Stephen Neale’s Wild Camping: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/wild-camping-9781472900340/