This article will serve as your go to guide for everything there is to know about wild camping. In this guide you will learn what wild camping is, if it is legal and where you can camp wildly, what items you will need, and how to select where to camp. Wild camping is considered to be camping anywhere in nature, besides an official campground location. Unfortunately it is illegal in most of the United Kingdom, but if you are planning a trip for the United States it is legal. The great thing about wild camping is that it is typically with minimal gear and items. Finally you can really camp on any property, with permission but we do have suggestions for how to specifically pick your location when you get out into nature. For example, you will want to camp on ground that is elevated and higher than your relative surrounding area, to be safe from obstacles and save yourself in case of a minor flood. Overall, this article is designed for anyone to be able to fully read it, and act like a guide so you know everything there is to know about wild camping before you do so yourself.
What is Wild Camping?
Wild camping is a pretty wide definition which represents any camping that is not done at a commercial campground or organized tent site. A way to visualize this is thinking of someone who lives in a rental van or renovated old school bus, sell their home and live wherever they would like. Now of course this is not wild camping specifically, but it is the house and travelling equivalent. These types of people looking for absolute freedom into traveling and the wilderness are looking in the right place. Now we define a commercial campground as a privately owned piece of land used for profit. An organized tent site would not necessarily be for profit, but would be piece of government owned land such as a national, state, or local park, that lends out camping site leases for the weekend. Now this may seem like it is for profit, but those funds return directly into the government to benefit those same lands you are camping on. Now as mentioned, those areas are not where one would wild camp, however it is just as important to understand what is, versus what is not wild camping.
Now that you understand that wild camping is separate from typical campgrounds, there is some more information you need to know about wild camping. This information represents the main differences between wild camping and regular camping, so you really get an idea of what wild camping truly is. Of course the main difference, if you only cared about one, would have to be the amenities. Now nobody goes on a camping trip with the expectations of the equivalent amenities of a five star hotel, those expectations are way too high. For starters, there are no showers when you wild camp, although you could find a stream, waterfall, or lake if you are really interested in staying clean. Even if you do try to shower there will be no bench for you to rest your clothes or towel. Next there is no bathroom in general, you must bring a shovel to dig yourself a bathroom as well as toilet paper to relieve yourself appropriately. There will not be electricity, so all cooking supplies must be able to be used without electricity. Many use propane as a means to cook on foldable small stove tops. Speaking of cooking, you will not have running water, so you will want to bring lots of water with you or invest in a water filter, which we will discuss in more detail later. Finally you must remain wary of the weather, because it is unlikely that you can either leave or get to your car quickly enough to outrun a serious storm. In that case either purchase gear strong enough to withstand the storm, or plan ahead of time for the weather. In summary, wild camping consists of no electricity, no running water, no showers, no bathrooms, and less protection for the weather.
Although these seem to be the cons of wild camping, or the negative differences that make it unique, there are certainly some great benefits. The largest factor is that you are very much away from other people and society, if that is something that you enjoy. The beauty of wild camping is that you can select to camp anywhere, so if there are people around just keep walking to get your own unique spot away from the crowd. It gives an extra feeling of peace as you are truly separated from society to fully embrace nature, and become one with yourself. Many use this time away as a relaxing form of meditation or relaxation to forget about the rest of the world. This is truly the main factor that makes wild camping what it is, and is what makes people fall in love with the idea. The other large benefit that is really secondary, is that it is free of course. As we described there is really nothing for you to pay for, since there are no amenities. You just pick whatever spot you would like, and no matter what it is free. Overall, what defines wild camping is the ability to leave the world behind, without basic amenities by camping away from commercial campgrounds or any organized tent site.
Is Wild Camping Legal or Illegal?
Unfortunately this is a loaded question with an unclear answer, because it all depends on your location. Each nation has their own rules with regards to wild camping, some discuss the topic for the entire country, while some make it legal or illegal only in certain parts of the nation. The short answer is that wild camping is legal in about one fourth of Europe, and practically legal in all of the United States of America. Although it is legal in most of America, there is a catch, being that you must communicate with the owner of the property. This is because almost all of the land in America is owned by someone, so you must ask in advance to prevent trouble from occuring, which we will discuss in greater detail later on. But before you get upset about whether it is legal or illegal, remember why these rules are in place.
Wild camping can be extremely damaging to the environment if not done properly, or there are people who seemingly do not care about the environment. Unfortunately one person or group of people can ruin an area badly enough for it to become banned. And of course, wild campers go to the areas that are the prettiest, which means over time there is a large amount of traffic in that area. So over time you can see how this area can become beaten down and causes the government to make wild camping illegal in these parts. Now not all of these countries made wild camping illegal after someone ruined the land badly enough, but most just made it illegal as a precautionary measure. It is much more difficult to restore the land to its original features after someone destroys the property, because it took millions and millions of years for the land to become that way. So instead of letting it get to that point, many countries made it illegal upfront to prevent damage like this from occurring in the first place. So now that you understand why it is illegal in some areas, let’s see if any of those areas pertain to you in particular.
As we mentioned, wild camping is legal almost everywhere in the United States. This includes wild camping on privately owned land, as long as you get permission from those landowners prior to camping there. Although you can usually wild camp in many national parks in America as well, so the options are virtually endless. Now it only becomes more restrictive as you head east to Europe. England and Wales are pretty limited for your wild camping options as they only allow it in Dartmoor national park. On the other hand, the countries of France, Sweden, and Norway allow free roam over the country for anyone to wild camp wherever they would please. In fact it is a law in the constitution of Norway that their citizens have the right to roam, which includes camping wherever you would like in the country. A majority of the northern countries of Europe are where legal wild camping can be found. This makes sense as these countries have smaller populations but more land mass than the middle or southern countries of Europe. So before you begin planning your wild camping adventures across Europe, do some research before you land yourself in trouble for the law.
So now that you know where wild camping is legal and illegal, you might not be satisfied with your options. Now we certainly do not condone illegal activity, but here are the punishments you would receive on average for illegally wild camping in these European countries if you choose to do so. The most common punishment wild campers could receive is trespassing for camping on property they do not own and not asking for permission ahead of time. Now you will not get arrested for trespassing or likely get in any trouble, however you will be asked to leave the premises immediately. If you decide to verbally or physically fight this wish you will get in trouble of course, or if you simply return to the property and get caught a second time. Each nation’s trespassing punishment is different, but if someone catches you civilly resolve any anger they may have and leave immediately to prevent getting in further trouble. As we said, we do not condone any illegal activity but those are the punishments you must be aware of. Overall, wild camping is mostly illegal in Europe, but legal wild camping can be found in the northern parts of the continent, while wild camping is widely legal in America.
Now that you understand where wild camping is legal, there are many different locations that you have to choose from. You can camp in a valley, on a mountain top, in a forest or by the ocean. The options are pretty much endless. It all depends on your preferences and what you enjoy the most. Some people enjoy the sound of the crashing waves of the ocean, and feeling their toes in the sand underneath them. Although others enjoy the challenge of climbing a mountain or the sense of pride from climbing one and feeling on top of the world. You may simply enjoy the serenity that the forest has to offer where it feels like you are the only one out in the woods, with the land to yourself. What type of land you visit and camp on depends on your personal preferences. For where to camp specifically after you choose where you want to visit will be laid out in detail for you later on in this guide. At the end of the day, the locations where you can camp, as long as it is legal of course, is pretty much limitless and depends on your personal preference of what you enjoy the most.
What Items Do You Need to Wild Camp?
As mentioned above wild camping is very small compared to regular camping, so small that you can only really fit things into a backpack. When speaking of regular camping you have to bring multiple things like food, a camping table, an air mattress, and so on; wild camping is much more simple and lightweight. To get started you will first need a large-sized waterproof camping backpack so it can fit a lot of essentials since you will most likely not be near your car for the majority of the trek. Next, you will need something to keep you dry out of the weather when sleeping such as a tent, you can also set up camp yourself when you stop for the night which can be as simple as finding sticks and a blanket over top. You do not even really need a tent as long as you are okay with sleeping under the stars and being more present in nature. If you decide that you will want a tent to sleep in for the night or nights you may as well want a yoga mat to sleep on so your back will not be hurting the next morning if you have more of your hike still to go. Things are all different for everybody like if you prefer sleeping on the ground or on a mat so apply these to yourself accordingly.
The next thing that you will need which is absolutely necessary is food and water. Depending on the length of your trip you will be able to approximate how much food you will need, but plan appropriately because when camping and hiking people most likely get more hungry than normal because of how many calories they are constantly burning, we are sure you know this if you hike or camp a lot. We suggest packing a few more snacks than normal because of this fact just so you will not be starving yourself by the end of the night and have to end your hike earlier than expected because of hunger. When it comes to water it is difficult because you do not want a large water bottle weighing you down and making it harder to hike, again if you are only going for a day then a water bottle would not be that worrisome but for others who go on for days at a time this is a problem. There is a straw that filters out any contaminated water once you drink it so it becomes clean drinking water. This was invented because of a situation when you either run out of water or you just do not want to carry a water bottle, all you have to do is find a stream, lake or pond and you do not have to worry about finding a drink. You will also need to bring a small foldable stove to cook your meals because you will not be able to get by with just granola bars for your trip, full protein filled meals will be necessary from all the strenuous activities being performed.
A very important couple of items necessary for wild camping are what you wear, because if you are hiking up or down in elevation the weather and temperature can change very quickly. You will need the following items: a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, a layer for insulation, walking socks to prevent blisters, hiking boots, and an insulated hat. It is very important to dress in layers as we said the temperature can change within seconds or minutes. If you are ot prepared to take on the weather it will not be an enjoyable hike. The waterproof trousers, jacket, hiking boots, and hat can all be reworn so there is no worry if you are hiking for several days to bring multiple of these. However, you will need to bring a few extra pairs of layers for insulation because if it is warm out and you sweat a lot there is nowhere to wash those clothes. So make sure to pack light but come prepared for any conditions.
How Do I Select Where to Wild Camp?
When choosing where to set up your wild camp for the night there are a variety of things that you can ask yourself such as, “If it rains tonight am I near a stream that could overflow?” It all depends on what you are looking for when you set up for the night. For starters we suggest that you find a piece of land that is higher than the area around you on average. Of course it would be difficult to find completely flat land no matter where you are. A beach will seem flat but it is typically slightly sloped towards the water. On a mountain it is much easier to tell what is lower. We emphasize setting up your camping area on the relative maximum point, because that keeps you away from other dangerous situations. Similar to if a creek floods above your tent, that water will begin rushing right towards you. However if your elevation is higher than that of the stream, the water will flow away from you and you will be safe. On a mountain if snow or a rock starts rolling down a hill you want to be in the safest position to prevent your campsite and yourself from being injured in the situation. So for starters, begin by picking your camping spot in an area with slightly higher elevation or incline than that around you.
Next begin finding a water source nearby, preferably a running water source as compared to a stagnant body of water. First you cannot forget what we just discussed, you need to set up your tent above the source, and one you have established that you can proceed. You need to put yourself by a water source, because you are going to burn through water quickly. When you are outside whether you are hiking around or just sitting in the sun you are going to need more water than you do when you are sitting on your couch, simply by being more active. This will make you feel much thirstier than you are used to, and your throat could feel dry in general based on the conditions of the environment you decided to visit. Now it is important to put yourself by a moving body of water for filtration purposes. A stagnant body of water means the same water has been there for most likely hundreds and thousands of years. You can only imagine how much random bacteria is in this water, let alone animal urine, dirt, rain, left over snow, and so many other nonpreferrable liquids. On the other hand, a stream is continuously running and that water may pick up some bacteria from rocks but it is one thousand times more fresh compared to the stagnant pond or lake you may have originally been considering. So for health and safety reasons find yourself a spot next to a running body of water such as a stream, but establish a camping spot higher than the stream of course.
Something that may be overlooked is finding yourself a spot in the shade or under a tree in general. Most people will camp in the summer months, making the weather much hotter even inside your tent. So whether you are sitting in your tent or directly out in the sun that heat will certainly take a large toll on your body and just feel like it is draining your energy. So to enjoy your camping experience more than being miserable in the heat, try to find yourself a position in the shade if possible. Another benefit of finding a spot underneath a tree is protection from the weather. We mentioned this earlier as people overlook the weather when they wild camp, but a tree can certainly make the situation better. The tree will act as an extra shield or rain fly over your tent to prevent any falling rain, snow, or hail from pounding your tent relentlessly. This will make for a much quieter experience and can make your equipment last longer. In the end, whenever you are picking your camping spot find an elevated piece of flat ground that is ideally near a running water source and a tree.
Wild camping is for all people of any age, this can be a really fun way to either have some alone time with yourself or just get out and explore. It is made so you are not going to campgrounds and having fees, this is a much easier way of camping and you can see a lot more things instead of just staying at a campground. This form of camping is legal in the United States but can be very damaging to the area overtime if it is a popular tourist spot for wild camping. You will need very few things compared to regular camping so this type can fit everything in a big backpack. It is easy to come unprepared but if you do you will possibly have to cut your trip short because you forgot something major. Selecting where to wild camp is an easy yet challenging adventure because you have to figure out what your main priority is for the night. You should stay on a hill if possible because this will allow you to stay out of most dangerous situations and lastly, stay by a water source in case there is an emergency for water. Wild camping is fun and adventurous once all the details are fine tuned.
References and Citations
Jones, Morwenna. “Everything You Need to Know about Going Wild Camping – Legally.” Matador Network, 29 June 2018, matadornetwork.com/read/everything-need-know-going-wild-camping-legally/.