Camping, Bushcraft & Survival

Wild Camping On Dartmoor | An Essential Guide

From the various rules and regulations to top tips from a local expert, here's everything you need to know about wild camping on Dartmoor

Wild camping on Dartmoor is becoming increasingly well known in the UK. Mostly because it’s the only National Park in England with areas where it’s legal to wild camp. What makes Dartmoor special (other than being a fantastic remote wilderness), is that it has unenclosed but privately owned Commons Land. Part of the Dartmoor Commons Act explicitly allows camping in certain areas for no more than two consecutive nights. We’ll get on to exactly what “camping” and “certain areas” means in a minute. Needless to say, it’s only a byelaw so could easily be taken away if people abuse or misuse this privilege.

“The only National Park in England with areas where it’s legal to wild camp”

Where is it legal to wild camp?

The very best place to look is the Dartmoor National Park camping map. Rather than us list out a load of places, this shows you in exact detail where it’s legal to pitch. After that, you should also be at least 20m from any river (about 12 double paces) and at least 100m from a road. The rule of thumb is if someone can see your tent obviously from a road, you haven’t gone far enough. Also stay away from any archaeological sites like stone circles and rows, or hut circles. They’re part of why Dartmoor’s protected and it would be a bit like wild camping in the middle of Stonehenge.

It’s also worth noting that it’s illegal, by the same byelaws which allow wild camping, to sleep in any vehicle overnight at the roadside or in car parks in the National Park.

Finding the perfect spot

Beyond legalities, I can attest that it’s very easy to have an awful night’s sleep on Dartmoor. Here are some tips to make the whole experience more pleasant.

Firstly, look for flat ground! This is often easier said than done on Dartmoor, given the sheer amount of tussock grass and clitter. Think about the slope too – what looks like a shallow incline might be more than enough to slide you downhill overnight. Everyone loves a party at the bottom of the tent at 2am…

Secondly, think about exposure. If the forecast is for wind coming in overnight, try to find a place to pitch that will be out of the wind. Equally, if it’s raining are you sleeping somewhere that will fill up with water overnight. Camping on a tiny island in the middle of a river might look fun, but Dartmoor is home to some of the fastest flooding rivers in the UK. It’s really not worth it – never mind that you’re polluting it by not keeping to the 20m rule.

Wild camping not fly camping

Personally, I think stealth camping would be a better name for what we do. The whole idea is that you come and go without anyone being able to tell you’ve been there. Anything more than a small area of flattened grass left behind and you’ve gone wrong. That means take everything home with you (yes, even loo roll and orange peel). If you brought it in you take it out. 

“I think stealth camping would be a better name for what we do”

Don’t make fires except in a small camping stove placed on a rock. Dartmoor’s ground is mostly made of peat and we get accidental fires every year that burn entire hillsides. Don’t be that person. Equally, fire pits and rings are completely inappropriate – as are barbecues or any open fire.

That really is the bulk of it though: don’t litter, don’t damage the landscape. Try to be considerate of other people too. For example don’t play loud music or be rude and aggressive to others. Basically, don’t be a jerk.


Dartmoor is notorious for fast-changing extremes of weather. It is perfectly capable of presenting you with four seasons in one day – even if that day is in August. Sadly, at the time of writing, there is no dedicated mountain weather forecast for Dartmoor, although it really needs one. You can check the Met Office forecast for nearest towns or villages at the edge of the moor – and occasionally some of the tors themselves. But even these forecasts are often wrong, so it’s best to prepare for the worst.

“Dartmoor is notorious for fast-changing extremes of weather”

Make sure that your kit is good enough for whatever the weather might decide. That means making sure you’re always carrying a waterproof jacket at least and plenty of warm layers. It also means checking the season rating on your sleeping bag and making sure your tent can withstand high winds.

Don’t forget to look at the visibility on the forecast too. Low cloud and fog is very common on Dartmoor and you’ll need to be able to navigate yourself back to safety. There are still plenty of remote and inaccessible places on Dartmoor where you can’t rely on having phone signal.

Equipment for Dartmoor Wild Camping

The key thing to remember when packing for wild camping on Dartmoor is that you should be able to carry everything you need in a single rucksack. Don’t be that group who need an entire Mountain Rescue team to carry all their stuff back to the car in the morning. Trust me, it happens. Please don’t let that be you.

One of the biggest problems, and reasons for rescue, is that people underestimate Dartmoor. Yes it might not be as grand or steep at the mountains in other parts of the UK. But if you show up in jeans and trainers, it’ll just laugh and spit you out the other end a miserable wreck. Pack normal clothes and equipment for a couple of days in the mountains. And, honestly, if you don’t know what that looks like, you’re probably not ready for wild camping on Dartmoor.

Then there’s a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat, plus cooking equipment. Your tent needs to be small and weatherproof. If you can stand up inside it, it is far far too big. As we’ve said already, your sleeping bag and mat should be appropriate for the weather forecast – check the estimated overnight temperature and make sure it’s well within your comfort rating. And again, take a small stove designed for wild camping that is self-contained and runs on gas or meths or something similar.

Dartmoor Hazards (Don’t Get Shot)

Finally, it’s worth a few words about some Dartmoor hazards. A lot of Dartmoor is a live firing range for military training. There are three ranges: Okehampton, Merrivale and Wilsworthy – the edges of which are marked on all good maps. Make sure to check the firing times on the MoD website before you go, released six weeks in advance. Alongside this, be wary of any old metallic objects you find, which could be unexploded military ordnance. 

Other than this, there are the usual UK upland hazards, including occasionally adders in the summer. Ticks, which can contain Lyme Disease, are prevalent during warm weather. Check yourself over when you get home, ideally within 24 hours of the start of your walk.


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