Camping, Bushcraft & Survival

Wild Camping in the UK | Essential Guide

Is wild camping legal in the UK? What are the rules of wild camping?

If you’ve ever wanted to go wild camping in the UK but didn’t know where to do it, when to do it, how to do it, or whether you’re even allowed to do it…look no further than Mpora. A really good place to start, if you want to school yourself in the art of roughing it outside, is our beginner’s guide to wild camping.

Of course, before we start dishing out advice, we should start by discussing some of the legal issues surrounding wild camping in the UK. You might have read that in Scotland wild camping is completely legal, so long as you stay well clear of dwellings and roads (this is true). In England and Wales, however, there’s a bit more to it. Let us explain what we mean by that.

“The key to wild camping successfully is to set up in that window just before the sun goes down, and then pack up and go as the sun comes up.”

Those wanting to go wild camping anywhere in England and Wales, including the National Parks, must first seek permission of the land owner. This applies to all areas of the two respective countries except Dartmoor, Devon, where wild camping is legal as it is in Scotland.

That being said, it’s a commonly held view in the camping community that if you follow a few basic rules you shouldn’t have any issues with the police or shotgun-wielding landowners even if you do decide to wild camp somewhere you’re not technically allowed to. Just to underline it though, in case you’re in any doubt, wild camping is illegal in most parts of the UK

Wild Camping – Important Things To Remember

“Arrive late, leave early” is the first rule of wild camping (Photo: Jack Clayton).

Arrive Late, Leave Early

Obviously if you rock up to your camping spot at 2:30pm, bust out the barbecue and the booming sound system and then have yourself an afternoon rave…expect to run into some difficulties. Likewise, if you sleep in all morning, wake up up at 2:30pm, bust out the barbecue and the booming sound system and have yourself an afternoon rave…expect to be shutdown quickly.

The key to wild camping successfully is to set up in that window just before the sun goes down, and then pack up and go as the sun comes up. Obviously, if you’re somewhere really remote then you’ve probably got a bit of leeway but, as a rule of thumb, you really need to adopt a “camp late/leave early” mindset.

Keep The Volume Down

Look. We get it. You’re excited about wild camping, but that doesn’t mean you can scream your lungs out at 1am. Sure, have a chat with your friends; maybe share a pack of beer or a box of wine between you, but don’t shout at the moon, set off fireworks, and wake up everyone who lives within a three-mile radius.

Tidy Up Your Mess

Whatever you take to your wild camping spot should come back to civilisation with you. Food, litter, that hiking sock with a hole in; all of it. Nobody likes a litterbug. Don’t be a litterbug.

Careful With Those Fires

If you’re properly sensible about things, keep a responsible eye on it, and don’t set up a huge fire literally in somebody’s back garden there’s no reason why you can’t rustle yourself up a small campfire. That being said, don’t go mad. Don’t bring a barrel of petrol, a military-grade flamethrower, and the woody remains of your Grandad’s shed. Don’t do that. Just don’t, ok?

Wild Camping – Tent or Bivvy Bag?

One of the big debates between wild campers is whether it’s better to use a tent or bivvy bag//Pictures: Getty Images (Left), Jack Clayton (Right).

The best thing about using a tent for wild camping in the UK is the additional protection from the elements. And let’s face it, the UK regularly serves up some pretty horrendous weather.

On the flip side, however, there is something truly unique about wild camping in a bivvy bag. Emerging from one, like a butterfly from a cocoon, in sync with the sunrise is one of the definitive outdoors experience and something everyone should try at least once. Another plus point is that bivvy bags are quicker to set up and pack away than a tent.

Traditional tents and bivvy bags both have their merits. It’s about choosing the kit that best suits your needs and, to an extent, checking that weather forecast before your adventure.

Wild Camping – Tips and Tricks

A camping mat is an essential part of any wild camper’s checklist (Photo via Getty Images).

Bring A Camping Mat

Seasoned campers will tell you that camping without a camping mat is an easy way to get cold, and not actually sleep. If you’re wild camping with a tent and you don’t have a mat, we recommend that you get one.

If you’re wild camping with a bivvy bag, we’d argue that getting yourself a camping mat is absolutely essential. Trust us. This Mpora writer tried bivvy bagging without a camping mat once and even now, nine months on, he’s still trying to warm up.

Find Some Flat Ground

Trying to sleep on a hill will not end well for you. It might seem like a minor incline right now, but when you’re sound asleep and slowly sliding down the hill in your bivvy bag under the cover of darkness…you’ll come to regret your camping spot (when you wake up, that is).

Check The Area To Make Sure You’re As “Wild” As You Think You Are

It’s dark. You’re tired. And you just want to set up, curl up, and go to sleep. But, hang on a minute. Are you sure you’re properly out the way of residential homes, farmhouses, footpaths and…airfields? What’s over that hill just there? What’s behind that hedge? Check. Check. Check.

Speaking from my own experience, it can be seriously awkward thinking you’ve bivvy bagged in a remote spot…only to wake up and find disgruntled dog walkers strolling past you on a footpath that’s only metres from your face.

If you’re wild camping, be sure not to leave your boots exposed to the elements (Photo via Getty Images).

Cover Your Boots

Hell hath known no fury like a man who wakes up after wild camping to find that it rained in the night, and his walking boots were left exposed to the elements. If you’re in a tent, keep your boots inside. If you’re in a bivvy bag, and there’s no room for your boots in there as well, cover your boots with something waterproof. A bin bag will work a treat.

Embrace It

It’s important to remember that wild camping in the UK is nothing like a night in the Ritz, or the Warrington Premier Inn. In fact, it only has a passing resemblance to camping at a proper campsite.

When you’re out wild camping, you need to embrace the fact you’ll be slightly colder than you would be in your own bed. You need to embrace the fact there’s no en-suite bathroom, and no mod-con kitchen in which to rustle up a feast. You need to embrace the great outdoors, embrace waking up to a sunrise in the middle of nowhere, embrace nature and, most importantly of all, embrace the sheer fun of it all.

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Wild Camping in Scotland | Essential Guide

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