Everything I’ve learned from over 400 NIGHTS WILD CAMPING around the world - how to start, kit, tent vs bivvy, cooking, safety, navigation and loads more. Let’s dive in

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George B

Life’s too short to waste it staring at a spreadsheet. So why not spend it getting muddy up a mountain wild camping with some mates instead? It’s our mission to help you get out into nature while also protecting the wild places we hold so dear.

And there’s no better way to get down and dirty with the great outdoors than with wild camping. After well over 400 wild camps around the world I'm convinced of that. And I'd like to share with you everything I've learned (or not) along the way.

What is Wild Camping?

So, what exactly is wild camping?

Wild camping involves ditching the crowded campsite and instead pitching your tent or rolling out your bivvy, usually in a remote spot (don’t worry, we’ll get into the where and the how later), and having it all to yourself.

In a nutshell, wild camping delivers all of the benefits of the wilderness in one powerful punch. In fact, camping wild is one of the most fulfilling and memorable adventures going. And one of the best parts is, it’s free!

Wild camping comes with one crucial stipulation. Just like everyone remembers the first rule of Fight Club (but we won’t talk about that because...well...you know), you should also remember the first rule of wild camping: ‘leave the place the same, or ideally better than you found it' (this goes further than just leave no trace).

Closely followed by rule two, don’t be twat. More on that later.

Wild camping mexico hilleberg

Wild camping properly is all about responsible adventure in the wilderness. Your priority should always be minimising environmental impact, from picking up other people’s litter (and obviously taking your own), to being thoughtful about wildlife, fires, and keeping the volume down in case there are people’s homes and farms nearby.

We’ll spell it out: camping wild is your chance to be a bit of a ledge. The sweaty, smelly, eco kind. There’s no better feeling than returning to civilisation after a weekend of wild camping with a bagful of harmful plastic and a boatload of great stories.

It’s a great alternative to forgetting what happened on Friday night, punishing the bank account with a mediocre brunch, and catching up on a few disappointing episodes of that new Netflix drama.

This guide will give you everything you need to get out on your own wild camping adventures but you can always join us on one of our weekends away if you want to get out with likeminded vagabonds and have all the headache taken care of for you.

So wild camping. Let's get into it.

legal wild camping HILLEBERG TENT mexico

Where to wild camp

First things first: wild camping is illegal in most of England and the UK.

We know, we know. Great start. However, camping wild is generally tolerated, and we reckon its benefits far outweigh its cons. One of our core beliefs here at Call to Adventure is that 'we protect what we love'. See, the more people know about, engage with and appreciate wild places, the more people there are out there to look after them.

Once you’ve combed the coastal paths of Cornwall or spent the weekend wild camping in Snowdonia, it’s natural to feel much more strongly about taking care of them. Nature is our beautiful, bountiful playground – but how can we enjoy it if we don't take steps to safeguard it? The key is in being responsible for your actions.

There are spots dotted around the UK where it’s completely legal to wild camp, so if you’re a neewbie, these are a great place to start:

  • Scotland generally permits wild camping (excluding a few spots and provided you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code)
  • Parts of Dartmoor generally permit wild camping (for up to two consecutive nights in the same spot provided, you're more than 100 metres from any public roads and not within an enclosed or otherwise restricted area. Don’t camp on a farm.)
  • Camping wild where you have the landowners permission is also an option.

In all these areas, you still need to follow the principles of Leave No Trace and to abide by all bylaws. If you can, seek the landowner’s permission first – it’s likely they’ll be able to let you in on the best spots for wild camping, too.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimise campfire impacts - or don’t have one at all
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Read more on the Leave No Trace website

wild campers legal wild camping in snowy loch lomond

As for the rest of the UK, wild camping is not technically legal but you are unlikely to have any problems if you follow the advice in this guide.

National parks are a popular choice for camping wild. Most people know about The Lake District and Snowdonia but here are some other favourites.

  • The Broads National Park
  • The New Forest National Park
  • Northumberland National Park
  • North Yorkshire Moors National Park
  • Yorkshire Dales National Park
  • Peak District National Park
  • South Downs National Park
  • Brecon Beacons National Park
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
  • Cairngorms National Park- some true wild country
  • Loch Lomond National Park (Lock Lomond is one of our favs)
  • The Trossachs National Park

We know it’s not always possible to journey into the heart of the UK’s wilderness though, especially if you only clock off on Friday at 5 pm. Here are some of our top spots to wild camp near urban areas:

  • London: South Downs, North Downs, Seven Sisters, Chilterns, High Weald, Epping Forest, Ashdown Forest, Box Hill
  • Bristol: Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, Mendip Hills, Wye Valley
  • Birmingham: Peak District, Snowdonia, Cannock Chase, Malvern Hills
  • Cardiff: Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, Gower Peninsula, Wye Valley
  • Glasgow: Campsie Fells, Clyde Muirshiel Country Park, Loch Lomond and Trossachs, the Clyde Walkway
  • Leeds: Nidderdale, Yorkshire Dales, Howardian Hills
  • Liverpool: Lake District, Forest of Bowland, Clwdian Range, Hilbre Island
  • Manchester: Lake District, Peak District, Snowdonia, Forest of Bowland
  • Sheffield: Peak District, Howardian Hills, Lincolnshire Wolds
wild camping under the stars in red hilleberg tent in Snowdonia

Don’t overthink it: you can essentially look for a wild camping spot on any old hill, field, or patch of dirt. “Wild” doesn’t have to mean in some remote mountainous landscape; it can equally mean that little stretch of green away from town where there’s unlikely to be anyone around at night. There’s no shame in starting small. In fact that’s often the best way to start your wild camping journey.

How to wild camp

When wild-camping, remember the following mantra: arrive late, leave early and leave no trace. It’s all a part of having the least possible impact on the landscape, environment, and people around you.

Finding somewhere to sleep when wild camping

  • Google Maps is your friend. Look for somewhere green with plenty of hills and trees, far from urban centres. Hilltops can be a great bet (can't beat those sunrise views), but don't forget they could be windy, so make sure you're prepared and have a sturdy tent if it's expected to be stormy. It’s a good idea to find somewhere that has at least the option of shelter or tree cover, or somewhere flat if you don’t fancy a hike.
  • Bing. If Google is your friend, Bing is your besty, at least when it comes to camping wild. No really. It actually does something better than Google. And that one thing is finding wild camping spots. You can access OS maps FOR FREE! More on that below.
navigating to find a wild camping spot in loch lomond scotland

You can also use these bad boys to check locations of footpaths and dog walking paths etc., to ensure you don’t rock up expecting uninterrupted wilderness – only to find a band of over zealous lycra clad power strolling yummy mummies, a Crufts training convention, or a caravan park (unless of course that’s your thing. If it is then you should leave immediately...just go).

  • Visit the spot in the daytime if you can, especially if it’s your first wild camping trip. This’ll help you to familiarise yourself with the area and how to get to it, just in case you need to find it in the dark.
  • Use your brain. Farmland or spots close to roads or people’s homes are a big no-no.

How to find a secluded spot for wild camping

Whilst Google dominates the search engine world, Bing has one uber trick up its sleeve. OS maps. And more importantly FREE OS maps. We are lucky enough to have a well-mapped country with OS being the big daddy in the mapping space.

With so many places to enjoy wild camping, you can find your own secluded spot pretty easily.

Head over to Bing maps, click on the ‘Road’ icon in the top right-hand side and select ‘Ordnance Survey’ and boom (or Bing if you prefer) you’ve got yourself access to a free OS map for the whole of the UK.

Now navigate to an area you fancy exploring, zoom in, find some green goodness that looks appetising, and you’re off the wild camping races.

use bing maps to find wild camping spots for wild camps

What is a bothy?

You might stumble across one of these basic shelters during your time in the wilderness, usually if you are on a wild camping trip in Scotland. They’re usually available for anyone to use and can be a great option if you need a roof over your head in bad weather. Many are owned by the Mountain Bothies Association.

Here are five of our favourites:

wild camping in a bothy near Loch Lomond scotland next to mountain

Bothy etiquette and how to poop when wild camping

When using a bothy, be respectful of the space, always leaving it in the same condition or better than you found it. This isn’t a fancy hotel so there’s no booking – you just turn up and hope it’s available, making room for anyone else who arrives. We reckon this practice completely encapsulates the simple and spontaneous ethos of camping wild.

Bothies don’t usually have toilets, but if yours does, follow the instructions to the letter – that means no rubbish or other nasties down the loo. If your bothy doesn’t have a toilet, make sure to walk at least 200m from your bothy before you do your business. You should have a trusty poop shovel with you too to help dig the hole. Trust us, it’s best for everyone involved. More on that later.

Other top tips for bothy use include leaving anything you don't need for the next guests, don't overstay your welcome (especially at busy times of the year, try to keep it to one or two nights), and make sure your fire is really, really out before leaving.

When to go wild camping?

So, you know what wild camping is and some potential good spots, but when should you go? As we’ve mentioned, it’s a good idea to start small – wild camp for a night or two, somewhere close to home. You’d be surprised at the power of a simple overnighter.

Obviously, the late spring and summer are going to give you the best weather chances, but as long as you’re well-prepared and don’t mind getting a bit wet/cold, you can wild camp at any time of the year. In fact, some of the best adventures can be enjoyed in the winter and autumn when it’s quieter out and about.

wild campers winter wild camping lake district uk

No need to take off huge chunks of annual leave for your wild camping trip. You have more time for adventuring than you might think: weekends and bank holidays add up to a huge 116 days of the year in 2019 – that's 116 days you could be getting out into nature and trying your hand at an adventure. That's almost a third of the year before you've even taken any time off.

If you do have some annual leave coming up though, tag on a day here and there to make the most of your adventure. Make your time count – so much can be achieved even in a single weekend. If you like the idea of going with a group, join us on one of our weekend wild camping in Snowdonia, or perhaps abroad rock climbing and wild camping in the Pyrenees.

What skills do I need for wild camping?

You don’t need to be Ray Mears to enjoy a good wild camp. Whether you’re an avid hiker or have never put a tent up before, there’s no need to let a perceived lack of skill stop you from getting out into nature. We’ve put together a quick list of basic wild camping related skills to get you going:

Navigation when wild camping. Start with what you have: your phone, and good old Google Maps. Google continually invests time and money into updating its maps, so you can count on them to get you where you need to go...most of the time. You can use maps offline by downloading your route before setting off.

You’re not likely to be able to charge your phone, so keep it on airplane mode to save battery. Or bring a power bank. It’s a great idea to take an up-to-date paper map with you, too, just in case.

There are a number of GPS apps you can download to help you with navigation: Gaia and ViewRanger are our favourites for wild camping. They offers maps of hiking trails and the functionality to record your trips. They’ll also show you whether a piece of land is private and public, helping you to pick your ideal camping spot.

Finally, you can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned map and compass (refresh your memory on how to use a compass here). We’d recommend the Silva Type 4 Expedition Compass for quality and value.

Weather when wild camping. It’ll come as no surprise that camping wild is no (considerably less) fun in torrential rain and high winds (and it’s potentially dangerous, too). It’s important to be flexible and willing to postpone your wild camping trip if necessary. If you want to check the weather in your chosen area before you go, it’s best to check updates on the Met Office website  and the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS).

Safety when wild camping. Trip safety starts before you leave. Make sure to let someone know where you’re going to be and how long for. You don’t need to provide an exact grid reference, just a rough idea will do. Expect the unexpected: have a plan B (and a list of back-up B&BS. That’s a lot of b's). Make an extensive checklist and triple-check it before you leave.

Hiker wild camping on a mountain in Scotland

No one wants to rock up to their chosen spot in the middle of nowhere at midnight only to find they’ve forgotten their headtorch, or toilet paper for that matter, but one of them will surely make for a better story. In all seriousness though, hyperthermia is a killer (remember the 3 3’s - 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours without shelter).

Failing to protect yourself from the elements due to lack of clothing or shelter could be disastrous when wild camping. That being said, this doesn’t need to be a problem. Just ensure you check the weather and pack accordingly.

Three words: first aid kit. Essential items include fabric tape and bandages, antiseptic, plasters, tweezers, scissors, painkillers, iodine tablets for sterilisation, alcohol prep pads, and safety pins.

Consider packing a SPOT device for emergencies (note: being a bit cold and wet doesn’t count). GPS SPOT devices are personal locater beacons which can send SOS messages in the unlikely event you find yourself lost or injured. Different emergency services have different views on SPOT.

You will never go wrong by being able to provide your grid reference which can be found on a map or on apps such as ViewRanger, Gaia, and OS Locate. Having said that if you don’t have much signal you may be waiting a rather long time for help, which is where SPOT comes into its own without the need for mobile reception.

There is currently $50 off at the time of writing.

Cooking and eating when wild camping. In the wilderness, a major priority is sourcing clean water. Still water (the stuff in lakes, ponds and springs) may look all-too tempting when you’re thirsty, but be careful – these places can be breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria that can make you very very ill. Instead, choose running water like that in streams and rivers, which is likely to be fresher.

Collect your water from upstream, and check roundabout for carcasses or other waste. Always treat your water, no matter where you get it, by boiling and leaving at a rolling boil for 3 minutes or adding purification tablets. Do note that sterilised water should also be filtered where necessary to get any nasties out.

If you’re just wild camping for the night, it’s best to eat before you go. Not only does this mean you’ll have more energy for the hike, but you’ll have less cooking equipment to drag up the hill with you and less waste to bring back down.

If you do want to whip something up during your trip, make it an expedition meal: these are dehydrated foods in small, easy to pack pouches. Firepot are a great choice. Veggie options available. Nice!

Cooking over the fire when wild camping? Generally avoid this (and fires altogether whilst camping wild). Never chop down surrounding trees for firewood (we’re here to protect wild places, remember). Check out the 'essential kit for wild camping' section to get started with cooking kits.

Wild camping responsibly. Arguably the most important of the skills on this list, your focus should always be leaving a place in the same, or better, shape than when you found it.

If it’s possible to tell that you’ve stayed there, something has gone wrong. Minus 5 adventure points for you. Do not pass go. Do no collect your week of awesome nature froth satisfaction.

Wild campers winter wild camping at Scafell pike lake district

Other ways to tread lightly and reduce your impact when wild camping are travelling in small numbers, staying only for one night and avoiding open fires. Remember - arrive late, leave early.

A bit more on pooping (someone had to mention it)...it can be easiest to “go before you go”, so to speak. If nature does call in the wilderness and you’re nowhere near an outhouse, make sure to be at least 200 feet from water or your camp, and dig a hole of around six inches deep.

Don’t go to the same place twice, and if you can, bring some biodegradable toilet paper along with you that you can bury alongside your business or simply burn any paper used (this is usually preferred to the alternative, packing used toilet paper in your bag to dispose of as rubbish later).

Feminine hygiene products should also be treated as rubbish and taken away with you – it’s not pleasant for anyone if an animal happens to dig them up and disturbs the natural ecology.

If you reckon your stay is going to hurt the wild environment, the most responsible thing to do is go to a campsite and save the wild camp for next time.

Your essential kit list for wild camping

The two golden rules of packing for wild camping:
i) take as little as possible.

Trust us – when you're hiking up a steep hill you’ll regret heavy foodstuffs, a selection of books and unnecessary spare clothes. Only take what’s absolutely necessary (yep, the hip flask counts as strictly necessary so you're all good).

hilleberg tent great for wild camping in 4 seasons
ii) the best gear is the stuff you already have (remember - reduce, reuse, recycle)

Don't feel pressured to rush out and drop a load of cash on fancy wild camping gear – the best kit is the stuff you already have (unless what you have simply isn’t up to the job, then don’t push it).

Our two aims as wild campers are to maximise fun and minimise our impact on the environment. Buying new kit encourages demand for more stuff and requires more resources - water, trees, fuel.

Buy second hand where possible. Facebook Marketplace and outdoor groups are a great place to start. This is good for your bank account and the planet.

That being said, you may need to buy a few bits and bobs. Make a list before you go and check off what you’ve got, and fill in the gaps of what you don’t. As a general rule, the lighter and more durable the better, for most things – but these options can be more expensive, so just go for the best you can within your budget. It’s always going to be a trade off between price, weight, size, and comfort.

Sleeping gear for wild camping

Tent vs bivvy vs hammock for wild camping - First things first – the “roof” over your head for the night. There are a few options here, each with their own set of pros and cons.

Tents are the traditional option and offer the most shelter, but they can be bulky and take time to set up. Consider bunking up with a close friend or lucky man/lady and sharing a tent. This way one of you can carry the poles and the other can carry the rest. Not only does this save pack weight but it can provide extra warmth and potentially the start of something beautiful.

Bivvy (bivouacking) bags for wild camping - act as a kind of waterproof layer for your sleeping bag – they're cheaper, smaller and more lightweight than tents, and you can add extra protection with a tarp. You’ll really feel part of the outdoors in a bivvy, but similarly more exposed, so it’s worth keeping that in mind.

One key thing to note with bivvy’s is that whilst on a dry night, nothing is quite so sublime as looking up to seeing nothing but the Milky Way tinkling away majestically. But on a wet night you will be begging for morning to come, pleading with the Lord to save you. For a covert night of stealth camping up on the hill, nothing beats the bivvy.

Hammocks for wild camping - give you different options when it comes to potential camping spots, as they can be arranged over slopes or rough ground where you couldn’t put a tent, but they obviously require trees, or some very patient mates happy to hold each side taut for the night.

man wild camping with hammock in the wilderness

For all three options, opt for natural colours to blend in with your surroundings and minimise disturbance. If you’re worried about being able to find your tent again after a hike, go for something bright and eye-catching but don’t be surprised if Farmer Phil decides to pay you a visit in the night because your bright orange tent could be seen glowing vibrantly from the moon, let alone his front room. Save the neon for Glasto.

Find the right tent, bivvy bag or hammock for you wild camping kit:

Best Tents for Wild Camping

Tents come in two major varieties - geodesic and tunnel. Geodesic tents are essentially round whilst tunnel tents are rectangular. Geodesic tend to be stronger, more expensive, but heavier. Having said that it’s still possible to find extremely sturdy tunnel tents so it’s well worth doing a bit of research.

The other major factor to consider is will you be sleeping alone or with company? A single person tent will obviously be lighter and more compact than a comparable model designed for more people.

The tents listed below are ‘backpacking tents’ which will be more applicable to wild campers. They are smaller and lighter than the ‘family style tents’ you used to buy from Argos with 19 compartments and 170 guy lines.

BEST CHEAP TENT FOR WILD CAMPING:

Alpkit Soloist - 1 person 3 season - a fantastic one person super lightweight tent for wild campers

Alpkit are a fantastic British company who offer good quality outdoor gear at very reasonable prices. They also align with our ethics and are keen to do their bit to help preserve wild places.

Price: £124.99 with footprint (a footprint is a protector for the bottom of the tent)

Weight: 1.2kg

Or, if you’re looking for a 2 person option

alpkit soloist wild camping tent

Alpkit Tetri - 2 person 3 seasons - an excellent two person backpacking tent for wild campers

Price: £150

Weight: 3kg

alpkit tetri backpacking tent

Best mid range 2 person 3 season wild camping tent:

Msr Elixir 2 - 2 person 3 season - an extremely livable 2 person backpacking tent

MSR (Mountain Safety Research) produce some of the best outdoor gear on the market. And their tents are no exception. Well designed. Reliable. And comfortable. Give this bad boy a whirl and you’re sure to be one happy camper.

Weight: 2.7kg

Best overall 3 person 3 or 4 season wild camping tent:

Hilleberg Nammatj 2 - 2 person 3 / 4 season - a fantastic choice for all but ultralight campers

Price: £860

Weight: 2.3kg (outer and inner tents and poles only)

Hilleberg are a Swedish brand who specialise in tent making specifically. They make some of the best tents on the market and whilst they are not cheap we believe you get what you pay for in this case. You may want to wait for the Lottery numbers to come in before committing though.

They have a number of ranges depending on the conditions you plan to camp in. Don’t just buy the most expensive and bombproof tent they make (not least for the sake of your bank account). Instead, read the descriptions on their site and think about what you will be mainly camping in. Remember less/lighter gear = more fun...most of the time.

We've spent hundreds of nights out in our Hillebergs and love their stuff. As you'll see from the some of the photos, this is the tent I'm currently using.

Hilleberg Nammatj 2 tent for wild camping

Best Bivvy Bags for Wild Camping

BEST CHEAP BIVVY BAH FOR WILD CAMPING:

(Ex)Army Goretext Bivvy bag - the best uber cheap option is a military issue goretex bivvy bag. They are extremely durable, waterproof, breathable, and effective but comparably very heavy. Be sure to buy one actually designed to British Military spec, not a cheap imitation.

Weight: you don’t want to know! (or around 800 grams if you do…)

british army goretex bivvy bag for wild camping

BEST MID RANGE BIVVY BAG FOR WILD CAMPING:

Alpkit Hunka Bivvy bag - this is really still a ‘save’ recommendation given its still under 50 quid. However most people won’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a bivvy bag so it’s going in as a ‘spend’. Whilst less breathable than the army option, a damn sight lighter and easier to order. A solid choice for the budding adventurer.

Price at time of writing: £49.99

Weight: 360 grams

alpkit hunka bivvy bag for wild camping

BEST OVERALL BIVVY FOR WILD CAMPING:

Outdoor Research Helium Bivvy Bag - an absolute banger if you’re willing to fork out the cash. This hooped bivvy bag is kind of like a tent bivvy hybrid. It weighs just over 500 grams but has the added benefit of being hooped which means if the weather does turn fowl you aren’t eating bivvy material all night long. This makes it feel much more spacious although obviously less so than a tent. Excellent for longer treks and bikepacking expeds.

Price at time of writing: £184.99

Weight: 448 grams(excluding bag)

 outdoor research helium bivvy bag for wild camping

Best Hammocks for Wild Camping

Hammocks are the Marmite (or Vegemite if you’re one of them) of the wild camping world. It’s love it or hate it. For some wild campers, hammocks provide the comforting rock experienced as a baby swaying in the cot without a care in the world.

For others, they represent a claustrophobic night of back breaking agony. One thing to always keep in mind that you will need insulation if you’re sleeping in a hammock outside.

One school boy error made by inexperienced hammockers (including me) is to think that a sleeping bag alone will be enough to keep them warm in their hanging palace. This is a recipe for a rather chilly, or probably more accurately freezing cold night with little to no shut eye.

The down in your sleeping bag requires loft (ie not to be squashed) to keep you warm. When you lie in your sleeping bag all of your weight compresses the bottom of the bag against the hammock rendering it pretty useless. Every time there is even a tiny blowing of wind it will feel like you’re at 8,000 meters on Everest.

Two tricks to overcome this are i) use a sleeping pad/mat (a reflective/emergency blanket will do) ii) thread your hammock through your sleeping bag so the you lie on the hammock and the sleeping bag sits on top of your body and underneath the bottom side of the hammock, thus keeping the bag lofty.

BEST CHEAP HAMMOCK FOR WILD CAMPING:

Alpkit Mora - One-person camping hammock for camping with hanging straps; a compact, comfortable and easy-to-hang addition to your sleep system

Price at time of writing: £39.99

Weight: 515g (inc. tree straps)

alpkit mora hammock for wild camping

BEST MID RANGE HAMMOCK FOR WILD CAMPING:

Sea to Summit Pro Double (available in single person edition too if preferred) - another scorcher from the ledgebags over at Sea to Summit is the Pro Double. A 2 person camping hammock offering an extremely easy assembly system, we should know, even we can put this up and it has been our go to for some time now.

It is very comfortable, lightweight, durable, and wont break the bank. Sleeping two in a hammock does require practice though. Also note that you need to buy the straps separately if purchased from Amazon (they are included when buying direct from Sea to Summit but the price increases to £70 for the single or £80 for the double).

We team it up with the Ultralight Suspension Straps, tarp, and bug net for a complete system weighing in at just 1.1kg and is useful both here in the UK but especially abroad.

Weight: 670 grams double (360 grams single)

BEST OVERALL HAMMOCK FOR WILD CAMPING:

Hennessy Hammock  Explorer Ultralite Classic - if anybody knows about hammocks, its Hennessy. This ultralight option provides campers an epic sleep system without the weight. It packs down to basically nothing. Comes complete with integrated mosquito net, rainfly, and webbing straps. It is best used with straps as opposed to the roping system provided though. An awesome bit of kit for your wild camping arsenal.

Should you use a sleeping pad or foam mat for wild camping?

Nothing sucks the fun out of an overnighter like sleeping on cold wet ground. Even in summer the ground can be chilly, not to mention uncomfortable. Foam mats certainly come in a lot cheaper but can lack the insulation and comfort provided by pads.

But, yep, you guessed it, pads can be a lot more expensive. If there’s something to splurge on a little, a decent sleeping pad may just be it.

BEST CHEAP FOAM MAT FOR WILD CAMPING:

Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL Mattress - A great no frills budget option to get you going by the leading name in sleeping pads/mats. If you're going to get a foam mat, get this one

Weight: 410 grams

BEST MID RANGE SLEEPING PAD FOR WILD CAMPING:

Thermarest NeoAir XTherm  - Warm. Packable. Light. A fantastic option.

Weight: 590 grams

BEST OVERALL SLEEPING PAD FOR WILD CAMPING:

Sea to Summit - Comfort Plus Insulated Mat - No other sleeping pad will set your world alight like this one does. I've used this hundreds of times and without doubt provides the comfiest night sleep going in the outdoors.

Weight: 785g (mummy shaped edition - think sleeping bag shape as opposed to rectangular)

Should you go for a sleeping bag or quilt when wild camping?

There are so many types of sleeping bags out there, but there's no need to overthink it. Just go with what you have or can afford, and supplement warmth with jumpers if you need to. Quilts tend to be cheaper and lighter than sleeping bags, but they have no underneath section so you’ll definitely need a sleeping pad.

Sleeping bags for wild camping

Before we get into recommendations, don’t go overboard here. If you are planning to mainly camp in the UK a bag rated to -37 degrees may sound toasty but is just not necessary.

Remember that with every extra bit of warmth comes additional weight. You can always add warmth by teaming your sleeping bag up with a sleeping bag liner when necessary.

Warmer bags are also more expensive. Be brave. Save your cash. Your back will thank you for it on those long adventures. And besides, less sleeping bag weight means more room for beers, frisbees, and tasty treats.

You can read a full buying guide for the best down sleeping bag and out top recommendations in the dedicated post but here's a quick summary.

Sleeping bags (and jackets) can be made from synthetic materials, standard down, and hydrophobic (treated down). Long story short, synthetic is often cheaper, better in the wet, but not as warm. The kryptonite to standard down was that whilst it’s incredibly warm when dry, as soon as it gets wet its pretty much useless.

Fortunately, some clever sod came along and like an episode of Breaking Bad, ran a few experiments and treated the down to repel water making it far more H20 resistant. If you can afford it, go for a hydrophobic down option, if not get something synthetic when regularly camping in wet conditions.

BEST CHEAP SLEEPING BAG FOR WILD CAMPING:

Vango Latitude 300 Sleeping Bag - something cheap but effective to get you out on the trail and you'll still have a few bob left for fish chips and a pint or two on the way home

Weight: 454 grams

BEST MID RANGE SLEEPING BAG FOR WILD CAMPING:

Cumulus Lite Line 400

Our friends over at Cumulus make some of the finest down products on the market. We have been using their stuff for years and they provide some of the warmest lightweight gear and at very reasonable prices. Their products come with a 10 year warranty which is a nice to have.

They also hold the EDFA (European Down and Feather Association) certificate for ethical down sourcing. Don’t buy from companies who don’t source their down ethically. Google for more on unethical down sourcing if you want a few sleepless nights...  

Price: 250 Euro

Weight: 705 grams

cumulus lite line down sleeping bag for wild camping

BEST OVERALL SLEEPING BAG FOR WILD CAMPING:

Western Mountaineering Megalite Sleeping Bag

This thing is ridiculous. In a good way. It weighs just 680 grams but also provides excellent warmth and pack down size. It is incredibly comfortable and so it should be. Rated down to -2 degrees. Ample for most UK camping.

Price: £459.99 (yes you read that right now wind that jaw back up nice and quietly please)

Weight: 680 grams

western mountaneering megalite sleeping bag for camping

Best Quilts for Wild Camping

Some of you cheeky badgers may prefer to opt for a quilt as opposed to a bag. Oh and have we got a goody for you.

BEST QUILT FOR WILD CAMPING:

Thermarest vesper 32 - If you like the idea of feeling like you’ve teleported your bed along with you for your adventure then the Thermarest Veper 32 is a great shout. Given its a quilt, not a bag, some find it more comfy. It packs down tiny and weighs next to nothing for a bag of this warmth and pizzazz. In fact it weighs less than a pint (seriously). A three season beauty rated down to 0 degrees C (hence the name...). Also hydrophobic down so good for it things get a little wet.

Weight: 440 grams

thermarest veper camping quilt

Best Clothes for Wild Camping

Nothing fancy needed here (you’re heading up a hill, not the high street), but wild camping clothing does need to tick a few functionality boxes.

Merino Wool

Not all heroes wear capes. But they do wear sheep wool. Merino really does do it all: wicking away moisture and sweat, regulating temperature, insulating, letting skin breathe and preventing odours. It definitely knows how to multi-task. Look out for merino wherever possible when shopping for wild camping gear.

You’ll also get the nod from Rambler Rick sitting opposite in the pub when he sees you’re in the know and wants to discuss warmth to weight ratios, durability factors, and your favourite VLookups for tracking gear weight. So remember to sit close to the exit when fully clad in any technical gear.

The best Merino we've ever tried is by Woolpower. They supply the Swedish military and those guys stand around for ages in genuinely arctic conditions. Each seamstress marks the clothes that he or she sewed with their own name tag. Thanks Gretta!

Remember though that this isn't necessary, just a nice to have.

merino woolpower top by tent on camping trip

Layering when camping

Always layer up, even if you’re camping wild in summer, as temperatures still dip overnight. As a rule of thumb, always pack one warm layer and one waterproof one.

Boots vs shoes

When it comes to footwear, consider the kind of terrain you’ll be tackling while wild camping. If you’re hiking a long distance over rocky ground, a pair of sturdy boots will do fine. If the route is flatter and crosses water, go for waterproof boots/shoes, or even sandals if you’re feeling brave (no sandal + sock combo's allowed though, sorry Fritz).

Salomon hiking boots in tent on camping trip

Cooking and Eating when Wild Camping

Eat before you go to keep the weight on your back to a minimum – but if you do get peckish during, here are our top tips.

Cooking with canister stoves vs liquid gas. Canister stoves are cheap and low maintenance, while liquid gas is better economy in the long run, so it depends on how often you're planning on using them.

Other wild camping cooking essentials: cutlery, bowls and plates, mugs. Save further space by using your pan to cook in and eat out of. Make sure your cutlery isn’t weighing you down by using a spork (a fork and spoon combined, get it?) or the uber-light Sea to Summit range.

cooking by fire on camping trip

How do you get water when wild camping?

Water purification.

No one’s got space for gallons of water in their backpack, but making sure your water is safe to drink is essential for keeping you healthy when wild camping.

There are plenty of easy and portable water purification options available, from tablets to bladder bags with filters. At Call to Adventure, we recommend the Sawyer Mini Filter – which you can attach to a drinking pouch to remove potentially nasty bacteria.

Campfire cocktails and booze.

You deserve a wee dram on your wild camping trip. A neat little hip flask filled with whiskey won’t take up much room and will warm your cockles on a chilly night, or you can get creative with campfire cocktails – hot buttered rum and spiked hot chocolate are two warm and boozy options.

Just remember to keep the noise down and take any empties away with you and only have a fire where appropriate (raised pit / private land with permission).

Best Wild Camping Accessories

A guide to those last few essential bits and bobs to pop in your pack.

Headtorch. Super-important, especially if you’re arriving late at your campsite or need to go to the loo in the night. Anything over 300 lumens should do a good job

Insect repellent. Because itchy bites are a real vibe killer.

Toothbrush. Pre-toothpaste to save extra room in your pack (just make sure the toothpaste is biodegradable). Or take a tiny tube.

Biodegradable liquids. Speaking of which, liquids which are kind to the environment are an absolute must, such as toothpaste, soap or body wash. Skip altogether if you don’t mind getting dirty for the day.

Poop shovel. Optional, but highly encouraged, unless you like digging holes with your bare hands. Each to their own.

hiker with backpack after wild camping trip

Wild Camping FAQs

Why is wild camping illegal?

Wild camping is illegal to protect the countryside and keep trespassers off private land. Whilst it may not be technically be legal, if you take care of the wild spot you choose and seek permission before entering private property, you get around both of these restrictions. We focus more on whether we're being responsible campers than whether it's legal or not.

Can I go wild camping in the winter?

You can go wild camping all year round, as long as you’re prepared. If you’re wild camping in winter, make sure you’re equipped for cold weather, check out your route beforehand and make sure to look out for weather warnings from the Met Office and MWIS. You can also go bivvying in the winter, just make sure your bivvy and sleeping bag are up to the task.

Here's me on a winter wild camping trip in the Lake District and it was magical. Not a soul in sight and shooting stars galore. Camping in minus 5 obviously isn't for everyone but with the right kit, you're golden.

winter wild camping lake district

What wild camping equipment do I need?

You don’t need an extensive kit list to go wild camping. Start with what you have, and supplement with our ‘wild camping kit list’ above.

Can I get in trouble for trespassing?

If you're caught trespassing on private land without permission, you risk incurring a fine. Wild camping isn't legal in most of the UK. The best way to get around this is to seek the landowner's permission beforehand.

What is stealth camping?

Stealth camping basically means parking and sleeping or camping in an area where it isn’t expressly permitted  (i.e. outside of campsites). Essentially it's just another way of saying wild camping. As ever be sure to Leave No Trace.

Why is wild camping 'better' than traditional camping?

To us, it’s not about being better or worse, it’s about what you want out of the experience. If you’re looking to enjoy the communal nature and facilities of a campsite, that is for sure the right option for you. But if you want to get away from it all and discover some truly remote and unspoilt places, wild camping is the way to go.

What is meant by Leave No Trace?

Leave no trace is pretty much as it sounds. It shouldn't be possible to tell where you stayed the night before.

Where can I find out more about Leave No Trace?

Visit lnt.org for more

What are the 7 principles of Leave No Trace

The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimise campfire impacts - or don’t have one at all
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

How do I overcome the fear / mental boundaries I feel around wild camping?

Your first wild camp can certainly seem something quite momentous. And it is in one sense. But rest assured that it if you follow the advice in this guide you are extremely unlikely to run into any serious trouble. After all you are essentially just sleeping outside.

If you still require more convincing, remember that we have almost no dangerous animals in the UK. We do however have unpredictable weather, but you are unlikely to experience a serious snow storm or hurricane. Do check the forecast though!

And perhaps most importantly, all the fictitious badies you worry about aren't going to get you. You are sleeping in the middle of nowhere for just a few hours through the night.

One useful exercise is to write down your fears. Then follow up with a sentence on how a completely rational robot would view them (we completely agree that no one is really rational but this is for the sake of the exercise). And finally jot down what you could do to overcome these fears if they actually happened.

For example.

‘I’m worried that….I might get lost and never see my cat again’.

‘Looking at it objectively this is...pretty unlikely to happen because...I have a phone and a map with me and I’ll never be that far from civilisation'.

‘If I was to...get lost and be unable to find my way I could overcome this situation by...using a navigation app on my phone, getting out my trusty map and compass, ringing Uncle Jeff who lives nearby and describing where I started, how long I’ve walked for and what I can see. And if shit really hit the fan I could ring the emergency services.

In short, just go. You'll be fine. In fact, you'll be great.

HAPPY (WILD) CAMPING

That's it.

Everything you need to get out on your first wild camping adventure.

Nothing would make us happier than if this guide spurred you on, even if it's just to give it a go. Just once. Remember to Leave No Trace and most of all ENJOY IT.

If you still feel like you want to build your confidence before going it alone though, or you just like the idea of going on an adventure with other like-minded people, come along on one of our adventures. We have specific wild camping trips like our London Escape - Wild Camping in Snowdonia.

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