This post was last updated on October 12th, 2020 at 12:00 pm
James and I have quite a few years of hiking and expeditions under our belts (partly because he’s far older than me). We’re both in agreement: getting off the beaten track if preferrable to following well-worn route, so here are 5 wild camping tips we have learned the hard way.
Plan Your Camp Sites
One of the joys of wild camping is being able to camp anywhere, so it’s easy to focus on planning the hike, and have an attitude of “and we’ll just find somewhere to set up camp once we’re done walking for the day”. That approach can work, depending on where you are, but there are a couple of good reasons why it can be better to spend more time thinking ahead about where you’ll camp, and then planning your day’s hiking around that.
Firstly, you can aim for locations that will be fun and spectacular to camp in. Yes, some trips are all about the journey, and camping is just a means to sleep and rest, in which case it doesn’t matter where you do it. For most of us, some of the joy of wild camping will be doing so somewhere spectacular and memorable, so thinking ahead about interesting locations will help you make the most of you trip.
And secondly, not everywhere is actually all that easy to set up camp in, as I discovered in Mull, where it turned out that almost everywhere we went was essentially marsh, and finding somewhere dry enough to be suitable for camping was a struggle every single night.
Arrive Late, Leave early
One reason this is worthwhile is that in England and Wales, wild camping is generally not strictly legal. It usually comprises civil trespass as long as you don’t cause damage or commit other offences, and leave if asked, so mostly it’s quietly tolerated. Nevertheless, in a lot of E&W national parks you need to be a little discrete, so trying to set up camp towards the end of the day after most people have gone home, and then get up and move on promptly, before day hikers start to arrive, is wortbwhile.
There is also the factor that, particularly if weather is poor, you’ll have nothing much to do but get into your tent and wait for morning. Unlike many commercial campsites there won’t be communal areas to hang out, and there’s unlikely to be a pub you can stroll down to. Of course, if you have found a beautiful spot and it’s a nice evening then whiling away a couple of hours watching the sunset and making dinner can be fantastic. On the other hand, if it’s pouring with rain you’re going to have little to do but hide in your tent.
Go minimalist AKA Lightweight Camping
More than with almost any other kind of camping, wild camping requires a minimalist approach. You’ll want to be able to assemble and disassemble your tent quickly, store your whole bag inside the tent, or at least within the doorway, and quickly grab all your belongings if you need to move on for any reason. A wild campsite is not the place to start spreading bagfulls of personal items all over the place.
Plan Personal Hygiene etc.
The other obvious point with wild camping is that there won’t be showers or toilets. Depending on how long you’re going for, and your personal threshold for being dirty, you may or may not want to take along biodegradable/environmentally friendly washing products and think about camping near lakes or rivers. Don’t forget there also won’t be a toilet block, so you’ll be needing a trowel, TP, and hand sanitiser.
Probably the most important wild camping tip I can offer: know the location of a reliable water source.
One major factor with wild camping is that you’ll be totally self-supported, without even a tap at a farm campsite to top up water bottles at. On the other hand, you don’t want to be lugging tonnes of weight around. Planning where you are going to get water from is therefore critical. It might be that your hiking location lends itself to occasionally diverting into towns or villages to buy bottled water, but more likely you’re going to need to find water from natural sources and treat it so that it’s safe to drink.
The so what of that is that you need to make sure you have water treatment methods, whether that’s a filter or tablets (or probably both), that you know how to use them, and that you have planned each day’s hike to ensure you pass by water sources. And bear in mind that not all water sources are equal – even allowing for the best treatment methods, I’d much rather drink water that is visibly clear, flowing, and higher up (so nearer the source) than murky or stagnant water, standing water, or water a long way from its source. Sometimes needs must, of course, and that’s why you treat it, but it’s definitely a factor.
And don’t forget to fill up towards the end of the day, as you approach your camp site. You’ll probably need water to cook, possibly a small amount to wash (if only to brush your teeth) and you’ll definitely want it to drink. More importantly, you’ll want it in the morning, and walking your first hour or so dehydrated because you didn’t have enough to drink overnight is a very unwise way to start the day.
5 wild camping tips for your next trip. Got more? Let us know in the comments below, or email your thoughts and we’ll add them to this page.