What is Wild Camping?

We all talk about wild camping, the inter-web is awash with blogs and sites dedicated to it. But exactly what is wild camping?

I originally wanted to write a post about the features you may want to consider for a backpacking tent or bivi bag, but my research opened up so many questions as to how people view wild camping, that before I could write that post, I needed to be clear as to what wild camping actually is!

Welsh wild camping Sunrise - Pic Courtesy M Padgett
The essence of wild camping, watching the sun climb into the sky to begin its daily Westward journey. Photocredit: M Padgett

To say I was surprised at the range of websites that are wild camping specific, and the many different ways in which people see wild camping, is quite frankly an understatement. So broad is the range, I questioned my own understanding of the subject! So I asked the rest of the Cheaptents team and also put the call out on social media. I received some very valuable opinions from our Facebook followers which, thankfully for my sanity, tally with my own understanding.

Views on Wild Camping

So what exactly did people say?

Garry Richardson posted

“No large groups, no noise, no camp fires, no kids….and I’m also grumpy! :-)”

Dan Pressler wrote wild camping to him is

“carrying everything I need to survive (apart from water and maybe some foraged food) and camping away from established sites. The idea is that no one knows I am there whilst I am there, or can tell I have been there once I have gone.”

David Powell painted a wonderfully poetic picture of

“being on my own in a place with no other people about waking up to the sound of the Skylarks singing and a running stream..nothing like it :-)”

Christina Gravel gave us a North American view. Due to the large expanses of wilderness there, the wild camping experience can take you back to nature in a way that is not possible in the UK. Christina wrote:

“for us in the North of Canada it’s like a religion everyone has their own ideas of what is “Camping Sauvage” but for me its all about getting back to basic and enjoying mother earth in her full splendor, on a shore front lake fly fishing and cooking your catch on a fire.”

Freddy Phillips bags a peak on a wild camping expedition
Freddy Phillips bags a peak on a wild camping expedition

In 2009 one of our readers, Freddy Phillips, wrote a guest post explaining why he wild camps, it is a timeless piece capturing the essence of why people camp in this way.

For those of you who may want to get the wild camping feeling via a video then I recommend Terry Abraham’s excellent wild camping video (see below). Terry, you may remember, is a wild camping and outdoors enthusiast who is a real good news story. In the time since we interviewed Terry, he has seen his services as a cinematographer explode and has just released his second film “Life of a Mountain Scafell Pike”. Which incidentally we will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks.

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tC9yXY3Qa40?rel=0Video from Terry Abraham’s Guide to wild camping

So What is wild camping?

Taking in to account my own views, those of our Christina, Dan, David, Gary and Freddie and the people I work with, I feel able to put some kind of definition to wild camping.

We can most defiantly rule wild camping out as a pass time you can undertake in your mobile home. I am serious, there are websites about this! I think we can say that asking a farmer if you can pitch your tent in his field is not truly wild camping. Technically some people will argue that wild camping is pitching a tent anywhere that’s not a campsite. But let’s say if I pitched a large family tent in a farmer’s field, with camp chairs, chemical loo, petrol generator, would you say this is wild camping? I doubt it!

Wild camping is much more than simply where you pitch your tent. It is in essence a life experience, which comes across in the words of those people who have been kind enough to share their views.

Wild camping is the ultimate in minimalist camping, where you take yourself, a small tent, a sleeping bag, roll mat and camp for a brief period while you step out of the rat race. It is a time to do away with the comforts of life and just go back to nature. For those people with little time the microadventure, as championed by adventurer Alastair Humphreys, is a great concept for wild camping.

Some people will have a slightly differing view, however, the central tenant of wild camping is that we pitch late, leave early and leave the site so no one would know we have ever been there.

Wild camping and the Law

Wild camping is a grey area in law. In many places it is technically trespass (Dartmoor and Scotland being exceptions) as you need to to have the permission of the land owner before pitching a tent. Trespass is a civil, rather than a criminal wrong, which means that it is up to the land owner to take you to court. This is time consuming and potentially expensive and as such wild camping is tolerated in many of our national parks as long as you adhere to certain “common sense guidelines”. This isn’t a hardship as no true wild camper would think of breaking them anyway. After all, they are just good camping practice and help to ensure that wild campers do not get a bad name.

If you do want to wild camp and it’s within a national park then I would certainly suggest that you search the parks policy for wild camping. Dartmoor is an excellent example of why you should investigate, the authority have provided information on where you can wild camp and where you should not. Certain areas of the moor are designated for the military. You may get a slightly louder wake up call than you expected if you camp unbeknown in a live firing range!

Getting away from my over active imagination, on Dartmoor wild camping in one position is allowed for a maximum of two nights, in the Lake District it’s tolerated for a single night. Wild camping on the other hand is not tolerated in the Peak District (so you do so at your own risk). So you can see three national parks and three different sets of rules. So the message is check before you set out!

Below are three examples of National Park policies:
Dartmoor wild camping guidelines
The Lake District wild camping guidelines
The Peak District Camping guidelines

Camping Freedom?

With so many campsites in the country, why would would people want to wild camp? The answer is simple, wild camping gives you an experience of solitude, being away from it all and having the experience of going back to nature.

Tents for wild camping

In the next post in this series I will look at the features to consider in a tent that is suitable for wild camping, including size, profile and colour, if you want to wild camp in the spirit outlined in this post.