Updated: Dec 22, 2021
If you're planning to go hiking for a few days into the wilderness or just want to get away from the crowds, wild camping is the perfect way to mix up your adventure holiday. Wild camping allows you to sleep under the stars and sleep in some of the most awe-inspiring places in the world. Though it might sound intimidating, wild camping can give you some of the best nights of sleep of your life, however, if you approach it wrong it could also be one of your worst. So to make sure you're well prepared and don't have any midnight adventures read on for the ultimate guide to wild camping.
THE RULES OF WILD CAMPING
1. Is it legal?
There are plenty of places where wild camping is legal, but it's always best to check in the area you plan to stay. There could be any number of reasons wild camping is banned from National Parks that have ecologically protected zones to privately owned land. If you have any doubts check local forums or even speak to landowners before you go.
2. Leave no trace
This is probably the most important rule to remember. No one should be able to tell you've been there. This means no rubbish left behind, no fire pits left behind, and no destruction of the wilderness should take place. This ensures that the beautiful environment you stayed in is just as lovely for the next campers that come along, that the wild animals that keep the status quo are happy, and also ensures that wild camping doesn't get banned in the area.
3. Arrive Late & Leave Early
Wild camping is not about leisurely drinking and barbequing all night in a comfortable campsite. You should set up camp just before the sun sets and you've done all your adventuring for the day and then pack down and leave the site just as the sun rises. If you're staying on other people's land or next to a trail staying longer than desired is definitely going to get you into some trouble.
4. Stay One Night
You should never leave your tent set up for the whole day. You need to make sure that you take everything with you when you leave for the next day's adventure. Though you might have found a beautiful spot, staying in one place for too long can damage the environment and scare off local wildlife who might be trying to access resources nearby. But don't worry, moving on just gives you the potential to find more beautiful and exciting places elsewhere.
5. Pack Light
Because you need to take everything with you when you pack up camp you should make sure that you pack Ultra-Light. Most products for camping now have a weight on them, you want your pack to be around 10kg without food if you can. Every little helps - I've seen people snap their toothbrushes in half and burn the pages of a book they've read just to shed a few grams.
Sleeping Bag (and silk liner for extra warmth)
CHOOSING A CAMPSITE
The skill of setting up and taking down your camp quickly and efficiently is essential in getting the most out of your time on the road. This will involve knowing how to get your tent up, your bed made, your water filtered and your dinner cooking as quickly as possible. It will also involve making sure your camp is safe and in a good location. Time spent putting up and taking down camp should be minimal so that you have more time resting at night and more time adventuring in the morning.
When looking for a place to camp there are a few things you need to consider if you want to get a good night sleep...
First and foremost you want to make sure that the spot you pitch your tent on is flat. The slanted ground will be uncomfortable and result in you waking up squashed against one of the walls of your tent. If you are pushed for choices and find a fairly good spot with a slight incline make sure you pitch your tent so your feet are facing up the hill. Keeping your feet elevated will stop them from swelling after a day of hiking!
Steer clear of valleys and parts of the land where fog and dew collects. By camping higher up you will ensure that you don’t wake up cold and covered in condensation.
SHELTERED YET WELL VENTILATED
You need to make sure that you are sheltered from the weather but also ensure that at least a light breeze can pass over your tent to ensure condensation doesn’t build up in the night. A large clearing surrounded by rocks or trees could be a perfect solution.
CHECK FOR POTENTIAL FALLING OBJECTS
Dead trees and loose rocks could be potentially fatal if you pitch your tent underneath them. Make sure that you don’t camp underneath anything like this especially in hazardous weather conditions.
You are sharing the wilderness with countless other species of animals. Some of them are threats to you and others, you are a threat to. Make sure you are not setting up camp close to places where animals might live. Be especially cautious of venomous animals hiding places like rocks, tree roots, and burrows. It is also incredibly important that you make sure not to camp on an animal trail. Animals use paths and trails to get around quickly and safely just as we do. If you find yourself camping on one of these trails you could find yourself the victim of a late-night stampede.
BODIES OF WATER
Often you want to set up camp close to a water source. However, be aware that other animals use the same bodies of water to drink from. They may be visiting late at night and not see you in the dark. It is often good to camp a little ways off from a water source for this reason. Bodies of water are also breeding grounds for insects which may be unpleasant to camp near.
DANGERS TO CONSIDER
Places like dried river beds or flash flood areas are 100% no-go areas. Dried-up gullies in the desert turn into raging rivers within minutes of a storm hitting. Steer clear of areas like this even if it means sleeping somewhere less comfortable for the night.
PITCHING YOUR TENT
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
You should practice putting up your shelter a few times before you head out on any trip. If you are able to do this quickly you could save yourself and your pack from getting drenched in a downpour. This art can also be useful if you are camping in places where you need to be a little stealthy. Setting up camp in the silence of the night and breaking camp before sunrise is sometimes essential if you can’t find a suitable place to camp other than somewhere you shouldn’t.
CLEAR THE GROUND
Once you have chosen the perfect spot to camp you need to make sure it is comfortable to sleep on. There may be sharp rocks, twigs, or thorns that threaten to puncture your sleeping mat and bruise your knees so try to clear them away. You can always use a branch to sweep the ground rather than picking everything up by hand. Make sure to be mindful of not disturbing the local flora and be aware of having as little impact on the environment as possible.
POSITION YOUR GROUNDSHEET
Your groundsheet will give you extra protection between any sharp objects and water that may stop you from getting a good night’s sleep. Make sure it’s positioned perfectly and use that as a blueprint for setting up your tent, bivy, or tarp.
ERECTING YOUR SHELTER
It’s not always essential to put up your guy lines however if you think that you might be in for some windy weather it's worth putting them up sooner rather than later.
OR CHOOSING NOT TO...
Though you may be happy with your tent, bivy, or tarp you may consider cowboy camping. Weather allowing, cowboy camping is one of the most magical ways to spend a night in the wilderness. Cowboy camping is when you go without shelter and set up your sleeping mat under the stars. The first time I ever did this I felt very exposed for sure, but after waking up in the night with a gentle breeze on my face and seeing an expanse of stars around me I was an instant convert. Make sure you check the weather forecast if you’re considering this as waking up to rain will certainly ruin your evening.
COMFORTS AND COOKING
MAKING YOUR BED
Your bed should comprise of your sleeping mat, bag, and a stuff sack full of clothes for a pillow. If you don’t own any stuff sacks you can use the bag your sleeping bag comes in. It is useful to position your backpack above your head to elevate your head, stop you from slipping back against your tent wall, and ensure that your pack is safe from anyone you might see an opportunity to steal from you.
You should make sure that when you go to bed you have essential items next to you. Always make sure you have water and a head torch within arm’s length next to your bed. The torch is particularly important for toilet trips and in case you have late-night visitors. You will sometimes find animals come and investigate your camp drawn by the smells of food or simply because you happened to be on their path. If that happens turning on your torch and making loud noises will often scare them away.
STORING AND PREPARING FOOD
If you are in areas where predators like bears may be lurking it’s best to prepare, eat and store food away from your tent. This way animals won’t be drawn to your camp and disturb you during the night. Rather than storing food on the ground, it is often better to hang up your food in a stuff sack from a rope so potential thieves have a harder time getting to your food.
Always wash your pans and cutlery, as soon as you have cooked, and dispose of the dirty water away from the tent and not directly in a water source. This again will keep the scent of food away from your tent and will ensure you do not pollute any nearby water sources.
Ensure you filter enough to get you through dinner, an evening hot drink, and extra water to keep you hydrated through the night. If you are in very cold environments your water may freeze so it’s useful to keep this sealed tightly and somewhere close to you as you sleep.
Batteries don’t do well in cold environments and can easily lose all power. If you are in cold environments it’s a great idea to put all your batteries and electronics in a little bag and keep them in your pillow or in your sleeping bag with you.
As there are no toilets in the wild it's your job to dig one, so make sure you bring a small plastic trowel. A hole around 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches around is perfect. Make sure it's not in too much of an obvious place as it's likely that someone else might have been there before.
Some areas require that you pack out toilet paper or.... everything if you are in a conservation zone or any area where poop doesn't biodegrade properly. So make sure you check the rules of the area you are entering before you go.
LEAVING YOUR CAMP
The process of taking down camp should be done as quickly and efficently as putting it up.
PLANNING YOUR DAY
It is important that you are well prepared for the day, checking the weather to ensure you have the right clothing readily available to you in your pack. Check your maps to ensure you know where you are going and what specialist equipment you need to have ready.
CHECK YOUR SUPPLIES
You should double-check that you have enough food for the rest of your journey ahead of you and if you are running low then start to ration out what will get you through the remainder of your journey.
CHECK WHERE YOU CAN FIND WATER NEXT
You need to filter enough water to get you to the next water source and make sure it is packed in your bag safely.
KEEP YOUR KIT CLEAN
After breakfast, you should ensure that all of your pots are cleaned so that you are well prepared for camp the following evening.
CHECK YOUR TENT IS DRY
When taking down your tent you should keep an eye out for wet patches. If there is dew or wet areas from rain you should remember to get your tent out whenever you take a break so that you can hang it out and let it dry.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Make sure you have not left any rubbish, even small food scraps and wrappings need to be packed out with you.
An ‘idiot check’ this is a once over all the places you have used your equipment to make sure you have not left anything behind. Things hanging in trees or hiding in long grass are especially common hiding places.
Have we left anything out of The Ultimate Guide To Wild Camping? Let us know in the comments!