Where in the world am I permitted to wild camp?
Each country has its own rules and, in much of the world, pitching up anywhere you like simply isn’t allowed. However, there are a few places where you can live out that idyllic wild-camping dream:
In Scotland, the public’s right to (non-motorised) access has been assured since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003 – you are legally allowed to wild camp on unenclosed land. However, bylaws to restrict overnight camping have been introduced in a few popular spots such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a useful rulebook to follow.
There is plenty of countryside in England and Wales, but if the land isn’t in the hands of the Forestry Commission or the National Trust, it’s likely to be privately owned – in which case you can’t pitch up there. Wild camping is only legal in parts of Dartmoor (and even here there’s small print). Everywhere else you must seek the permission of the landowner.
The common right of access is a big deal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden – although it does come with a one-night restriction. You can pretty much camp anywhere on open land, so long as you are on foot and more than 150m from inhabited houses and cabins. Visit Norway has some useful advice and explains that “open land” means “uncultivated”, so it usually applies to shores, bogs, fields and mountains.
Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and eastern Europe have similar rules to England and Wales: you cannot camp on private land unless you have the express permission of the local landowner. To protect wildlife, you are not allowed to camp in national or regional natural parks. Italy and Germany don’t have a wild camping culture and it’s not widely tolerated.
Land here is managed by various national, state and local governments, and there’s also Indian Reservations and privately owned land. You’ve got to do your research to find out who owns the land and whether you’ll be trespassing (in some cases, trespassing comes with serious consequences).
Wild camping in Forest Service or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas is better known as dispersed camping and is a safe bet – if you follow all the usual rules (see below). The same goes for Canadian Crown Land. In National Parks and National Monuments, backcountry camping is common, but this is regulated and permits are required.
Camping is a national pastime in both Australia and New Zealand, but set up in the wrong place and you could be landed with a big fine. Camping locations are regulated by local bylaws so look out for signs prohibiting overnight stays.
It’s slightly more confusing in Australia as there are six states, all with different rules. It’s becoming harder to find land that doesn’t have restrictions – even national parks require a permit for backcountry camping.
New Zealand is a bit more relaxed and you are permitted to wild camp on public conservation land, providing it’s not expressly prohibited (or restricted to self-contained camper vans that have a toilet). In both countries there are some stunning DOC-managed sites that are free or just a few dollars, so there’s little need for stealth camping.