Fundamental to wild camping – or freedom camping – is self-reliance. Pitching a tent or throwing down a bivvy bag anywhere you like is a romantic concept, but intrepid travellers beware: sleeping under the stars comes with different rules and legal restrictions wherever you are. It also comes with responsibility for the environment and for your own safety.
To make sure you're clued up, here’s our complete guide to responsible wild camping.
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.
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.
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.
Some camping checklists are pretty comprehensive. But wild camping means going out on foot and being able to carry everything in (and out). This means taking only the essentials:
• Tent (with pegs and a lightweight mallet) or bivvy bag
• A sleeping bag
• Torch or headtorch
• Trangia or single burner stove and pan
• Food and food storage containers (leave the packaging at home)
• A refillable water bottle, plus a water filter or treatment tablets
• Warm clothes
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Toilet paper (and plastic bags to take the used paper with you)
• Hand sanitizer
• Map and compass – don’t rely on your mobile phone!
Top image: Old Man of Storr, Scotland © Pixabay