Guide to British Wild Camping
Firstly, I would like to highlight that wild camping anywhere in England is illegal. I am not advising you should go out, pitch a tent and set up camp for weeks for free. The dictionary definition of “camping” however is “the activity of staying in a tent on holiday”. Now that we have cleared that up, lets get on with the Grizzly Wears Guide to British Wild Camping.
I like to think of myself as the rugged Bear Grylls type adventurer. This means I go with bare essentials to an inaccessible or remote place for the night. Or I check into a five star hotel because there is one nearby and a hot shower and comfortable bed is what you need mid adventure. On the other hand you have the Ray Mears types. Ray will turn up with a pen knife and in no time at all have crafted a 4 storey dwelling with running water, central heating and have gathered something for dinner. This is not me. When spending the night outside I take what I need and leave no trace I was ever there.
Wild camping is tolerated if you make little noise, leave no litter and don’t start large fires. The spot you choose to stay for the night must be left as you found it. This is the way. Leave the place you enjoyed at least as good for the next person.
What is the appeal of Wild Camping ?
Nothing seems to help me put things in perspective as much as a night under the stars. It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather is doing as long as you’re warm, dry and have coffee. I love to watch the whole scene of the sun setting around me and the light show from the stars. It is also the best way to force yourself into a Digital Detox.
Sit down, relax, have a warm drink or beer, take a deep breath and absorb what is happening around you. Think about the greater universe and what is happening. Take a camera and get some photos/videos and see if you can reveal more of what is going on around you. Leave the rest of your life behind. This is a moment of absolute you time and nothing else matters. And take your dog along, they will love it !
What equipment do I need ?
Personally, my kit list is pretty short. This is far from glamping. Even so there are items I could do without. All I need is to be warm, dry and hydrated. This also means I have a pretty light and small pack size. My inventory is as follows:
- Sleeping mat.
- Sleeping bag.
- Bivvy bag.
- 3 litre hydration pack.
- Gas stove.
Importantly, there really is not a lot to forget here which helps a lot when you have a memory like mine. Furthermore, having a regimented packing order means it is harder to forget something. I open my rucksack, first in is my hydration pack followed by sleeping bag inside the bivvy bag. Thirdly, my gas stove and mug filled with 3 in 1 coffee sachets goes on top. Finally, close the rucksack and attach my sleeping mat to the outside. This is all the preparation you need to do before getting up and going. If you have these 6 items, you will be fine.
Best Equipment Choices
In my experience these are the best choices for equipment. You may prefer more comfort but having done this many times over the years, for days/weeks on end or the odd night at a time, this is what I have come to rely on and why.
Nothing fancy needed, just a simple foam roll mat to keep you insulated from the cold ground. I have tried inflatable and self inflating mattresses but when they pop or leak they are much less comfortable. They also cost significantly more, weigh more but some do pack down smaller. Although this is only a problem if it is going inside your rucksack. If you do insist on something inflatable, make sure you take some duct tape or patches to fix it when it does get punctured because you threw it on sharp rocks in the dark and jumped on it !
This really is a personal preference thing but not somewhere you should be trying to save money. I like a sleeping bag rated to about -5. This seems to be the sweet spot for UK use, It doesn’t get a lot colder than this. It is also not too warm in the summer when it is much warmer on a night. and you can always undo the zip to let a little heat out.
Take care of your sleeping bag and it will last for years, keep it dry and uncompressed. You should throw the compression bag they come with in the bin and allow your sleeping bag to take up as much space as possible in your rucksack and also when stored. Compressing your sleeping bag pushes air out and reduces it’s insulating properties. This is not ideal. Let your sleeping bag loft and perform at it’s best, the same as a down jacket.
Importantly a sleeping bag should be smaller to reduce the amount of air you need to heat inside it. Don’t get a two person one with the aims of spreading out. You’ll only get a draft every time you move and it sucks in cold air.
Ditch that tent ! Tents weigh lots (even light weight ones) and they cost a lot. If you go with a bivvy bag, it keeps your sleeping bag waterproof, weighs far less, has no poles to snap and does not have to be pitched. In addition, you don’t have to spend much time packing it in the morning either. And as an added bonus, I’ve never put a hole in one, but you could tape it back up as good as new !
My preference here is the Alpkit Hunka. Cheap, tough, small, light and customer service is second to none. I have tried various military ones – British ones are OK, they are goretex but don’t have the nice fitted face hole of the Hunka. In addition, military surplus ones seem about the same price and are well used sometimes. Just go with Alpkit. It is the best and mine has lasted for over a decade without issues now.
These are something that there is now a huge range of choices in. Camelbak is as good as ever. Many brands of rucksack come with a Hydrapak. Also a great choice. The advantage is that you can drink whilst walking and they squash into your rucksack and get smaller as they empty. Having a hard plastic water container of fixed size means it is always that size and shape.
I always like to take a large 3 litre hydration pack and find this lasts me the night with plenty to spare. It also adds a bit of a water pillow quality to your rucksack when using that as a pillow.
When it comes to boiling water, a gas stove is the easiest method. The all round winner for me in this department has to be Jetboil. The main reason being the whole lot packs inside itself so it is compact, versatile, reliable and all importantly self igniting. This means I don’t have to remember to carry a lighter and find it in the dark. There are a few alternative/cheaper brands out there now although I haven’t tried these. My Jetboil is something I have had for a long time now and never found reason to change it.
There are many other alternatives such as compact stoves and titanium mugs but the jetboil can be held in your hand if you can’t find a suitable surface. It also has a pretty stable stand that supports it on angles and the burner attaches to the pot so it won’t slip off and spill your limited water.
This is an area where it also comes down to preference. Find what works best for you – It is the jetboil for me. I even used mine in the house for 6 months when I ripped the kitchen out and had no other means of cooking.
Forget enamel, steel or expensive/exotic mugs. It’s all about the cheap, light plastic ones when it comes to reliable adventuring. I like to fill mine with my drink sachets and usually a spoon so it doubles as a kitchen cupboard. Again, any teaspoon works, you really don’t need a dedicated adventure spoon. If regularly going with a friend, why not invest in stackable mugs and take one stove. Or even better, make them carry their own and use their own gas too !
Flasks are good if you want a warm drink for on the move as you walk back to civilisation. Or even getting one step ahead and filling it before you leave so you don’t need to immediately unpack and make a drink. Camelbak also make good flasks, as do Contigo.
Is there anything else I need ?
That was the essential list. You can always increase what you take but it doesn’t add much value or make the experience any better for most of the year. This guide to British wild camping is mostly how I get along on the bare minimum. If this isn’t enough to get you through the night my advice would be to go glamping or stay in a hotel.
For those who are unable to disconnect from the internet for the night, a good sized portable USB charger is a great addition. It can also be handy should something go wrong and you need to check your location or call emergency services. Just make sure the charger is charged before you take it !
For worse weather you can take a tarp as an extra layer between you and rain/wind, best when used near trees or you can get a couple of light poles to keep them up. Alpkit do great ones, there are cheaper options, there are more expensive ones. They aren’t vital and you can just roll over so the face hole in your bivvy bag points down. sometimes these things are more effort than they’re worth. sometimes they’re invaluable.
I tend to carry a head torch with me, usually set on the red light but I don’t normally need it. My advice is to be undetectable and out of the way. Leave no trace you are there and you will go unnoticed or be tolerated.
What about Cameras ?
If you want to capture the night sky, take your camera along. If you have read my other articles, you probably already know that I love the GoPro Hero and this is a great camera for capturing the night sky. It is also compact, can last all night on a portable charger and will give great results. Couple it with a proper tripod for stability all night and you should be good to go. Tripods don’t have to cost a fortune, there is an amazon basics one which you can weigh down with rocks or tent pegs and paracord to make it more secure. It is light and good enough to carry and does what I need.
As the GoPro is waterproof there is not much need to panic in the event of rain but it is worth having a zippy freezer bag to keep your portable charger dry !
Although phone cameras are always improving they still don’t tend to be great at capturing the night sky.
British Wild Camping in Summary
Consideration will get you a long way here if this is something you enjoy. Do not spoil the nice place you want to be for other people. Not only in Britain but any other country you choose to go wild camping. If you are asked to move on, do it without question and be polite. Don’t argue with farmers, they do have guns.
If you’re going to go out and enjoy a night under the stars, stay warm, stay safe, leave no trace.