Dreaming of sleeping solo under the stars but not sure if you’re brave enough to wild camp alone? I feel you! Here are my thoughts on gaining the confidence to give wild camping for one a try.
How to be a happy wild camper
So first things first, what is wild camping and why is it so great? The romantic notion of sleeping in the mountains in a lone little canvas tent doesn’t just have to be a fantasy. Wild camping is the fine art of setting up your tent in the back of beyond and waking up a pocket of nature that’s all of your own, far from campsites and busy places.
Is wild camping legal?
Going back to basics does require a little more thought and preparation than regular camping, though. For the most part, wild camping is unfortunately illegal in England and Wales, with the exception of some parts of Dartmoor National Park. You can, however, camp anywhere in Scotland in accordance with the access rights established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, although note that East Loch Lomond the exception to this, as the area is subject to its own bylaws. In Europe and beyond, it’s best to check online and ask locally before sleeping wild, as rules and laws differ massively from country to country.
On Dartmoor, ‘backpack’ or wild camping is accepted for one or two nights on moorland, provided you stay well away from roads and settlements and leave no trace of your visit. Dartmoor.gov.uk list a useful interactive camping map that shades the areas of the park where wild camping is permitted.
Pack as light as you can for a wild camp. Essentials include a small tent or a bivvy bag, a sleeping bag, an ultralight sleeping mat, water, food, a stove and fuel, a head torch and a map. Make sure you’ve let someone know where you’ll be and when you expect to return. Set up tent up late in the evening, dismantle it early in the morning and leave no trace of your visit. Use only stoves to cook on, never light a campfire and carry all rubbish away with you.
Finding wild camping confidence
Wild camping is totally worth a try, even if you’ve only been used to the safety and amenities of traditional camping sites. It takes you far, far from daily life and crowds and routine and into amazing empty landscapes where often your little tent will be the only sign of humanity. It lets you camp in your own private paradise – do you fancy kipping in sand dunes, or in a peaceful wood, or halfway up a mountain?
Like most adventures and active sports, I recommend building your confidence up slowly. Heading off into the hills on your lonesome with just a tent for company can be scary. Even if you’d like to spend weeks living in the wild or fancy going solo backpacking my advice is to try it for just one night first, and picking somewhere close to home. Pack up your kit and pick somewhere easy – Dartmoor is always a good choice, as it’s legal to camp on some of the moors and it’s easy to park your car and hike onto the moor, making navigation and planning simple. And if I’m going to camp alone of an evening I like to tire myself out first – plan a day hike or a cycle to your destination and you’ll nod off to sleep no problem.
Practice setting up your tent on your own before you wild camp, so that it’s easy and quick to get set up. Take a few extras to make your tent feel like a cosy home – a pillow is good if you aren’t walking too far, a lantern is useful and you could even bring fairy lights. If I’m feeling a bit nervous I bring a cheerful book or a funny podcast to listen to. And I actually find that once I’m tucked into my sleeping bag reading a book with my tent zipped up I don’t tend to think too much about the big scary world outside. It’s totally okay to feel a bit freaked out by the noises of the natural world outside your tent, but if you can, take heart from the fact that I once spent an hour in total panic thinking a bear was prowling around our camp in the Canadian woods – it turned out to be an inquisitive chipmunk.
And when you wake up in the morning to a fresh new morning you’ll also feel extremely proud of yourself. There’s nothing like packing up your tent and leaving the wild with your camping kit on your back for making you feel a huge confidence boost – give it a try and I bet you’ll surprise yourself.