I have spent hundreds of nights camping wild and I’ve never had a problem. Not once have I been moved on or had anyone complain about where I’m camped. I stick to some simple rules:
When I’m walking or camping, I respect the land I’m on. I remember that somebody else owns it and is probably trying to make a living from it.
I ask for permission to camp. Often this is not possible because it’s not obvious who owns the land. Also, I wouldn’t want to be knocking on a remote farm house door, disturbing the owners late at night.
I try to camp well away from the path, and on land that is not farmed or used for livestock. If I cannot camp away from the path for some reason, I pitch my tent late, just before dark and take it down at first light.
When I take my tent down, I return everything to how it was before I got there. Even returning the sticks and stones that I moved the night before to make a flat area to sleep on.
Leave no trace. I don’t leave any rubbish at all, not even a match stick or banana skin. These things take a long time to rot away and are an eyesore for people passing by after I’ve gone.
I never light open fires. I even stand my stove on an alloy base and keep it away from anything that may catch fire. This also prevents scorching the ground, which would leave a trace that I had been there (breaking rule 5…)
Be as unobtrusive as possible. I usually use green tents so they blend in with the surroundings. This means I’m also not an eyesore for any people that may pass by.
If there is a no camping sign, I respect it and move on to find somewhere else to camp.
I make as little noise as possible, as it’s surprising how far noise travels.
I keep the light down as much as possible and don’t flash my torch around any more than is absolutely necessary. Light can be seen from a long distance away and may worry the land owner, who may think someone’s stealing farm machinery, sheep etc.
I always carry a trowel so I can bury my poo properly. Left on the ground isn’t pleasant for people or animals to come across later, and it’s important to prevent the spread of disease. Landowners are already having trouble with all the dog mess that gets left on their land, spreading disease. There are now many light weight trowels available. I carry THETENTLAB Duece 2 UL trowel which only weighs 17g.
The legal side
Please check for specific rules for where you intend to camp before wild camping, but as a rough guide:
Wild camping in England and Wales is generally illegal. However, it is possible if you ask the landowner’s permission. Dartmoor in Devon has special rules where it’s legal to wild camp in designated areas. There is also a tradition of wild camping in the Lake District National Park.
Scotland benefits from right-to-roam rules and its own laws which effectively allows wild camping everywhere, thanks to the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003. This allows the public to camp on most unenclosed land, including many of Scotland’s national parks, but be aware that there are some restrictions. Please make sure you follow the Scottish Access Code – rights and responsibilities, Land Reform Act and Camping.
My favourite walks where I’ve wild camped can be found here.