Imagine falling asleep underneath a blanket of twinkling stars and waking up to the sound of a babbling creek outside your tent. There’s not a single soul for miles – except for the squirrels and birds that live high above the treetops. This type of tranquility is only something you’ll get to experience when you spend a few days wild camping.
Wild camping is a great experience for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Not only will you get to explore parts of the world that most travelers will never see, but you’ll also be able to surround yourself with nothing but spectacular landscapes and stunning natural beauty.
However, wild camping takes a bit more preparation and research compared to camping at a designated campsite. In this guide, we’ll share some camping tips and run through our checklist of items that you should pack on your wild camping kit list. We’ll also tell you a few places where wild camping is allowed, so you can start planning your next adventure out in the wilderness!
What is Wild Camping?
As its name implies, wild camping is spending the night outdoors in the middle of nature. Instead of setting up your tent at an organized campsite with modern facilities and crowds of campers, wild camping or free camping allows you to explore places that are off the beaten path.
Wild camping isn’t for the faint-hearted, and you must be properly prepared before spending a night in the wilderness away from civilization. If you’ve never been camping before, we recommend spending a trip or two at a campsite to make sure you’re comfortable with sleeping outdoors. You can also check out our camping guide for beginners for more tips and tricks to make your first trip as seamless as possible.
What’s the Difference Between Wild Camping and Regular Camping?
Immersing yourself in nature is a wonderful experience, which is why we love both wild camping and regular camping. However, there are some key differences to keep in mind when deciding which style is better suited to your tastes.
One of the biggest differences is where you’re allowed to camp. Each country has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to wild camping, so it’s crucial that you look for a spot where campers are legally allowed to stay.
Another difference is the lack of facilities. If you’re wild camping, don’t expect to find showers, toilets, or even running water on-site. Wild camping is a really rugged experience where you might need to forgo the luxuries offered at other modernized campsites.
In addition, what you bring wild camping will be different from what you need while camping at a campground. For example, you might not be able to build a campfire in the wilderness, which means you’ll need to rely on dehydrated foods or other methods of cooking to prepare meals. And without a toilet nearby, it’s also important to have biodegradable toilet paper and hand sanitizer on hand for when duty calls.
What to Keep in Mind When Wild Camping
Although you may be eager to head straight into the wilderness for an overnight adventure, there are a few crucial things to understand before you embark on your first wild camping trip.
Can You Build a Fire?
Huddling up by a roaring fire roasting marshmallows may seem like a quintessential camping experience that you can do anywhere outside. And while camping fires are generally allowed at an organized campground, they might not be the safest idea when you’re wild camping.
Fires pose a major risk in the open woods, as wildfires can be extremely dangerous to your health and the environment. For this reason, there are strict regulations about where you can build a fire. Many countries have banned open fires, so it’s important that you research the local laws before striking that first match.
Despite what you may think, it is possible to cook a satisfying meal without a firepit. Check out our camping cookware guide to see what to bring for cooking on your wild camping trip.
Where Will You Get Water?
Being out in the wild means you probably won’t have access to bathroom facilities or running water. Not only will you need fresh water for drinking, but you should also consider how you’ll clean your dishes, wash your hands, or scrub the mud off your shoes without a water source.
It’s absolutely vital that you pack enough drinking water to last you throughout your trip. That means you need to carry water bottles or travel with a water filter or purification tablets if you’re planning to drink from another water source.
Are There Wild Animals?
Although you should always be on high alert for dangerous animals anytime you sleep outdoors, this risk is much higher when you’re free camping. Before you choose a place to camp, research which critters live in the area. It’s also important to have a secure place to store your food and your trash, so you don’t attract any animals to your campsite. You never know what type of furry, slithery, hungry, or potentially dangerous creature is waiting for you!
What to Bring Wild Camping
Packing for a wild camping trip takes a bit more preparation than just pulling up to a campsite and pitching your tent. Because you can’t rely on traditional camping facilities, you need to make sure you are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you during your trip. In addition to the basics like clothes and food, you should also consider adding the following items to your wild camping checklist.
- Lightweight backpacking tent
- Sleeping bag or camping mattress
- Lamp or flashlight
- Water filter or purification tablets
- First aid kit
- Baby wipes and hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- Trash bag
- Camping stove and utensils
These are just a few of the items you’ll want to pack for your wild camping trip. For a complete list of what to bring with you, check out our backpacking packing list.
Where to Go Wild Camping in Europe
Europe tends to be one of the best places to go wild camping, although specific rules and regulations vary between each country. If you’re looking to spend a few days in the great outdoors, then consider one of the following wild camping destinations.
Visitors to Norway, Sweden, or Finland will be spoiled for choice when it comes to wild camping sites. Here, wild camping is a right, which means you can spend the night anywhere you want – even on private land (as long as you’re 150 meters away from the nearest house)! There are certain rules that apply, like how long you’re allowed to stay and if you’re allowed to build a fire, so check the specific rules before choosing a destination.
In Estonia, campers have the right to spend the night wherever they want (except for private land). The country is so welcoming to wild campers that the government has even developed free wild camping areas called RMK sites. Situated along popular hiking routes and trails, these sites have bathroom facilities, running water, and even electricity! While it might not be the traditional wild camping experience, it’s a great option for testing the waters of freedom camping.
Explore the diverse scenery and stunning landscapes when you spend a few nights wild camping in Scotland. As long as you leave no trace and avoid lighting fires in the dry season, you can camp in the following areas:
- Loch Lomond
Rules for wild camping in Spain are determined at the local level, which means it’s allowed in some areas but forbidden in others. If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you’ll be able to camp in the following areas:
- Basque Country
- Castilla y Leon
- Castilla la Mancha
Wild camping is allowed in France as long as it’s approved by the landowner. As a rule of thumb, you should pick up after yourself and not stay longer than a day or two. Here are few popular places to go wild camping in France:
- The Ardennes
- Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer
Where to Go Wild Camping in the Rest of the World
While Europe remains one of the easiest places for wild campers, there are still some places in other parts of the world where you can freely explore the great outdoors.
Free camping around Australia is a great way to explore the country while also saving money. That’s because there are numerous free camping sites where you can sleep and use recreational facilities without paying a penny. For more information, check out our ultimate backpackers guide on free camping in Australia.
Although there are thousands of traditional campsites scattered around the US, it’s also worth seeking out the wooded forests and mountainous landscapes for a few days of wild camping. Legally, campers are allowed to spend the night in any area owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Some state parks, national forests, or national wilderness areas might also allow wild camping, although you’ll need to do some research to see where it’s allowed.
This was our guide on how to go wild camping. If you have any tips or would like to share your favorite wild camping site, please let us know in the comments below!