Wild Camping

Many of us dream of adventure – to set up our tent in open country, to enjoy the views and the peace and quiet that is only broken by the sound of nature, to sit by the campfire and gaze at the starry sky. Wouldn't it be great!

Many of us dream of adventure – to set up our tent in open country, to enjoy the views and the peace and quiet that is only broken by the sound of nature, to sit by the campfire and gaze at the starry sky. Wouldn't it be great!

This is the ideal but is it really allowed? Unfortunately, not. In most European countries you are not allowed to camp in open country. Only in the more northern countries, such as Sweden and Norway, is there a general right to roam.

Yet there is still a chance to enjoy a wilder experience. In Denmark it is generally prohibited except at designated ‘nature camps’. In Germany, Ireland and Scotland it is permitted, subject to certain conditions. Camping above the tree line in open country is often overlooked in England and Wales. But in Mediterranean countries, Spain, France and Italy, it is generally forbidden and wild campers are liable to be fined.

Subject to certain conditions, bivouacking (camping from 7pm to 9am) may be permitted in French and German national parks and in the Alps. If you are unable to reach the next campsite or hut in time then you have a chance to put up your tent before nightfall (please check rules in advance).

However, many outdoor blogs and travel reports tell of positive results when travelers politely ask farmers or forest landowners for permission. On private property you should generally ask for permission. In this way it is often possible to find a place for your tent for a night, even in countries where camping is generally prohibited.

In Germany there is a proverb that roughly translates: “Where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge.” In thinly populated areas you will probably not even be noticed, so you need not expect to be called to account let alone punished, but everyone should consider for themselves just how much adventure they want.

In general, you should research the area in detail before planning a tour. There are a very wide variety of rules and exceptions depending on the country and the specific region. Law enforcement officers are generally more assiduous in tourist centres and beaches than in quieter areas. You will often find descriptions and recommendations of where camping is permitted in good, detailed travel guides from Lonely Planet, Reise KnowHow and similar publishers.

One advantage of wild camping is certainly that you can plan your route without reference to conventional stopping places such as huts, hostels or campsites. You should, however, make sure that you can regularly replenish your liquid reserves.

Wild camping tips

  • Make sure that you don’t pitch your tent in a depression. Water is liable to collect in heavy rain and run down even a slight incline to flood the inside of your tent.
  • Stay far enough from lakes and streams that might spread due to heavy rain.
  • In mountainous regions, remember that the weather can change very quickly. It is better to pitch the tent using all guy-ropes than have to get up in the night and do it then.
  • Try to ensure that the ground clear of stones, branches or other sharp objects that may damage a groundsheet.
  • It is not advisable to pitch a tent under trees. Many secrete resin that will damage a tent fabric. Water landing on the tent from branches and leaves falls as large drops that are much louder than ordinary rain and continue dripping for some time after the rain has stopped. It is also not unknown for trees to shed branches!
  • You should make a fire only where it is permitted. Bear in mind that a fire will attract attention if camping in an adventurous spot.
  • Never start a fire in a wooded area or where the ground cover is combustible. If you do find a safe place for a fire, it is best to use a spade to cut away a generous area of turf and place stones around the edge to contain the fire. In the morning, use water to quench the ashes or embers. Once the fire is out, cover the area with earth and replace the previously removed turf.
  • The rule is always: “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”. Be sure to remember this every time you stop.

Campsite

There are also many excellent campsites where you can get back to nature in less commercial environments. For example, in France you will find Camping Municipal sites that are usually less expensive and more informal in layout. They are basic rather than luxurious, which may be why they have so much charm.

There are many back-to-nature sites in the UK. Some are large, like Forest Holidays sites, and some small – many listed by the Camping and Caravanning Club as Hideaway sites. You can find them through online searches, The Camping and Caravanning Club and The Backpackers Club. Not only does the Cool Camping website list its superb books, including Tiny Campsites, but it also has a list of great little ‘wild’ sites.

In addition to the usual outdoor travel guides, you can also refer to dedicated camping guides, such as ADAC Camping Guides, which describe over 5,000 campsites.

As an alternative to camping in the wild, some outdoor enthusiasts swear by small family campsites rather than large ones with organized activities and swimming pools. Such places are found especially in mountainous areas, by small lakes and near national parks.

You will find a choice of very nice places to pitch your tent, particularly in the off-peak season, and you can often also meet like-minded people at campsites and exchange important travel information and recommendations. Many friendships have their roots in such meetings.