Welcome to part 2 of my Where To Camp On A Bikepacking Trip article. If you haven’t seen part 1 yet, take a look at it here.
In this section, I’ll take a deep dive into wild camping on a bikepacking trip, taking a look at everything from the benefits of wild camping, to the legality of camping across the world.
What is wild camping?
As a general definition, wild camping is where you stay somewhere that is not an official campsite. And somewhere where you do not have to get (or have not got) permission to camp. It is camping where you find a good spot rather than somewhere that is officially designated as somewhere you should set up your tent.
In reality, you may find that wild camping is actually where you set up camp for the night, only to wake up and realise you have set up shop right in the middle of a farmers market the next morning.
Wild camping is not legal everywhere in the world, for example in the UK, wild camping is only legal in Scotland and Dartmoor. This is why wild camping is also called stealth camping, as you often try to place yourself somewhere out of the way in an attempt to avoid being woken up in the middle of the night with someone asking you to move along.
This article looks at tips for wild camping, however, I must make clear that I cannot condone wild camping somewhere that it is not legal to do so.
What are the benefits of wild camping?
As we established in part 1, wild camping is the most popular way of camping for bikepackers, but why is this?
|Advantages of wild camping||Disadvantages of wild camping|
|You can experience some amazing locations||It may take a while to find a camping spot|
|You do not have to pay to camp||It can be scary to find a wild camping spot|
|No need to book in advance||It is illegal to wild camp in certain areas|
|You can be more flexible with your plans||Finding a camping spot is more uncertain|
|Can be quieter than a campground||Works less well for group bikepacking trips|
|It feels more like an adventure||You have the risk of being moved on overnight|
How much cheaper is wild camping than camping at a campsite?
Wild camping is free, which is obviously a huge advantage. Over the course of a long bikepacking or bike touring trip, this can save you so much money.
For example, if you stayed at the average campsite in the USA it will cost you $16 a night (take a look at my graph in part 1), this means that you only need to wild camp for 12 nights to pay off a whole $200 tent. And wild camping for 40 days in the UK will save you enough for a whole new bike.
While it might not seem like much on a day-by-day basis, over time the amount you save can really add up.
How to find a wild camping spot?
The spot you find for wild camping will really depend on the area you are bikepacking in. As with finding a traditional campsite, there are quite a few different ways you can find a wild camping site. Although for stealth camping, google can be a bit harder.
Below you can see some examples of websites and apps that bikepackers use to find wild camping spots.
|Free Camp Sites||A website showing free campsites around the US|
|OS Maps||A site of geographical maps which can show you larger areas of grassland further from towns and cities.|
|Google Maps||Useful to check for larger areas of greenery and you can use google satellite view to get more details about the feel of the area|
|Park4night||Paid and free camping spots for tents and motorhomes. Covers all of Europe and a lot of other places. Also looked at areas marked “nature” for a possible camping spot.|
|Komoot||Shows a variety of paid and free camping spots on the map as points of interest as you plan your trip|
|Trekarta||An app that marks shelters, water fountains and picnic areas on your local map.|
|Maps.Me||An offline map that saves picnic areas, which sometimes include shelters and fire pits|
In general, I would suggest you start looking for a spot about an hour before sunset (longer if this is your first time). I normally have a rough idea of where I will be setting up the tent each night, which I make a note of when I plan my bikepacking trip.
I plan this in advance by scouting out my route and using google maps, Komoot or something similar to find larger areas of green (for example forests, nature reserves etc) along my path. Once I’ve found this rough area, I use google satellite view to check out the terrain and see what the closest inhabited buildings will be. Sense check the area on maps to make sure it is not somewhere that will be accessed overnight (for example a public footpath).
Once you arrive at your pre-determined area, check it out and make sure it is what you expected.
What makes a good wild camping spot?
A wild camping spot should fit all the criteria of a normal camping spot (i.e flat ground, protection from the wind etc), but there are a few extra bits you will want to look for. First of all, you want a bit of protection from wandering eyes. Try to find somewhere enclosed by hedges, rocks or trees that can give you some natural security.
In general, you also want to find somewhere that does not already have litter nearby. Not only could you be blamed for this by passers-by, but it also means that the area you are camping in is quite well-used, and you are more likely to bump into someone overnight.
Beaches can also make for great wild camping spots. They are unpopular spots overnight, and the sound of the water can mask you setting up the tent.
Areas to avoid when wild camping
In general, you should avoid wild camping in a conservation area while on a bikepacking trip. As bikepackers and campers, the aim is to get out and appreciate nature, pushing your bike through a conservation area and then crushing it with a tent is a great way to ruin what it is you are out appreciating.
It might sound obvious to some, but make sure you check in advance about the hunting season in the area you are planning to wild camp.
Finally, try to avoid camping in a field with livestock. Animals can be heavy, eat your tent or simply signal to landowners that someone is entering the field. This is another good reason to arrive whilst you can still see what there is around you.
How to wild camp?
Step 1) Plan ahead, when planning your trip, have a rough idea of where you will sleep each night.
Step 2) As the day draws to an end, stock up on food and water before you find your camping spot.
Step 3) Start looking for a camping spot at least an hour before it gets dark.
Step 4) Find a good location (see above for more details).
Step 5) Once you’ve found a possible location, confidently move off of your path to evaluate it.
Step 6) Scout out the area, waiting at least 5 minutes to get a good idea of what it feels like.
Step 7) Start setting up your tent as quickly and quietly as you can (practice this beforehand).
Step 8) Lock up your bike (check out my article on how to keep your bike safe on a bikepacking trip).
Step 9) Try not to use lights as you are setting up your tent as this can draw attention.
Step 10) Store your food properly (in a sealed container) to prevent attracting local wildlife.
Step 11) Keep your camp tidy overnight, this gives the right impression if a landowner does approach.
Step 12) If you are discovered overnight, be friendly and explain what you are doing. Move on if asked.
Step 13) Leave early so that you do not cause any problems and leave no trace you were there.
How do wild campers not get caught?
Even when stealth camping in a completely legal location, the idea of getting “caught” can be very daunting. While having someone stumble upon you in the middle of the night is always going to be a risk, there are a few steps you can take to limit this.
Arrive late and leave early
Setting up camp when it’s getting dark and being gone before the morning is a good way to ensure you don’t bump into any unexpected visitors at your campsite.
Use camouflaged camping gear
Those lovely hi-vis guy ropes and reflectors on your cycling jersey come back to bite you when it gets late at night and you are trying to stealthily camp on your bikepacking trip.
Try putting some tape over your reflective pieces of gear and a tarp to cover your bike (this can be a good idea to keep it dry anyway).
As well as this, try to buy a camouflaged or dark green tent. These can be much harder to see when surrounded by trees or hedges.
Finally, get a dark hoodie/jumper/poncho to stick on top of your riding gear as you walk around camp. This is much harder to see and also acts to keep you warm.
Swap out for a smaller shelter
As well as changing the colour of the tent, you could also consider looking for a smaller one. Changing to a compact 1-man tent from a 2-man can help save you weight as you cycle and is less obvious at night. Some bikepackers even use a bivvy bag or hammock which are smaller and less conspicuous.
Limit lights at camp
There is no point taping up all of your reflective cycling gear if you then walk around camp with a torch. If you really need to use a light, use your head torches in the red mode which is harder for the human eye to pick see. Oh, and it should go without saying, don’t go lighting any fires.
Eat before you set up camp
I would also suggest that you try and eat before you arrive at your campsite. Having an earlier dinner, cleaning up your cooking gear and brushing your teeth before you start looking for your camping spot can help to reduce the amount of wildlife you might attract, and also helps to reduce your need for a water source where you are camping.
Camp far away from humanity
It sounds simple, but the further you are from people, the less likely they are to find you. In general, anywhere accessible by car or with lots of litter is going to be too close to humanity.
Try and get at least a mile out from civilisation, as most dog walkers and rowdy kids won’t venture further than this.
Give yourself enough time to find a spot
I’ve said it a few times now, but that’s because it is important. Make sure to give yourself enough time to find a good wild camping spot. Running out of light and being forced to camp in a bad location is a great way to ensure you get spotted.
Practice setting up your tent
The main time you risk being seen or heard while wild camping is when you are setting up your tent, as you are making more noise and moving around a lot. Practice erecting your tent at home a few times so that you can comfortably do it quickly and quietly, even if it is dark.
Is wild camping safe?
Is wild camping safe from animals?
Depending on where in the world you are wild camping, animals will be more or less of a concern. In the UK, where I live, your main problem will be nosey dogs, irritating ants and a cow or two if you set up shop in a field.
As the old saying goes, animals tend to be more afraid of you than you are of them. Very few animals will come to your tent looking for a fight, with one of the few exceptions being bears. If you live in a bear area (you probably know who you are), then make sure to take precautions where you need to.
If you to look in more detail at how to prevent bears from coming into your camp, take a look at my article on how to properly store food when camping.
Is wild camping safe from other people?
Just like animals, most humans aren’t out roaming forests at night looking for a fight. The advantage to picking somewhere a bit secluded means that the majority of people will be far away, tucked up inside their living rooms watching television by the time you’ve set up camp.
The exception to this might be farmers (especially ones with valuable crops or animals). Farmers get up ridiculously early to work and so you are unlikely to be up and away by the time they are back at their field.
How to stay safe while wild camping?
When it comes to staying safe on a wild camping trip, there are a few key steps you can take.
- Keep your valuables close at hand and inside the tent
- Bring a bike lock with you and lock your bike and gear to a fence, tree or part of your tent
- Speak with a local ranger to find out the timing of local hunting seasons before selecting a site
- Consider taking a rape whistle or air horn with you to startle any intruders
- If you’re camping alone, consider leaving a second chair or pair of shoes outside the tent to make it appear that you are with other people
How to feel safer while wild camping?
So, you know the steps you can take to actually make yourself safer while camping, but how do you make yourself FEEL safer? I asked bikepackers for their best tips!
Practice camping alone
I’d advise that if this is your first time camping alone, you try and find a campsite. Campsites are generally louder, there are more people around and can feel a bit closer to normality (whether they are actually safer or not is a different question). Camping at a campsite can get you used to camping alone without taking you too far from what you already know.
Acknowledge your fears
Understand that you have a fear of camping alone outside (don’t worry, most of us did when we started). Appreciate that thousands of people go wild camping each year and that only a very small amount of problems occur. Oh, and don’t go watching any scary films in the week leading up to your bikepacking trip.
Take someone with you
If you are afraid of wild camping, try taking someone with you who has done it before. They can help to advise you on what is typical for wild camping on a bikepacking trip and what is not. They can also help to point out good and hidden camping spots, to help teach you how to do it yourself next time.
Be prepared for some noise
The first time I went camping on my own, it was the noise of the forest that scared me the most. Understand that the world is not a quiet place late at night. When it’s just you inside a tent, you’ll hear every tree creak, each animal rustling and every twig break but this is all normal and what you should expect.
As the years have gone by, these sounds have become normal for me, but I wish I’d known to expect them before my first trip.
Keep yourself busy
Perhaps the scariest part of wild camping is the time between setting up camp and falling asleep. You’re sat there, waiting to feel tired with nothing to do. I’d advise you to keep yourself busy. Listen to some music, a podcast or an audiobook. Use a red light to read a book or plan out your route for tomorrow’s cycling. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind from worrying.
Make yourself tired
On a similar note, make sure that when you arrive at camp, you are tired, and I mean shattered. Being scared doesn’t matter as much if you’re asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.
Is wild camping safer than campsite camping?
The question of whether or not wild camping is safer than campsite camping seems to be a neverending debate. At the end of the day, there is no clear-cut answer.
At a campsite you have more people around, you have access to a phone with signal and emergency services can easily be called.
On the other hand, the chance of meeting an unpleasant person is much higher at a campsite than it is while wild camping. The trouble with wild camping is that getting help or someone’s attention may be impossible or take much longer.
At the end of the day, each has its own risks and you have to decide which you prefer.
Where is legal to wild camp?
As a disclaimer, this article should not be used as a substitute for formal legal advice from a professional attorney. Readers are urged to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a particular situation. I am not a legal professional, and the following article is based on my own personal interpretation of the information available online and generally. While I aim to keep my content updated, I cannot guarantee that the information is always up-to-date.
Generally, wild camping is legal if you have the “right to roam” in that country. A right to roam means that you have the right to access the land unless explicitly excluded (for example in a nature reserve or “no-camping car park”). This is under the assumption that you respect other people, care for the place you are staying and take responsibility for your own actions.
This right to roam generally includes wild camping, which is legally defined as “lightweight camping done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place”.
Examples of countries that give people the right to roam include Norway and Scotland.
|Location||Is wild camping legal?|
|The USA||The US term for camping in the wild is dispersed camping. It is permitted on BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management), WMA (Wildlife Management Areas), national grasslands, and state forests.|
|Austria||Camping in the forest is regulated uniformly for the whole of Austria: The forest may be entered in principle for recreational purposes, but “use” of the forest, e.g. camping in the dark or camping, is expressly prohibited. Camping in the forest is only permitted if the consent of the forest owner has been obtained|
|Belgium||Wild camping, also known as boondocking, dry camping, or dispersed camping, is unfortunately not officially allowed in Belgium. The ban is controlled and enforced mainly at the coast and in the high season|
|Denmark||Wild camping is not allowed nationally however there are over 1,000 specific wild camping areas|
|France||Wild camping, also known as boondocking, dry camping, or dispersed camping, is not officially allowed in France. In some regions, however, camping and bivouacking on roads, parking lots and private properties is permitted with the permission of the local authorities.|
|Germany||Wild camping is prohibited in Germany. If you simply pitch your tent in a German forest, you risk receiving a fine of up to 500 euros|
|Ireland||Wild camping is allowed in much of Ireland, especially near the sea and in national parks.|
|Italy||Wild camping is officially prohibited in Italy and can cost you between 100 € to 500 € if you are caught. Authorities regularly patrol tourist areas and the coastlines to enforce this prohibition.|
|Netherlands||In the Netherlands, wild camping is strictly forbidden and, unlike in other countries, it is also not permitted to camp on private property. This regulation is strictly enforced in the Netherlands. As a result, wild camping is not possible. If you are caught, you may be fined up to 500 € per person|
|Norway||Norway’s ‘right to roam’ law gives anyone the right to access public land, including for overnight camping. This applies to everyone, not just residents of Norway.|
|Spain||Wild camping, also known as boondocking, dry camping, or dispersed camping, is tolerated in Spain depending on the region but can result in penalties in some areas|
|Sweden||Yes, wild camping, also known as boondocking, dry camping, or dispersed camping, is officially allowed in Sweden.|
|Switzerland||Wild camping is generally tolerated in Switzerland above the tree line, with some restrictions. Wild camping is definitely not allowed in protected areas nature preserves, game rest zones, hunting grounds or Swiss National Park.|
|England||Generally, it is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales without the express permission of the landowner. However, this is not the case in certain areas of Dartmoor national park|
|Wales||Wild camping is illegal in Wales, as is the case across most of the UK|
|Scotland||Wild camping is legal in Scotland due to the right to roam|
|Rest of the world|
|Australia||Wild camping and free standing is not officially allowed in Australia but is tolerated in many areas.|
|Canada||While wild camping is legal in Canada, there are no right-to-access laws. Wild camping is considered more of a privilege than a right, although legal on Crown Land (government-owned).|
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into where you should camp on a bikepacking trip. However, I hope that with all this information you are now more prepared to get out and give a camping bikepacking trip a go.
If you missed part 1 of my article and wanted to look at the best ways to camp at a campsite or with permission on someone’s land, take a look here.