Wild camping in the Lake District – how to do it!
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Adventure by day, Luxury by night
Wild camping in the Lake District – how to do it!
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In England it is illegal. But also lots of fun! There’s nothing quite like a spot of wild camping in the Lake District for a real and rewarding landscape experience. Whether you’ve hiked hard all day to find that perfect spot, or just nipped up 20 minutes from the road, each site will have something unique to offer.
The days of camping on organised sites will be over as soon as you discover the joys of Lake District wild camping. Forget about using official sites and have a go at wild camping. Sure, you probably won’t have the best nights’ sleep ever, but life’s too short to waste snoring every night! I can’t reveal the locations where we’ve camped but I can tell you how to go about it yourself, and find your own secret pitches.
How to go wild camping in the Lake District
The best place to do this is has to be the Lake District, in the North West of England, since it is the highest and remotest area of the country and therefore boasts countless secluded and hidden spots to enjoy.
…of course, and seeing as wild camping in England and Wales isn’t strictly a legal past-time , it’s best practise to adhere to a few sensible guidelines:
1) Seek permission from the landowner. In reality this isn’t always practical or really necessary if high up in the Lakeland fells. In which case:
2) Pitch away from roads, and well into the mountains – you should be above the highest fence or dry stone wall
3) Keep groups small, never more than 2 small tents.
4) Camp unobtrusively out of sight of footpaths, and try to blend in with your surroundings – a green tent is much better than an orange one!
5) Always find a spot at least 30 metres from running/fresh water when going to the toilet. Dig a small hole to bury excrement.
6) Avoid fires as these can damage the ground and vegetation – use a stove instead.
7) Move on and don’t stay in the same place more than 1 night – this allows the ground to recover and keeps wildlife disturbance to a minimum.
8) Leave nothing behind, and do not bury litter.
Some tried and tested tips for enjoyable wild camping
You don’t need to walk for miles to find a suitable spot for wild camping in the Lake District, often there are gems just hidden a mere 20 minutes from the road, if you know where to look. To make it easier, get an OS map and pick a spot with a tarn – make sure its a small one otherwise you may have company, especially during the summer. It may be boggy directly by the tarn, but you should be able to find a spot not too far away with great views, as well as a source of running water . Other great spots are near plunge pools – look for waterfalls on the OS map.
Set off in the early evening…soon enough to be able to enjoy the site when you get there, but late enough not to attract attention during the day. You should leave early the next morning …we’re often back home before breakfast time ready for a full English to top off the experience.
The Wild Camping Shop – What gear to pack
Wild camping in the Lake District isn’t about hardship or survival. It’s about having fun too. So it’s worth investing in the following to make your life a little easier :
Essential Wild Camping Gear – the Basics
– between 35 and 60 litres, depending on how much kit you want to lug up the mountain, and how many nights you intend to camp out. We use 35 litre sacks for one night trips with lightweight kit. Make sure you purchase a decent quality rucksack that can withstand a bit of weather and rough handling. You don’t want your kit getting wet!
– these weigh very little but are worth every extra gram, as there’s nothing worse than pitching your tent after a long hike in the rain to discover all your kit, including clothes and sleeping bag, is wet. We suggest buying a liner slightly larger than your rucksack capacity to allow enough extra at the top to roll over properly to ensure a good seal.
– we have a which is literally worth its weight in gold as it’s very small and light to pack. Forget about lugging your standard campsite tent up into the fells, you will regret the extra weight with every step you take. Bivi tents don’t take up much room, but still do a good job of keeping out the weather! The Vango Banshee even has a small porch area for your boots and bags.
– much more comfortable than foam mats, and they fit inside your rucksack thus avoiding the risk of being mistaken for Duke of Edinburgh Award initiates). We love our . They’re really comfy, and have a textured surface which stops them slipping all over the tent when you’re camping on a slight slope .
– don’t leave home without one! It does get very cold up in the fells at night, even in the summer! If you plan on doing a lot of wild camping, it’s worth investing in a lightweight sleeping bag rather than hauling up the big fluffy cocoon that you’d normally use whilst camping on sites, near the car!
– having one of these makes the world of difference during those cold mountain nights, giving you another insulating layer of protection. Silk is the best material, and although a little more expensive than cotton liners, is worth every penny. We like the mummy style liners, as they fit better and more snugly inside your sleeping bag.
– you’ll need a decent pair of proper walking boots for hiking up in the mountains. Trainers are not advised unless you want to twist your ankle and end up with soggy socks! We’re tried and tested fans of Merrell and Salomon, but the important thing is to buy a pair that fits well, is waterproof and breathable , and make sure you wear them in a bit before heading to the hills.
– It’s so important to get these right, so you don’t end up with unnecessary blisters . We like the merino wool socks, as they’re great at moisture wicking, and keep your feet toasty in the winter, and cool in the summer. They’re also good act cushioning your feet in all the right places.
– even the most hardy hikers sometimes get blisters, and we always carry a small pouch of compede, which acts as a second skin for pressure points on your foot. The trick is to catch them early, before the blister actually forms.
– just in case! It’s always a good idea to have a few emergency items at hand, after all, help may be a long way away depending on how far you’ve walked.
– you can’t go wild camping without one of these. They’re lightweight, hands free and important for those middle of the night wees or pitching the tent if you arrive a bit later than expected!
– you should always use a stove rather than lighting a fire when wild camping in the Lake District. It’s more reliable anyway, as you don’t need to battle with wet wood! We have an , and it’s been all over the world with us! It’s very efficient and quick to boil, and you just can’t beat the satisfying sound of the flames roaring whilst waiting for dinner.
Another good option is the , which is really lightweight, and easy to use for first time campers.
– perfect for keeping your hot drinks warm, thawing out cold hands, or even soup!
– these are perfect for travelling as well as wild camping as they remove 99% of bacteria, including e-coli, salmonella, and waterborne protozoa including Giardia.
– always handy, whether you’re half way up a mountain or in your own back yard.
– if you’re not keen on eating straight out of the pan then invest in some lightweight, packable plastic crockery, like this neat little kit from Light My Fire.
– When I first started wild camping in the Lake District with my Dad when I was a nipper, we’d take up tins of chunky chicken and meatballs for dinner. To be fair, he carried most of it! Today, preferring the lightweight option, Hubbie and I always take up – their roots can be traced back to ration packs given to British military troops for sustenance during manoeuvres in harsh environments. The terrain in which we find ourselves is perhaps less of a challenge, but they’re still really tasty and not freeze-dried, with lots of flavours to choose from and no washing up afterwards!
Personal favourites are Thai Green Curry, Lancashire Hot Pot and Beef Stew and Dumplings. The puddings aren’t quite so good but the best of them is the sticky toffee pudding. Add in some for breakfast, and a few coffee sachets and you’re sorted.
– take several of the 2 in 1 coffee sachets for your morning cuppa. They take up hardly any space, and already come with milk!
– perhaps not essential to survival, but necessary nonetheless! As we don’t suggest lugging up your SLR , we love taking our Canon GX7 as it’s small and light, as well as producing a good quality image, and can easily be shoved in a pocket.
– because sometimes the mozzies like your camping spot too. It’s best to take natural insect spray so you don’t harm the environment.
– we love these books, packed with insider tips of secret places to discover, and lots of inspiration for camping and wild swimming.
Essential Wild Camping Kit – Clothing
– no Cumbrian ever leaves home without a waterproof jacket, and it’s the first thing you should pack if you’re going wild camping . The most important thing is to make sure your jacket is breathable, again Gortex is great. Without a breathable jacket you’ll end up sweating and be just as wet as if you’d gone without a jacket in the first place.
– just as important as a waterproof jacket, and gain, breathable is a must!
– always take warm gear even if its boiling hot in the middle of summer. It get’s pretty chilly at night and it’s good to have something different to sleep in. We’re fans of thermals, and not just because they come in hot pink for the girls!
– this is a brilliant lightweight invention, and we have them in abundance at home…in our cars, in our camping box, at work…we never leave home without one, you just never know when it might come in useful! They’re perfect for eating camping food too!
– for digging those all important holes. Plenty of lightweight ones around. Also handy as a defence weapon against night-time intruders.
– a godsend for your bum as a foam insulation against cold and damp ground, as well as extra insulation under your pillow at night. Good for picnics too!
– because the little blighters are good at choosing great wild camping spots near tarns too! These coils are great because you just set them off burning outside your tent and the smoke keeps them away whilst you’re cooking dinner. You could take some too, for still nights in the summer.
– okay, this one is a LOT of a luxury, but they don’t really weigh anything and make the tent homely and great for reading by . Great idea that Hubbie introduced last year to stop me moaning about always having to wear a head torch.
– a nifty little bracelet with built in paracord , compass, fire starter, emergency knife and whistle. Even if you never have to use any of these, it still looks cool!
– ok so not strictly necessary, but if you can fit these in the rucksack, your feet will thank you when they have an alternative to sweaty boots around camp after a hard day’s hike.
– again, a total luxury, but hardly weighs anything and is a godsend at night, stuffed with your clothes to make a decent head rest. You can even use it as a laundry bag the next morning.
It really is a pity that wild camping hasn’t been legalised in England, but on a recent night spent up in the fells, we had a taste of what the future could hold should this change. Way down in the valley below, not more than a few metres from the road, a large group had set up camp on farmland. The tents were large, numerous and red.
Observing the activity for a few minutes we realised they’d visited the plantation across the field and helped themselves to a large pile of firewood to feed their bonfire which was becoming increasingly surrounded by empty beer cans and other litter. Muttering oaths about irresponsible louts under our breaths we stomped back to our little green bivy tent, tucked away out of sight on our moral high ground, and consoled ourselves with getting dinner ready.
Later that evening, we were tucked up in our sleeping bags and about to drift off to a peaceful sleep when the resonating beat of a bass line came thumbing up the valley. We were so cross we were ready to march right down there and give them a few choice words, but the sticky toffee pudding from dinner was still sitting lodged in our bellies and the thought of having to then climb all the way back up again made us reassess.
So, perhaps it is a good thing that wild camping in the Lake District is illegal, or the hills would be alive with the sound of, erm….’music’??
Finally, one last tip would be to book yourself into a nice warm, comfy Lake District hotel for after your wild camping adventure. It sure is fun out there in the hills, but you won’t have the best night’s sleep, so why not reward yourself for all your efforts!
Please don’t ask me for advice on WHERE to camp.
I won’t tell you. It’s nothing personal, just all part of the wild camping code. I don’t want to find dozens of other campers at my favourite spots next time I’m up there, and I ‘m sure you wouldn’t appreciate the company either. Besides, it’s half the fun choosing your own special place to pitch.
I receive dozens of emails each week asking me to spill the beans. Whilst I’m happy to give general advice I won’t be revealing locations. Sorry.
Go out and explore, abide by the rules, and above all…HAVE FUN!
Have you been wild camping before? I’d love to hear about your experience!
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Hi, I'm Heather, an English lass with a Scottish name who likes to call the whole world her home. I’m actually a rocket scientist, astronaut and trapeze artist, but since my family and friends all think I’m a travel writer, we’ll maybe stick with that for now! You'll often find me curled up in a castle with a weighty historical tome and a glass of rhubarb gin, truly believing that I was a princess in another life. I'm a huge fan of cowboys, mountains and blueberry muffins, but prefer to steer clear of dogs, sun loungers and public transport.
I’m taking my son wild camping for the first time in August, and wanted to say thankyou. I found this blog informative and very enjoyable. We are going to walk Fleetwith pike, Haystacks, High Crag and red pike at Buttermere. Only camping the 1 night with it being his first time. Hopefully he gets the bug :-)! The tips and photos on here are amazing. Thanks again.
Hi Daniel, thanks for your lovely comment, and so glad you found the post useful. I’m sure you’ll both have a great time . 1 night is always best for a first time, so hope your son decides he loves it – though better take some bug spray just in case, and don’t camp too near any water since that’s where the little blighters love to hang out ???? We’d love to know how it goes, so do let us know! Happy camping…
Wow, what a fantastic view! It looks so wild and beautiful, I wish someday I`ll have the chance to camp near the Lake District. And thanks for sharing so much helpful information with us, like the list of camping gear!
Hi, I’m 66 and have 2 children, 11 and 13, but i still take them wild camping each year, a good thin air mat, worth it’s weight in gold to get a good nights sleep up on the mountain tops. When the kids were first going they said no, not up the mountains. But nowadays it when are we going again
Hi John, thanks for your comment, it’s great to hear you’re still all going out to wild camp, and totally agree a thermorest/air mat makes the world of difference when it comes to getting some zzzzz’s. Hope your children continue to enjoy it too!
I’ve booked to come to the Lakes for a couple of days in late feb/early march.
Reasonable to consider wild camping? Or better to stick with day hikes and a cosy airbnb?
On the plus side you’ll probably have the camping spots to yourself. On the other hand it will be cold, especially higher up! If you’re tough, up for an adventure and have kit decent enough to cope with the temperature then you could have a great time. We would have done it in our ‘younger’ days, but now personally I’m a bit of a fair weather camper and would take the airbnb in Feb! ???? Whatever you decide, have a great time!
I just wanted to clarify it IS LEGAL to wild camp in England, there are just best practices and code of conducts to stick to.
General rule is camp above 450m away from main paths and bridleways and ask landowners permission
It’s legal on much of Dartmoor, but not elsewhere in England . Of course if you have the landowners permission then it’s legal ????
I have just been searching on the internet for places to wild camp. And came across your blog They were very helpful.
Me and my Son who is only 10 have done some traditional camping with little recourses and want to try do some wild camping.
I noticed you was going to suggest a few places to get started to Emilie , and I would be greatfull if you would give me the same advise too.
Also would you please forward some of the alternative ideas about the woodland camping areas that you was going to send to Jordan.
It’s great to find your blog thank you very much. Ps I have tried the wayfarer food it’s not that bad is it?
Hi Tony, I’ve sent you an email. We no longer divulge specific camping locations as we receive so many such requests, but hope you will be able to find some secret locations of your own by following the above advice. Happy camping!
What is it like up there around the end of December? my son wants me to take him for a few nights on The Lakes. chances are it’s going to be extremely cold and probably covered in snow but he is going to Canada for 2 years middle of next year so ‘thinks’ it will be good as a taster for him. Any advice would be good.
Winter is actually one our favourite times of year up here. It can be so beautiful, and uncrowded, but of course very cold. Sometimes we get a lot of snow, sometimes we don’t, but if you’re thinking of camping in December, you’re braver than us! It will be freezing up in the hills. It’s already -4 degrees at the moment . Why not come but stay in a B&B instead. Weather wise, we get a lot less rain in the winter than we do in the summer , so chances are you’ll still be able to get out into the fells for some hiking. And if it does snow, the main routes are all kept open so still plenty of adventures to be had!