Lake District wild camping – how to do it!

Wild camping, Lake District
Wild camping in the Lake District

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.

Wild Camping Lake District

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 (as per the ‘code’ among wild campers to ensure their favourite places don’t become a circus) but I can tell you how to go about it yourself, and find your own secret pitches.

How to Camp Wild 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.

Wild Camping in the Lake District

There are rules…

…of course, and seeing as wild camping in England and Wales isn’t strictly a legal past-time (except on parts of Dartmoor), it’s best practise to adhere to a few sensible (and courteous) 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!

Wild Camping in the Lake District

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.

9) And above all, have fun!

Wild Camping in the Lake District

Some tried and tested tips for enjoyable wild camping

Location

You don’t need to walk for miles to find a suitable spot, 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 (almost a speck on the map) 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 (don’t drink from the tarn itself, use a stream, and boil all water before consuming). Other great spots are near plunge pools – look for waterfalls on the OS map.

Wild Camping in the Lake District

Arrival and Departure Time

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 (you’ll be awake anyway!)…we’re often back home before breakfast time ready for a full English to top off the experience.

Wild Camping in the Lake District

The Wild Camping Shop – What kit to pack

Wild camping 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 (and more comfortable!):

Essential Wild Camping Kit – the Basics

Rucksack – 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!

Rucksack liner – 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.

Bivi tent   we have a Vango Banshee 200 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!

Thermarest rather than foam mat (very comfy, plus they fit in your rucksack thus avoiding the risk of being mistaken for Duke of Edinburgh Award initiates). We love our Thermarest Prolite Mattresses. 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 (the ground is never 100% flat!).

Sleeping Bag – 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!

Sleeping Bag Liner – 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.

Hiking Boots – 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 (Gortex is best), and make sure you wear them in a bit before heading to the hills.

Hiking Socks – It’s so important to get these right, so you don’t end up with unnecessary blisters (they can make or break a wild camping trip!). 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.

Compede – 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.

Travel First Aid Kit – 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.

Head Torch – 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!

Stove – you should always use a stove rather than lighting a fire when wild camping. It’s more reliable anyway, as you don’t need to battle with wet wood! We have an MSR WhisperLite International, 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 Jetboil Stove, which is really lightweight, and easy to use for first time campers.

Thermal Mug – perfect for keeping your hot drinks warm, thawing out cold hands, or even soup!

LifeStraw personal water filterthese are perfect for travelling as well as wild camping as they remove 99% of bacteria, including e-coli, salmonella, and waterborne protozoa including Giardia.

Pocket Knife – always handy, whether you’re half way up a mountain or in your own back yard. 

Plastic plates – if you’re not keen on eating straight out of the pan (or packet!) then invest in some lightweight, packable plastic crockery, like this neat little kit from Light My Fire.

Food – When I first started wild camping 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 Wayfayrers boil in the bag meals – 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 (tend to be a bit on the solid, heavy-in-your stomach side) but the best of them is the sticky toffee pudding. Add in some flapjack for breakfast, and a few coffee sachets (for the next morning after very little sleep) and you’re sorted.

Coffee – take several of the 2 in 1 coffee sachets for your morning cuppa. They take up hardly any space, and already come with milk!

Cameras – perhaps not essential to survival, but necessary nonetheless! As we don’t suggest lugging up your SLR (although Hubbie has been known to on occasion), 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.

Bug Spray – because sometimes the mozzies like your camping spot too. It’s best to take natural insect spray so you don’t harm the environment.

Essential Wild Camping Kit – Clothing

Waterproof Jacket – no Cumbrian ever leaves home without a waterproof jacket, and it’s the first thing you should pack if you’re going wild camping (just make sure it’s near the top of your rucksack so it’s handy in case the heavens open at short notice!). 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.

Waterproof Trousers – just as important as a waterproof jacket, and gain, breathable is a must!

Thermal underwear – always take warm gear (e.g. thermals) 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 Helly Hansen thermals, and not just because they come in hot pink for the girls!

Little Luxuries (if you have room!)

Spork – 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!

Pooper-scooper – (more commonly known as a garden trowel) for digging those all important holes. Plenty of lightweight ones around. Also handy as a defence weapon against night-time intruders.

Sit mats – 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!

Mosquito coils – 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 mosquito repellent too, for still nights in the summer.

Portable LED lights – 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 (if you’ve lugged a book up that is!). Great idea that Hubbie introduced last year to stop me moaning about always having to wear a head torch.

Paracord Safety Bracelet – a nifty little bracelet with built in paracord (handy for handing stuff out to dry!), compass, fire starter, emergency knife and whistle. Even if you never have to use any of these, it still looks cool!

Flip-flops – 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.

Pillowcase – again, a total luxury, but hardly weighs anything (particularly when Hubbie carries them) 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.

Wild Camping in the Lake District

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 (not that anyone could hear us up there) 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.

Wild Camping in the Lake District

Later that evening, we were tucked up in our sleeping bags and about to drift off to a peaceful sleep (who am I kidding? We never get much sleep wild camping, something to do with there only being enough space for 1 and a half people, and the fact we always manage to pitch on a slope) 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 (yeah we like our luxuries, even when camping!) 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 is illegal, or the hills would be alive with the sound of, erm….’music’??

Wild Camping in the Lake District

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!

If you fancy the sound of wild camping, you might also enjoy reading this post on how you can camp out in an abandoned church!

Do you fancy sleeping here?

Champing at All Saints Church, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire

You too could be sleeping here…


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Top tips for wild camping in the Lake District

Wild Camping in the Lake District - how to do it

 

26 Comments

  • Grace says:

    Great article!

    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

    • Heather Cole says:

      It’s legal on much of Dartmoor, but not elsewhere in England (though it is in Scotland). Of course if you have the landowners permission then it’s legal 🙂

  • Tony Thacker says:

    Hi Heather.
    I have just been searching on the internet for places to wild camp. And came across your blog (question and answers.)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!

  • SakerClive says:

    What is it like up there around the end of December? my son (20) 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 (and that’s in the morning down in the valley). 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!

  • Georgie Palin says:

    Hi Heather,
    this is a great blog I love camping but up to now its all been pretty official, so I’m looking to venture into wild camping and the lake district seems the best place to start after scrolling through many different sites on the internet I’ve noticed there are a few common laws which is fine but a main one I’ve seen is that you need the land owners permission is this essential if so how do I get it? if you could help out that’d be great.

    • Hi Georgie, thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you’re giving wild camping a go, I’m sure you’ll love it. Getting the land owners permission is the courteous thing to do, but in practise not always easy. It’s probably more relevant if you’re wanting to camp lower down, and can actually identify who owns the land (e.g. the nearest farm etc). And then of course the land might be owned by e.g. the National Trust, which you could find out by googling them (but they’d probably say no anyway!). But really, you want to be camping high up, out of the way, and in this case no-one really bothers asking permission. You’ll only really have problems if you camp near to dwellings or lower down in the valleys. So just aim high and you’ll be fine.

  • David Burn says:

    Hi Heather,
    I did my first couple of wild camps not so long ago & was surfing the internet for inspiration for my next camp when I came across your wild camping blog. some great advice & nice photos. The photo of you sitting in the tent, if you look on the other side of the tarn, just above your head, thats where I pitched my tent! 8 other tents were pitched around the tarn that night, but all was quiet & a great night camping & photographing was had. Thanks & enjoy more camping!

    • Hi David, thanks for the lovely comment, so glad you had fun, hope you’ve caught the wild camping ‘bug’ and enjoy lots more adventures in the future. That tarn has lots of brilliant spots, and never feels crowded (plus some great views back to a certain mountain where you were pitched!).

  • Shahil says:

    hi, looking to go wild camping next month with some friends.. would you be able to provide the postcode of the place you stayed? would be much appreciated, thanks. shahil

  • Emilie says:

    so beautiful photos ! I go to the lake district next week, I can’t wait! do you have some advice on wild camping location, reading your blog inspired me 🙂 thanks a lot

  • Jordan chappill says:

    Hi, I’m wild camping in the lakes in July, was looking to stay in a heavily wooded area, any suggestion of where to go. Oh I’m staying in Braithwaite for the week so don’t want to drive more than an hour to a location to park and walk to our camp site from.
    Thanks, could you please write to me with suggestions to [email protected]

    thanks again…

    • Hi Jordan, if you’re wild camping you should always pitch high up above the highest drystone wall, which means unfortunately you won’t find any heavily wooded areas to camp in. If that’s really what you want, your best bet is to contact a land owner and ask permission to camp in their woods. I will email you a few alternative ideas too!

      • Dee says:

        Hi Heather, We are off to lakes in September. My boyfriend is determined for us to wild camp under a tarp/basha set up for a night or two along the way. Im thinking this will require trees…? Do you get many things to set up a basha above highest stone wall? Thanks!

        • Hi Dee, that sounds very intrepid! Hope you’ve got warm (and waterproof!) sleeping bags 🙂 Not much in the way of trees that high up, although you could use a wall (just be careful not to damage it or knock any of the stones off!). You could use big boulders if you pick the right places. The Lakes are beautiful in Sept as the leaves begin to turn, but just keep an eye on the forecast, you don’t want to get caught out up there with just a basha!

  • Ben dunkley says:

    Really interesting article, I’m trying to plan some wild camping in the lake district but don’t know where to start, maybe just park up and go explore!

  • Bob R says:

    That’s a GREAT campground. I can see how you obviously enjoyed that spot. Wild camping is illegal in Slovenia too, but there are lots of place to get away with it. I don’t think I’ll be sharing them on a blog though. 🙂

    • I bet your views are even better in Slovenia! If ever we’re over there I’ll gladly trade some first class camp pitch secrets with you 🙂 Definitely keeping the exact co-ordinates off the blog though!!

  • antonette - we12travel says:

    Great post! We love camping and unfortunately in The Netherlands it’s not allowed to wild camp plus it’s super crowded so you will most likely get noticed, fined and sent away. However the Lake District may be a good spot for some wild camping practise. The last time we did that was in Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado where we had to consider bears … quite a fun but a little scary thing…

    • Ooh, I’d love to wild camp in the Rockies, even with the bears! We experienced them in Yosemite and it was scary, but all adds to the adventure. Hope you get to try it in the Lakes one day!

  • Kristen Bor (Bearfoot Theory) says:

    Great tips and awesome camping photos! I went to the Lake district once years back, but I would love to go back and do some camping like you suggest. Happy camping!

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