Wild camping is one of my favourite ways to see stunning parts of the country and get away from the crowds. This guide contains everything you need to know about wild camping in Scotland from how to find a perfect spot to pitch your tent, useful things for your packing list, tips for camp life and the most important laws and rules to keep in mind.
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Thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 it is perfectly legal to wild camp in Scotland. Apart from a few exceptions (read on to find out more), you can pitch your tent pretty much anywhere you like as long as the land is unenclosed. Since you are not restricted to official campsites, this makes camping adventures in Scotland even easier to plan.
However, it is important to wild camp with intention and treat the environment and locals with respect.
Wild camping during Coronavirus:
Stay up to date with the latest information about access to the outdoors during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Check the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website for guidance.
I love wild camping when I go on multi-day hikes in Scotland. Carrying my tent with me gives me the freedom to walk as far as my feet will carry me before finding a suitable place to pitch for the night.
But it can be intimidating to plan a wild camping trip, especially if you are new to the activity or don’t know the landscape of Scotland very well.
Make this post your go-to guide for all things wild camping. Read on to find…
- My top tips for wild camping beginners
- Pitching your tent in the wild,
- Useful things to include in your packing list,
- Tips for camp life, and
- The most important laws & rules to consider when you are out and about in Scotland.
Wild Camping Rules
First things first. With more and more people wild camping in Scotland, it is important to know how to do it responsibly.
1. Scottish Outdoor Access Code
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is like a rule book for making use of your right to roam responsibly. It contains information regarding dog walking in the countryside, how to behave around farm animals, cycling, hiking and camping in tents and with campervans.
With regards to wild camping in Scotland there are a few simple rules to keep in mind to leave to trace:
- Don’t litter! Take away all your rubbish and dispose of it properly. Ideally in a place with good bin infrastructure, not at some remote bin at the end of a glen.
- Leave no trace and remove all signs of the impact of your tent and yourself
- Don’t cause pollution or harm to the environment. If wild camping with a campervan, don’t drain your chemical toilet tank in nature. If you are in a place where making fires is allowed, don’t cut down trees or fences for firewood.
- Pick up after yourself – this includes human waste. Burry it or take it away with you to dispose of. Don’t leave behind toilet paper and wet wipes, but take these with you. A ziploc bag does the trick. (See more in Tip 20 below.)
- Be respectful of the environment as well as other people around you.
You can stay in any one place for no more than 3 nights in order to minimise your impact on flora and fauna.
If you wild camp with others, keep the group size as small as possible.
This is a handy cheat sheet for responsible camping.
WILD CAMPING NEXT TO YOUR CAR OR IN A CAMPERVAN
Whenever possible managed campsites or caravan parks should be used. There is no legal right to park overnight by the side of the road, but also no law that forbids it explicitly. That said, you should really only wild camp next to your car or in your campervan in suitable places.
Don’t block access roads, don’t park in dangerous locations or passing places, follow “leave no trace” principles and taking care of the environment, keep a distance from houses, historic monuments and such, and properly dispose of your litter and human waste.
Additional advice applies regarding parking and disposal of chemical waste (of campervans).
2. Lighting fires
While lighting fires is not generally illegal in Scotland, it poses high risk particularly on peaty soils or dry grass. Scotland might get a lot of rain, but wildfires are possible. If your fire gets out of control, you might be liable for any damage caused.
Fires should generally be avoided and whenever possible, camping stoves should be used as an alternative.
If you do light a fire, remove all trace of it before you leave your campsite. Note that collecting firewood is not allowed in many places as it damages the environment. You have to bring your own firewood and preferably use a fire bowl for safety.
PS: When using single-use BBQs, set them up on rocks as they damage the grass beneath.
3. Loch Lomond Bye-laws
There is only one area were wild camping in Scotland is restricted on a wider scale: the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. From 1 March to 30 September, camping inside the Camping Management Zone at Loch Lomond is only possible at official campsites or with a camping permit.
These bye-laws help to protect the national park from environmental damage and were introduced in this particularly popular area to manage visitor numbers.
The Camping Management Zone focusses mostly on shorelines of lochs in the national park area – Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Loch Ard, Loch Achray, Loch Venachar, Loch Lubnaig, Loch Earn and others.
Read up on the bye-laws and see which exact areas are affected here.
PS: There are also other areas where wild camping is not permitted, but they are usually signposted. If you see a sign that says “no camping”, don’t do it!
Wild Camping Tips for Beginners
4. Hire camping equipment to cut costs
Putting together a gear kit for hiking and wild camping can be expensive, especially if you start from zero! You might already have a pair of hiking boots and a waterproof jacket, but you might lack a suitable light-weight tent, warm sleeping bag and comfortable sleeping mat to get you through the night.
Luckily, there are many options to work around that. You don’t have to invest a huge sum if you are just starting to try wild camping and just want to dip your toes in.
You can hire most or the gear you need for a simple overnight hike and wild camping trip from rental services. This allows you to try different kinds of tents before deciding which to invest in.
Tiso, a massive outdoor shop in Glasgow, hires out 4-season hiking boots in all of their shops (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Aviemore and Perth.
Rent-a-tent Scotland hires out camping equipment including tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats. The only thing I recommend is getting a thin sleeping bag inlay for hygienic reasons. This will also keep you warmer.
Most other things on my camping packing list are either easy to borrow from friends or relatively cheap purchases, such as a headlamp or a pocket knife. Bringin a camping stove & gas canister gives you the luxury of brewing a hot cup of tea but is not an essential item on an overnight trip.
5. Choose the best tent
The best tents for wild camping are light-weight and easy to pitch by yourself. I have this 1-2 person tent which is super easy and quick to pitch and take down, even when it’s windy.
If you are new to camping or hired a tent from a shop, practice how to pitch it before you leave for your adventure.
There is nothing worse than fighting with an unfamiliar tent when you are tired from a long day’s walk, or the weather is not in your favour.
6. Begin with one night
Wild camping is perfect for micro-adventures. You don’t have to start with a massive long-distance hike. You could simply take the train out of town on a Saturday morning, walk all day, camp overnight and return home on Sunday.
For your first wild camp, just head out for one night and slowly work your way up to longer trips from that. Going for just one night means, you won’t ever be more than one day’s walk from your car or a train/bus station (if you travel by public transport). Even if you get rained on or water gets in your tent, you know you will be back home and warm the next day.
7. Choose an easy route to start
No need to climb massive mountains with a heavy backpack. Easy options for your first few wild camps are coastal walks where you can camp near the beach. My first solo wild camp in Scotland was the West Island Way.
Other great places for a similar experience are the beaches of Arisaig or the Isle of Tiree, where you can easily fly to from Glasgow or take the train + ferry via Oban if you have more time.
Pitching your tent to wild camp in Scotland
8. How to find the perfect spot to pitch a tent
I was very nervous about finding a good place to pitch on my first wild camping trip. Official campsites usually have plenty of flat ground and are often well-drained. Finding comparable luxuries in the wild is rather difficult.
The best place to pitch a tent is a spot with a flat surface and reasonably dry ground. As Scotland is hilly and boggy (wetlands), this is not always easy to find. You can clear away rocks and twigs for comfort, but should not alter the ground too much.
Ideally, you are also looking for a fairly sheltered spot, so you are not exposed to the weather from all sides.
Note, that you much not dig ditches to drain your camping spot or move large rocks to make space for your tent. Wild camping can only remain legal if campers minimise their impact on the environment as much as possible. Read more in the “Rules & Laws” section about being a responsible wild camper.
9. Pitch with the wind
Wind can make for sleepless nights in a tent. Aim to pitch your tent in a way that allows wind to flow through as easily as possible.
Position your tent with the wind and your door facing away from the direction the wind is coming from.
10. Aim for privacy
While wild camping is legal in most places, you can’t just pitch up in someone’s garden. You can only wild camp in unenclosed areas.
Keep a reasonable distance from houses and try not to camp right in front of people’s view. If someone built their house to have uninterrupted views of the beach, they might not want to see your tent outside their window first thing in the morning.
Imagine finding a place to pee in the morning…
You could always ask for permission to camp near a house if for example you can’t find anywhere else with reasonably flat ground or sheltered from the wind.
Wild Camping Packing List
11. Wild camping essentials
- A large backpack that is comfortable to carry and big enough for all your camping equipment. I like this 60L backpack for longer trips but might use a 40-50L pack for short overnight trips.
- A lightweight tent that is easy to pitch.
- A sleeping system = a warm sleeping bag and a sleeping pad.
- A water system: I like to bring a large bottle as well as a water bladder. I use a portable water filter to filtrate water from streams.
- A camping stove, gas cartridge, small pot, cutlery, pocket knife and a cup.
- A lighter or matches (waterproof or in a Ziploc bag).
- A headlamp.
- Walking poles – even if you don’t normally use them as walking with a heavy pack is more exhausting.
- Quick-drying clothes (not cotton).
- Waterproof layer: jacket + trousers.
- Hiking boots, socks and camp shoes.
- A trowel for your waste (see more below).
- Midge repellant (see more below).
- Map and compass on more advanced trails.
- A power bank.
- Waterproof pouches, reusable Ziploc bags and/or dry bags.
- Biodegradable toiletries.
- Hand sanitising gel.
- Toilet paper.
- First Aid Kit.
Check out my packing list for long-distance hiking (with camping) for a full list of items to bring.
12. Midge spray & net
Midges are little beasties. They are tiny black flies that come out in huge numbers, love to bite and leave itchy marks. They hatch in late May/early June and hang around until September. They usually come out in the morning and evening.
They are easy enough to avoid when you stay indoors, but hard to escape when you go camping.
Luckily, midges hate heat and wind, so they are less likely to bother you when there is a breeze and/or the sun is out.
13. Camp shoes
Always bring a second pair of light-weight shoes to wear around your tent.
I know it can seem like unnecessary additional weight, but your feet will need a break from your hiking boots.
14. A power bank
Hiking and wild camping are great opportunities to switch off and disconnect from your phone. However, I like keeping my devices charged for emergencies, to take photos and to listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
15. A reusable litter bag
I have a reusable litter bag with a drawstring that I tie to the outside of my backpack.
When I know I have to carry my litter with me for a few days, I line it with a large ziplock bag to keep it clean.
When I know I can frequently dispose of litter, I save the plastic bag and simply wash the litter bag after emptying it. The less plastic, the better.
16. Carry plenty of water
You might be able to fill up your water bottles at a nearby stream – bring a water filter to make it safe to drink – but I would not rely on that. I recommend bringing as much water as you need with you.
I like having around 2 litres of water with me for the night. That is enough to boil water for my dehydrated camping meal, brew a cup of tea and fill my water bottle with hot water to stay warm.
Note, that you need additional water to drink during the hike in as well as the hike out.
On longer multi-day hikes, I have asked people if they would fill up my water bottles when I passed houses, used my water filter to take water from streams or filled up at public facilities. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Scotland.
17. Dry damp clothes in your sleeping bag
Did you know you can dry damp clothes with your body heat?
Simply place your damp socks or sweaty t-shirt in your sleeping bag overnight and they will be dry the next morning.
18. How to stay warm at night
This is one of my favourite camping hacks to stay warm during the night. Use your water bottle as a hot water bottle and take it into the sleeping bag with you!
Other ways to stay warm is by using a thin sleeping bag inlay. This creates an additional layer of air inside the sleeping bag, which helps insulate your better.
Make sure your sleeping mat is reasonably thick to create distance between you and the cold ground. An air matress is generally warmer than a camping pad as the air works as an insulator. I use this one.
I recommend a three-season sleeping bag for wild camping in Scotland from April to September. If you want to camp at lower temperatures, I recommend a 4-season sleeping bag. I use this one.
19. Bring podcasts for entertainment
I like to hike in silence during the day – it’s the perfect time for me to think and reflect. In the evenings, I take some time to write down thoughts in my notebook and go through the route for the next day on the map.
By the time I’m done with that, I am usually way too tired to read a book. So, I bring podcasts and audiobooks to enjoy in the evenings.
20. Dealing with your waste
Now, let’s talk about the unavoidable: where to “go” in the outdoors.
If you have to urinate, do so at least 30 metres away from open water and streams. If you’re using toilet paper, you must carry it away in a resealable bag or container. Toilet paper takes a long time to break down and might harm wildlife. I carry a small roll of toilet paper in a ziploc bag to make sure it stays dry.
If you have to defecate, do so as far away as possible from buildings, open water and streams, and also away from wildlife. You must bury your business in a shallow hole and cover it up with turf. Bring a small trowel for this purpose.
This PDF contains more useful explanations.
Wild camping in Scotland is a fantastic way to see parts of the country you could not access otherwise by car or public transport. Carrying a tent with you gives you the freedom to spend the night in the most beautiful places in Scotland without having to spend a single penny on accommodation.
Equipped with these 20 tips, I hope that you will plan your first (or next) wild camping trip soon.
Have you ever pitched your tent in the Scottish countryside? What was your favourite spot?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.