Wild Camping Essential Tips

Wild camping, sometimes called free camping, stealth camping or guerilla camping, is my favorite way to spend the night when cycle touring. It has led to some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences on my tours and after well over 200 nights of practice this is how I have learned to do it.

Begin Hunting For A Wild Camping Spot

Start looking for a good spot early on. I tend to start the hunt about 2 hours before I know I’ll be forced to camp – any later and I’ll be cooking in the dark. If I find one straightaway, even though it’s a bit early, I will often take it. Don’t pass up a good spot an hour or two before sunset unless you’re confident better ones lie ahead.

Several times I have been over optimistic about the camping opportunities that I imagined were just around the corner to later be found scrabbling around on sharp rocks at sunset, trying to find a flat spot to sleep on, and cursing my cavalier attitude.

Choose A Hidden Wild Camping Spot

Unless you’re in a totally wild area where it doesn’t matter or you have permission, your ideal wild camping spot should be sheltered and out of sight. The best way to have an undisturbed nights sleep is to be invisible to other people. If you can, hide away under a bush. You’ll be surprised how comfortable sleeping under a bush is with decent camping equipment. If you have a bivy, slide it right under, if you’re using a tent get it as close as you can.

In India I had the permission and company of an entire village!
In India I had the permission and company of an entire village!

It helps to have whatever you’re sleeping in, or under, camouflaged. This doesn’t necessarily mean camouflage print, if you happen to camp in freshly fallen autumn leaves then you might be least detectable with a bright yellow or orange bivy. Find a spot that matches your camping equipment closely in colour and shape to avoid detection. If you have reflectors on your bike and on the bikes luggage then cover them up, especially if you’re near a source of light such as a road. If a car comes by and shines its lights toward your reflectors you’ll light up like a Christmas tree and your wild camping spot will be exposed.

Wild Camping in Australia
Wild Camping in Australia

Think Carefully About Lighting Fires When Wild Camping

Personally I don’t make fires at my campsites if it’s prohibited in that place, if I’m in a developed area or if there is a risk of causing a wild-fire. If you’re camping where perhaps you technically shouldn’t and are discovered, having a fire might make the difference between being left alone or asked to move on and possibly even fined.

I’ve been found camping in all sorts of places, usually it involves someone shining a torch over my tent, some muffled words where I can only make out “tourist” in whatever language and then the police, park patrol, farmer or whoever it was walks away. A few times I’ve been woken and briefly questioned but allowed to stay as long as I promise to leave the next day. If I had a fire at my camp I think I would have had a much harder time convincing the authority that I was harmless.

Wild Camping in Europe
Wild Camping in Europe

Leave No Trace

Treat the place in which you are camping with respect. Never leave any trace of your camp. Like most cycle tourers, I take pride in leaving my campsites the same way or better than I found them. Occasionally, I’ll even take some litter that’s not mine away with me and I’m pleased to say I’ve seen many others do the same.

If you follow all of these suggestions you’re likely to find a good spot, sleep undisturbed and, if by chance you are discovered, left alone. You might even make a friends. More than a few times in Turkey, Ellie and I were found by landowners that, once they had realised what we were doing, insisted that we eat together – a prospect almost universally appreciated by cyclists. There is no time I feel hungrier than the morning after a monumental days ride – and a slow start to the day over a long breakfast with good company can make the perfect break from pedaling.

Seeing his country, possibly for the first time, on a map.
Seeing his country, possibly for the first time, on a map.

One of my most memorable encounters of this nature was with a man living in Turkey that was single-handedly building his own home with bricks and mortar. He loved seeing a map of his country, I think for the first time, and calling out place names he recognised. Looking at the map of Turkey, and only Turkey, he would call out; “This is in Turkey… and this, this is in Turkey too – that’s in Turkey, that’s in Turkey!”, as he pointed to major cities.

He may have not recognised the shape of his own country but he was building a wonderful house and his English was better than my Turkish. He just had a totally different sphere of experience.

Some of My Favourite Wild Camping Spots

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5 thoughts on “Wild Camping Essential Tips”

  1. In Texas it can be awfully hard to find a spot to set up a wild camp. Almost every square inch of the state is privately owned by people with itchy trigger fingers and more guns than common sense. If I can’t find a good spot, I usually just ask someone if I can camp out at the edge of their land. I have had good luck with that, especially if I start by giving them my name and the city I come from. Cyclists are considered to be pretty low risk. I’ll also try to get the address so I can send a thank you note later.

  2. A friend and I once camped out in a field in just our sleeping bags! We were not prepared as you suggest… He was woken the next day by a dog humping his head!

    1. That sounds very exciting Paul, was this friend of yours OK? I imagine that could be quite traumatic. . . Perhaps is depends on how much you like dogs!

  3. Trying to keep out of sight does solve a lot of problems when sleeping on other peoples land and I can only recall a few times when Ive been asked to move on.

    If everybody cleaned camp properly after they left I get the feeling more landowners would be more open to a spot of impromptu wild camping (and less aware it was actually going on).

    It seems like you had a few good experiences in Turkey, I may just have to add that one to my bucket list.

    Enjoyable read thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment WildTerrain. Yes cleaning up you camp is something I feel strongly about too. When traveling generally I think a great way to show respect for the places you visit and the people that live there is to not leave any litter and tidy up after yourself.

      I can’t recommend Turkey highly enough, I don’t think you’ll regret adding it to your bucket list.

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