The Go Wild Go West blog

A Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping

This is a beginner’s guide to wild camping in a bivvy bag, from one beginner to another. I’ve always been keen to dip my toe in the bivvy-bagging water, but totally clueless about how to…

sleeping in a bivvy bag
Sleeping in a bivvy bag

What is a bivvy bag?

A bivvy bag is like a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. It keeps you dry and saves the faff of carrying and putting up a tent. Bivvy bagging is truly sleeping under the stars.

Is wild camping for me?

Yes!! Sleeping under the stars is better than I could have imagined. Snuggling up in a sleeping bag with the fresh breeze on your face, looking up at the clear, starry night is a brilliant feeling… whether you’re up a mountain, or in your garden.

Here, I’ve tried to cover some of the questions that had stopped me from wild camping in a bivvy bag in the past… Is wild camping in the uk legal? What do I need to take? What if it rains? Where do I go to the loo?

So if you’re interested, have a read and then take the plunge into the wonderful world of bivvy bagging!

Maybe you could plan a wild camping night for your 2024 adventure bucket list?

wild camping
waking up in the wild

Is wild camping legal in the UK?

The short answer is no (especially since the atrocious outcome of the Alexander Darwall vs Dartmoor National Park legal case). The better answer is get creative! You don’t need to break the law to wild camp, there are other ways. But, wherever you go, use your common sense. Stay well off any paths, be respectful to landowners, head off early and leave no trace.

Where to wild camp?

As a wild camping beginner, you don’t have to head straight into the wilderness for your first time sleeping out under the stars.

– ‘Wild’ camping in your garden

As a family, we spent our first few ‘wild’ camping nights sleeping in the garden so that we could test it out first. It was great.

  • It’s totally legal and hassle free
  • If you need to ‘cheat’, you can nip into the house to get anything you’ve forgotten… and go for a wee whilst you’re at it!
  • If you’ve forgotten something, there’s not far to go to fetch it
  • If you’re too cold, pop in to get more layers
  • You can cook dinner on your camping stove or use the BBQ
  • And if it’s a total disaster – you can crawl into bed

The more we practiced in the garden, the more authentic/’wild’ we got until we didn’t need to go into the house at all.

wild camping with kids
Wild Camping in the garden

– Venture out into your ‘local wild’

For our first family bivvy bag/wild camp out of the garden, we still stayed relatively close to home. We chose a spot that we knew well from local walks, by a stream just a 15 minute walk from home. Being close to home, it was easy to find the landowner to ask permission. With landowner permission, wild camping is completely legal. Bikepacking is an option too.

We packed up all the kit (see below) and ventured out. The kids were beyond excited about their adventure. Although we were close to home, we felt like we could be anywhere in the world! Arriving at our spot, we did a bit of stamping around on the grass to clear any ticks, then set up camp before it got dark. There was a slight chance of rain (in fact, it rained really hard!) so the boys chose to sleep under their Den Kit tarpaulin.

using a tarpaulin whilst wild camping
a tarpaulin protects from rain

We cooked dinner on the camping stove, cracked open a bottle of wine, and talked for hours.

The kids adventured up the stream and found badger trails so, after dark we watched the trails with anticipation and were thrilled to see the badgers scuttling along. At the same time, a barn owl swooped overhead hunting for it’s dinner.

After snuggling up in my bivvy bag that night, I heard the barn owl screeching (loudly) above our heads and watched shooting stars in the sky. It was genuinely amazing.

wild camp
setting up camp

What to pack for wild camping?

I found this hardest to get my head round. We wanted to bivvy bag in the wild as a family, but young children come with a lot of ‘stuff’ and they seem incapable of carrying that ‘stuff’ themselves. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. They managed to carry their own backpacks with a few of the lighter items (including their teddies which were essential).

My husband and I both had a 60l Lomo dry bag in which we could carry all the things we needed.

lomo bag
Lomo dry bag

There are a few essentials that you need.

Hardened wild campers may roll their eyes at my essentials list but this is for the wild camping beginners amongst us, those that prefer an element of comfort….

  • Sleeping Bag
  • Bivvy Bag (ours are the Hunka bivvy bag from Alpkit)
  • Food & Water
  • Wine
  • Coffee
  • Roll mat
  • Tarpaulin if ground is dewy.
  • Spare clothes
  • Dry bag to keep spare clothes dry
  • Hat if cold
  • Camping stove and kettle
  • Bowls/plates, cutlery, camping wine glass, mug
  • Lighter or matches
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste… I like a clean tooth before bed time.

Check out our camping check list here... might need trimming down for wild camping!

How do I set up my bivvy bag?

If you’re sleeping on a tarpaulin, lay that down first. Then roll out your bivvy bag and set your roll mat up inside the bivvy bag (it’ll get wet on the outside). Unpack your sleeping bag and put inside your bivvy bag. I then fold over the top to make sure no creepy-crawlies climb in before I get into bed.

When you get into bed, tuck your head into your sleeping bag, and make sure your sleeping bag is tucked fully into your bivvy bag to prevent getting a wet head. You can then also quickly tighten your bivvy bag around you if it rains.

What to eat when wild camping?

We cooked dinner in advance and packed it in some Tupperware. Something simple to heat up on the camping stove, like stew or curry, and warming. Check out our ideas for outdoor cooking. We also took breakfast for the morning with milk (in a water bottle to make sure it didn’t leak).

camping dinner
eating simple

Take plenty of bottles of water to drink and to heat up in the morning for coffee.

Who to go wild camping with

Yourself – a lovely bit of space

Family – a real adventure for you and the kids

Friends – we went as a group of 4 girlfriends (all beginner wild campers) and thoroughly enjoyed our adventure. We talked and drank wine under the stars then snuggled up in our bivvy bags, enjoying a rare lie-in until 7am in the morning!

When to go wild camping?

Summer may be the obvious answer but this is definitely not an exclusively summer activity! Though summer evenings may be warmer and less likely to rain, there’s something really enjoyable about sleeping out on cooler, darker evenings. We’ve camped all year round and even had frosty bivvy bags in winter.

What if it rains whilst wild camping?

It’s ok if it rains. You can tighten your bivvy bag right around your face so only your eyes are exposed (and hopefully they’ll be closed!). You could also tie the tarpaulin up in the trees as a cover if needed. If you don’t have a tarp or rope, then sleep under a tree for protection.

What if I get cold?

Make sure you have a decent sleeping bag for the season. If you’re wild camping in December in a summer sleeping bag, you might get cold.

Your sleeping bag is designed to save your body heat so, strangely, sleeping in fewer layers is better as the sleeping bag will insulate you.  

Don’t go to bed cold – it’s much harder to warm up if you’re starting off cold. Instead do star jumps before getting into your sleeping bag to warm you up. Then your sleeping bag will do the rest! Wearing a hat helps too.

happy wild campers
happy campers

Where do I go to the loo when wild camping?

Embrace the wild wee. There’s nothing wrong with weeing outdoors whether you’re wild camping or caught short on a walk. As long as you’re discreet and try not to flash anyone, or wee on anyone’s private property. Urine is actually very good for plants and trees as it’s rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

What about a wild poo? Also not a problem. Hide yourself away in a discreet area well away from footpaths or chance encounters with other people. Dig a hole using a trowel if you have one, or a stick. Gather some leaves to use as loo paper and, when you’re done, cover the hole and make sure there’s no trace of your visit.

Take the plunge…

The idea of wild camping and bivvy bagging may seem daunting and only for hardened campers. It’s definitely not, trust me. It’s a real experience, a challenge, and a chance to try something totally new and potentially totally out of your comfort zone.

Go for it!

Not quite ready for wild camping?
Check out our guide to garden camping here
Or Cool Camping’s recommendations for ‘nearly wild’ campsites here