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When wild camping, the general advice I've heard is to pitch up late and leave early. However, what times are considered "late" and "early"?

One thought is that sunrise and sunset would be sensible definitions, but this doesn't seem overly practical in the UK or Northern Europe, at least in the summer months. For example, in the Lake District (UK) in June, sunset is around 22:00 and sunrise around 04:30, but it will only be "dark" between the start/end of (civil) twilight roughly ~45 minutes later/earlier. As you head further north into Scotland (or Northern Scandinavia), the amount of darkness will continue to decrease, and eventually disappear completely.

Whilst I accept this will be subjective to some extent, it should be possible to get a reasonable consensus as to what times would be typically considered acceptable for "late" and "early".

  • Is the leaving early because you don't want to get caught? – Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '18 at 20:39
  • @CharlieBrumbaugh I haven't actually done a wild camp yet, but at least in England and Wales wild camping is illegal without permission of the landowner (although tolerated in some places such as up the fells in the Lake District), so it makes sense that that would be at least part of the reason for the advice I've seen/heard – exterrestris Jun 19 '18 at 20:44
  • Please incorporate the extra info (from comment) into the question -- essentially defining "wild camping". To the uninitiated, it sounds like "wilderness camping". – Martin F Jun 23 '18 at 21:05
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With regards to the UK: "wild camping" is simply camping somewhere which is not an "organised" camp site. It is a right in Scotland, where the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which was introduced in 2005, sets out the rights of access and the right to camp throughout Scotland. The Act established a legal right to wild camp anywhere in Scotland so long as campers follow a few guidelines. Camping must be lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in one place. Campers must act responsibly, cause no pollution and leave no trace.

In England and Wales there is no right to camp in the wild without the express permission of the landowner. There are some areas where wild camping is fairly common and tolerated. For example, in the Lake District and Snowdonia above the highest field boundaries, there are large areas where the camping is accepted, providing reasonable precautions are taken, and campers must be out of sight of all roads and human habitation. But it's still not a right.

Dartmoor is a little different because you have a de facto right to camp and the national park does encourage responsible wild camping although some areas which are live firing ranges will have access restrictions at times when firing is planned.

The advice is to camp high up, pitch late and strike camp early, and to definitely leave no trace. Early and late is best thought of as unusually early or late, when people are less likely to be around rather than at a fixed time, so use common sense depending on location.

Even the Lake District National Park website has information on wild camping at http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/where-to-stay/wild-camping, so it's not exactly a "risky" activity!

  • +1. Although it doesn't directly answer the question (except for the last paragraph), this answer has very valuable information for someone who is relatively new to wild camping. You could add on about schedule by your experiences (or if there is a legitimate source that states a particular schedule). – WedaPashi Jun 22 '18 at 13:34
  • I wasn't expecting a fixed time, as it will obviously vary with the popularity of wherever you are and the time of year, just some rough guidelines. Using the likelihood of people being around is a helpful starting point, so thanks. – exterrestris Jun 22 '18 at 20:59
  • With that criteria, would you think that using the example of June in the Lake District (that I gave in the question), that pitching up half an hour to an hour before sunset and leaving a couple of hours after sunrise would probably be OK? Those timings seem reasonable for avoiding people to me - I did a circular walk from Grasmere last week arriving back to the campsite I was staying at around 21:00, and hadn't seen anyone for around three hours. – exterrestris Jun 22 '18 at 21:13
  • I have wild camped in the Lakes at this time of year reasonably high and away from busy paths and pitched at around 19:00 to 21:00 with no problems. In the morning I have been up at 07:00 and away by 08:00 after packing up and having breakfast. Like I said, apply common sense: if you haven't seen anyone for quite a long time and decide to pitch your tent and in the morning are away before the "crowds" from the valleys turn up, you should be OK. The nice thing is for a while at least, you can have the fells to yourself! If you do see anyone, they are probably also wild camping... – Paul Lydon Jun 22 '18 at 21:50
  • @PaulLydon Great, those sort of timings are what I thought would make sense, but it's good to get some confirmation from those with experience before doing it myself. – exterrestris Jun 24 '18 at 0:21
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It sounds like you are talking about the practice of dashing off into the woods to sleep in secret wherever you happen to be while traveling. I have heard this called "wild camping" before. Not to be confused with camping on hiking trails where you are allowed to camp anywhere, which I assume you are not talking about because the advice there is generally the opposite of what you have stated.

Most of the reasons that I have seen for making camp late and breaking it early when wild camping in this manner are all variations of "I don't want people knowing I'm there." Often because it is illegal, or because you are leery of crime.

Some questions to ask yourself, to determine your needs and capabilities

  • Are you able to set up after dark? Either because you can see enough, or because you have light - but then the light source could attract unwanted attention.

  • How much traffic will the area have? Are you likely to be spotted dashing off into the trees because vehicles are zooming past more than once per minute?

  • How badly do you want (or need) to stay undiscovered?

And there are more questions you could answer to further develop your personal answer to this.

The answer may also change depending on the site. Does the brush offer such good concealment that you could set up without anyone nearby noticing, or is your activity going to be obviously waving tall grass or bushes about and attracting attention, or possibly your movement be noticeable through the tree line?

When to set up or break camp

So the time should depend on many factors, but there are a few concrete things that we can say:

  • If there is hardly any traffic nearby and you are very unlikely to be seen by passers, then any time is likely fine.

  • If it is possible that you might be seen, or if it is of utmost importance to not be discovered (ie: you're in a place where it's illegal, punished harshly, and the law is enforced strongly), then you really have no option but to make/break camp in the dark, and preferably without shining light.

  • If the situation is somewhere in between the previous two points, as is likely, then waiting until no traffic is in sight to dash off into the trees or bushes to set up quickly, and staying still until dark, is probably sufficient and you would just wait as late as you are willing. And then the opposite for morning: as early as you are willing, which could be after sunrise (stay still after sunrise if so), pack up quickly when no traffic is in sight and dash back onto the road when it feels safe.

Important safety concerns

I have heard of wild campers being discovered and waking up to everything from wild animals nearby, to pleasant landowners wanting to be hospitable sharing coffee and a hot breakfast with the camper, to waking up with a gun in their face held by angry landowners.

Where it's illegal, the obvious expectation is that you'll either be forced to move "anywhere but our town, just get out of here", or arrested; however, I have heard of polite wild campers getting police to leave them alone, and even of police telling the camper where a safer place to camp is and sometimes even checking on the camper in the night to make sure they are safe.

Take this with a grain of salt

I have read up a lot about this practice, and I have been tempted to try it out, but so far I have kept my camping to areas where camping is permitted, such as designated camp sites or in government parks where you can camp anywhere. Your mileage may vary a lot. Be careful!

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