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If you’re planning to head out on a wild camping adventure, you’re going to need to know which essentials to pack in your rucksack. 

I spent three straight months wild camping and hiking in the isolated islands and West Coast of Scotland, so I know from experience which wild camping essentials you need to pack, and which things are going to be dead weight.

This article will tell you about all the wild camping essentials that you can’t forget, and which items you should leave at home. 

The article is also packed with helpful advice and information about wild camping in general, so make sure you have a pen and paper at the ready to take notes. 

A woman is sitting outside her tent, cooking food while wild camping in Scotland.

Wild Camping Essentials Checklist

Tent or Shelter

I hope you haven’t forgotten this essential piece of kit!

The type of tent that you need to bring along with you will depend on several factors. As a rule of thumb, we recommend a 3 season tent for most camping activities. You can find more information about the tent seasons in this article.

Don’t make the beginner’s mistake that I did and choose a bright yellow tent! 

In the spirit of leaving no trace, you want to be as discreet as possible. Greens and browns are good colors for blending into the local environment. 

The exception to this is if you are taking part in a demanding expedition and want emergency services to be able to find you easily. You can always bring a lightweight camouflage cover to put over your tent when you want to be discreet and take it off when you want to be more visible. 

If you prefer to get a bit closer to the great outdoors, you could consider camping with a hammock or a simple tarp shelter instead. Even the cheapest camping hammocks are lightweight these days, and often they integrate a mosquito net. 

Make sure to try out your shelter before leaving home. It’s the best way to ensure that no parts are missing. You don’t want to have your first practice at putting it up taking place in the wind or the rain!

Couple sleeping inside a wild camping tent in a sleeping bag

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags are not “one size fits all.” Smaller people should buy a smaller sleeping bag, so there isn’t lots of extra space inside, preventing you from keeping warm. Taller people may need to buy an extra-long sleeping bag. 

You also need to bring a sleeping bag that’s appropriate for the climate. 

If you find sleeping bags claustrophobic, you can buy high-quality camping duvets. Sometimes they come with an insulated under-blanket, too. If they don’t, make sure you have an insulated sleeping mat, so you don’t lose heat through your back. 

If you’re planning a romantic night in the hills, it is also possible to get a double sleeping bag! These are not a good idea if you are camping alone because they are bulky. 

Additionally, if you camp often, it’s a good idea to bring a sleeping bag liner with you. You can easily throw these in the washing machine when you get home, which is much more hygienic than putting your sweaty hiking feet in your sleeping bag every time you go camping!

Sleeping bag liners also offer a little extra warmth, which you may be grateful for if the weather turns!

Sleeping Pad

You have two main options with a sleeping pad: inflatable or foam.

Inflatable pads are usually more comfortable, but they also don’t do as well over time. They can pick up punctures easily, and they generally don’t hold air as well in the long run. 

You can bring along a little repair kit in case of punctures, or you could consider a foam mat instead. 

Foam mats are not as likely to get damaged over time. However, they are usually bulkier and less comfortable than the inflatable alternative. The other positive thing about a foam mat is that they typically are waterproof, so you can sit on them outside your tent when you cook your meal. 

Inflatable mats might get damp or punctured if you did this. 

If you’re camping in icy conditions, you might want to get both an inflatable mat and a foam mat. The roll pad would be a second insulating layer between yourself and the tent floor. 

Clothing 

When it comes to clothing, less is more. It’s more important to keep your pack light than to have a full set of clothing every day. You’re going to get a bit smelly, but that’s part of the fun!

Make sure you have good-quality base layers for cold weather. Hats, gloves, and warm socks are all good ideas. Don’t forget a waterproof top and bottom if there is any risk of rain. 

You will also want UV sunglasses, even in the snow. I forgot my sunglasses when snowshoeing in the Jura mountains. The sun reflecting off the snow was so intense that I had to turn back and go home for fear of long-lasting damage to my vision!

Comfortable footwear is a must, but there is great debate in the camping community as to whether hiking boots or trail shoes are best for your feet and ankles. Hiking boots offer more support, but trail shoes provide better flexibility and movement. 

If you have weak ankles that you twist a lot, I recommend hiking boots. The time to strengthen your ankles is at home, not whilst you’re scaling a mountain!

Hygiene

As tempting as it is to give yourself a wet wipe wash, I would advise against it if possible. Wet wipes are made from plastic, and they are causing a real problem for the environment by forming second river beds all over the world!

I use a piece of flannel and a bit of water to freshen up after a day on the trail. You can bring a fresh piece of flannel for every day, or you can rinse your flannel with a bit of ecological laundry liquid between uses. 

It might be tempting to cover yourself in deodorant and perfume, but I choose not to do that for two reasons:

  1. The floral-smelling products attract even more bugs that want to eat you alive
  2. The wildlife can smell you coming from a mile away, so you won’t see as many wild animals on the trail

In terms of basic hygiene, I wouldn’t bother bringing much else with me beyond a flannel, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, and hairbrush. You can buy dry shampoo if you are going for a longer camp, or you can just wait until you get back home for a proper wash. 

Toilet paper roll hanging on a tree branch at wild camp

Toilet Talk

You might not want to think about going to the toilet, but I’m afraid it’s all part of a wild camp!

You should bring a trowel to dig a hole at least 6 inches deep in which to bury your poo. This should be done well away from water sources and paths. Then, cover the hole with soil. You should never leave your toilet paper behind. 

You don’t need to bury your wee, but you do need to be mindful to go a bit away from any paths or water sources. 

Some people also do a ‘pack out’ system, in which they poo into a plastic bag and take it with them to dispose of properly. Again, there is much debate over which is the better practice.

You can do what you prefer, but I believe that if you properly bury and cover your poo, it is no more harmful than using disposable plastic toilet bags. 

Women might need to consider menstrual products such as a cup. You can rinse this out with water when, ahem, relieving yourself. Menstrual blood is perfectly natural and doesn’t need to be ‘packed out.’ Tampons, pads, and toilet paper do need to go in the bin.

Cooking food on a wild camping trip in Northern Ireland

Cooking

Moving on, you will need to bring food and cooking supplies with you. 

If you are just heating water for expedition food, Jetboil offers some efficient water boilers. If you want to cook basic food like rice or pasta, you can consider buying a little pan set and using it on a camping stove. 

You can also get cooking systems that use alcohol-based fuel, like the Trangia. These are great, especially for a group. I stick with gas and a stove because I’m used to it. I usually bring two mini canisters instead of one bigger one. 

That way, you will know when you have run out of half your gas. You do not want to be in the middle of the forest without enough gas to cook yourself dinner after a long day of hiking. Trust me; it’s the worst!

Pack some calorific snacks like trail mixes, too. Also, I always bring coffee to enjoy in the morning. The best coffee I have ever made from camping came from the mini Aeropress. 

You will also want the appropriate eating utensils, like cutlery, cups, plates, etc. Make sure to bring a bin bag so that you can take all your rubbish with you, including food scraps. 

If you’re carrying your water, I recommend you get a platypus water bag or something similar. If you are going to get water on the trail, you can use a water filter or water purification tablets.

Medical and Safety

Never go wild camping without some basic first aid and safety equipment. 

Although mapping apps are getting sophisticated, you never want to rely on your phone alone to get you out of the outdoors safely. Accidents happen, and your phone could run out of battery power or get smashed along the trail. 

It’s a good idea to bring along a cheap second phone that remains turned off unless you need it for an emergency. Otherwise, try bringing a battery pack that you use only if the situation calls for it. (Uploading a story to Instagram doesn't count as an emergency!)

A waterproof map cover is a great way to protect your paper map, but that won’t help if you don’t know how to read it. Practice your navigation in a safe environment before heading out on a big expedition!

At a minimum, your first aid kit should contain bandages and dressings. Antihistamine cream to treat bites is a good idea, as are blister plasters and tweezers in case of splinters. You also might want to bring alcohol to clean wounds, as well as some high energy gels.

The best bug repellant I have ever used is called Smidge. It saved my sanity when I was camping in Scotland and the infuriating clouds of midges (biting flies) turned the sky black. I didn’t have a bug hat, but I wish I did!

An emergency blanket is a non-negotiable. They are cheap and lightweight, and they can save your life if you get too hot or cold. These blankets have been invaluable to me on more than one occasion. 

Optional Extras

Here are a couple of things that are not essential, but that really improved my wild camping experience.

  • Comfortable flip flops
  • Inflatable pillow
  • A good book

There’s nothing like peeling off your hiking boots after a long hike. You probably won’t want to put them back on when you need to pop out for a wee! Some comfortable outdoor flip flops make everything a lot easier. 

I usually just bundle up some clothes as a pillow, but it’s a lot less comfortable than using an inflatable pillow. I wouldn’t go back to the old way now. 

And finally, what camping trip is complete without a book?!

I love to curl up in the tent with my head torch and read an old adventure story. Try to avoid any horror stories about camping in the woods, though, or you will not get a good night’s sleep!

FAQs About Wild Camping

Now that your wild camping kit list is sorted out, I will answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about wild camping!

Is Wild Camping Allowed?

It depends on which country you are in. In Scotland, for example, wild camping is allowed so long as you Leave No Trace and respect local people and ecosystems. In many countries, it can be illegal.

Some countries have different rules for different regions. In some places, wild camping is not technically legal, but it is widely tolerated. The best way to find out if wild camping is accepted where you are is to do a specific Google search for your area or talk to some locals. 

You should never light a fire when wild camping, even if you think you know what you are doing. Fire can spread through the underground root system of grasses and roots, even if it seems like you have put it out.

Fires also leave ugly scars on the ground, which creates more tension between campers and other outdoor users. 

Fires are lovely, but they belong in registered campgrounds with fire pits!

Where Should I Pitch My Tent?

You should pitch your tent on flat ground. Do not pitch up in sight of any buildings. Also, try to keep a respectful distance from any paths. 

It’s important to pitch up as late as possible and leave early in the morning to minimize your disturbance.

Don’t pitch up in a way that would damage crops or disturb wildlife or livestock. This includes keeping a distance from water where wild animals might come to drink. Also, do not play loud music that could disturb them. 

If possible, ask for permission from the landowner. 

Is Wild Camping Safe?

It depends on the location, the climate, and your experience level. 

The biggest threat when wild camping is normally the weather, so you will need plenty of warm and waterproof layers in the cold. If you are camping in a hot area, make sure you have enough water and some rehydration sachets. 

Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back so they can call for help in an emergency. So long as you respect your limits, you should be fine!

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this article about essential preparation for wild camping. To sum it all up, here is the wild camping essentials checklist in full:

  • Tent or other shelter
  • Sleeping bag or camping duvet
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Sleeping mat (foam or inflatable)
  • Cooking equipment and utensils
  • Food and a water system
  • Suitable clothing and footwear
  • Hygiene products
  • A shovel and toilet paper
  • First aid and safety equipment
  • A map and compass
  • A bin bag to take your rubbish away with you 

 Stay safe, and we wish you a very happy wild camping adventure!

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About the author

Rachel Horne

Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.


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