Wild camping (aka: stealth camping, free camping, or rough camping) is the practice of sleeping outside in a place of your choosing, rather than in an officially-designated campsite.
Whether it’s legal depends on where you do it, but it’s never fun if you’re asked to move on in the middle of the night!
This post will cover exactly what makes a good wild camping spot, practical advice for finding one, how to maximise your chances of spending the night undetected – and how to do all of the above in a responsible manner.
Wild camping is a hot topic, especially in the developed world. That’s because many lovers of the outdoors (myself included) believe that sleeping on land that was once owned by nobody is a long-understood right at best and a victimless crime at worst – but those who privately own so much of that land usually don’t agree.
Join landless majority in our conviction (no pun intended), and you’ll have taken the first step towards finding an incredible wealth of free and inconspicuous places to rest your head. You’ll neither harm anyone nor disrupt their livelihood while doing so. And if you do it right, they’ll never know you were there anyway.
How I (& Many Others) Know Wild Camping Works Everywhere
My introduction to wild camping was back in 2007, when crossing Europe by bicycle on a shoestring budget (just over €5 a day) made sleeping rough a necessity.
Arriving in Istanbul at the end of that summer, I was pretty amazed to calculate that during the four months it took me to cycle from England to Turkey, I’d spent a total of five nights in paid accommodation.
Learning to rely on wild camping was difficult and stressful – at first. But soon, discovering that it was not only possible but relatively easy was a true revelation.
Since then, I’ve spent over a decade relying on the wild camping during my travels on six continents. I would estimate I’ve spent more than a thousand nights sleeping under canvas for free in this way.
I was far from the first traveller to have had this realisation, and I thank the practice of wild camping for helping me cultivate a deeper and more personal connection with the world we live in – as well as allowing me to better use my limited resources to travel further and for longer.
How much money could wild-camping save you?
The initial drive to make wild-camping my primary form of overnight accommodation was financial. I had £3,500 in the bank and €800 in cash when I hit the road in 2007, intending to cycle round the world over a period of 3–4 years.
If I’d stayed at the cheapest available hostels in European towns and cities, at the time averaging about £10 a night, my first four months on the road would have cost an extra £1,200. That would have been about 25% of my entire trip budget.
Another way to put this is that one good-quality tent costing £300 had paid for itself within one month of cycle touring across Europe. (These days you can get a good lightweight tent for much cheaper than that.)
That’s not to mention that I was no longer restricted to places where accommodation was available. As a cyclist, I spent 90% of my time in the countryside between settlements – which is where all the best wild-camping opportunities are anyway.
Since that first trip, practice has made perfect, and there’s nowhere I’ve not found a free spot to rest at night when I’ve tried.
Some Tips On How To Wild Camp Successfully
When talking about doing anything successfully, it’s usually a good idea to define what ‘success’ actually means. For me, a successful wild camp is one which gives you a good night’s sleep, harms nobody in the process, and leaves no trace.
The last point is key: it is largely those whose wild camping behaviour causes disruption and damage who fuel arguments (mainly in the First World) for laws and crackdowns against the practice.
It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of wild camping is motivated by practical considerations, rather than aesthetic ones. Whatever ridiculous images people feel compelled to post on Instagram, know that the reality of wild camping is likely to look rather mundane by comparison.
With those realistic expectations in mind, here are some key strategies I’ve developed for finding a suitable place to wild camp, especially if you’re close to civilization and open country is in short supply.
These tips are written primarily with cycle tourers and bikepackers in mind, but could just as well be applied if you’re on a thru-hike or backpacking trip – just as long as you’re carrying a suitable lightweight tent (or, if you think tents suck, one of the many tent alternatives for sleeping outdoors).
1. Talk to local people
If you’re unsure about the safety of your surroundings, or whether wild camping will be tolerated, stop and talk to whoever is around. 99% of the time, the people you meet will be very happy to help you find a suitable spot for your tent. Especially if you’re near a settlement, it’s always best to have the locals’ blessing if possible.
Often you’ll find that this will lead to social encounters and occasionally full-blown hospitality, and this is one of the enviable experiences that few but the independent traveller have the opportunity to enjoy.
(If there’s nobody around, of course – great! Wild camping couldn’t be easier!)
2. Know when to stop
If you’re in open country, allow at least 1–2 daylight hours to locate a suitable campsite. Allow even more time while you’re still learning what makes a good spot.
If you’re in or approaching a town or city, you will also need to consider whether you need to stop for anything, and if you’ve got time to make it through and out the other side, or if you’re better off stopping or backtracking.
You’ll also need time to check the area and set up your camp before dark. Spending a few minutes absorbing the vibe of the area is usually a good idea. If something feels wrong, trust your gut and move on. Your gut is usually right.
The amount of time you need will also depend on where you are. In truly wild places you may be spoilt for choice, but if you’re in a humanmade landscape, chances are you’ll need to keep moving for a while before you find the beach/woodland/pasture you’re looking for.
If you’re in a busy area with lots of people or traffic around, scout a spot, have dinner, then sneak off to your campsite after sunset. It’s not ideal, but you’re unlikely to be noticed after dark. Pitch your tent in the post-sunset twilight to avoid using your headtorch and giving away your location. You’ll still be able to see, but drivers with their vehicle headlights on will perceive only darkness.
3. Get to know yourself better
Wondering why you’re anxious and paranoid on your first attempt at wild camping? Good news: this is exactly how you’re supposed to feel. (And it’s amplified if you’re doing it alone.)
Even those with thousands of nights of wild camping experience still sometimes feel like this. Evolution favoured those who could identify potential threats and avoid them. Our survival in the past depended on having overactive imaginations, which were (and still are) great at creating wild fantasies of savage beasts and hostile tribes hiding behind every rock.
The simple truth is that you have to push through this phase of learning, and the easiest way to do this is to do more wild camping! (Meditation also helps.)
Once you’ve got over the hump, you’ll start seeing potential camping spots everywhere, and boring your friends by incessantly pointing them out.
Yes, there’s stuff living out there – mostly dogs and ants, in my experience (and, if in England, fluffy little bunnies). And if a dog finds you in your nylon cocoon in the woods, it’ll leave you well alone (after stealing your breakfast if you left it outside).
But almost no animal will come to you looking for a fight, because random aggression hasn’t generally been an evolutionarily stable strategy.
(If you’re American and you’re about to mention bears, you’re right, and you already know how to camp in bear country.)
And humans don’t roam the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons. Why? Because, like you, they’re afraid of humans roaming the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons!
Once it gets dark, people are uninquisitive of anywhere outside the places they know by daylight. (The exception is border guards and other security forces, so don’t camp near them.)
Now, of course, we’ve slaughtered or contained most of the man-eating wildlife and have got used to living in each other’s company, so it’s safe to chill out. I’ve been hiding my tent just out of sight of roads all over six continents for months on end and have never encountered anything more than an invitation to come and sleep somewhere warmer and/or enjoy a glass or two of the local tipple (except for one black bear in Washington).
Actually, you’ll be surprised where you can get away with putting a tent, sleeping rough or blagging a horizontal surface! Sometimes, in ’emergencies’, it’s been fun seeing what’s possible in this regard. I’ve slept in bus shelters, inner-city parks, building sites, roadside verges, subways, empty garages, petrol stations, fishing boats, tramps’ hovels, hotel gardens, under tables, drainage pipes, storage sheds, abandoned buildings – even about five metres from a busy main road in full view of anyone who cared to stop and take a look!
Sure, the last one wasn’t ideal – the mud was really sticky – but I still got my head down undisturbed for a few hours.
Of course, if you’re out in the Sahara or crossing the Mongolian steppe, you can put a tent anywhere you please. The world is your campsite. Enjoy it!
4. Practice the art of invisibility
Not being seen while wild camping is not just a practical concern – if you’re confident in your own inconspicuousness, you’ll also sleep much better. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to make yourself as invisible as possible.
The first is perhaps the most basic: get away from anywhere there are likely to be people. For cycle tourers, that means getting off the road and well away from the beams of passing headlights. For hikers, it means going off-trail. Avoid places that are obviously popular stops. A good rule of thumb is to keep going until the litter and used toilet paper stops, then go a bit further.
If you’re planning on sleeping in a tent, try to get one in a natural shade of green. This will serve you well in a wide variety of environments, because if it’s green, stuff grows there, and if stuff grows there, people probably live there, and people can’t see a green tent in a green field at night. (Other colours will get you by as well, just not as stealthily.)
Unstitch any shiny labels on the outside of you tent. Replace the guy lines for ones that aren’t luminous and ultra-reflective. Remember how useful you thought the reflective bits on your bags & tyres would be at night? Well, now they’re useful for showing passing drivers exactly where you are. Make sure they’re facing away from the road, or cover them with Gaffa Tape.
I often bring a dark-coloured poncho on longer trips, as a waterproof in heavy rain, a picnic blanket when it’s sunny, and finally a cover for my bike and gear to keep it dry and inconspicuous at night.
5. Consider alternative sleeping systems
I often travel with a bivvy bag or a hammock, as I explain in this post about why tents suck.
For the uninitiated, a bivvy bag is British/American slang for a waterproof, breathable sack which offers an extra layer of protection for you, your sleeping bag, and your camping mattress. (Australians call the same thing a swag.)
Bivvy bags/sacks (or swags) are smaller and lower to the ground than a tent, and often leave your face exposed. It’s for this reason that many users prefer the feeling of sleeping outdoors in a bivvy bag than that of being cooped up ‘indoors’ in a tent.
For added protection from the elements, learn to rig up a poncho or tarp as a shelter (or a ‘basha’ in military-speak) using a bit of light cord and/or a few cargo bungees such as the ones that might be strapping stuff to your bike. Slide under this in your bivvy bag and you’ll stay dry even in a downpour. (For the full military experience, you can leave your boots on inside your sleeping bag as well.)
Another approach is to use an inconspicuous camping hammock, such as the Hennessy (which I absolutely love).
The great benefits of a hammock in the context of wild camping is that they will allow you to sleep outside in denser woodland and/or on steep (wooded) hillsides, neither of which are suited to ground-based camping.
In summary: Relax, it’ll be fine
My distilled advice for successful wild camping? Prepare as well as you can, believe that there’s a perfect spot just waiting to be discovered, and leave it just as you found it.
Once you’ve got the hang of it – and it will take a few attempts – you’ve got a dependable tool for getting a good night’s sleep anywhere in the world, for free.
Just imagine the possibilities…!
Perhaps you’re an experienced wild-camper already? Why not share your top tips with us in the comments below?
209 replies on “How To Wild Camp Anywhere For Free And Not Get Busted”
[…] private property. Some choose to wild camp through countries where accommodation may be costly like Tom who is exploring the world on his bicycle, others wild camp the backcountry of forestry service […]
[…] For useful information on how to camp anywhere (and not get busted), check out this guide by Tom’s Bike Trip. […]
Hello everyone, I should mention two good alternatives which I use in Germany all the time; Warm showers which is great and rural shelters (which by the way are off-limits if they are situated in water protection areas, which means that you are allowed to take a break in them, but not to stay overnight). A brilliant third alternative, which works really well, as Tom already mentioned, is simply to approach farmhouses and ask for permission to set up your tent for the night. I have never been refused hospitality.
Thanks Tom for your blog.
Hey,I’m planning to go wild camping this summer in Greece,and I’m a bit afraid of cops,because everyone says that it is illegal,and you will have to pay a high fine if a police cathces you. What are your experience people? Need some advice!!
[…] Wild camping with a bivy is much easier than a tent- Bivies don’t stick up above the ground like a tent does. The low profile helps you stay hidden. This makes finding a campsite much easier. For example, under a tree, behind a bush, under a vehicle, or behind a wall are all possible campsites with a bivy. This opens up the possibility for urban camping if you have the nerve for it. For some great wild camping tips, check out this awesome article from Tom’s Bike Trip. […]
great article! As a bicycle touring passionate and hiker I have slept in many places: camping in the wild, bivouac under a street in Peruvian Mountains, in heated room found open on a sky-slope in France, in local’s houses and shops, etc.
I’m sometimes afraid of people but most of the times afraid of wild animals. I’m not American (but Romanian) but I am going to mention bears, as we have many brown bears here. The way I deal with this is: I try to find a place that would normally not attract bears (not near a sheepfold, for example), I try to not keep food in the tent (if I really have food that they can feel I hang it out in a tree, far from the tent — I prefer the bear to take the food than to destroy the tent), I make a fire when possible and eco-friendly.
Enjoyed the article alot. Ive spent the last year on my Fat tire Mt. Bike camping not so much for fun but cause I really had too. One thing that helped me out when camping long term in one spot to avoid detection was not creating a path to your site. Using a road or other feature that hides a wearable path is good for stealthing. Also not letting cars see you coming and going is good too.
You some good points. However, with more and more people travelling, and so as for camping, have you consider how much damage could be done to the environment? I have visited Iceland and were told by local that some areas, grass or moss took a long time or hundred years to grow back due to what it is originally look like. I am not talking about littering by some irresponsible individuals. That is some ethnic not only campers has to remember. If places like Iceland is destroyed by human beings and lost its true color, eventually in the future, there won’t be any place worth going to.
Hey! Thanks for this article. About to wing it in the center of Edinburgh city tonight. Hoping its just as fine as you make it out to be. Here I am googling the number of crime incidents in each park. Would you knock on doors and ask to use backyards? I think that would be safer for a girl wouldn’t it? Don’t know. Wish me luck 🙂
nice. I love wild camping
Love the ‘sneek off when it’s dark’ comment in the article! I did exactly that the other night. Well nearly. It doesn’t get dark till ridiculously late in summer in Scotland. I’m currently hiking solo through Britain and wild camping is my main accommodation. I’m asked a lot by females about safety, so I put together a piece on it, mainly aimed at women, with many similar points. It’s common sense and shrugging off your fear. (Am I allowed to put a link up? Will try! http://www.yesjanecan.com/wild-camping-in-scotland/ )
Great article. I’ve been bike-touring\stealth camping for years, usually with great success. After a few close calls however, I am very careful to NOT camp anywhere that a car can pull off the road or highway during the night if I can avoid it. I’ve had cars stop and very intoxicated people get out in the wee hours of the morning. Young intoxicated men can be very dangerous, especially if they’re poor and desperate. Because of this, I don’t tempt fate. But even if the rabble-rousers are not dangerous, who wants to be kept awake by loud music and carrying on throughout the night? I do think stealth camping is very safe, but the key is to recognize potential problems and avoid them. Using common sense will make your experience much more enjoyable.
Hey,I’m planning to go wild camping this summer in Greece,and I’m a bit afraid of cops,because everyone says that it is illegal,and you will have to pay a high fine if a police cathces you. What are your experience people? Need some advice!!
I just realized that we should point out that wild camping isn’t illegal in many places in Europe. 🙂 So, there is no need to hide — at least when not in a town or city. You all should find this useful — a list of the Wild Camping Laws of Every European Country. http://momgoescamping.com/wild-camping-laws-europe/
I’m planning on Cycling from Naples and through Italy, finishing somewhere in France this summer. My main concern is wild camping in Italy.. I’ve read lots of blogs/ Trip Advisor tips strongly advising not to wild camp in Italy as its completely illegal and difficult to find spots. Is it genuinely easy to do? I’m sure I probably sound naive here, but your advice would be greatly appreciated. Cheers!
I often do lone motorcycle trips and pick a camp at wherever looks pleasant just before the sun starts getting too low. I agree that bedding down later and leaving before about 8.30 gives no-one who may see you cause for concern. People will worry about anyone portraying a “gypsy image” but not by the traveller who’s obviously paused for sleep and rest before continuing their quest.
A smile and wave is also helpful and can lead to a pleasant chat that reassures the other person.
I will be embarking on a bike journey near the end of 2018 after I finish school, I recently came across your blog and have fallen in love!
I will also be spending preferably every night in a tent, camping my way throughout Asia and Central America. Sleeping outside doesn’t worry me, although I’m nervous about getting my gear stolen… Do you have any tips or tricks, especially with sleeping closer or inside the cities. Also, If you are wanting to go check out a temple one day or go for a swim with locals or check out a couple local stores… What do you do with your bike… I understand a lock would keep your bike fine, though what about the gear? Do you just risk it and hope that nobody will touch it?
Thank you so much!
Firstly – it’s a great thing you’ve decided to do. Well done 🙂
You’ll find loads of advice on security here, but it can be summed up as followed: hide well, make friends quickly, and trust your instincts!
During the summer my young son and I rode most of the Eurovelo 15 route from Switzerland towards the Hook of Holland. Leaving our bicycles and camping stuff around was always a great worry to us. Sure enough, I had my bicycle stolen in Worms (Germany) whilst we were visiting the local swimming pool. Luckily, we were staying in the Youth Hostel and had left all our other things there (I bought another bicycle the next day). However, visiting local places of interest was always rather stressful as we had no way of locking the equipment being carried on our bicycles. Sometimes, we took it in turn to visit a place — one visiting whilst the other would keep watch over our things. This did take the fun out of having a shared experience but better that than leaving our things on view ready to be stolen. I don’t have an answer to this problem (I wish I did). It’s just so sad that people can’t be trusted to keep their hands off other peoples’ property these days. Of course, sight-seeing is all part of the bicycle touring experience and it’s so sad that this is becoming more and more difficult. My answer for next time I go touring is to have a support vehicle to carry all our things and take us to places a little off the cycle route so we can enjoy the tour even more. Of course, that’s not an acceptable option for most people — but I can’t think of anything else! Please let me know if you come up with anything better.
That’s what I am most worried for… As I am not biking through each country, I am staying at least a month in each of the 11 countries I am visiting. I really want to discover the culture and the hidden gems within each country, which involves ditching the bike some days and exploring through cities or caves or beaches. The idea of talking to a store owner and leaving your bike with them is a great idea, also the possibility of staying your first night as a Hostel, and after talking to the owners if possible to leave your bike in the back room during some days…
The only problem is when you are in much smaller villages with not access to stores. Although usually that would be where you’d have to worry less about theft 🙂
Most Youth Hostels have a fairly secure store for people to keep their bicycles in whilst they are staying in the YH. If you’re staying in a place for some time, you may be better off renting a small apartment somewhere as this will give you extra security and may be cheaper than hostels or camping sites. If you like a place and want to stay for longer, you could always find work as an English language teacher (get qualified before you leave home with a Cert. TESOL or CELTA — it only takes 4 to 5 weeks full time — don’t bother with the online courses). You won’t get rich but it will give you enough money to live on and time to see the place where you’re staying (try joining http://www.tefl.com/ (FREE) and looking at available jobs almost anywhere in the world). Teaching English is a super way of seeing the world — and you get paid for it — and you can cycle in the various places you visit. I hope this helps — although it doesn’t really add to the security issues I’ve already written about.
You can read the story of our trip at URL: https://cyclingtherhine2016.blogspot.co.uk/
On my blog you will find I have already mentioned this problem:
One factor we hadn’t considered when we set out on this trip was that it is almost impossible to combine sightseeing with bicycle touring. Now this may seem very strange as sightseeing is surely the main objective of bicycle touring. Let me explain:
Along this cycle path there are many wonderful places to explore. Castles, palaces, cathedrals, gardens and a whole lot more. Sadly, because of the high levels of crime, exploring these places is now almost impossible when you have your bicycle with you. Touring bicycles, by their very nature, are designed to carry all your camping gear and other belongings. Even though you may lock your bicycle, you can’t lock all the stuff you have piled on your bicycle rack(s) and in your panniers. Of course, some of your most valuable possessions can be taken with you when you remove your handlebar bag and carry it with you. However, what about all your camping equipment and clothes? I also carried on my bicycle rack a full size laptop computer, an external HDD and numerous other electrical bits and pieces. You might say I shouldn’t have carried all that stuff, but without it this blog wouldn’t have been written until well after the event.
The only alternative is to leave your stuff safe somewhere whilst you are exploring — and this isn’t always possible, let alone practicable. Having a support vehicle would have been an ideal solution (and yes, I do know that vehicles get broken into from time to time but the risk is fairly low compared to leaving your things on a bicycle rack in the open).
You might also ask Josie Dew for her advice. Josie is a young lady who has travelled the world on her bicycle and has written numerous, very entertaining books describing her travels and the people she has met along the way. Her website is at URL: http://www.josiedew.com/
Buy some of her books if you want a good read!
Hi! just a question, let’s say that you were in a city and plan to spend a few days exploring the city, do you also camp for the whole duration? Or you would stay in normal paid accommodation in the city?
I’d use Couchsurfing or Warmshowers.
[…] believe in paying for the privilege of sleeping outdoors. They are advocates to something known as “stealth camping”, the act of putting up a tent or bivy sack in an out-of-the-way corner during the twilight hours, […]
have you every camped in NYC ?
we toyed with the idea of central park stealth camping.…has it been done ?
wow!! would love to hear about that idea james?
First of all congratulation for your blog, it’s really useful!
Just a question, how do you combine your desire to meet the local people with the desire to sleep under the starts?
When I sleep in my tent I have to find the right spot at sunset and so unfortunately I can’t enjoy the nightlife of the city where I pitch my tent.
I go for a 50/50 split.
You obviously have a lot of experience travelling around the world and this summer I’m shooting for a summer in Ireland touring the country on bike. I already have a great bike but I have yet to purchase a tent/bags/carrier rack. I don’t want to pack too much because I don’t want to be weighed down while travelling but I also don’t want to travel too light. Would you recommend either a backpack or the panniers or even both? And I’ve been having trouble looking for tents. A decent sized tent that can easily fit on the back tire rack, that is. Any suggestions would be extremely appreciated!
I live on a remote island in the Philippines and have been struggling to get tents for my nature camp. Everything I buy locally is such crap, because locals seem to look first and foremost at the price of anything they buy. Then I discovered ebay. You also have amazon, or the sort, where you can see reviews from previous buyers and pretty well buy anything you want. No need to hunt around local stores and limit yourself to that.
Great little read. I’m doing 5 weeks in Italy on motorbike at the end of the summer, and everywhere I look, I read that wild camping is strictly illegal there. Have you got any experience of camping in Europe’s boot? Should I worry or just take your advice and hope for the best?
The way I did it in Europe, after much advice, is a truck with no windows on the side, dark green so can hide in forest, with some advertising on the side, yellow and green, again for camouflage, saying something like “services”, so it does not sound rich for thieves to be curious. But cops walk right past without a flinch. I was able to park anywhere with that lovely beast, whether in countryside or smack bang in the middle of a big city. If in the countryside I would park somewhere respectfully and the fact that I would eat in a local restaurant and buy food and beers from the grocery store, the locals were cool with my presence. But I think a tent tends to look more unsightly, like a poor bum, so best to hide that somewhere, but visibly spend money locally, and all should be okay.
As far as I know this it is not true. In Italy the free-camping should be forbidden just in national and regional parks and where there are signs that say that is forbidden (regional laws).
Unfortunately each region can do a different law about it and so the best that you can do is:
1. pitch your tent and do stealth-camping;
2. ask to local police about the possibility to do free camping out of the city.
Anyway I think that in NON-tourist areas the police men will understand you and they won’t make problems.
Good luck and enjoy my country!
ps. some legends say that if you pitch your tent after the sunset and take it off before sunrise you’re not doing camping but just bivouac so you shouldn’t have problems but I can’t guarantee about that!! ;D
Italy — Wild Camping
I’ve lived in Italy 5 imes and used to trek over the Alps and camp in the mountains around Lake Como. The police are more intterested in staying near the nightlife than trudging all the way up a mountain to tell you off.
As Brits we interpret the law logically whereas Italian see it as a flexible concept only accepting what applies to thema nd evne then altering it.
The fact that a foriegner is sleeping in the woods, on a mountain or nera the lake doesn’t interest them and most police can be won over with a smile and few italian words.
Relax and enjoy your holiday stop being so Anglo Saxon
nicely stated keith
Great article gives me confidence to put up my hammock and tarpolin tonight in the dark cheers. Thank you.
Really great write up! Your writing style is outstanding.
[…] of these nights have been spent under the stars in a tent, bivvy bag or hammock, practicing the art of wild camping while hiking, cycling, packrafting, horse trekking, being homeless in a city park, or whatever. It […]
Those of you planning to go touring in Norway may wish to learn that we have ancient and very liberal laws for “wild camping”. In short, you may camp wherever you want, as long you are not in someones garden, closer than 200 m to a habited house and generally use common sense. Fields (that have been harvested), woods, mountain areas, beaches etc are perfectly OK. You may also pick wild berries and mushrooms as you wish. Making campfires is not allowed from mid April (I think) to 1. September (I think) due to fire hazard. And, needless to say, no littering.
I wish you trouble-free touring in Norway.
[…] we did a bit of searching, and came across one of Tom’s posts about wild […]
Great read! An alternative to the tent is the bedroll. Roll out and you’re done, roll up and you’re away. We’ve had a few customers who are exploring by bike and love versatility of the bedroll (https://www.wynnchester.co.uk/product/adventurer-canvas-bedroll/).
I really like the style and the idea, but the weight might concern me somewhat. I’d love to hear a first-hand trip report using this…
Great article gives me confidence to put up my hammock and tarpolin tonight in the dark cheers
Looking to go do this thing today, with an environmental twist, I will bring portable signs glorifying electric bikes and offering test rides, good for time expenditure and money I hope. The “1st try” ride really seals the deal, it’s more excitement than anyone can stand, who has been caged in a car some time. Thanks for the advice I hope to make as fine a blog as you eventually. Electric FUN cycle! Lol is it fair to indoor sleepers to sleep for free? Ouch. The price of freedom is hard on those in cages.
This was wonderful — I’ve been hitchhiking through Europe for the last couple of months (and many many other far off lands previously) and there’s always SOMEWHERE to camp out. Even in the places where there isn’t somewhere, there is somewhere. It can be a fun little challenge. Anyway, just love reading articles from other people who aren’t scared of the world. Cause you know, the world kinda rocks.
[…] also like to include a link to a post I found from a wild camper who has implemented his low cost sleeping solution in 4 continents, and […]
[…] cost travel, the possibilities started to fly off the page, why visit 2–4 cities paying top dollar when you could go to any city or country on the map, with no previous arrangements? I’ve referred to the idea of backpacking around Europe before […]
[…] p.s A Guide to Wild Camping + How to Camp Anywhere and Not Get Busted […]
Hi All, great thread as I’ve learned a lot. I’m wondering though, are there any organizations/club/groups that maintain a list of bike friendly free campers to welcome or exchange sites to sleep? When I was into VW Campers, there was a list of people across the U.S. (and other countries I think) who would allow you to park your bus on their property over night. Just wondering if any such list exists or because it assumes the ownership of property, it’s not a good model? Thanks!
Inspirational! Way back in the late eighties I did a cycle/camping trip in Europe and loved it, now in my dotage it’s an old VW camper that keeps me travelling.
BTW — I’m still using my North Face tent even though I bought it back in 1989! It’s great.
Brought a smile to my face reading your experiences whilst cycling.
I remember once pulling over on a busy highway in the mountains of Germany no lights apart from the lights of the cars and the lights which I have mounted on my helmet and bike.
It had been at least 10 hours cycling and it was midnight 30 past midnight to be exact.
I found a truck stop which had two parked trucks. It appeared that they were sleeping and I thought this would be a good place to sleep.
At 00:30hrs pitching your tent along busy highway With a 2 meter strip available stunned the German truck drivers at o5:30 saying Das ist kein a KampingPlatz. (this is not a camping place)
after they surprise they left me alone I woke up several hours later packed my bag and started all over again.
I guess I need a good tent site. I am planning to be on the road for a long time. Just one person. I am not sure what tents are best for the long haul and a bicycle. [email protected]
Check out this article for specific tent recommendations. My equipment ebook might help too…
[…] I first read of them in this article. Essentially, a water proof ground […]
Just a quick question, Tom: Would you have any recommendations for hottub hideaways in Europe? I’ve been searching some sites but I still find their info lacking. Would really appreciate if you can help me out since you’ve been there yourself.
[…] The link in Sam’s tweet by the way is worth a read. Posted by Tom Allen back in 2009 (“How to wild camp anywhere and not get busted“), it is written for the likes of me and Sam who are just plain terrified of pitching […]
Hello, thanks for the Tips. But I have a question about weather. We’re travelling from Switzerland to Indonesia throug the Stan. My big fear about free camping is storm, specifically lightening when you’re in middle of nowhere. How did you manage? When you’re on “a stepp” mean the highest, did you have fear?
Thanks for your advice
This is really about fear, rather than about actually being caught in a storm, because the odds of being struck by lightning are one in a million.
If I were you, I would make a mental promise to yourself that if you do see a storm in the middle of nowhere, you will simply ride or hitch-hike to the next town and stay in a hotel. Then you can get on with planning your trip without having to worry about camping in a storm 🙂
I had fun reading your post. I had to admit I asked myself why this guy would not want to be busted for camping when basically no one busts you for camping in the wild as long as you behave yourself. Lol. But yeah, a lot of the things you said up there are true. I especially agree with what you said about camping anywhere being a right and not a privilege. Your advice on talking to people is one of the best way to do it too. And also, most importantly, we really need to know when to stop. Respect nature just as it respects you. After all, us and nature, we are one.
Great post. we did much the same trip not by bike i should add but by boat from rye in east sussex all through the french canals and checked in to Turkey in ayvelik just opposite the island of lesbos. We intend to do the journey again this time in a van that we have converted and wanted to wild camp wherever possible. Not only for the financial side also for the adventure part of it.
The info i got from reading your post has been very helpful.
many thanks Barry
So whats the deal with lake como for wild camping. is it true they got those ginormous boars roamin bout the place that hav a fondness f’or a’tearin inta’ humanity?
Oh! Really nice post. I like your cycling from England to Turkey. I think it’s a great experience. I want to do something like this. When I will go out for this, your tips will really help me a lot. I’m totally agree with your suggestion about camping…thanks…!
Hi Tom, thanks for the great tips! I am going to be homeless in the next several weeks, more by choice, in order to save more money to pay my way through college. However, this sort of lifestyle has always appealed to me. I’m sure there will definitely be difficult aspects of my particular journey, but I try to make every day an adventure. Anyways, would love to see more articles like this. Thanks!
Hi, Tom, great article about wildcamping. I don’t have a bike but I am a hufe fun of hiking, my latest experience was a 300 km walking between Bucharest and the Black Sea, in Romania. I’ve spent 10 days sleeping mostly in tent, but also in monasteries. So, if you are in a trip somewehere in Eastern Europe, you could also search for shelter in monasteries, the monks will be happy to share a meal, a shower and a bed to you.
Still would like to know about wild boar roaming Lake Como and European forests, and are they that aggressive? We have them in Australia but ive never heard of anybody being attacked by them except for those those say they kill people if you do not take care. Perhaps their a little less fierce in Europe?
Although I suspect the site I saw this warning on was more interested in getting people to stay in lovely expensive hotels…but still.
That’s all very well, but two of greatest advantages of a campsite in GB are two fold:
Washing machine and tumble dryer.
You could add loos and electricity and internet to those two should you wish.
Never underrate the value of cleanly laundered bib shorts and a hot shower, things you will not have access to whilst camping.
It is my experience that the closer you get to urban areas, the least likely you are to find a decent location to sleep and I employ two rules, one being that I do not trespass when camping, the second being that I do not inconvenience anyone.
Just a foot note, the right to wild camp is I shrines in as coltish law (2001/3 ?).
But it is ingrained into the culture, such that wild camping outside of urban areas is quite the norm, again, part of the mindset of the locals. Very cool.
The ancient right to wild camp ( as per this article) is not just a right in Sweden, it is a person’s right across all the Nordic countries and is part of the culture, accommodating a traveller / stranger for a night for no cost. Fantastic!
“It’s a right, not a privilege”
Not in English nor Welsh law without express permission of the landowner, be it common land or other. There are a few exceptions, some of Dartmoor for example is put aside for wild camping, the actual practice works well countrywide as long as you are above the farmed land, the sheep etc are roaming free but be aware of zealot wardens in the New Forest and some others.
Scotland is completely different and you can roam and wildcamp on open ground by law.
Google to establish the rules in Scotland if you are planning a wildcamp perhaps?
[…] of people actually being mauled to death or, even worse, fined by the police. I have taken on the advice of the experienced expert, Tom Allen – yes, it can be scary but there just aren’t axe-loving maniacs behind every tree […]
I’d like to point out that you don’t need a tent at all — just throw a 3m-square tarp over your upturned bike and peg it out. This removes the need to carry tent poles and it removes the problem of how to hide the bike. And the tarp can be used in the day as a temporary lunch shelter too. I get my whole sleeping kit into a single rear pannier, leaving the other one for clothes, food and wine. I don’t use front panniers. The sleeping kit is: lightweight sleeping bag, ex-army Goretex bivvi bag (cheap on eBay), multimat “Adventure 25”, 3m square tarp (mine is from DD Hammocks of scotland), 2 bungee cords, 8 tent pegs. Done it many times — works a treat. Even in campsites, nobody notices there is a bike under the tarp (unless they saw you put it up) — it looks like a slightly weird tent.
I love this idea. Thanks for suggesting it!
You’re absolutely right — a tent is not essential for sleeping outdoors. Here’s a piece I wrote on some of the alternatives.
Maybe the number 1 reason I choose to live in Sweden — Allemansrätt (Everyone’s right).
This is an ancient right that is an important part of Swedish culture. Everyone has to right to camp for one night where ever. There are guidelines such as not on someone’s actual yard etc — but on all other public and private land. School children learn about it and of course how to respect the environment. Included in the law is the right to make a fire — again guidelines etc.
This make Sweden the ultimate cycling adventure — with great swimming lakes and the like.
Does anyone know if its safe to wild camp at lake como italy? I’ve read on other blogs that there are bad warthogs/boars roaming about that attack people in the forests!
Just another tip to add to camping for free. When touring the Philippines with a mountain bike and side-car, I often arrived in town late in the day needing somewhere to stay. As far as I know, there are no camp sites for tourists/travellers in the Philippines, so that wasn’t an option. I found I could always find a free pitch by going to the local Roman Catholic Church / Convent and asking if I could pitch in the church or convent grounds — If they couldn’t accommodate my request, they’d summon one of the church members who’d let me camp in their garden. Another safe camping place was in the grounds of the local Police Station! — and yet another was on the beach.
Awesome story. I personally spend a month in Spain in a bivy bag and rented some bikes. Absolutely nothing scary happened, and one farmer only laughed when he found me on his field. Couple of dogs came to sniff me, too. It was pretty easy to find quiet spots in Valencia and Barcelona, very near the cities as well. The disappearingly small, camo pattern bivy helped to stay out of sight.
I live in country where it’s legal to camp pretty much anywhere, and even though some countries think otherwise and also even though I mostly respect local laws and traditions, this is where I choose not to, and camp anywhere I please within reason. I consider it right of any person, anywhere in the world.
Totally agree with the tramps grottos, I’ve slept I a couple myself. Those guys pad them out pretty nicely, and they’re usually close to a shop that sells beer! Happy memories. ..Vancouver train station 1992!
Just a quick point on Bike Security, if you are worried in any way take your seat post out (assuming it is quick release) and keep it in your tent. It keeps your saddle dry and will make any potential thief think twice. Great site by the way Tom.
I’m so inspired after reading all about your travels. Two friends and I are thinking of doing something similar (without bikes) throughout Eastern Europe. I think that a combined fluency of Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian will leave us in good stead. Do you have any opinions or tips on travelling with a group of 3?
Hi Jeremy. Travelling in a group of any size is possible but comes with its challenges. Most important is that everyone is on the same page when they begin regarding expectations. In practical terms, I found that dividing ‘roles’ up worked better than everyone trying to help to everything, particularly navigation and food — giving people the chance to play to their strengths. I think fluency in 4 languages (including English) will be a big help. Good luck!
Hi all, the joys of free camping„,after looking at my map i see what looks a nice wild place to camp i arrive to find it swamplike, so as the sunsets the adrenalin kicks in to go stealth and look elsewhere, a mile down the road i see a small woods and get my tent setup, zzzzzzz as the sunrise i heard voices outside„looking about i discovered i was camped next to the 18th green.lol the goodlife:-)
Great tips. I have found some of them from my personal experience to be valid. Away from the crowds was also my motto. If you are lucky to spot a river you feel like god, hehe.
Brilliant article, I think its worth imagining what you would think if you saw yourself wildcamping.….Most people will leave you well alone because your Brave, Crazy, No threat anyway.… Would love an article about keeping clean on the road when Rivers etc are not available.
Would an article about becoming dirty, smelly, greasy and tramp-like be OK? 😉
I don’t know about everywhere, but personally my mother and I traveled Japan for 7 weeks (blogged about the experience here if you want more info: and washed up in bathrooms (generally handicap, since they have the sink in the bath-stall). Washed our hair in sinks, rinsed, and showered the nether-regions over the toilet. We smelled good, looked decent and clean (like any-other traveler, anyways) and it was all free.
I know in America it might be a little more difficult to find open public bathrooms…but they are out there.
Hope this helps.
Been there done that… my way to go is with a hammock and a green tarp 4 feet by 8 .
Since i travel mainly in the caribeans, i have no problem find 2 palm trees to hold my bed… if it rains… tarp me up !
I spent many months that way from bahamas to St-Vincent, never paid a dime anywhere.
I never cook so i do not carry much things with me . I eat fresh and live. Only one little backsack with 2 t‑shirts, 2 pants, sone food and water and my Ipod touch to keep in.. and take emails.
winter 2013 to 2014 I will be around bahamas again, I love it, you can cross bear feet from and little island to another and be alone there… period.
Bythe way if you know anyone in need of a serious baot watcher, my am fully trustable and own a sailbaot myself, somewhere in Canada…
I have been dreaming of a Caribbean bike/hitching trip for many years… jealous!!
Hello, where did camp in the Bahamas? Any further issue with locals or authorities? Asking because I will be building and due to lack of accommodation and expensive and low quality acommodation i am checking camping on the land while building.
I find a good map really helps. I look for areas of woodland or ideally a lake or river where I can have a swim to get clean at the end of the day and to wake myself up in the morning
Spots with swims are the best!
Love this and it’s been true for me as well! As a female who regularly travels solo and camps wherever I feel like I’ll throw in too that it’s not much more dangerous for a female than for the fellas though I do sleep with a knife and often bear spray.. animals are not a worry, it’s the people to be nervous of at times.
I also do a lot of road tripping and don’t want to pay to sleep so I often use couchsurfing.com when in cities for a shower and a few days not to worry about where my belongings are while wandering (or again, people) and even with a car I don’t get bothered when parking in most places, I try to park out of the way and have stayed in Walmart parking lots, housing communities under development, alongside canals and on service roads, farmers fields, simply pulled off the side of highways, etc.
It’s a good life traveling and without lodging expenses the budget stretches much further for other things. Thanks for a great share! 🙂
[…] story. Some maintain that cowboy camping (with a bivi) is tolerated almost everywhere. So here is a positive bottom line if you want one. And here is some conflicting nitty-gritty for […]
[…] There’s also a good resource about stealth/wild camping […]
I have a opportunity to tour from monaco to south of spain roughly 1000km and have tent an backpack ‚v little money 120euros .which in my case means travelling 80kms a day an 10euros.my concerns are:1 is this feasible ?.2 i bought a set of road tyres for my mtb will they last should i take spares 1 or 2.?.3 my pack weighs 40,50kgs its hiking pack which 1.7kgs itself should i use this or switch to urban backpack and belt bags taking weight off my back and moving some to my hips …
hope u can help as this is my first tour.And thanks for this great site.
2. Ride until they wear out, then buy new ones from a bike shop. Bike shops are everywhere.
3. You absolutely don’t want 40kgs on your back! Get rid of the unnecessary half of your stuff, then put the rest in a cheap pair of panniers.
I have done your tour (in parts) in the 70’s. I did an average of 80 km a day. And that is with sight-seeing but not visiting museums or other inside stuff. With some experience I got the total weight of my pack down to 12 kg, tools included. Later I added a lightweight tent and the weight went up to 16 kg. I used 4 bags hanging from carriers. You don’t need spare tires but a spare inner tube is handy to do a quick repair and fix the holed tube later when you do a planned stop. Don’t use a back pack, it is very uncomfortable if it is heavy and warm.
Have a nice trip.
[…] permitted in most of England, but it is in Scotland. There are, however, plenty of people, such as Tom Allen, who believe wild camping is nothing less than a human being’s prerogative. If you do decide […]
After my study I went for a bike tour from Holland to France and Italy. I was camping wild for the first time. After a few days I developed a “nose” for the right spots. Mostly deserted places with no signs of human activity (rubbish, tire tracks or trails). I did this for about 10 year. Later I did it with a motorbike but that was quite difficult. I have slept in, on or near about half of the places you have slept. I can add: at the end of a runway of Le Bourget, Paris. No alarm clock needed. At the edge of a military proving ground in the south of France where they started nightly manoevres with tanks and heavy guns. Against a slope of a highway under the bushes with the cars racing a few meters from my head. In a clay pit that was hard in the evening but soft a foot deep after a night of rain. In a chapel on a cemetery in the north of Spain after three days of solid rain. Between two lakes in Belgium where during the night dozens of frogs jumped from one lake to the other over my face.
But all those nights added flavor to the trip. Now, at 68 and living in the USA, I’m trying to find ways of making bike trips and camp in the wild here and there, if needed. I don’t believe the campsites at the east coast are as many as in Europe.
Thanks for the very nice and inspiring article.
I just wanted to point out to visitors coming here through Google, that there are reasons why you should not wild camp in certain countries — most often the very densely populated ones.
Wild camping is about being discreet and not leaving any trace. Do not camp where other people can see or hear you, especially not if it is on someone’s property. It is not your right to camp anywhere you want if it annoys other people.
Ask as much as you can. If you get a no at the first house, ask at the next. Most people will be very kind to you.
I agree that if you are using someone’s private land you must ask. But my mother and I did research on Japan (the country we were traveling to, which I highly recommend trying to find information about the country’s culture) and they recommended not sneaking around but sleeping in plain view. Of course, leave no trace that you were there (you want it nice for the next visitor and not to detract from anyone else’s travels). My mother (late 40’s and disabled) slept in the bottom hammock where she could see out told me that in Kyoto (right behind a shrine) that police men walked through the park a couple times to make sure we were safe. This was on public land in a park very near a bathroom.
Hello! Great article and stunning pics! I am also heading for a wild camping trip in siberia-mongolia this fall, and want to head down to china after. Do you have any experience wild camping in China? I have heard its quite a tough nut to crack in this sense, any experience?
Cheers and happy travelling!
Are there any women out there who wild camp? I have a mad notion (don’t even have a bike — though I might have access to a folding bike) to go cycle touring but I don’t have anyone to go with. Don’t know if I fancy being a lone middle aged female wild camping.
That should get you started 🙂
Wow thank you 🙂
Thanks for question & reply. Just what was on my mind too 😉
I wild camp without a tent did it going across the USA and will do it again next year as I ride around the exterior of the USA. .I’ll be 60 the end of the year…
At last I have proof for my other half that I am not mad. I have not yet taken advantage of free camping but have just about convinced the boss to cycle from northern England to Morocco. Despite my absolute conviction that we could freebie almost every night she was never convinced but now you have provided the proof, thanks.
Any time 🙂
Yes, I really did love the trip. Resting at a friend house in Edinburgh just now after al this days of biking and Wildcamping. It’s was a wonderful trip from Tyndrum via Fort William up to the Inverness and back again to Edinburgh.
I’m sure I come back another year to bike some more in Scotland.
Hi everyone, and Of corse our host Tom.
Tank you for a interested website. Have planing for a wild for a 2 weeks bike vacation to Scotland now in 9–23 April 2013. Usually I’m a camper whit both auto camper and a caravan behind when I’m traveling. I actually live fulltime in it. It’s my 4 year now, and I looove the freedom it’s give me. If I’m not working I’m hit the road. Always free camping as it commen to to here in Scandinavia.
Now I’m gonna do what I’m have being dream of for a long time. To have a bike Holliday in 2 weeks in Scotland. Of corse free camping or like you say; wild camping. It’s cona be soo lovely. So tanks Tom for al your inspiration when I’m reading your website here.
If anybody have plans to come to Norway. Your always welcome to visit me and my smal dog on my basecamp, whits is a ordinary camping place be course the electricity situation in ordinary life of mine. Of corse free.
E‑mail: [email protected]
Thank you Markus! I’m really glad you’ve found this discussion useful. Hope you have a great trip in Scotland, one of my favourite places…
Nice article. I wild camped for the first time last year in a Suffolk wood. After spending half an hour rationalising all my fears my mind gave up making-up scare stories and I had a lovely time : )
Great website most enjoyable. We tour on a tandem and have done the west coast of USA. South England, normandy and brittany in France. Part of the North Sea cycle route in Norway and Sweden and just returned from Western Australia . We,ve had a tandem for 13yrs . Fully recommend it. Adventure cycle touring is the best way to explore country and culture . Cheers ‚thanks for the excellent article .
Ian & Anita
Cheers guys. It’d be interesting to try a tandem tour one day…
Your tip about talking to people makes so much sense, particularly in Europe and in areas where people tend to take pilgrimages. Years ago, when I was a teenager, I did a pilgrimage with a group to the Shrine of Jasna Gora in Poland, walking over 130 km in a span of a week. Along the way, people in small villages opened up their homes, barns and fields to us so that we could rest. It’s just the hospitable thing to do. But you always ask kindly first!
Absolutely! No need to be furtive when there are people around to talk to. And it often leads to far more interesting evenings than you planned…
[…] sleeping in some inopportune places – bus shelters, garages, petrol stations to name some of Tom Allen’s favourites – then a more durable mat would make […]
[…] Try to be creative with your pitch. As Tom Allen says in his superb guide “How to Wild Camp Anywhere and Not Get Busted”: […]
I am a newbie here. What an inspiring story.
I have always had the dream of biking around the meditteranean, thus capturing the cultures and beauty of Middle East, North Africa and Europe. I have never one something like that before and I keep going back and forth whether to do it on a motorcycle or pedal bike. I prefer bicycle but don;t know how to estimate time needed to cover distances and whether I need to train hard before embarking on such a trip.
Do you have a blog post on how to prepare for such trips, estimate time based on distance and terrain, and many other precautions and things to consider before embarking on such a trip?
I do (and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to reply to you):
I agree with the freedom associated with wild camping… however I’m just not sure I agree with the principle. Firstly there are a lot of irresponsible ‘free campers’ out there who do not respect the environment they are camping in, and leave more than a footprint. But more importantly to me, I think that if you are a visitor to a country, enjoying what it offers for ‘free’ — the outdoors (no way around this when on a bike — you enjoy it all day every day) then I believe you have a responsibility to give something back to the local economy. You use public toilets, shelters, picnic areas ond other visitor facilities that are all maintained for everyone to enjoy and use for free. We just cycled across Canada this summer and almost exclusively paid to camp, finding where possible municipal lcally-run campsites, some of which were not the prettiest but if people didn’t use them, they would struggle to survive.
When asking around for somewhere to camp late in the day, we were welcomed into peoples homes/told to camp on their land several times. On leaving, we would give a small amount of money and as that was almost always refused, we insisted that the money was taken and given to a local charity. That way we got to meet great local people, usually stay in their home (and be fed) yet still feel we had contributed in some way to the local area.
Yes, if you are on a tight budget, the cost per night adds up and I guess for some people that would mean a shorter trip. But for us, it was in our budget and I felt a whole lot better about the whole thing. Just my perspective I guess — won’t resonate with everyone. Great site overall btw — wish I’d found it before I went cycle touring!
Interesting perspective. But what if a person receives so much unconditional hospitality while travelling that they spend the rest of their life giving freely to others as a result? Isn’t the economy of good-will just as important as the economy of finance?
I’m with Tom on this. There’s too many pressures to monetise the simple facts of our existence.
As a kid I toured around Scotland and England on my own living off bread and jam, free camping or asking farmers if I could use their barns if it was too wet.
The main thing is basic good manners, leave your camp site free of any sign you’ve been there. The way I taught my kids to do that was to pretend someone was hunting them 🙂
Scumbags are out there, but if you work on the principle most people are decent, you won’t be disappointed.
great reply tom!
I think Tom is very brave… I tried to just camp this weekend and a friend, with experience, asked if I had this piece of equipment and waterproof boots and a poncho and from being fired up to go I was struck full of doubts. I wonder if Tom became less fearful with experience or was he just like that from the beginning? I can’t imagine being able to sleep in a metro station or urban environment. It is true that the fear is mostly imagined. I salute Tom for being able to conquer what for most people remains a massive wall.
Tom was definitely a lot more paranoid when he started out — as with many things in life, experience brought his fears into context 😉
Quick question — what do you use to ensure that your bike does not get stolen overnight, given that it is your lifeline when camping in the middle of nowhere…
D‑Locks can be heavy, and a cable — weak, not to mention there is often nothing to lock your bike to…
Hi Bartholomeu. I don’t carry any type of lock. Especially when in the middle of nowhere, your choice of camping spot is the best security you can have. If I’m feeling paranoid for some reason (rarely), I might bungee the rear wheel to my tent, or leave my cooking pots balanced on the frame to wake me up if something moves. Some people think this is naive, but the fact that I’ve never had anything stolen when camping speaks for itself 🙂
No lock at all!?
But what do you do when you stop in town to visit LIDL or something?
Normally I just leave the bike. If I get a bad vibe (rarely) I’ll just take it round the back of the store to where the staff go on their cigarette breaks…
Loved your article! I plan on riding across Canada next summer, but I have to say that I am somewhat concerned about bears. I know about not taking food into the tent, not cooking within 200ft, hanging your food, etc, but there are bears out there, and that is, perhaps, the only trepidation I have with “wild” camping. I’m enjoying reading your site. Thanks for all the wonderful info.
I’m also shit-scared of bears!
I cycled across Canada in 2009 and the only provinces where you should be concerned about bears are British Columbia and Ontario. Personally, I did not encounter any bear and, from the many stories I was told about, only a few cyclists cross the path of a bear. Follow basic safety guidelines and you should be fine. The bear is more afraid of you than you are of it.
By simple curiosity, where will you start from ? Are you doing it West to East ?
Thanks for the great post about camping! I’ve been a wild camper all my life, mostly in BC, Yukon and Alaska, so it’s a relief for me to hear that I can keep sleeping soundly outside.
Perhaps, I can return the favor by helping a little on the bear end… I am a wildlife ecologist/bear specialist (based in northwestern BC), avid long distance sea kayaker, and wanna-be continental cycle tourer. For anyone interested in travelling in bear country, I have posted some web links for bear awareness and safety resources for reference on my blog.
Compared to other hazards in life (like cycling), the risk of being seriously injured or killed by a bear is relatively low. When there are concerns for public safety, it’s usually the bear that pays the price (with it’s life). Having said this, bears need respect and there is a lot a person can do to decrease risks for themselves, others and bears.
On my list of favorites: the Staying Safe in Bear Country Society has some great DVDs. In Staying Safe in Bear Country (REVISED 2008) they provide the knowledge and advice of leading bear experts; focusing on increasing understanding of grizzly bear and black bear behaviour, preventing encounters with bears, and knowing how to respond if you do encounter a bear. It can be ordered from: http://www.distributionaccess.com/new/main.cfm?where=seriesDetails&seriesId=51414
My blog is relatively new so I have started with the basics. I have plans to post more bear awareness and safety information over the next few months. I’m looking forward to adding a cycling perspective to prevention of bear problems.
Thanks again for all of the great information and happy travels!
i am thinking of going t spain with nothing more than a tent some supplies and a dream of waking up in a different place each day. i currentl live in england and have found that my only option is to “sign on” and try and get work in a town with no jobs. so ive decided its time.… time to pack the bags and make way for a new lifestyle. ive spent a good number of weeks online trying to find someone who has done this kind of thing for tips, but (allmost) every one says its extreaml hard to impossible. this article has affirmed my plans to take the plunge! MANY MANY THANKS hope to be commenting here in a few months time from some unknown remote part of spain! thanks another time!
Indeed, how could I forget, I lived there for two years!
“It is my belief that there is always, always somewhere to sleep that doesn’t involve handing over your passport and a wodge of cash”
I’m so glad there are others out there who feel this wayIt’s just a shame society as a whole has a long way to go before collectively thinking this, well, unless you live in Scandinavia.
Cheers for the post.
Or Scotland! 🙂
sooooo y not hike and camp her in USA!!! much safer and dont have to wory about getting killed buy ppl hew want money,rape,and what ur worst nightmear may come true.i say USA IS MY LAND OF THE FREE.come camp and hike or live with the rest of us that want to live in peace!!!
On the other hand, there are more gun-owners and ‘no trespassing’ signs in the USA than anywhere else I’ve been…
Yeah, there are lots of gun owners in the US. I’m one of them, and I know many more. We aren’t to be feared, though. Really, it’s mostly a cultural thing. By and large, rural people in the US are genuinely decent. As you found elsewhere, just asking around is likely to get you good results. If you’re ever in Connecticut, let me know.
Can you give me your e‑mail? I am visiting your area soon and need an advice
You should try wild camping in Holland, they really, really don’t like it. Got myself nearly arrested once for daring to try and camp in some remote woods. A dog-walker reported me and a policeman told me he’d been looking for me for half an hour just to tell me to pack up and ship out!
In the Netherlands I always asked around for camping spots, and ended up sleeping in a wonderful variety of places — a boathouse, a narrowboat, a back-garden, a garage floor and a yard behind a cafe!
Being from Holland (and living in the USA now) I have done some wild camping in Holland. You just have to know where. With that heavy population density it is hard to find a quiet piece in the woods.
I am planing on cycling from Strasbourg (France) to Holland, I would like to go up the north coast, cycle along it and then get back to Strasbourg. It would be an approximately 2 weeks tour. Obviously I would like to camp for free as much as possible. I have been to holland a few times and found it indeed quite dense and not easy to find places to camp for free. Any tips on where I could look for free camp sites to prepare my trip ?
Holland actually has a network of legal free-camping spots. Check this article out.
Thanks mate, that free campsite map is awesome!
Your website is great, goldmine of useful info and quite inspiring too!
Great article, definitely feel like I’m a step closer to heading out and getting it done. I plan on hitch-hiking through France to Spain and will hopefully be wild-camping, along with utilizing resources such as couchsurfing and hospitalityclub.
It’s definately nice to hear such a positive approach for once.
Haha, I got a laugh over the guys with guns in Laos. The worst I ever did was near a marijuana field in Chihuahua. Bad, bad timing for darkness. Bad, bad idea. We hid like the paranoid tourists that we were, and we were happy to get out of there in the morning.
The only advice I would add to your post is to have a good lighting system. Spending the winter cycling in Albania and Greece, I seem to find myself looking for a place to camp in the dark each night. Sometimes a warm tea in a warm café is a great way to spend the first couple cold hours of darkness. Having good lights makes that a much more comfortable option.
First visit to the site and I enjoyed the article. Funny you should say “humans don’t roam the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons” — I was free camping in a field in Southern Laos when I was warned in broken English to beware of guys with guns. I ignored the warning and went to sleep in my tent. Sure enough about midnight some guys with guns turned up blazing away. Luckily they were just shooting for birds and weren’t interested in me!
Hi Jarrod, Thats funny I had the same experience in Laos. No coincidence cos I was staying in the same field as you. We sure had a nice time. I guess its more dangerous to step over a sign in Alaska “No tresspassing” and camp out there. They wouldn’t be hunting for birds.
Great article. Really useful for us. Pitching our tent is the one thing we are slightly anxious about on our upcoming expedition in Thailand (we leave in just under 2 weeks!). But your article has given good tips and in many ways will be a reminder to just relax and ask a local!!
Well conveyed: Hope more powerful than our fears. As college students touring ohio thirty years ago we asked a farmer for permission to sleep in his fields. He insisted on throwing our bikes into his pickup and taking us to his church’s campground, for which he as caretaker had the key. It was an idyllic spot with a pond where we skinny-dipped, and swung from a rope falling into the water after a hard day’s pedaling.
Not sure who was more pleased, we at our good fortune or he at his opportunity to lend a hand.
Hear! Hear! Fabulous post, Tom.
In case your readers think you are crazy and that wild camping is only for idiots, here is my own siren song of praise for nights out under the stars: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/praise-wild-camping-tents-trump-star-hotels-time/
Everyone — check out Alastair’s inspiring blog. You won’t be able to stay indoors for long after reading it!
Nicely put together Tom, honest and straight to the point.
It’s true isn’t it — in some sense, we do each have a right, as people, to stay in a place and pass the night.
To deny that is basically the same as denying another’s right to drawing breath.
Done respectfully and, as you say, if possible with local peoples consent, it’s all good, and, especially in Europe/USA, can actually start to heal the massive amount of fear and paranoia that we have all learned to feel.
So go for it, sleep out.……you might just help someone to trust people again.
I could not have put it better myself — “you might just help someone to trust people again”
I made friends quickly with a young woman during my tour around Hawaii’s Big Island, on a weekend’s rest. It was probably evident I was attracted to her, and on day 3 I asked if I could crash with her. She had told me previously that she was recovering from trauma of a sexual assault, yet she was still trusting me enough to invite me into her home–in spite of all the reasons not to. After we spent the night talking, I went to sleep on the air mattress and thanked her once again upon leaving in the morning. She wrote me a text the next day about how much fun we had and that I gave her a reason to start trusting people again. It felt really comforting for both of us. Sometimes great things happen when you trust AND make yourself vulnerable.
Great article. I really admire your tenacity, and loved the pictures on your flickr site. Great stuff.
[…] here. http://www.mark-ju.net – wildcamp.htm thebmc.co.uk – a great pdf from the bmc tom.ride-earth.org.uk – how to camp anywhere and not get busted guardian.co.uk – holidays wild camping environmental impact Rating 3.00 out of 5 […]
[…] and I’ll be on my tod for at least half of the journey. I plan to camp as much as possible (for free), and keep my costs to a minimum, but my largest concern is the cold. On a previous tour we had the […]
Hi Tom! Just a funny story I though I’d share. Years ago I was cycling with a friend from Amsterdam to Nice and along the way we stopped in Lausanne to visit a friend who was living there. Well, we stayed out rather late and decided to sleep in real beds for a change. After being refused a room at a couple of hotels, which perhaps was not surprising as we probably looked and smelled a bit dodgy, we decided to fall back on camping. We got back on our bikes and rode downhill toward Lake Geneva. After stumbling about in the dark for a while we got our tent setup on the lakeshore and hit the sack. We woke up to discover that we had pitched our tent beside a boardwalk that runs along the lakefront. Various joggers and dog-walkers looked at us curiously as we spread our wet clothes in the sunshine. We had a spendid view of the mountains across the lake and no-one bothered us at all despite our having camped in an area that was in all likelihood off-limits to the likes of us. Good times…
A great alternative to tents and bivy bags is a camping hammock. Search for Warbonnet Blackbird 😉 No need to sleep on the ground if you’re in an area with trees.
That looks like a great sleeping solution, as long as there’s somewhere to hang it — thanks!
This guy went most of the way around the world on a hammock: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=2405&v=2LL
My mother and I traveled around Japan for 7 weeks in a hammock-bunk set that can also be placed on the ground as a tent (no more bunks that way, but hey). We found trees or poles or pavilions to hang, even on castle grounds (Himeji) and across from the imperial palace in Tokyo. Sierra Madre Research designs, produces, and sells the hammock sets that also come with really nice bug netting included with the shelter.
Totally worth the investment!
Keep posting, look at this article for information about China.
Thanks Ash – that looks like a really interesting option for hammock-using groups…
A hammock is very versatile and good for every now and then.
But it wouldn’t be very good for your spine if you slept in one consistently for a period of time.
I actually slept in a hammock in the general class of an Indian train!
It is totally cramped and 100% full in Indian train general class… every seat and floor, even right outside the toilet is completely full.
I had the brilliant idea of tying my hammock to the luggage rack and I used the ample air space to sleep in a space completely my own! 😉
I have a Hennessy hammock which is specifically designed for backpacking and lightweight camping. It can be used as a bivvy bag, and when I have biked from upstate New York to eastern Massachusetts it has done me well.
Hammocks definitely bad for backs I think!!!??
Not at all! I experience far more discomfort sleeping in a tent than in a hammock. It’s done wonders for my lower back pain…
[…] How to camp anywhere and not get busted – Ride Earth […]
Always fun in southwest waking up to a friendly rattler beside you sleeping outside tent.
I like tent really much safer since everything wants to bite or sting you in areas I slept.
Trying to get in and out without being spotted a little harder I did find a lot of folks will let you sleep on property if you ask barns etc. it’s a fun things to travel with weapon and a bow cops don’t like it much at all. Park rangers even less it seems but I killed legal kill animals in season with liscense a only. Was eating very well fish animal flesh whole time with extra always making it easier than most places.
Lovely post. I agree with you on the bivvy bag — I’ve only had a bivvy bag on most of my previous tours and I loved half-waking up in the middle of the night, half-opening my eyes, seeing millions of stars and falling asleep again. Nowadays, I’m a grownup, with a partner and a tent and other grownup things and, while we usually just use the tent inner, i’m still missing the feeling of feeling like I’m sleeping out in the world.
ive been on the road with the bike for about 6 years now,by the way, love this site, its killed a couple hours blissfully as I take a break. Its not the cycling I find , after all the motion is the same weather it be snow sand or a runway, its that last hour before it. I get more of a buzz now from ticking off countries where ive camped, of nearly 100, 2 have beaten me-the vatican and monaco, a blemish that kind of has me wishing to go back and try again! Ive had a gun shot over my head, hippos, elephants, a sloth bear and lions around it and to cap it off a lion on top of me in it! Hail black wolf tents I say! i find it incredible that whn cycling for a spot at night that people still call out hey white man- or the equivelent, and I know I wont sleep a muscle in most places (bar sudan, iran norway) if I know somebody has seen my tent. Ive spent the last 7 months in europe and with using the hospitality sites and my tent havnt paid for a solitary night! I find around big city airports is a winner, and train lines to be a close second if you can handle the noise.
cheers for the read
Wow — what a story! How did you manage to end up in a tent with I lion on top of you, might I ask? I assume it wasn’t being over-friendly?!!
Yeah.… pray tell… I’m really wondering about the lion on top of you too.
It must have been a nice warm night. 😉
That sounds pretty wild lockie [sound like an aussie with a name like that? and were known as the world’s true travellers] A lion on top of you-hmmm? Not too far fetched I hope, but can well believe the damned Vatican barred you. Evil peep’s baby!!!
well, I used to calculate an annual rate of “free nights”, wich means nights sleeping somewhere you don’t pay for (a kind of “illegal nights”, at least in Europe)
This was a few years ago, when I was still young and adventurer (like you guys hanging around this blog).
I used to land att about 30 nights per year, wich was ‚I think, a quite honest result for a working guy leaving in Europe.
Now comes what might interest you Tom: I got married. And the first 2 years increased my rates from a month to 3–4 months … and then suddently to 5 to 7 nights a year: we got children…
I was wondering about your rates and their future?
Interesting! Well, when I was on the road, free nights were about 95% of them. Now I’m renting a flat in Yerevan, so we’re down to the 5% when I head out for a night’s camping somewhere. Over a year, then, I guess about 50% is close!
I guess the future travels will weigh in at around 80% free nights — my wife is slightly more inclined towards the occasional hot shower/bed than I am…
Speaking of showers…
If you’re camping almost all of the time, where and when do you shower?
Or you don’t shower at all? For four years?!!
I have also had the stubbornness of not staying in paid accommodation when I was travelling in Europe as it was just too expensive for my shoestring budget then.
But I stayed with Couchsurfing mostly which had showers.
Showering was the problem when I camped out in Barcelona for 10 days.
Jump in rivers!
My husband and I never used official camp sites and we were camping with a car. We stopped late and left early and with it being dark we found in the mornings that sometimes we had stayed overnight in some strange places including the end of someone’s back garden and once on the grass verge of the gates of Winchester Corporation refuse dump. Although this was years ago we still point out “good camp sites ” as we see them today and would have used in those days.
Easy. Heat a pan of water where you camp and use a good sponge to wash yourself.
Use babywipes too at the end of the day. You don’t need to have a shower any more than you need a washing machine or a hairdryer.
And don’t forget about jumping into rivers/lakes/oceans… 🙂
I had a friend who was often on the road, slept in the back of his van, and would keep a squirt bottle on the dashboard so it would be nice and hot. Add a bit of soap or perfume to it. I lived on the Mediterranean and Black Sea for a few years and learned from some local gypsies that in about three days your skin climatizes to the salt water (our bodies are about 85% salt water anyway) and that fresh water showers are not necessary. Same for my laundry, just some shampoo in a bucket full of seawater, rinse in the sea.
In Europe there are many gas stations where you can take shower either free or for donation or for a small charge.
As a single mom of a daughter who is now 5, this comment makes me really sad. I didn’t backpack with my girl until she was 3 because I couldn’t carry an infant plus all my gear, and the age 2–3 when they get out of diapers is tough (you only have a 10 second warning before they pee everywhere). But I think IT IS A LOT EASIER TO CAMP WITH KIDS THAN KEEP THEM AT HOME.
At home, I’ve got to worry about things like them getting hit by a car. Doing “inappropriate” things in public. Watching too many cartoons. I’ve got to worry about what to make for dinner, going to the store, keeping the house somewhat clean… Worrying about this everyday stuff drains my energy, and then I suck at being a mom. Put me in nature and the worries go away. And I become super mama full of energy and educational fun experiences for my girl.
So I don’t think the issue is kids. I think the issue is that society drags parents down by frowning on activities like wild camping and dubbing them dangerous.
Here’s where I plug myself 😉 I’ve got a blog all about wild camping and backpacking with children. It is called http://momgoescamping.com/ Hopefully some people will find it inspiring and take their kids out into nature!
I think people in the west are overly preoccupied with safety. Don’t do this, don’t do that, and the kids are conditioned to grow up in prison planet. Saw a French documentary called Babies showing the difference between babies brought up in San Francisco and Tokyo as opposed to rural Africa and Mongolia. With the latter, the babies were free to explore nature, put things in their mouths, develop tolerance to the environment, while in the west they were constantly strapped to something and sterilised to the point that allergies are now common. Live and let live, this envelope of fear is only a part of the systemic control.
Well said and quite true. Actually ‘STRANGER-DANGER’ IS MORE LIKE PARENTAL OR KNOWN DANGER IN ACTUAL FACT, because truth is children being injured or sexually molested by strangers is less than 5%. The most likely hood of a child being sexually assaulted or hurt is 95% more likely to come from either the parents or some family member or someone known and accepted as safe like a child-care person or teacher and similar?
just to clarify — the chances of a child being molested by a stranger are only 5% OF the chance of being molested at all — and those chances are small anyway. So it’s only 5% of, what, 10% which is very small.
I think mothers are having children later and need that feeling of control that they’ve been accustomed to with everything else in their lives up to that point. Our midwife friend swears young 20s mums are far more natural than late 30s/40s first mums
I completely agree! Everyone here in the States is worried about everything. It comes from watching and listening to media, and it’s a shame how it makes people so hyper suspicious and afraid.
Thanks for another excellent article. I’m a newcomer to your blog, but I found it so engaging that I sat down one weekend and read it all the way through. I’m pleased to read that you’re planning to develop the site into something more — I shall definitely be coming back, and look forward to seeing it progress.
All the best for your continuing adventures.
I loved reading your article…so right with your words about hospitality, hope and our imagination… keep on biking!
Nice article Bro, enjoyed reading that. I’ll have to go off into the British Columbia wilderness at some point armed with a tent and see what happens. More likely it’ll happen when the weather is somewhat better that present though!
I used to bike and camp for free in the Czech Republic every weekend for three years. Excellent and well marked trails through the forest. Just set up tent at dusk and take it down at dawn. Best biking in the world. Now I’m setting up a tent paradise in the gem of the Philippines: http://www.islandhoppinginthephilippines.com/palawan/services/camping/. Half way between El Nido and Coron, clearest waters in the world, so excellent snorkeling, 52 islands in the area, most of which are deserted, so you can combine with local boat tour and sleep on your own island too.
Lol do this in the wrong area, especially at the wrong time of year, and you’re likely to be staring down the barrel of a pissed off land owners gun answering questions at the very least. I don’t care how stealthy you think you are, those ir motion activated game cameras that send a little alert to the land owner when tripped will rat you out quick. Your best bet is to ask permission. Worst case they say no. Best case they say yes and hook you up with some stuff for the journey for being decent and respectful.
yes, the world has changed much since the text was written, it appears much, much more micro… managed and you’re expected to go by the book only, that is: stay at your friends, book a hotel, book a b&b, book an airbab or similar, book a camp site. Anything else — people think — is most probably illegal and speaks highly dubiously about your intentions and about your person in general, etc. This attitude rubs off, mind you. I hardly ever paid for overnight accommodation when I cycled in 1990s, across France, Italy, Scotland, Ireland (with occcasional youth hostel, rarely), so I recognize all the common-sense tips, but nowadays I feel more… awkward doing this. By the way, finding that ‘invisible’ spot is not always a gurantee! I do remember, having once, long ago, carefully chosen a secluded, invisible spot for my (v. small) tent in Wales, a wake up call came from a farmer, who told me, matter-of-factly, the price for my stay on his land would be 2 GBP 🙂 (I was lucky to have that much on me!). Another time I crashed in a secluded part of a public park in India, pitch dark, only to be woken, well past midnight, by a kick, well, reasonably gentle, from a patrolling policeman. That was not a city centre, just a park on the edge of a small town in northern India, and no suspicicious ‘activity’ (dealings, couples, etc.) going on around, so I honestly don’t know what those policemen were doing there! And I didn’t smell, by this stage…
Soon I’ll be cycling for a few days with my pre-teen son, but the idea of wild camping does make me feel nervous, despite personal experience. On my own, I can do anything, I once spent a fairly miserable night outside Teheran central bus station (sadly, police took me in for a cup of tea, but wouldn’t put me up for the night in their cell), but I can’t be so cavalier with kids, and the area we’re going to cycle through, is relatively densely-populated and no, it’s not Scotland either. Also, those once-secluded spots in Europe have often become a playground for the better-off city dwellers, who enjoy a walk with their dog, off the leash (fair enough), but certainly do not take lightly to ‘suspicious types’ camping nearby. Plus, regulations and technology that follows regulations, make wild camping harder and harder. I can easily see, within the next 10 years or so, both public spaces and private land patrolled non-stop by autonomous drones with body-heat cameras. All legal of course, all ‘for the good and public safety’, etc.
Fully agree with your good tips. I’ve never felt fear when stealth camping. I especially agree with the accumulated cost of even backpackers’ hostels. It’s enormous.
People should remember that in Scotland you can legally camp for free anywhere, excluding people’s gardens and the like. Just use common sense. This is under the ‘right to roam’ legislation, reversing centuries of landowners abuse of property.
I’ve stealth camped a lot in France where I’ve never had a problem from anyone. Admittedly no-one can see my tent.
Europe has it legally defined in several countries. Good deal for sure!
I really want to do this! I feel afraid, just thinking about it. But I imagine getting through to the other side would feel so exhilarating! I tried last year and failed. I tried to sleep in the garden with my 4 yo daughter. It wasn’t fun. But fortunately we could just walk through the back door.
I’m going try again this year. In fact, I’m going to commit myself to three attempts and see how I get on.
Thanks for writing about micro adventures. I love your book!
Hello right now I live in a pop up tent camo colour and it is in the city woods I have a camo tarp over it not touching the tent and I leave the doors open and mesh doors shut… I have a duvet and pillows with waterproof bedding over and a snugpak travel 4 sleeping bag for on top of duvet I leave it all set up no need to carry around I joined a gym for showers and to charge up power bank and I shop at Asda… And go to the city laundry to wash clothing.