The definition of wild camping?

The definition of ‘wild camping’ to me only means one thing, but this term now seems to be widely used and has a few interpretations. So what does it really mean?

In this short article, I’ll take a look at the three groups who use the term ‘wild camping’ and whilst my opinion is biased towards the last group, I’ll remain as impartial as possible. The three groups in question are:

  1. Roadside/car camping
  2. Campervans/motorhomes pitched off site
  3. Backpacking.

Roadside/car camping:

Roadside camping is quite self explanatory; simply camping near your car. Whether this be near a layby or down a minor road. The beauty of roadside camping is, you can take as much as you like and have a fairly luxurious camping experience as you can go back and forth to your car for food, an extra layer or to escape the dreaded midge. Some people will quite often have a camp fire too. This is considered ‘wild camping’ as you’re not paying for a campsite and have no access to shower or toilet facilities.

Ruth and I roadside camping down Glen Etive.


Campervans/motorhomes pitched off site:

Pretty much similar to above, but you’re sleeping in a van adapted for living in. Some vans are pretty basic, whilst others are more luxurious and can be a home from home experience. The basis is park somewhere quiet and discrete. This is considered to be ‘wild camping’ as you are not paying a campsite for  your pitch, have no electricity hook-up and like roadside camping, there are no shower or toilet facilities.

Our old campervan, albeit in a campsite.



Backpacking is when you carry your tent, sleeping bag, mat, cooking kit and every else you need on your back for a backpacking trip. Typically you walk into remote valleys, moors, mountain tops and forests. This can be for one night or over a period of days and weeks. You will have all your food with you or will visit towns for resupplies. This is also considered ‘wild camping’ as you are not paying for a campsite and you are entering remote, sparsely populated areas.

A recent Backpacking trip on the Moidart Corbetts.


So what is the definition of wild camping?

If you internet search ‘definition of wild’ it will say something down the lines of: an area uninhabited, uncultivated, or inhospitable.

Likewise, internet search ‘definition of camping’ it will say something like: To go on holiday in a tent.

So based on the definition of wild and camping as separate words, surely the term ‘wild camping’ belongs to the backpackers? But why can’t backpackers just use the term ‘back packing’ then? We possibly could. But some, including myself use ‘wild camping’ as a means to get into remote areas to bag a remote mountain top.

Sadly there are a few irresponsible people in all three groups listed above but mainly the roadside campers and motorhomes.

The problem is the press and general public will use the term ‘Wild camping’ when labelling anti social campers who cut down and burn live trees, dump all their rubbish, leave huge fire scars, dump cheap tents and other camping equipment before driving off home. These types will also boast to their friends that they go ‘wild camping’.  The fact is, these types are not wild camping but responsible backpackers don’t want to be tarred with the same brush, so may choose to avoid using the term ‘wild camping’ to distance themselves from the louts!

A minority of motorhome owners also leave rubbish behind, some even human waste and even some backpackers leave mess behind or don’t remove their litter from remote bothies, hoping someone else will clean up their mess.

Moving away from the negative points, what is the definition of wild camping? I will always say the definition is carrying your tent into remote places away from any road or civilisation and camping out, leaving no trace.

I do believe the term the motorhome owners should be using is actually  ‘wildvanping’, courtesy of @bpackingbongos. 

However at the end of the day, all three groups are enjoying the great outdoors and I’ve been in all three groups myself at some point. Whilst my old campervan was sold some time ago, I do still enjoy a roadside camp and backpacking. But whatever ‘wild camping’ means to you, get out and enjoy responsibly.



9 thoughts on “The definition of wild camping?

  1. Why did you sell your old campervan? I’m planning to get one before I retire (while I can still afford it). I always think that the more options you have for your accommodation, the better and when you get old, cold and creaky like me, you may not want to camp so much in a tent in cold weather.

    I agree with your definitions except ‘car camping’ – to me, that is sleeping in my car – at least that’s what I mean when I say I car-camp. I often have a tent in the boot but can never be bothered to get it out as I prefer the comfort of the car seats (and, I suppose, the security of being locked in seeing as I’m near a road so inherently in danger of unwelcome visitors). There’s also nothing to pack away in the morning. I can’t say a car is warmer though – sleeping in a tin box in anything but warm conditions can be very cold indeed!

  2. The old girl was getting a bit expensive to keep and the rust was getting worse. Reluctantly decided to her whilst she was still road worthy. Still managed to make a small profit on paper. If you get the opportunity to buy one, go for it. Campervans are amazing.

  3. Mark

    Maybes I’m one of the ancients but the term wild camping seems a very resent development. I’ve plenty of photos of us camping beside the road near the Clachaig. Now it would be wild camping, bloody joke.

    I’ve owned a Mazda Bongo camper van for a few years. For two people it’s about as small as you can get for a van. It’s certainly earned its keep, hence its tag as the bagging machine. Being relatively small it’s easy to find a spot to pull-off to spend the night, but certainly isn’t wild camping.

  4. Interesting post. I’m not much of a camper but I’d be in agreement with you that wild camping involves carrying your tent somewhere remote. I’ve used campsites but never camped by the roadside though can see the benefit of doing so.

    My brother had a camper van and flogged it recently – I might have bought it off him if he’d asked before I sold it!

  5. Pingback: Legal Stealth/Wild Camping in Ontario Canada | My Travel Journals

  6. Eric S

    Hi all. I’m just back from two years “wild camping” around Latin America on a motorcycle. I’m curious if anyone has any thoughts on the psychological differences between wild camping as described here, and a standard campground experience. Personally, wild camping always seemed to elevate my senses. Especially with concerns about violence and banditry in the more dangerous regions/countries, wild camping made me feel more present in the landscape, like I’m back in the food chain. I never listen so hard, move so consciously, or inspect an area so carefully as when I want to stay hidden. Camping at a site, I assume a degree of social safety. If someone tries to rob or kill me, others can intervene. Out on the Bolivian altiplano, there are no others. The resulting psychological state feels primal, almost animal.

    Anyone have thoughts on this psychological experience?

    1. We certainly don’t have that same risk factor when wild camping in the UK. That’s a totally different experience that I certainly haven’t experienced.

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