Top tips for wild camping on Dartmoor
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Wild camping is a fabulous way to get away from it all and immerse yourself in nature (as well as the occasional puddle).
Here in Devon we have some fabulous outdoor locations but the one that really stands out for wild camping opportunities is Dartmoor. Backpack or wild camping on Dartmoor has been popular for generations and is a great way to explore further into Dartmoor’s wilder areas. There is nothing like the feeling of slinging (or heaving) a rucksack onto your back and setting off knowing it contains everything you need for the night. We take a look at the dos and don’ts of Dartmoor wild camping and explain how you can have a go safely and without damaging this beautiful environment.
Where can I wild camp on Dartmoor?
Although there are areas of Dartmoor where you are allowed to wild camp, this is not true for the whole moor. To help you enjoy a peaceful night within a permitted area, Dartmoor National Park Authority has published an interactive wild camping map . There are plenty of permitted camping areas to explore and you won’t have to walk for hours to find them but it is also important to follow a few other sensible wild camping regulations:
-Make sure you pitch your tent at least 100 metres away from a road
-Make sure your wild camp location is not visible from the road or dwellings
-Avoid camping in obvious enclosures or on archeological sites
Where are Dartmoor’s firing ranges?
Whilst Dartmoor’s three firing ranges are usually open to members of the public, you definitely don’t want to wild camp inside one of them during Army live firing exercises. Always check the MOD Dartmoor live firing times before you plan your wild camp and watch out for red flags during the day and red lights at night.
What kit do I need to wild camp on Dartmoor?
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If you are trying wild camping for the first time you don’t necessarily want to spend loads of money but there are some basics that you will need for a safe and comfortable night. We recommend borrowing some kit or buying second hand to get you started.
For backpack or wild camping you need to be able to carry your wild camping tent in or on your rucksack. Small one-person tents are fairly lightweight but if you are camping with other people, you can share the weight of a two or three-person tent between you. Remember that in the morning, a wet tent will weigh more than a dry one.
Bivvy Bag (optional)
Bivvy bags are lighter than tents and offer you the opportunity to sleep directly under stars. They also offer the opportunity of a wet face when it starts to rain but can be fun when the weather is dry. The other great thing about a bivvy bag is that it is far less conspicuous than a tent.
Although the idea of a campfire is always tempting you are not allowed to light a fire anywhere on Dartmoor apart from official campsites. You might be surprised how delicious a meal cooked on a gas or meths stove can be but we recommend keeping the catering simple for your first few outings (pasta and packet sauces are both great options). If possible, place stoves on rocks in order to protect the environment and prevent fires. Always take all of your litter and any left over food home with you. Your wild cooking as well as your wild camping should leave no trace.
A warm sleeping bag is a must for a comfortable wild camping night but you will also need a sleeping mat to protect you from the ground. Both sleeping bags and mats are thermal rated and some will keep you warm enough for winter wild camping. However winter sleeping equipment can be expensive so you might want your first wild camp to be a summer one. One way to boost your warmth is to take lots of clothing layers including a hat and gloves. A hot drink before bedtime also helps but don’t drink too much if you want to avoid being in and out of your sleeping bag all night.
Just like any other outdoor activity, wild camping is safest with the right equipment. You don’t need to take the kitchen sink but a few basics can make all the difference if things start to go wrong.
-A first aid kit (first aid training is also useful)
-A map and compass (if you don’t know how to use these there are some great Dartmoor navigation courses available)
-A torch and spare batteries (a spare torch is even better)
-A mobile phone (switched off and kept for emergencies)
Is it safe to wild camp on Dartmoor on my own?
It could be argued that camping in a remote location is safer than camping where other people can see you but it is remoteness that can often make people feel dubious about wild camping alone. As with many outdoor activities, careful planning can improve wild camping safety. Make sure your navigation skills, your clothes and kit, and your provisions are up to scratch, and tell someone you trust where you are going to be and when to expect you home. If you would like to gain more confidence before you try your first Dartmoor wild camp, consider a wild camping course.
Wild camping on Dartmoor is a wonderful experience and we are really privileged here in Devon to have such a fantastic opportunity on our doorstep. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that our beautiful outdoor spaces won’t stay beautiful if we don’t look after them. There are certain areas of Dartmoor that are being ruined by illegal and over use. If you are planning your first backpack camp, we would ask you to consider three important questions.
-Will I be safe?
-Will I be visible?
-Will I leave any trace?
Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon