Updated on January 28, 2023 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

If you don’t like to be restricted to a campsite when you’re on the move, Scotland is the place for you.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act, established in 2003, makes it legal for people to wild camp almost anywhere in the country, as long as the land is unenclosed. 

Scotland is celebrated for its towering castles, the highlands, and miles of picturesque valleys.

As long as you’re pitching up with intention and you treat your surroundings (and the locals) with respect, almost the whole of Scotland is yours to enjoy, directly from your own tent. 

If you’ve never embarked on your own wild camping trip before, knowing where to start can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not familiar with Scotland.

In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to make the most of your adventure, including our top tips, how to pitch up, what to pack, and the most important rules you need to follow. 

Scotland’s Wild Camping Rules 

Although wild camping is legal and accessible for all, there are guidelines for campers to follow. These are listed in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, and the rules are pretty simple: 

  • Camping groups should be limited to small numbers
  • You should only stay two or three nights in one place
  • Don’t camp in enclosed fields of farm animals or crops 
  • Don’t camp near buildings, historic structures, or roads 
  • Avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting
  • If you want to camp near a building, seek permission first 
  • Discard of all your litter appropriately 
  • Eliminate all traces of your pitch, including your open fire 
  • Where possible, use a stove rather than a fire. Never light a fire during dry periods
  • Don’t cause any pollution, such as by cutting trees, or draining chemical toilets in nature

Essentially, at the heart of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is one simple premise: “leave no trace”.

As long as you’re camping where the rules apply (or you’ve sought permission), and you’re following the guidelines, you’re free to pitch up and soak in the sights. 

Wild Camping Rules In Cars And Campervans 

Note: The Scottish Outdoor Access Code states that access rights are not applicable to motor vehicles.

So, if you rock up somewhere that explicitly prohibits campers in vehicles, you’ll need to find somewhere else to pitch up. 

If you’re using a campervan, you’ll usually need to use a managed campsite or a caravan park. You may also find several wild-camping sites where overnight parking in vehicles is permitted.

If you want to park your car and then walk to your wild camping site, follow the guidance about parking in the access code: 

  • Leave no trace 
  • Discard your litter and waste appropriately
  • Keep a respectable distance from houses and monuments
  • Don’t park where you can block up access roads
  • Don’t park in dangerous locations 

Can You Light A Fire When You’re Wild Camping? 

Yes – technically, lighting fires is not illegal in Scotland. However, you need to be careful where you light your fire.

Although Scotland receives above-average rainfall, dry grass can increase the risk of wildfires.

If your fire grows out of control, you could land yourself in serious trouble and be liable to pay for any damage you’ve caused.

This is why the Scottish Outdoor Access Code advises using stoves rather than fires wherever possible – especially during dry months. 

If you’re able to light a fire safely, you’ll need to remove all traces of it before you leave.

You also won’t be permitted to collect firewood in most places, so bring your own, and preferably use a fire bowl rather than lighting up on the ground.

If you’re using a disposable BBQ, place it on a bed of rocks so you don’t damage the grass underneath.

Where Is Wild Camping Restricted In Scotland?  

There’s only one place in Scotland where wild camping is heavily restricted – The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is one of the most iconic areas of Scotland, and it was one of two national parks created by the Scottish Parliament in 2002.

Loch Lomond and Trossachs is known for being the second largest lake (by volume) in the whole of Great Britain, and the area boasts some beautiful scenery, a rich history, and an abundance of diverse geographical features.

Between March 1st and September 30th, camping in the park’s Camping Management Zone is only available to campers who hold a permit, or at the park’s official campsites.

This rule is in place to protect the park from damage and help manage visitor months during busy periods for wildlife.

If you travel to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park at other times, you will still find areas where wild camping isn’t permitted.

If an area is clearly signposted with a “no camping” request, respect the area and don’t camp there. 

Tips For Wild Camping In Scotland (Beginner Friendly)

Tips For Wild Camping In Scotland (Beginner Friendly)

If you’ve only ever pitched up on managed campsites, you’ll find wild camping one of the most exciting and liberating things you can do.

Although you’re not familiar with the do’s and don’ts of Scottish wild camping laws, you’ll still need to plan appropriately for your trip – especially if you’re a beginner.

If you’re new to wild camping in Scotland, or in general, here are the most important tips you’ll need to follow: 

Pick An Easy Route 

With so many awe-inspiring geographical points at your disposal, you may be tempted to climb a big mountain, or camp up at the highest spot you can find (see our guide to the mountains of the Uk here). 

Remember, though: you’ll be carrying PLENTY of heavy equipment in your backpack, even if you’re staying overnight.

If you’re wild camping for the first time (or you’re not used to long hikes), we’d advise choosing an easier route.

Coastal camping is particularly popular for beginners, but ultimately, anywhere that avoids steep inclines and precarious terrain is a good choice. 

If you’re considering coastal camping, the beaches of West Island Way, the Isle of Tiree, and Arisaig are particularly beautiful (and popular!). 

Choose The Right Tent 

One of the most important things you’ll need to do is pick the right tent. When you’re wild camping, the best tents are lightweight and easy to pitch.

We’d recommend a lightweight and compact 1-2 person tent that’s durable, and completely waterproof. 

If you’ve never put up your chosen tent before, practice pitching it before you set off on your trip.

There’s nothing worse than battling against the elements and struggling to read the instructions when you’ve been hiking all day – so, do yourself a favour and prepare! 

Hire Equipment 

Here’s one of our most important tips of all: hire your equipment! 

Buying the appropriate kit can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re starting from scratch.

There are plenty of things to consider, from your tent and sleeping bag, right down to the boots on your feet, and the jacket on your back. 

If you don’t have the means to invest in all the right equipment, why not hire it? This is a great option for beginners, particularly those trying wild camping for the first time.

It requires a limited financial commitment, and as long as you return everything in one piece, you’ll get your money back! 

With the right service, you can hire everything you need for a simple camping try. This is also a great way to try different equipment before deciding which items to invest in. 

Start With One Night 

If you’re wild camping for the first time, we understand your excitement.

The whole of Scotland is your oyster, so naturally, you’re going to want to camp out for as long as possible and make the most of your adventure. However, this often isn’t the most practical choice. 

Wild camping is actually the most popular for ‘mini’ adventures.

You don’t have to hike for miles and camp for nights on end, simply set off in the morning, walk all day, camp at night, and return home in the morning. 

If this is your first wild camping trip, we can’t recommend this enough. No matter how prepared you think you are, there’s always the risk that something will go wrong.

If you’re in unfamiliar territory or on your own, it’s better to only plan to stay for a short while and ensure you’re never too far from your car or public transport.

Once you’re used to the way wild camping works and you start to feel more comfortable (and prepared), you can start working up to longer trips. 

What To Pack When You Go Wild Camping 

Tent and boots? Check. Backpack? Check. Stove? Check… 

Don’t stop there – here are THE most important things you’ll need to pack for your wild camping trip. 

  • A large, durable backpack: This should be comfortable enough to carry, but large enough to hold your equipment. For an overnight trip, take a 40-50L model. If you’re staying longer, between 60-70L should suffice. 
  • A headlamp: Because nobody wants to struggle to see in the dark. 
  • Walking poles: Even if you don’t usually use them, take them. You’ll be walking longer distances with a heavy backpack, and walking poles may help prevent fatigue, and keep you safe when climbing tough terrain. 
  • Hiking boots, socks, and camping shoes: So you can be comfortable and practical during your trip.
  • A lightweight tent: Choose a durable, lightweight tent that’s easy to carry and pitch.
  • A power bank: So you can keep your phone charged on the go. 
  • Midge repellent: This requires no explanation…
  • Quick-drying clothes: Pack waterproof, quick-drying clothes (NOT cotton)  
  • A map and compass: Pack these if you’re more advanced or adventurous trails. 
  • A sleeping system: This should consist of a sleeping bag and pad.
  • A trowel for your waste: We’ll discuss this in-depth below. 
  • Camping stove and other essentials:  Pack a stove, gas cartridge, a small pot, a pocket knife, a cup, and cutlery 
  • Toilet paper: This is a no brainer…
  • First Aid Kit: This is a must-have. 
  • Hand sanitizer: Keep yourself clean on the go. 
  • A lighter or matches: Pack these in a waterproof bag to prevent damage. 
  • Water system: Pack your own water system, such as a water bladder and a large bottle. You may also wish to bring a portable water filter so you can drink from streams. 

Camping Shoes 

Hiking boots are a no-brainer, but you’ll also want to pack appropriate camping shoes. These should be a second pair of comfortable, lightweight shoes you can wear around your camp.

If you’ve been hiking all day in big boots, your feet will need a rest, so it’s important not to skip this step. 

Reusable Litter Bags 

Another important thing to pack is a reusable litter bag. This will reduce the amount of plastic waste you create, and they’re pretty easy to carry around.

Simply tie one to the outside of your backpack, and keep your litter with you until you can find a safe place to dispose of it. 

Take Enough Water 

Although you may be able to filter your water and fill up from local streams, don’t rely on this. It’s always better to pack as much as you need with you.

If you’re staying overnight, we’d recommend packing around two litres of water, which is enough to keep you hydrated, cook a meal, and make a hot drink.

You’ll also need to account for the extra water you’ll need hiking in and out of your camping spot. 

If you’re staying for a few days, you’ll need to find other ways to keep topped up. Use a water filter to drink water from streams, or other surrounding facilities.

If you’re camped near a house, you could even ask if they’d be willing to fill up your water bottle. Most people are welcoming, kind and friendly, so this shouldn’t be an issue – but again, don’t rely on this being an option.  

Midge Spray And Netting 

Unfortunately, these little buggers are everywhere. The name refers to several species of tiny flies, and their bites can cause some serious swelling and inflammation.

These small black flies usually hatch in May and June, and they’ll be out causing chaos until at least September.

Midges are more active in the mornings and evenings, and when you’re out camping, it’s not easy to avoid them. 

Midge repellent is a must-have in your backpack. Without it, you can expect to get bitten to high heaven, and it goes without saying, this is EXTREMELY uncomfortable.

The best way to avoid bites is to keep the flysheet on your tent closed, wear netting over your head, and keep your eyes peeled. 

If you’re camping on a particularly sunny and windy day, you may get off lightly – these small flies hate the heat (and the wind), so they’ll be less likely to swarm on you in these conditions. 

Power Bank

Even if your wild camping trip is an attempt at a social media detox, it’s always wise to have a power bank to hand – especially if you’re solo camping.

You never know when you may need your phone for an emergency, so keep it charged at all times.

If you’re using your phone for photography, this will also ensure it doesn’t die just as soon as you’ve found the perfect view to snap! 

Tips For Pitching Your Tent 

Tips For Pitching Your Tent 

Ask any camper what their most common issue is, and it’ll probably be to do with their tent.

Whether you’re wild camping or setting up on an official site, there’s always the possibility you’ll end up tangled between miles of guideline ropes, staring down at damp, half-creased instructions wondering… what the hell do I do now? 

To avoid any mishaps when you pitch up, here’s a list of tips and tricks to make your life a little easier: 

Finding The Perfect Spot 

Finding a good place to pitch is everything. If you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings, trying to find the perfect spot can be even more nerve-wracking.

If you’ve only ever camped on official campsites, you’ll know it’s rather simple – most of the ground is flat and well-drained, but unfortunately, finding such a place in the wild can be challenging. 

When you’re searching your surroundings for the perfect spot, look for a place with a flat surface and fairly dry ground.

Scotland is famously hilly and damp, so don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to find the right place.

You should also look for a sheltered area that will offer protection from the elements on all sides. 

If you’re struggling to find a good spot, note that you cannot dig your own ditch or move large rocks to help drain your campsite.

For wild camping to remain legal, you must minimise the impact you have on your surroundings. Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for more information. 

Prioritise Privacy 

Although wild camping is legal in most parts of Scotland, you still need to be careful where you camp. You can only camp in unenclosed areas, and you must keep your distance from houses and monuments. 

When you pitch up, prioritise your own privacy, and be considerate of others. If there’s a house directly in your line of sight, it’s better to move further afield.

If you’ve managed to find the perfect spot, but there’s a house close by, there’s no harm in asking for their permission.

However, you should only do this if you’re struggling to find a spot with flat ground, shelter, and good drainage. 

Consider The Wind 

Scotland isn’t exactly famous for its warm temperatures and abundance of sunshine. When you wild camp in the area, there’s a good chance you’ll be battling the elements – especially the wind.

High winds can be dangerous for you and your equipment, and they can lead to many sleepless nights. 

When you’re about to pitch up, take note of the wind direction and pitch WITH the wind.

Ensure your door is facing away from the wind direction, and allow the wind to flow through as easily as possible.

If your door is facing the wind, it’s going to be noisy and rocky – not ideal when your home for the night is made entirely of fabric. 

The Most Important Tips For Enjoying The Camp Life 

We’re not done with the tips and tricks yet. Before you set off on your adventure, here are a few more tips and tricks you need to be safe, respectful, and responsible when you’re all pitched up. 

Keeping Warm 

If you’re camping in the spring, autumn or winter, nighttime temperatures can dip drastically.

Even in the summer, nighttime in the great outdoors brings with it a frosty chill that requires layering and other hacks, to keep toasty. 

One of the best ways to keep warm is to use a thin inlay for your sleeping bag.

These thin inlays will not add much weight to your packing, and they’ll create an extra layer of air within the sleeping bag that will keep you warm.

You can also use your water bottle as a hot water bottle, and take it into your sleeping bag at night! 

When you’re choosing your equipment, pay close attention to the quality of your sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Your sleeping mat will need to be rather thick – the ground beneath you will be good, so a thick mat will provide as much distance and extra insulation as possible.

Air mattresses tend to be warmer, so if you have the space, it’s well worth packing one. 

Choose a sleeping bag with the appropriate insulation. A three or four-season sleeping bag will be ideal for the colder months. 

How To Dry Damp Clothes 

Hopefully, your damp clothes are quick-dry. If so, this will already speed up the drying process!

If your clothes are damp before you go to sleep, you can use your own body heat (and well-insulated sleeping bag) to dry them before sunrise.

Simply place your damp articles of clothing in the bag with you overnight, and they should be dry and ready to wear when you wake up. 

Disposing Of Your Waste 

Yes, when we say ‘waste’ we’re talking about your waste. When you’re wild camping, the luxury of a flushable, clean toilet is not available… So where do you go? 

Well, we can certainly tell you where NOT to go: in a stream. This is a stupid idea, so if you need to pee, do it well away from streams and other open bodies of water.

Wildlife and other wild campers may be drinking from the stream, and the last thing they want is a mouthful of your urine, so please, be respectful. 

If you’re taking toilet paper with you, keep it inside a dry bag or a container – even after use.

Toilet paper can take a long time to degrade naturally and it can also be harmful to wildlife, so don’t just dump it on the ground and hope for the best.

Carrying your toilet paper in a bag or container will also keep it dry – a soaked roll of toilet paper is no use to anyone. 

And now for another inevitability; pooping.

When the time comes, do your business far away from streams, bodies of water, and other buildings. Make sure you do it far away from wildlife, too. 

If you read through our list above, you may remember the humble trowel. Well, when you poop, you’ll need to do it in a shallow hole and cover it up with dirt.

This is why you’ll need the trowel, so please, don’t forget it. Nobody wants to see your business on their morning hike. 

Keep Yourself Entertained 

Although soaking in Scotland’s incredible surroundings is more than enough to keep you occupied, you may need a little time (especially when hiking) to unwind and reflect.

We’d recommend packing a book, loading up with podcasts, or listening to some music while you’re hiking.

You can even bring a notebook to journal your thoughts or document all the wonderful things you’ve seen on your journey. 

If you want to listen to music or podcasts, remember to pack your power bank. This will keep your phone/iPod, and even your headphones, charged up and ready to use when you need them. 

The Best Places To Wild Camp In Scotland 

The Best Places To Wild Camp In Scotland 

If you’re about to embark on your first-ever trip to Scotland… you’re in for a treat. Scotland has so much to offer its wild campers; if anything, you’ll feel spoilt for choice!

Before you set off, do your research.

There are so many places to camp, and since wild camping became legal, thousands of wild campers have offered their stories and opinions on some of the best places to pitch up.

Here are some of the most beautiful (and practical) places you can wild camp in Scotland. 

Quiraing, Isle Of Skye 

The Quiraing is a landslip that can be found on the east face of Meall na Suiramach. The Quiraing is an incredibly popular place for hikers, offering some of the most spectacular views in the whole of Scotland.

When you arrive, you’ll be greeted with a series of dramatic cliffs, and miles of tumbling hills. Come rain or shine, the views are breathtaking.

The hike to the peak of Quiraing is around two miles, and if you’re up for the challenge (and pitching up on an elevation), you can camp out at the top!

The hike is moderately challenging, and mountaineers are drawn to it thanks to its spectacular hills, and the remnants of former giant volcanoes.

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland 

Sandwood Bay is deemed the most beautiful beach in Britain, and it’s not hard to see why.

This natural bay can be found on the northwest coasts of Scotland, and it’s famous for its remote mile-long beach.

Sandwood Bay is wild and remarkable, and it boasts an iconic loch and huge sand dunes for you to take in. 

If you’re up for a long hike, Sandwood Bay can be reached via a four-mile walk loaded with pink-tinged sand and staggering cliffs.

The Sandwood Bay is part of the Sandwood Estate, which is home to eight other islands, a freshwater Sandwood Lock, and a saltwater lagoon.

It’s also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSS) and sits within a Special Area of Conservation thanks to its dune grassland and shifting dunes, so in some areas, wild camping is prohibited. 

If you’re lucky enough to find a spot, not only will you be blown away by its stunning coastline, but you’ll also get to soak up some of its rare and impressive wildlife (see here for more information on UK coastlines).

At Sandwood, you’ll find the rare Great Yellow Bumblebee and a variety of unique seabirds. The bay is also home to more than 200 species of plants. The sights of Sandwood are not to be missed. 

Rackwick Bay, Orkney 

There’s just something about Orkney that no other place can match. Rackwick Bay can be found on the island of Hoy, Orkney’s second-largest island.

Rackwick Bay is nestled between the Hoy Hills, and it fully embraces the coastline, offering some of the most spectacular views in the whole of Orkney. 

Rackwick is one of the most remote beaches in the area and its home to a small crofting community.

Here, you’ll find sandy beaches, stunning hiking trails, awe-inspiring cliffs, and some beautiful stone houses.

If you’re looking for a completely remote place to pitch up that’s right on the coastline, Rackwick Bay is one place you won’t want to miss out on. 

Glen Sannox, Isle Of Arran  

Around 7.45 miles north of Brodick you’ll find Glen Sannox.

Glen Sannox is one of the most beautiful places to set up camp in the whole of Scotland, and it boasts some truly magnificent views, including the highest peak of Arran, the Goat Fell mountains.

At Sannox Burn, you’ll find crystal clear waters, a sandy bay, and you can even walk through the village itself, which is steeped in history and truly idyllic. 

Your walk to Glen Sannox is loaded with beech trees, stepping stones, old mine workings, and rugged mountains. It’s often described as ‘Scotland in miniature’, and it’s not hard to see why!

There are plenty of places to camp in and around Glen Sannox.

Whether you want to be within walking distance of the car park or in a more remote location in the mountains, you’ll find hundreds of beautiful spots, right at your feet. 

Kilmory Bay, Isle Of Rum 

Next up, we have Kilmory Bay on the Isle of Rum.

Kilmory Bay is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Scotland. Its sandy beaches are interrupted by volcanic outcrops and hugged by rocky promontories.

Kilmory Bay can be found near the small crofting town of Kilmory, which sits on the north coast of West Ardnamurchan. 

Kilmory Bay can be accessed via a simple single-track road that takes you straight onto its sandy bay.

This sheltered beach is not far from the village of Kilmory, either, so if you want to be within walking distance of civilization, it’s ideal.

However, it can be tough to find the perfect camping spot here. The ground is notoriously boggy the closer you get to the sea, so you’ll need to keep between the trees for the best spots. 

Bonaly Reservoir, Edinburgh 

Bonaly Reservoir can be found on the southwestern outskirts of Edinburgh, and it’s situated in the Parish of Colinton.

Bonaly Reservoir is part of the Pentland Hills Regional Park, and it boasts some of the most impressive views of the Edinburgh skyline. 

The Bonaly Reservoir is the ideal camping spot for beginners. It’s situated relatively close to the town, but it’s still over a mile away from the nearest road.

When you arrive at the reservoir, you’ll find plenty of spots that wild campers have used, and some even have their own well-established fire pits!

Just through the trees, you’ll find plenty of flat, grassy ground, but the land closer to the reservoir can be tougher to sleep on. 

Bonaly Reservoir is truly unique. It’s authentic, stripped back, and just a short trek from the magical capital of Edinburgh. It’s a hidden gem that’s well worth a visit. 

Cairngorms, Scottish Highlands 

Now for one of our favourite camping spots in the whole of Scotland – the Cairngorms. Cairngorms National Park is the largest park in the UK, and it can be found in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

The Cairngorms is home to more mountains, rivers, villages, forest paths, lochs, and unique wildlife than you can shake a stick at (see more about UK rivers here).

It’s not only one of the best places to wild camp in Scotland, but arguably, it’s one of the best in the whole world. 

The Cairngorms covers parts of Kinross, Perth, Angus, Moray, and Aberdeenshire, and almost half of its land is considered wild.

Around 49% of the area has been recognised as having international importance for nature, and it’s not hard to see why.

If you’re planning a mountain climb during your trip, you won’t be disappointed.

The Cairngorms is home to four of the highest mountains in the UK, including Cairn Toul, Braeriach, and Ben Macdui. 

Although the Cairngorms is the ideal place for wild camping and remote exploring, you’ll also find a variety of activities on offer, including water sports centres, art galleries, distilleries, and much more. 

If you’re coming for the wildlife, you won’t be disappointed.

Get your camera at the ready, because during your stay, you may just spot some of the UK’s most beautiful, rare, and endangered species, including ospreys, the Scottish wildcat, golden eagles, red squirrels, mountain hares, red deer, and many more.

Whatever your wild camping plans, the Cairngorms is well worth the visit. 

The Bottom Line 

It’s not always easy to wild camp in the UK, but since Scotland has opened its doors to wild campers from across the globe, it has proved just how successful the practice can be.

If you’re ready to immerse yourself in rich, historic surroundings, rare wildlife, and the crisp air of some of the UK’s highest mountain ranges, Scotland is the place to be.

Just remember to pack appropriately, respect the Scottish Outdoor Code, and stay safe! 

Wild Camping In Scotland - Tips For Beginners