The Hobo Guide to Wild Camping in Europe
I’m camping in Europe at the moment. Pitching my tent at rest stops, in the mountains and inconspicuously behind bushes on private land. I’m camping because there are some day hikes I can’t bear to leave after only a few hours. I want to wake up in the fog and sleep amongst all the creatures that explore the land at night. I’m also doing it to stretch the little money I flew to Europe with.
Each country has its own laws when it comes to wild camping. Here’s a list, but please do your own research if you’re really concerned.
Wild camping is legal in: Sweden, Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine, Scotland
Wild camping is a bit of a grey area in: France, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech, Hungary, Moldova, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Switzerland
Wild camping is totally illegal in: Italy, Aldorra, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain (they’re really complicated), England, Wales
However, if you’re setting up shop just to rest your head for the night, camping is generally permissible. Pitch at dark and leave in the morning and nobody’s going to bat an eyelid, especially if you’re out of sight. How many times do you drive on a highway or pass a mountain and look for a tent? Worst case scenario: plead ignorance. You’re a tourist.
Here are my packing essentials:
1. A tent
If you’re heading over in summer, you can probably get away with a festival tent, especially if you’ve got some cash in the bank to splurge on accommodation when there’s a stormy night. I use a lightweight two-person Vango Bravo 200, because I need something I can carry on my back with the rest of my stuff that can also accommodate a mate, should I meet one on my journey.
If you’re wild camping, especially in places where wild camping is considered illegal or a grey area, maybe invest in something a little more inconspicuous than the blue one I’ve gone for. You can spot that baby from a mile away.
2. Hiking boots
If you’re up for hiking mountains, good boots are a must whether you’re camping or not. Good hiking boots keep the feet dry, so when you’re trekking and the trail is full of mud and puddles, having warm and dry feet is a bloody treat.
I’m not here to recommend brands on this one because every foot is different. I love the ankle support. It’s worth heading into your local adventure store and getting their expert advice.
3. Thermals and a raincoat
Even in a European summer, if you’re camping on the top of a mountain it gets fucking coolllddd. It also rains sometimes, and wet clothes make for a cold human. I use a Mister Timbuktu raincoat/wind breaker because it’s ethically sourced and made from recycled ocean plastic.
4. Wild berries field guide
Carrying along a little paperback about wild berries will only bring you happiness during a Euro summer. We don’t need an Into the Wild situation on our hands, especially if you’re solo. Up in the mountains, particularly in the south of France and Italy, there are millions of berries everywhere. They’re fresh and tasty and you’ll never want to go back to tasteless and overpriced Woolies berries again. Just make sure they’re not the poisonous ones.
I can’t recommend a specific book for this one; I just know it’s something I would have really valued if I had it. Make sure you look for a field guide specific to Europe/the UK.
5. Long overalls
The key is to pack light. You’ve got everything on your back, and if you’re going for a few months, chances are you think you need more clothes than you actually do. I fucking love overalls. They’re incredibly comfortable and the nice in-between when it comes to cardigan weather.
Also, I feel safer in them. As a solo female traveller pitching a tent, sometimes I think the challenge of getting overalls off me will buy me some extra time if I’m in a compromising situation.
6. A thick texta
You never know when you need to hitchhike. You can find cardboard out the back of anywhere, but sometimes finding a texta that’s thick and has enough ink can be difficult, especially if you’re in a small town and you don’t speak the local language.
Wikiloc is a great app and excellent for people who don’t really plan much. Wake up on the side of the road with the desire to hike? Pull up the app and it’ll show you a bunch of hikes around you with everything from photos, annotated trail maps, time and distance, elevation as well as tips from community members.
8. A book you actually want to read
As soon as the sun sets, you’ll probably be curled up in your tent. After a while you’ll get used to sleeping when the sun sets and rising with her, but for those who don’t require that many hours of shuteye, you’ll need something to keep you occupied. A Kindle is great for size and weight, especially if you’re out and about for a while. I also suggest a copy of Adventure Journal; there’s nothing worse than slipping into your sleeping bag only to find your Kindle’s out of battery.
9. A head torch
I’m camping by myself. A lot of people look at me with an eyebrow raised when I tell them that, right before launching into a spiel about how unsafe it is for a young woman to be sleeping in a tent on her own. Apart from sleeping with my phone, I sleep with a head torch right next to my face. This allows me to blind someone if they come tapping at my fabric. I can see them before they see me – a huge advantage.
It also means I can pack up and pack away in the dark and read in the tent, too.
10. A backpack
An obvious necessity, but it’s worth stressing that you should get fitted for one before you go, especially if you’re hiking. Any good adventure store will have a popcorn-like machine where they’ll put the waistband of your backpack in to heat so you can mould it to the shape of your hips. You also need to make sure your backpack is the right height for your torso as well. Don’t just buy a cheap, shitty one on eBay.
It’s worth investing in a little raincoat for your backpack. Peeling your wet clothes, camera, laptop and book out of your backpack three days after rain is not a good time.
11. String and tape
Excellent for taping your boots back together or stringing a washing line up after cleaning your dirty undies in a stream.
12. A first aid kit
Fork out the cash: get a good one from an adventure store, and read the contents before you leave.
13. The other things
A sleeping bag – not an Aldi one. Invest. A hydration bladder if you’re hiking for days and you don’t know if there will be a fresh water source. A sarong- it’s nice to sit on something when it’s a beautiful day. A sarong is lightweight and packs nice and small too. A journal, because you’ll probably have a hundred epiphanies about what you should do with your life. You can easily obtain pepper spray in Europe.
Finally, read other lists online. People write these kinds of articles all the time and I’ve probably missed Something Really Important.
Check the weather before you hike into the mountains, know the safety measures when it comes to lightning and remember, nobody is looking for a tent, so the likelihood of someone coming across you is slim. Enjoy listening to nature’s orchestra.