This guide covers everything you need to know about wild camping in Scotland – from two Scots who grew up under canvas in the great outdoors.
After over 20 years of camping trips, we have our fair share of local tips to help newbies through the night. For us, tent camping in Scotland is the best way to immerse yourself in the country’s stunning landscape, admire the views and make pals with the wildlife. That is of course if you stick to the camping in Scotland rules, pack the correct kit and leave no trace!
From finding the best free campsites in Scotland, to wild camping essentials we hope to persuade anyone on the fence to embrace this freedom in our wee country. You will not regret it!
REASONS TO GO WILD CAMPING IN SCOTLAND
- Cheaper: Let’s start with the obvious, in Summer campsites in Scotland can be expensive (although warm showers and electricity are a welcome bonus!) Although the initial cost of camping gear can be expensive, it can be used again and again saving you some serious money on accommodation while gaining priceless memories!
- Nature: Wild camping in Scotland means you can get closer to some incredible nature. Although at times you may not want to (hello midges) some of the most serene spots are only accessible to campers.
- Meet the locals: If you stick to just hostels or hotels, you’ll end up meeting just other tourists instead of a true taste of Scottish life. Us Scots are one of the friendliest nations on the planet so wild camping in Scotland can become an addictive cycle – you meet locals in one campsite who recommend another hidden gem or shortcut and so the camping continues!
- Stargazing: Away from the cities and street lights, one of the main reasons we love free camping in Scotland is stargazing! If you’re feeling brave, from December through February is the Northern Lights Season where you can get epic views of the Aurora Borealis in Scotland!
- Freedom: Regardless if you’re a backpacker wanting to escape hostel life, a hiker after a long day or a couple wanting a romantic escape, wild camping in Scotland offers the freedom, peace & quiet that other accommodation simply cannot provide. Have we persuaded you yet?
WILD CAMPING IN SCOTLAND LAWS
When it comes to camping in Scotland rules, we have the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This gives us the right to roam with the exception of a few areas such as military of defence, airfields, railway property and quarries. You can read more about the full rules here.
It essentially means you can camp wherever you like however there are a few rules to ensure you do this safely to protect the environment and to protect this amazing freedom. The rules are common sense and will be second nature to any responsible traveller, however in a nutshell these are the guidelines:
- Avoid overcrowding: If it’s busy find somewhere else to camp
- Use a camping stove rather than a wild campfire: Our camping recipes can help here!
- Take only photos, leave only footprints. Do not litter nor remove shells, leaves or wood for fires as this damages natural habitats.
- If in doubt, ask: If you are unsure if you are allowed to camp there simply ask. Landowners will happily recommend a different safe spot.
Before you go wild camping in Scotland, we also recommend reading the Scottish Access Code. This outlines exactly what you can and cannot do when it comes to camping, hiking and enjoying the Scottish outdoors.
The Loch Lomond Byelaws
It’s no secret Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks, but what isn’t as well known is the National Park’s camping byelaws that are in force from March to September.
If you plan on wild camping in Scotland and this spot is top of your list, there are specific camping rules at Loch Lomond that are different from the rest of the country.
MOTORHOME CAMPING IN SCOTLAND
When it comes to the camping in Scotland rules, this is where it get’s confusing. Although thanks to right to roam, you can pitch up a tent wherever you fancy (within reason) the same rules are not applied to vehicles. If you are hoping to enjoy some motorhome camping in Scotland, we recommend reading up on the parking rules from The Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Many people wanting to go wild camping in Scotland assume campervans and motorhomes fall under the same rules, and although we are massive fans of van life (we toured New Zealand in a campervan and Australia) we genuinely believe to truly appreciate our wee country motorhome camping in Scotland does not come close to tent life.
We are aware due to the popularity of the NC500 and staycations recently, motorhome hire has soared in Scotland but unfortunately, this has resulted in traffic jams, angry locals and ruined roads.
If you are determined for home comforts here are a few tips to consider for motorhome camping in Scotland:
Look For Signs: In many of the country’s beauty spots, you will find “no overnight parking signs” this is aimed at motorhome and campervan users. This does not mean tents are not welcome, but it will mean you’ll need to park elsewhere and walk to that spot. Don’t disregard these signs!
We Don’t Have The Infrastructure: One of the many joys of Scotland is its rural landscape. This means there is a lack of motorways and we rely on mainly “B” roads which are single track roads aka not motorhome friendly. This can make touring slow and tough, not to mention damaging to the environment (and local’s patience!) at watching their area be churned up when yet another motorhome gets stuck.
Passing Places are for Not For Sleeping: This can cause confusion with tourists, but due to the B roads we have several passing places along these single-track roads that some people confuse as parking spaces. Not only is this super dangerous for you as other road users need those spaces, but you will most likely be woken up by a honking horn at best and a chap at the window from police at worst.
You Cannot Access The Best Free Campsites in Scotland: It’s no secret wild camping in Scotland is so popular as people like to appreciate the untouched landscape and head off the beaten path. Needless to say it’s a little tough to head off the beaten path in a 20ft vehicle. This is another reason we encourage you to avoid motorhome camping in Scotland if you plan on free camping.
TENT CAMPING IN SCOTLAND
Now we have our opinions on motorhome camping in Scotland out the way, let’s focus on one of our fave topics – TENTS!
We genuinely feel tent camping in Scotland gets you closer to nature and you truly appreciate the natural beauty our wee country has to offer in ways that hostels or motorhomes just cannot provide. Whether you’re beach camping in Scotland and falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean, or on a multi-day hike waking up in the clouds the rest of this guide will help you embrace wild camping in Scotland even as a newbie.
Tips for Pitching Your Tent
Use the Correct Tent
First and foremost, us Scots love a bargain, but when wild camping in Scotland you need to buy a durable tent which means a cheapie from Asda isn’t going to cut it. Ideally choose one with 2 layers and a groundsheet built-in. It will need to be lightweight but waterproof such as this Coleman Kobuk 3 Man tent which we swear by for wild camping in Scotland as its 100% waterproof. It also blocks 99% of sunlight which is perfect for Scottish Summers where there can be up to 18 hours of sunlight! We use a 3 man for the two of us so we have space for our backpacks.
Out of Sight Out Of Mind
This is the general rule for tent camping in Scotland. Before you pitch up look around – can you see anyone’s garden? Any car parks? Farms? If you can see them, people will likely see you. It’s best to blend in to avoid any confrontation from disgruntled locals or more likely, disgruntled livestock. No one wants to be woken up by dog walkers at 7am nor have half the village see you pee in a bush.
Avoid Camping Near Lochs or Stagnant Water
Lochs (the Scottish term for lakes) are stunning. Their banks offer flat ground which can seem like the ideal pitch if you’re camping in Scotland in a tent. However, stagnant water and damp conditions is where midges thrive (more on those later!)
Find a Sheltered Spot
It’s no secret the Scottish elements are not for the faint-hearted. To avoid being battered by wind and rain, find a sheltered spot either near trees/fences/walls.
Although (most of) us locals welcome wild camping in Scotland, it is best to pitch up late and leave early so everyone’s happy. Not only will you enjoy the most beautiful locations when they are most peaceful, but you will ensure to go undetected which is ideal when leaving no trace.
HOW TO FIND FREE CAMPSITES IN SCOTLAND
You’re probably thinking, surely finding free campsites in Scotland is a tad easy, considering we’ve just basically said the country is your playground. Well, sort of.
Although wild camping in Scotland is easy compared to many other countries, we still advise you to plan a route and research safe, legal places to camp.
Not to panic, we have four methods to do just that! Use these tips to find free campsites in Scotland that comply with the Outdoor Access Code and keep the environment and locals happy.
1. The Best Camping Apps
Apps are a quick and easy way to find free campsites in Scotland. The main advantage is that they are updated regularly by the camping community so they are the best way of finding up to date reviews and closure information.
The main disadvantage of camping apps is, however, that there is only a handful that EVERYONE uses. This means you may think you’ve found a stunning, secluded spot but rock up to find a dozen tents already pitched there. This can make overcrowding an issue as popular pitches will show up in search results first.
2. Ask Locals
We grew up wild camping in Scotland so feel asking locals is the best way to find the perfect pitch. Living in rural areas meant our nightclub choices were non-existant and so camping with a few beers was what we did for fun as teenagers.
Our parents did it too, so we were brought up on how to camp responsibly as well as knowing the best camping spots as they’ve been shared down generations. This means we have a wealth of knowledge of the best free campsites that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Mainly because these spots don’t have names, or if they do they’re obscure local names that you definitely won’t find in a guidebook!
Us Scots are friendly folk, so get chatting with dog walkers, or pop by a local coffee shop and you’re bound to learn a tip or two to head of the beaten path. The best free campsites in Scotland are the ones only locals know about, so a friendly hello could guarantee a hidden gem or two.
When searching for free campsites in Scotland we recommend joining these Facebook groups where locals and tourists alike share their favourite spots:
Although camping apps are quick, you often need to search for a specific location to find results and these are from other tourists. In Facebook groups, you can instead ask for local recommendations and you’ll have a response in minutes.
Facebook groups are also a great way to find pals to camp with if you’re wild camping in Scotland alone. There’s always someone else up for an adventure so post in these groups if you’re looking to buddy up.
The joys of wild camping is that you can be cut off from the world – especially in rural Scotland. This will mean internet or phone coverage can be extremely limited. That is why we recommend a camping book at hand just incase your initial campsite falls through/weather takes a turn etc. Having a book as back up will mean you won’t be stranded should your phone run out of battery or there are no locals nearby to ask.
At the least, write down or print out your campsite choices/directions so that if your phone fails you know the camping spots you planned to go to.
WILD CAMPING IN SCOTLAND ESSENTIALS
We have created a detailed camping checklist which we recommend you read in full.
However, due to the likelihood of four seasons in one day and our monstrous midges, wild camping in Scotland requires a niche packing list. Below are a few essentials we recommend when tent camping in Scotland that you need in addition to our usual packing list.
Sadly even the best camping spots in Scotland can’t escape these pesky beasts. We know first hand that midges can make or break your time free camping in Scotland, which is why we dedicated an entire post to our tips for tackling midges. We recommend giving it a read so you’re armed with the knowledge you need to make it through the night without being nibbled as well as adding these essentials to your backpack.
When wild camping in Scotland it is essential you dispose of your waste properly. Unfortunately, in recent times many of the best free camping sites have been shut down due to litter and human waste, so please help the environment with a wee toilet trowel so you can bury your business and if you need to use it, make sure to use biodegradable toilet tissue.
Packing For The Elements
As mentioned some of the best free campsites in Scotland require quite the hike, which is why we recommend our Osprey backpacks to carry your camping gear.
We put together an entire guide on why these backpacks are the best and even a full video review. Better yet, in the unlikelihood they break while you’re camping in Scotland, they have lifetime guarantee – you can ship them back from anywhere in the world to get repaired for free thanks to their All Mighty Guarantee.
However, even the best of backpacks can struggle with the Scottish elements, which is why we recommend packing all your wild camping essentials in dry bags. This means if your backpack gets soaked your food & underwear for tomorrow won’t. Use different coloured dry bags to make unpacking at night easier, eg. red dry bags = food, yellow is for wet/dirty clothes etc. Fill them with air and they also double up as great pillows!
We are pretty proud of our water however when wild camping in Scotland there is still always a risk when drinking from a natural water source. If you need to fill up, ensure it is flowing water and to be on the safe side use purification tablets.
Remember you will need water to drink and cook with so a bladder is handy as it’s easier to gauge how much water you have, drink on the move and carry in your backpack. We use Osprey bladders as they’re more durable (although a little more expensive) as nothing is worse than it breaking and leaking all over your camping gear!
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MEAL IDEAS FOR WILD CAMPING IN SCOTLAND
Whether its smores under the stars or bacon butties for breakfast, cooking outdoors is one of our favourite things. Not to mention how much money it saves! However, just because you are going without a few home comforts, shouldn’t mean you’re limited to basic pasta.
Our camping recipes are ideal if you are wild camping in Scotland as they have all been tried & tested on our wee camping stove. We have recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as tips for the best camping cooking gear.
The Best Food To Take Camping
We have an entire guide dedicated to the best food to take camping. It is jam-packed with recipes and tips as well as a full breakdown of our camping cooking gear. It is an essential read when you’re limited on space, water and time!
The Best Camping Recipes
- One Ring Stove: When wild camping it’s likely you are limited on space and only have a have one ring to cook on, so you might appreciate our one pot camping meals – they require minimum ingredients, time and washing up!
- For Vegetarians: Our vegetarian camping recipes include super cheap, quick and easy meals that are perfect for wild camping in Scotland!
- For Campervans: If you do choose to go motorhome camping in Scotland, you’ll appreciate our cooking in a campervan tips with storage ideas, recipe suggestions and more.
- A Recipe for Disaster: Finally, if you fancy a giggle or even more camping recipes, we have a whole series of videos on our YouTube. Please be warned these were made after a wine or two in New Zealand and Australia so are definitely more fun than factual.
OUR 10 TOP TIPS FOR WILD CAMPING IN SCOTLAND
- Always Let Someone Know: When wild camping in Scotland, conditions can change instantly which can prove dangerous and easy to get disorientated. Always let someone know where you’re headed. Use the 3 words app to share your location and ensure you have enough phone battery should you need to call for help or search for directions.
- Campfires: We love campfires for keeping cosy and for keeping midges away however, they are terrible for the environment. If it is safe to light a fire (and no signs prohibiting) make sure to leave absolutely no trace when you leave, bring your own firewood and build it ontop of rocks to avoid damaging the land underneath.
- Weather Proof: When wild camping in Scotland be prepared for 4 seasons in one day. This means suncream but gloves. One of the main reasons people can’t hack tent camping in Scotland is the temperature so pack suitable clothing, a decent tog sleeping bag and a whisky or two to keep you cosy!
- Rent a Tent: If you’re visiting from overseas we completely understand why buying camping equipment is not economical nor to mention super heavy to carry on a plane. This is why we love the concept of Rent A Tent Scotland where you can hire tents and equipment – perfect for sampling wild camping in Scotland before you commit!
- Wildlife: Unlike camping in Australia there is no wildlife in Scotland that can actually kill you. However, like most Scottish residents they can be SO noisy! When choosing your pitch, it’s best to avoid being next to fields of sheep or cows as their noises can keep you awake! Also beware of rutting season which is when stags can go into battle mode to attract a mate (usually between September to November.) Fascinating to watch but can be dangerous if you get too close!
- Where to Pee: We mentioned a toilet trowel earlier in order to bury your waste but please also urinate at least 30 metres from running water. This is to avoid fellow wild campers scooping up your pee with their water bottles as well as it polluting natural habitats. If you need to use toilet tissue please use biodegradable as mentioned above and dispose of it responsibly.
- Buy Local: As a thank you for camping for free, we recommend spending locally. Either purchase your morning coffee from a local cafe, buy a souvenir or two and don’t avoid parking fees. This not only helps wild campers’ reputation and keeps locals happy but it supports the upkeep of our beautiful area.
- Keep It Clean: Instead of just leaving a campsite as you found it, we encourage you to leave it better than you found it. Pick up your 3 for the sea (at least), speak up if you see others being irresponsible and only camp if it’s safe and allowed. Your good example of being a responsible traveller will have a snowball effect on those around you as well as protect the amazing freedom to roam.
- Hours of Sunlight: Being so far north our hours of sunlight are limited in Winter (usually only light from 9am to 3pm) but then we welcome sunlight for upto 18 hours in Summer. This can be tough if you’re wild camping in Scotland which is why we recommend our black out tent, that blocks 99% of sunlight. It also means suncream is an essential in Summer – even if it’s not warm, you will still be exposed to UV.
- Try it For One Night: Not sure if wild camping in Scotland is for you? Try it for one night not too far from civilisation to test the waters. Ideally, borrow or rent equipment as mentioned just in case you hate it. Though if you follow these tips we’re positive you’ll catch the camping bug!
We hope our wild camping in Scotland guide has inspired, dispelled a few rumours and taught a few tips in preparation for your next adventure. We have made priceless memories growing up tent camping in Scotland which we want others to enjoy instead of the shackles of hotel life. The wonderful wildlife, friendly locals and beautiful surroundings are just a bonus. We would love to know if you’ve given wild camping in Scotland a go or if you have your own hack or two to share that we’ve missed. Let us know in the comments to make our guide even more useful for those ready for an epic, outdoors adventure.