How Do I Plan My First Wild Camping Adventure?

I know what it’s like to worry about what might happen on your first wild camping trip. My mid-twenties were dominated by acute anxieties. This didn’t bode very well for someone who wanted to experiment with wild camping. It was also these fears that helped bring about the confidence I have today. It’s also why I spend so much time encouraging others to get out and enjoy what the wild has to offer.

In this article, I talk about how to plan your first wild camping adventure. Also, why you should be mindful of any fears or reasons that might be stopping you.

Afraid to Take Your First Wild Camping Adventure?

We all have the same fears when it comes to wild camping. These are primal fears that can cause chaos for the limbic side of the brain. As you may know, this is the “chimp” part of the brain that likes to make decisions quick and fast. It’s also the side of the brain that causes all sorts of stress and anxiety. However, there are some points I would like to share about fear and the anxiety that can come before and during any wild camping trip.

– Fear is a good thing and will keep you safe on a wild camping trip.

– Most fears are irrational and highly unlikely to happen.

– Fear is something you can manage.

– Fear creates excitement and adds to the sense of adventure.

I know it might not feel this way for first-timers but fear or danger is often responsible for the sense of excitement we feel on an adventure. The truth is, I was very scared on my first few wild camping trips in Ireland. I was not only afraid of getting lost or stranded but also quite terrified of ax-murderers, angry farmers, and the banshee. This was the reason I camped right beside the infamous Hellfire Club in the Dublin mountains one night – to face my fear of the supernatural.

Anyway, you get my point, we all have certain thoughts that cause anxiety. This is certainly true when wild camping for the first time. You might want less of this fear but this will come naturally through experience. In my own opinion, these fears dissipate over time and you should be left with a comfortable sense of excitement.

📷 @derekcullenoutdoors

How to Actually Plan Your First Wild Camping Adventure

1. Pick Out Some Potential Wild Camping Spots

It’s important to have a decent idea in terms of where you are going on your first wild camping adventure. This not only refers to the actual hiking trail but also the general area you’ll pitch your tent. But how can you know this area or spot?

I used to go out for day hikes and use these short trips to scout for potential wild camping spots. This was a great load off my mind when it came time to go out with the intention of camping. This didn’t mean I had to camp in that particular spot. But rather I now had a backup camp spot that I could use in the event of not finding another.

That being said, most of my wild camping spots are chosen without any “recon”. In these instances, I look at a GPS map and mark a few forested areas as my provisional camp spots. I don’t particularly enjoy camping in the forest but it’s often a dry hospitable place to wild camp. I might also mention that I always make sure to choose spots away from towns or civilization in general.

2. Make a Packing List and Prepare for the Unexpected

It should go without saying that making a wild camping packing list is super important. This list is responsible for keeping you safe and a fool-proof way to prepare for the unexpected. As a rule, it’s helpful not to carry too much but wise to carry more than you think you’ll need. For example, it’s okay to be “too warm” in the outdoors but never good to feel cold. So carrying sufficient warm gear for cold weather is most important such as Trespass Gear. Similarly, you should always carry rain gear and spare clothes in a dry bag.

On one of my very first wild camping trips, I ended up in a bad storm and all of my gear got wet due to my own stupidity. It was my tiny emergency blanket (space blanket) that saved the day and allowed me to sleep or stay safe that night. I will never take a trip without one and the same goes for my small first aid emergency kit. While I’ve only ever used the panadol in my first aid kit, I carry one in order to prepare for the unexpected.

Feel free to check out my wild camping packing list here.

📷 @derekcullenoutdoors

3. Make Sure Electronics are Fully Charged and Carry a Powerbank

I like to use my outdoor adventures as a means of escaping the noise and busy nature of modern life. This includes technology which means my smartphone is only really used for navigation or taking photos. That’s why the smartphone is incredibly important, for your safety relies on it.

I always make sure everything is fully charged and my electronics are stored inside a reliable dry bag. This is also where I keep my charging cables and a decent power bank. I like the TP Link 15600amh or the Anker Powerbank. I cannot tell you how many times my smartphone has died unexpectedly and this power bank has saved the day. Yes, I can revert to paper maps but let’s be honest, having a fully charged phone is not only useful but also great peace of mind.

4. Have a Plan for Cooking, Food, and Water

Cooking is one of my favourite things about wild camping. It’s not that I love cooking but the fact that nothing beats a warm meal in the wild. You also want to keep things simple. This is why I usually stick with simple ideas like these quick and easy meals by Wayfarer. For lunch, I sometimes carry bagels with cheese or a pot noodle. For snacks throughout the day, I bring a mix between biscuits, cereal bars, and pastries.

Try to take note of rivers and potential water sources on your route. Don’t depend on these sources but use them whenever available. Remember that staying hydrated will keep you healthy and fit. You can do this by drinking water as much as possible – especially upon waking up and anytime “you don’t really feel like it”.

Of course, you will also need a camping stove to boil water or cook meals and the MSR pocket rocket is a small and lightweight option that I like to carry on overnight trips.

– Dioralyte is great for staying hydrated and Berocca is good for a boost of energy.

– Cereal bars are healthier than chocolate bars.

– Always carry a lot of water and try to camp near a water source.

– Carry a lighter AND a box of matches.

– Oats/porridge is a nice hot meal that packs a lot of energy.

– Coffee is filled with energy and a great boost for the mood in the mornings.

Note – I carry at least one backup meal and a spare box of cereal bars for emergencies.

📷 @derekcullenoutdoors

5. Tell Someone Where You Are Going

I used to feel like it was almost a bit childish to contact my brother before going out for a night in the wilderness. In fact, I often pretended there was another reason for these texts and left my destination plans at the end.

However, after spending so long in the hiking community, I’ve come to appreciate the very real reasons why you should always tell someone where you are going. There are lots of rescue stories and you only need to follow Mountaineering Ireland to see some of these. There are also many instances that don’t have a happy ending. I think the story of David O’Sullivan on the Pacific Crest Trail was the one that affected me the most. David, from Cork, is thought to have gotten lost on this trail in America. I’ve been sending out these text messages with destinations/maps ever since.

This brings me to the next point…

6. Use Paper Maps and GPS (and Maybe a SPOT Device)

I don’t really use paper maps anymore but you will usually find one in my backpack. It’s not that GPS is unreliable but rather that electronics are prone to error and failure. Whether it loses power or gets wet, a phone is always at risk in this sense. And yes, it might be unlikely but you should carry a paper map in case of the unexpected.

I carry these Ordinance Survey paper maps in my backpack.

As for GPS, there are several apps out there. Hiiker and AllTrails provide various features for trails in Ireland. Maps.Me is a simple alternative which I use a lot.

Quick Note – SPOT is a tracking device that uses a satellite network to facilitate GPS tracking and texts in hard-to-reach places. This means you can text a friend from almost anywhere in the world. You can even provide a map that uses this device to show your location. I normally recommend hikers invest in one of these for long-distance trips in the wild. It’s a good idea to have one regardless of where you go.

📷 @derekcullenoutdoors

7. By All Means Plan Ahead but Most Importantly – START!

I announce the start date of my long-distance trips on social media for one reason – accountability. I know that by announcing this date, the trip is far more likely to happen. I’m not suggesting you announce your wild camping trip online but highlighting the fact that getting started is never easy. There’s just always a reason to wait or put off an adventure. It’s worth embracing whatever helps you take that first step. My advice is to set a day or date and commit to making a start.

A Final Word about Your First Wild Camping Adventure

I’d like to finish up this article by saying that you never regret the adventure. I’ve had some serious fails and miserable times on the trail but there was always something to learn. As a tip of the hat to Henry David Thoreau, let me say that I go wild camping because I wish to live deliberately and see what I might learn and not, “when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Enjoy and remember that fear will always disappear in the face of confidence. This is why wild camping is an experience, not a competition.

My 7 Favourite Wild Camping Spots from Walking Around Ireland

I went wild camping for more than one hundred nights in the year that I walked around Ireland. It was my first time to sleep in all of these spots with no directions or information. I was often camped in a random forest next to the road or on a hilltop above a farm. These spots were not always spectacular but always provided the sense of adventure and excitement I was hoping to find. Some wild camping spots really stand out in my memory. In this blog, I will share with you for the first time – my favourite wild camping spots in Ireland.

My 7 Favourite Wild Camping Spots from Walking Around Ireland

1. Dunree Beach on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal

This area is best known for Dunree fort which sits on a rocky promontory on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal. It was built during the Napoleonic Wars and really adds to the sense of mystique in the area. I was far more interested in the beautiful view that opens up as you approach the sandy and rather isolated stretch down below.

Dunree Beach feels like a sort of amphitheatre due to the shape of the bay. On more than a few occasions I’ve had this beach all to myself . The dunes provide enough shelter from the elements and privacy which is needed for a comfortable night of wild camping. I’ve also parked up the road and walked down to the beach with my gear in-hand.

Dunree beach 📷 Derek Cullen

2. Glenmacnass River Near Lough Tay in Wicklow

Glenmacnass Waterfall was used as a filming location in the movie “Braveheart”. The river preceding this spectacle leads up further into the Wicklow mountains and past a popular attraction known as the heart-shaped lake – Lough Ouler. I often camp right next to this river after visiting the lake or climbing nearby peak – Tonelagee.

While there is often a swarm of midges awaiting at dusk, I love the sense of wildness in this area. It’s common to see deer at sunrise or sunset. The silhouettes of the mountains offer some of the most spectacular scenes in Wicklow. When you first arrive at this river en route to Lough Ouler, it’s best to walk at least a few hundred metres up river. That way you are out of sight and not bothering any hikers that come that way.

I used to walk all the way to this spot from Glendalough via St Kevin’s Way and Tonelagee Mountain. I then return to Glendalough by either climbing over Scarr Mountain or walking the nearby road that runs down the valley and past Glenmacnass River. It’s a hike but a real adventure to take on for a weekend of wild camping!

Glenmacnass River 📷 Derek Cullen

3. Mountains or Lakes Between Killarney and Black Valley in Kerry

Want to see some of the most stunning mountain scenery in Ireland? Climb up above Torc Waterfall on the Kerry Way hiking trail. The trail is well-marked and there are many potential wild camping spots between here and “Black Valley”. I eventually settled for a majestic spot next to a lake. I happened across many more spots earlier that same day but it was too early to stop. There’s not much else around except silence and natural beauty so be sure to bring supplies. I have yet to hike this trail in full but this section put the Kerry Way at the top of my “to hike” list.

Killarney, Kerry 📷 Derek Cullen

4. Lough Salt in the Hills of Donegal

I know that lots of people will be quick to recommend a visit to Glenveagh National Park. While I totally agree, I much prefer the lesser known spots for wild camping. Located approx halfway between Dunfanaghy and Letterkenny, Lough Salt is the perfect example of what I hope to find on a night out in the wild. The lake is used as a reservoir and especially interesting as it sits more than 450 metres above sea level. There’s very little traffic on this road (zero after dark). I camped close to the lake but on the other side of a hill that faced down into the mountains. Cue the most incredible night of reading under my headlamp and watching a dark mist descend on the mountains below.

Lough Salt 📷 Derek Cullen

5. Great Blasket Island Just Off the Coast of Kerry

I think this just might be my favourite place to visit in Ireland. Not to mention my favourite place to go wild camping. There’s a lot of history behind the ruined village and life on the Great Blasket Island. I recommend reading “Twenty Years a Growing” or “The Islandman” to know more about this history. I’m just as fascinated by the wildness and wildlife on the island. You can spend an entire morning or afternoon walking from end to end and the views are beyond special.

I camped next to the “Kings House” on the Great Blasket Island. It’s important to take great care in terms of the principles of Leave No Trace. There’s a tiny coffee shop on the island that allowed me to use the toilet by day. There is also a spring for water but you need to bring all of your own food.

Note – I get the feeling that wild camping might not always be welcomed/encouraged on the Great Blasket Island. I plan to return as soon as possible for this reason/suspicion!

Great Blasket Island 📷 Derek Cullen

6. The Mourne Mountains in County Down

I walked through a small portion of the Mourne Mountains on my walk around Ireland last year. This was one of the most beautiful sections of the entire walk and one that made me feel especially small! There were so many spots I wanted to camp for the couple of days I spent walking this area. Some of these spots were graced with spectacular views of the land below. Others were sandwiched in a valley between two towering peaks. Due to an injury, I was eager to reach the next town and kept walking past many of these potential wild camping spots.

I still managed to pitch up in a lovely spot, such is the beauty and remote nature of the mountains. I could see the lights of a town in the valley below and only silence surrounded my tent that night. I hope to seek out many wild camping spots in the Mourne Mountains in the future.

Mourne Mountains 📷 Derek Cullen

7. Nephin Beg on the Bangor Trail in Mayo

There is a part of Nephin Beg which is said to be the most remote point in the country and 8km to the nearest road. I’m not sure of the exact coordinates but the entirety of “the Bangor Trail” felt like the most remote place in the country. It felt quite strange to be hiking and camping in such a dark landscape. The sights were reminiscent of the bleak times of history like the famine years. In spite of this rather dark atmosphere, it felt like a privilege to camp here.

It was absolute silence and stillness. However, there were a bazillion midges objecting to my wanting to camp or cook in the area. It’s also quite a tough hike (much harder in wet conditions). The trail is not well-marked but for experienced hikers/wild campers, a night in Nephin Beg is an exciting and unusual experience to say the very least!

Nephin Beg 📷 Derek Cullen

Final Thoughts

In all my years of wild camping, I’ve often found the best camping spots in the most unlikely of places. Lough Salt and Dunree Beach are examples of this. While some spots stand out from others, I believe the same sense of excitement can be found just down the road as on an adventure on the other side of the country – or even the world, for that matter!

10 Wild Camping Tips for Beginners that You Should Know 

I remember walking into a campsite in Kerry last year and feeling sorry for some of my neighbours. There were some fantastic setups but there were also a lot of people looking incredibly stressed and frustrated. In fact, one family was already arguing over the remote because yes, they had taken a television on their camping trip.

And each to their own, right? Of course.

But this also reminded me of why many people don’t enjoy their first spot of wild camping. Wild camping is far from being a science but it’s easy to spoil this experience by taking the wrong gear or failing to understand what makes it so enjoyable.

In this article, I talk about some wild camping tips for beginners and simple ideas that would have saved me a lot of hassles and discomfort when I started out.

10 Wild Camping Tips for Beginners that You Should Know

+ FREE Printable Wild Camping Checklist

1. Pack Light and Only Take What You Need

Carrying too much gear was my first mistake when it comes to wild camping. I think that because I was so afraid, I compensated for this fear by carrying more gear than necessary. This not only meant carrying too much clothing but also too much food and accessories. For instance, I had three different torches and spare batteries for each one! Because I took this approach to multiple items, I ended up carrying more weight than during my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail a few years ago. I believe experience teaches everyone the same lessons about wild camping but it’s sometimes better to learn from others’ mistakes, rather than your own!

I’ll be outlining a basic packing list at the end of this post.

2. Make Sure You Have a Warm Sleep System/Gear

You just won’t enjoy a night of wild camping if you have an insufficient sleeping bag, which is why I have a different sleeping bag for the warm and cold weather months. But here’s a few ways in which I suggest you can keep warm and comfortable each and every night:

Bring thermal leggings and socks that you can wear if needed.

– Invest in a lightweight sleeping bag liner – they can add an insane amount of warmth.

– Wear a down jacket/puffy jacket in your sleeping bag on especially cold nights.

– Place a rain jacket over the foot area of your sleeping bag.

– Wear a beanie hat to sleep so that you won’t wake up with a cold head.

– Take an emergency foil blanket as a backup.

In short, it’s better to be too warm or a cold night of wild camping is just not enjoyable!

3. Choose a Suitable Tent for Wild Camping

I sometimes use a bivvy bag for wild camping and really enjoy the immersive experience they offer. But a bivvy bag is not always suitable and this is especially true during wet and windy conditions. For this reason, I most often use a one or two-man tent for wild camping in Ireland.

But what else should you consider when choosing a tent?

If you want the best chance of remaining unseen and to avoid the risk of being asked to move, a green or brown tent is the most discreet for obvious reasons.

Pick a tent that performs well in especially wet and windy conditions. I find a low profile works best because they are much less likely to shake like crazy or make noise in general.

4. Pitch Your Tent Before You Go Wild Camping in Ireland

I went wild camping on Dunree beach some years ago with a Vango Banshee 200. It’s my favourite tent for wild camping in Ireland and incredibly easy to pitch. However, I made the mistake of assuming this would be really quick and easy to set up for the first time.

It was getting dark and raining hard at the time. Due to these conditions and the onset of frustration, I spent a good hour trying to figure out how to pitch the tent properly and the rest of the night trying to get dry and warm myself up again.

It’s true, the tent is extremely easy to pitch. However, every tent design is different and the Vango Banshee 200 required a different approach than my other tents. Moral of the story? I could have avoided this disaster by pitching the tent in my backyard beforehand.

5. Consider Taking Cold or Pre Made Meals Instead of Cooking

After a long hike, I do enjoy a hot meal but I’m often too tired to cook. That’s why I always carry the option to have a cold meal in the mornings or evenings. Cooking is one of the most enjoyable things about wild camping but it’s also messy at times and not always ideal in especially bad weather. What’s more, I’ve often found a cold chicken tikka wrap to be just as enjoyable as a hot meal of any kind- especially if someone made the wrap for me!

6. Aim for a Wild Camping Spot Away from Built Up Areas

I find that picking a forest area can be especially reliable for wild camping. A forest is most often a sheltered and calm place to camp but also one in which you’ll be out of sight. In terms of choosing a spot, it’s also quite easy to pick out forested areas on any GPS or physical map.

You should also notice it’s harder to find a wild camping spot near a town or built up area. This means if you are hiking a long distance trail such as the Kerry Way or the Wicklow Way, it’s best to pick out some potential wild camping areas either long before or after such places.

7. Choose a Safe and Comfortable Spot (Near a Water Source)

Camping on a bed of pine needles is a beautiful thing and much better than a bed of stones or especially hard ground. That being said, none of this matters if it rains and you’re pitched in a ditch or depressed area that’s likely to flood or become waterlogged. It’s also important to stay clear of any dead trees or branches and avoid exposed areas when the weather is particularly wild. The last thing I would mention is the convenience of having a nearby water source. This will not only mean that you can use as much water as you like but a water source also makes washing dishes (and yourself) much easier. On the other hand, maybe it’s a spot known for midges? In which case, midges like water and this might be something to avoid.

8. Wait Until Nightfall to Pitch Your Tent

If you want to avoid getting moved on, it’s best to wait until nightfall to pitch your tent. I actually do this so that I won’t be thinking or worrying about having to relocate. It obviously won’t matter as much deep inside Wicklow National Park but it’s a decent rule of thumb.

For the sake of the wild camping community, I also suggest you pack up and leave at first light. It’s not about getting caught but rather about making every effort not to disturb locals and to help the wild camping community avoid any unwanted attention.

9. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Headlamp

I used to lead camping safaris in Africa. Before these trips, I would often pick up a few headlamps as my guests would often show up without one. You see, many of these guests had never gone camping before or tried to pitch a tent in the dark – without a headlamp. It might seem like a rather obvious or minor matter but you need both hands to pitch a tent which will inevitably make the process a little more than frustrating. The same goes for cooking in the dark, reading in the dark and going to the toilet in the dark – you get the idea!

10. Use Reusable Dry Bags (And not Plastic Bags)

I try not to use plastic bags wherever possible and dry bags are the ideal replacement. It’s important to use these bags to ensure your gear is fully protected from the elements. The truth is, backpacks can leak and a dry bag will ensure your backup gear is properly stored.

Just so you know, I use reusable Ziploc bags for food. However, I not only use a dry bag for my spare clothing but I also have a separate dry bag for my cooking equipment, sleeping bag and electronics. You can never be too careful but you should also find these precautions will serve you well on future trips.

Now, here’s a quick look at a basic packing list for wild camping. Please remember this is a basic outline and you will need more or less gear depending on various factors/conditions.

Basic Packing List for Wild Camping

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag (& Sleeping Bag Liner)
  • Sleeping Mattress
  • Down Jacket
  • Gloves
  • Rain Jacket
  • Rain Pants
  • Beanie Hat
  • Backpack Rain Cover
  • Dry Bags
  • Spare T-Shirt
  • Spare Socks
  • Warm Sweater
  • Thermal Top / Bottoms / Socks
  • Headlamp
  • Map / GPS
  • Water Filter
  • Stove / Gas
  • Pot
  • Spork
  • Lighter & Matches
  • Camping Knife
  • Phone
  • Powerbank
  • Charging Cable
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Toilet Paper
  • Credit Card / Cash
  • Plastic Bag for packing Trash / Waste

Final Thoughts

I think that most people often worry and think about the same things before they go wild camping for the first time. These “things” include getting lost, being attacked or not having the right gear. But most of these thoughts are either unlikely or irrational and having the right gear is a simple matter of careful research and packing.


Either way, stay safe and whatever you do – enjoy your time in the wild!