Dartmoor is a fantastic place to wild camp in the UK. Not only is it an amazing and often desolate landscape, great for getting away from it all, and for honing your navigational skills, but it is also legal to wild camp here.
There’s nothing quite like sleeping under a blanket of stars, of being in a remote location, cut off from the complications of the modern world. The joy of witnessing those magical sunsets and sunrises that paint the landscape in marvellous colours, of waking up on top of a tor, above the clouds, and witnessing a cloud inversion. Of surviving some extreme weather and regaling in the tale for ages after.
There is nothing quite so liberating as wild camping. Everyone should have a go!
As our subscriber base increases and the popularity of the Summit or Nothing’s wild camping exploits continues to encourage many others to get up off of their sofa and step into the great outdoors, and due to an increasing number of questions from followers of the Summit or Nothing Facebook page, I thought it was best that I put together this guide to wild camping on Dartmoor, to ensure that newcomers are prepared, educated, safe and responsible.
Where to camp on Dartmoor?
CONSULT THE DARTMOOR CAMPING MAP
It is a well-known fact that wild camping is free and legal on Dartmoor. However, it is not so well known that there are still many areas of the National Park in which camping is prohibited. In fact, when first starting out, Nath and I were unaware of such a map and camped in spots where we shouldn’t have been.
So, where can you camp on Dartmoor, and how do you know? There is a map online that you can consult in order to find out where you can and cannot camp on Dartmoor.
Here’s a link to the Dartmoor Camping Map.
There are also a few other rules with regards to camping on Dartmoor which can be found in the Backpack Camping Code.
These include rules such as:-
You must always camp over 100 metres from any road, and must pitch in such a place that you cannot be seen from any road or dwellings nearby. Discretion is key, here.
Also, bear in mind where you are pitching in regards to your own safety. There are flood plains and marshy areas that could swamp quickly during Dartmoor’s wet seasons.
And do not camp near any farmland, areas of special interest, nature reserves or archeological areas.
Do not light any open fires.
And take your litter home with you.
BE AWARE OF FIRING TIMES
Dartmoor has three military ranges, where there are often live exercises taking place. These areas are highlighted on the OS map as a series of red triangles (which always point into the range area) and on the moor, they can be identified with a row of red and white markers.
Whilst it is fine to enter these areas, it is advised that you are aware of the firing times, or that you keep an eye out for any raised red flags during the day or at night look out for red lights.
Here’s a link to Dartmoors firing times.
So now you have chosen where to camp, its now time to consider what you must take with you.
CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Whilst you can’t always guarantee that the weather is going to be favourable, even when forecast, it’s best to check the weather before you leave and alter your plans accordingly. You may want to avoid crossing any rivers during heavy rainfall, or not pitch on the side of a Tor when there are 60mph winds forecast (see image inset or watch the video here)!
What gear do I need to take when Camping on Dartmoor?
It is advisable that you are prepared to get wet when entering Dartmoor. The ground is considerably wet, there are many rivers to cross, and bogs that you could end up to your waist in, so it is advisable that you take extra clothes to change into.
A good set of waterproofs is a must have, you are prone to be up in the clouds even if the weather in nearby towns is forecast as dry.
You may wish to wear heavy-duty hiking boots, and gaters to prevent water from filling your boots.
Take an insulated jacket – down jackets are a great addition – Trespass do a reasonably priced down jacket which can keep you warm once you stop or as the sun goes down, but it will compact very small and take up next to no room in your backpack.
To ensure that you enjoy Dartmoor, it is important that you remain safe. Here’s a list of items that it is strongly advised that you carry with you.
A Torch and spare batteries
A First Aid Kit
A map and compass is essential on Dartmoor. It is so easy to get lost and lose your bearings on Dartmoor, even in good visibility.
A whistle is good for being heard if you cannot be seen. If you have fallen or are stuck in a bog, then a whistle could save your life.
Make sure that you keep your phone charged, so I always take a Pebble charging block with me. If you haven’t got anything to charge on the go then it’s suggested that you leave your phone off until you need it.
And always let someone know of your intended whereabouts. Dartmoor is over 360 square miles, and it is going to be hard to search for you if you don’t specify the area you are planning on exploring!
A Tent, Tarp or Bivvy?
Tents are ideal for keeping you protected from the elements and any creatures that may be out on the moors with you, but if you are feeling adventurous then Tarp Camping or even Bivvy Camping is a much lighter option, and really gives you a feeling of being at one with the land.
Another lesser known fact is that you are only permitted to camp on Dartmoor with a lightweight camping tent or shelter. Large family sized tents are not prohibited – not that anyone in their right mind would want to carry one of those things onto Dartmoor. There are campsites around that will cater to families though.
Here’s a link to our Wild Camping Tent Review playlist in case you need some ideas on which shelters may suit you.
A warm sleeping bag
A sleeping mat or pad (in the winter I always take two – you lose a lot of heat through the floor)
Camping on Dartmoor can get cold, regardless of the season, so its always beneficial to take extra layers to dress into should the temperature drop. In the winter I always wear a hat, additional socks and gloves, as your head, hands and feet are areas that regulate body temperature. They can always be removed if you get too hot!
It’s also advisable to take the appropriate sleeping bag to the season. In the summer months I tend to use my lightweight Mountain Warehouse Microlite 500, and in the winter my thicker Vango Latitude 300. You can always add additional sleeping bag liners if you want extra insulation.
TOP TIP – If you add your sleeping bag liners to the inside of your sleeping bag before you leave, then they take up no extra room in your backpack.
As I mentioned before – Dartmoor is a strictly NO FIRE area. The peaty marshland and lengthy grass is very flammable, and there is a fire risk throughout the year. However, you are permitted to bring cooking apparatus. There are also strictly no barbeques.
You can use small stoves, such as my Jet Boil Zip or the Trangia Mini I have recently started to move over to. Hot food is practically essential, especially if you are camping during the winter. I advise you check out Off The Beaten Pot for some great meal ideas and camping hacks.
You will also need plenty of water, but remember that every litre of water is an additional KG in weight.
You can always drink water from the moors but it will need filtering or purifying. I use a Sawyer Mini Water Filter but many people use Water Purification tablets. It is also advisable that you boil any water too, just to be sure, and that you make sure that there are no dead animals upstream that could contaminate the water supply.
What if I need to toilet on Dartmoor?
It may seem a funny question, but if you are planning on two or three days on the moor, then it’s inevitable that you are going to need to go to the toilet – unfortunately, there aren’t many public conveniences on the moor.
If you do need to go then it is important that you do it discreetly.
Make sure that you are 50m’s and downhill from any water sources or footpaths. Take a folding trowel, dig out a turf, at least six inches down, and go in there. Then, when you have finished, drop any tissue paper you may have used (but do not bury any nappies or sanitary items) and cover it back over.
So now you know the rules, you know what to bring, how to keep safe and warm, and how to protect the environment so that others can also enjoy this beautiful wilderness. All that is left for me to say is, ENJOY! I hope that you enjoy Camping on Dartmoor as much as I do.
If you are unsure of anything mentioned in this article, or if you have anything to add, then please do not hesitate to drop a comment below.