What is free-camping?
Free-camping is the action of finding a place to sleep in whatever location the person finds themselves in. Normally this involves sleeping outside (often using a sleeping bag and sometimes a tent), but takes advantage of the local geography in order to find a safe place to sleep. Specifically, free camping refers to the action of sleeping in an undesignated sleeping environment without an exchange of money.
What do you need to pack?
Sleeping bag (advised)
Sleeping bag liner (advised)
Tent / Tarpaulin (optional)
Hammock (optional to replace tent)
Bivvy bag (optional to replace tent)
Mosquito Repellent (dependent upon location)
You need to plan according to both your personal needs and the weather conditions. Most people who free-camp will at least take a sleeping bag and a sleeping bag liner. It is possible to sleep without these, but bare in mind that it can be cold at night and a sleeping bag also gives you better protection from creepy crawlies (as well as keeping your clothes clean). If taking a sleeping bag, make sure that the sleeping bag is appropriate for the temperature of the weather in which you will be sleeping. Most sleeping bags have a rating which indicates what weather they can safely be used in. Consider whether your sleeping situations will be better suited to a down sleeping bag (very warm but expensive and difficult to dry) or a synthetic sleeping bag (cheaper and easier to dry out, but not as warm for their weight). If you get wet, it is very difficult to stay warm. To avoid this, it is recommended that you take a bivvy bag, a tent, or a tarpaulin. A tent gives you the best coverage and protection from insects and the weather, but it is also the heaviest. When backpacking, carrying too much weight can make a trip very unpleasant. Pack light. A bivvy bag is waterproof and if you can stay under cover, it will keep your sleeping bag dry. A combination of tarpaulin and sleeping bag is light and easy to put up. You may need to use mosquito repellent to keep you protected during the night however.
Where can you free-camp?
Just don’t get caught. Pick somewhere that is well hidden and won’t disturb anyone else. Bare in mind, that in many countries, free camping is illegal. I have never been disturbed while free camping and have free camped in many places (see my free-camping pictures or watch my video). I pick a place with soft ground that is surrounded by foliage if available. If not, bed down and be prepared to be moved on.
It is sometimes possible to find abandoned buildings to shelter in. Bare in mind that when doing this, you may be trespassing on someone’s property or you may be in a structurally unsafe building. Once again use your common sense and don’t sleep in a barn next to someone’s house (as they won’t like it). Equally, avoid sleeping in a building that is falling down as you may wake up (or not) with a roof on your head.
Beaches are great places for free camping if they have sand dunes to tuck yourself away in. Security / police often check beaches and may move you on if they find you.
Why would you free-camp?
For the ultimate feeling of freedom and lack of responsibility. Within a short time you become accustomed to the lack of washing facilities. Your feeling of joy at the freedom you are experiencing will soon overcome the distaste at the lack of washing. You will take pleasure in lake and river swims. If you are travelling each day (walking, hitchhiking, or cycling) and don’t know where you will end up, it is a fantastic way of living because you are free to move for as long or little as you like.
What happens if someone wakes you up in the night and tells you to move?
Apologise, then explain what you are doing. If they still want you to move, then move. If the police wake you up, apologise more, explain more, move further. If the police attempt to fine you, repeat. I have never been moved by the police or know anyone personally who has had to pay a fine (apparently it can happen but it is rare).
Nothing more than your sleeping equipment (a one time fee). If you can’t afford a the equipment, ask a friend to borrow some.
I have free camped under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, inside bushes in Prague, on market squares and orchards in Italy, under bridges and in fields in Poland, outside motorway services across Europe, and in parks and beaches throughout the Baltic’s to name but a few. This list will continue to grow.
How do you find water and food?
Now you’ve saved money on accommodation, you have more money for food and water. Alternatively, fill up water bottles from taps and fountains when you find them or try skipping (more on this later). Some people choose to carry a portable oven so that they can heat food on their journey.
I hope that this helps you with free camping. The best advice is ‘Just Do It.’ Really. Go on, get out there. All you need is your sleeping bag when it’s warm. Feel the freedom and love it like I do.
A small piece of plastic under your sleeping bag will keep ground moisture from getting the bottom of the sleeping bag wet especially if it has rained recently. Trim it to leave a nice edge all the way around the bag to put shoes and stuff on. You can get plastic free most anywhere but especially behind mattress stores. A twin size plastic cover will even make a fair tent if the workers did not tear it up too badly. Duct tape will close minor holes. If you need more cushion, find several pieces of cardboard to go under it. This will work for a day or so but then it starts to flatten out and you should replace it. Luckily it is available free from dumpster bins and skips. Leaves and pine needles make good cushion as well. $1 Painters plastic drop cloth 8 x 10 or 9 x 12 will make a pup tent with a cord tied between two trees. Form some plastic around a small stone or a wad of grass and wrap cord around the stone to get a grip on the plastic so you can stake out the corners. Don’t punch holes in the plastic as it will start to rip.Check out the library for books on wild edible. There is an abundance of food growing everywhere that is not a complete desert.
A wealth of great advice, thank you for sharing.
Use google earth to zoom in to your location and look for green belts and patches nearby.
Often trees and bushes grow near to creek beds.During dry weather these are great spots. During rainy weather it is best to avoid them.
If you go up difficult terrain that takes some effort to get to, no one will find or disturb you if you don’t make light or noise because people are naturally lazy.
I did a fair amount of hitching and freelance camping around Europe about 30 years ago. A lot of spots that look good when it’s dark can turn out to not be so good once daylight breaks. You didn’t realize there was a small road or walking path nearby, etc. I usually woke up early just to make sure no one would see me, and vacate if I’d picked a bad place. Finding a spot during daylight was more reliable and returning to it at night knowing you could sleep in was good. If you’re willing to wake up and get moving early almost any reasonable spot will work once you’re out of sight of headlights.
Graveyards are pretty good spots, though maybe a little creepy for some. You likely won’t be on private property nor be seen easily, and you can find them everywhere.
Letting yourself be free to go in new directions that kind strangers/new friends can take you is so valuable. Be good at sharing your enthusiasm and curiosity about people and places. You will be rewarded, no doubt. Be sensitive and sensible. Be a good guest. The world will be yours.
Good advice John and I agree with your sentiments. Thank you for sharing.
What kind of tent did you use in your videos? I’m interested to find a lightweight one-person tent I can use for my hitchhiking through Europe!
I bought the cheapest tent that I could find in my local outdoor store because I didn’t have much money. I have no idea what it was. On my recent walking across Iceland trip, I used a Vango tent and it was really great. A great lightweight alternative that I like to use now is a hammock. However, you need to make sure that you have a warm enough sleeping bag when hammocking as it is colder than using a tent.
This is a super cool concept and looks like a lot of fun! I wonder how you’d get along in an urban jungle like New York City?
If you try it, I’d love to hear about it. Watch out for police, I got arrested in Amsterdam for free-camping.
you are an inspiration man. anything is possible. i am setting off hitchiking across europe from ireland in january. I am gaining confidence from reading about you.
Thanks Tommy. Best of luck, have the time of your life.
What about a mat to put underneath?
I personally have never used one because I like to carry as little as possible, but they do make life more comfortable and warmer. In future, I aim to use a hammock when possible and put my sleeping bag in this.
Why a sleeping bag liner as well as a sleeping bag (just curious) ?
Easier to wash. It stops your sleeping bag getting all dirty.