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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Maryann Wright

Is it safe for two women to wild camp? What I learnt from a Dartmoor expedition in winter

Maryann Wright

As a queer woman in my early thirties, I’m not a stereotypical wild camper: neither a solo man nor half of an outdoorsy heterosexual couple. I never camped as a child on family holidays and the first time I put up a tent was last year at the Knepp Rewilding Project in Sussex.

But camping sans toilets and a designated site with electricity, rubbish bins and clean water has been a fascination of mine since reading Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path during lockdown. In the book, Winn documents wild camping with her husband along the South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. It wasn’t just me gravitating to the great outdoors either, as post-pandemic Mintel research found that 4.5 million Brits went camping for the first time when restrictions eased.

I’ve wanted to wild camp since then with my girlfriend, but she was hesitant. Was it safe in the wild for people like us? Only anecdotal evidence exists for LGBT+ camping, and few UK wild camping statistics are on-hand, bar a 2022 study by the Scottish Government that found 4 per cent of Brits had wild camped and were likely to be male and under 55.

Being in a minority, I was determined to pave a way. With the company of a female friend in lieu of my girlfriend, the question stood: can two women in their mid-thirties safely embrace the wild?

Dartmoor National Park is the only place in England where you can legally wild camp without a landowner’s permission
— (Maryann Wright)

It’s worth knowing that in England we only have the legal right to wild camp across designated areas of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, while you can request permission from landowners elsewhere. The same law applies in Wales and Northern Ireland, but wild camping in Scotland carries no restrictions at all and offers more freedom.

Living in London, my pal and I plumped for Dartmoor, and we set off at dawn on a very rainy Saturday. Keen to make the most of the weekend, we intended to drive to Dartmoor after work the day before, but yellow weather warnings and the idea of pitching a new tent for the first time in darkness on a boggy moor canned that plan.

Picking a camping spot takes proper planning, with daylight hours and hiking routes to be considered
— (Maryann Wright)

Unlike with a traditional campsite, picking a hiking route and camping spot in the vastness of Dartmoor takes proper planning. The ever-shrinking Dartmoor Camping Map dictates where you can legally pitch up, so through-hikes have to be methodically (and conservatively) timed to ensure you have enough daylight. For our first hike, we chose beginner-friendly Great Mis Tor because it was a straight-line 40-minute hike from a car park, meaning there was little chance of getting lost, and we could always head back to our vehicle in an emergency.

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However, even straight-line routes shouldn’t be taken for granted as there aren’t signs or paths telling you where to go, and Dartmoor is mostly formless and incredibly misty. This means that sometimes it will just be you in the middle of thick fog with no indicator of where to go next. It was also important to brush up on my basic compass and map-reading skills, with the added comfort of impressive navigation using a Garmin fenix 7 pro solar GPS watch (more on my kit list below, although tech is never to be solely relied upon).

We gave ourselves ample time to pitch up, because the strong winds of Dartmoor mean you need to find a spot within the tor that offers the best shelter and is flat and dry enough to not sink into a bog during the night. If wild camping in winter, keep a close eye on sunset times. We started pitching at 3pm, which meant by sunset at 4:30pm we were comfortably tucking into dinner with a whisky hot chocolate in the Thermos.

The pitch-black night offered a glimpse of the stars above (when passing fog allowed)
— (Maryann Wright)

Sitting in the pitch-black of the night, gazing up at stars (when passing fog allowed) in silence bar the whistling of the wind, isolated from any other humans and knowing there were about 30 Dartmoor ponies grazing below was pure magic. The only moment of alarm came when a pair of head torches, beaming in our direction, got closer and closer. After feeling an initial sense of panic, we were relieved to meet two lovely photographers pitched up at a neighbouring tor on a night shoot. Phew.

Following a cosy night’s sleep and picture-perfect sunrise, horizontal rain and gale force winds soon set in. We quickly packed up a soggy tent and hiked a few beginner-friendly tors a short drive away near Widecombe in the Moor. These included Top Tor, Pil Tor and then Blackslade Down to eye up a wild camping spot for when we return in the spring and attempt the Ten Tors through-hike. A hearty warm meal at nearby Cafe on the Green to thaw out was a treat before the five-hour drive home.

During this trip I learnt that, while winter wild camping is no joke, it is freeing. We were enveloped with open arms and welcomed to share in the majesty of the wild. This shared sense of looking after the great outdoors is found in the Dartmoor National Park’s Backpack Camping Code, which implores wild campers to take rubbish home and only stay one or two nights, among other rules.

A picture-perfect sunrise followed a cosy night’s sleep
— (Maryann Wright)

Recent news coverage about wild camping and the British wilderness further highlights how precious this outdoor space is. While a High Court ruling had threatened the future of wild camping on Dartmoor in January 2023 – after a landowner argued the recreational activity should not be allowed – this ban was successfully appealed in July. Additionally, the Right to Roam campaign is continuously working to expand the amount of English countryside walkers and campers are legally allowed to pass through.

The main safety concerns I’d flag for future wild camping trips involve the practical art of survival. This includes access to clean drinking water (I used LifeStraw water filters, and you must plan a route that passes rivers or streams frequently enough to refill), as well as packing layers and waterproof clothing, because undoubtedly you’ll get caught in the rain for hours like we did on the second day. It doesn’t take long to get dangerously cold, so dry bags are essential for your backpack as well. Finally, proper navigational tools, such as a compass, OS Dartmoor map, and a GPS device are crucial.

The time and diligence required to arrange a wild camping trip for beginners is more than worth it
— (Maryann Wright)

It takes time and diligence to plan a wild camping trip, and much more can be done to offer easily accessible information, especially for beginners. But it’s worth it. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite and travellers are increasingly conscious about their carbon footprints, wild camping in the UK is an affordable (once you’ve invested in the kit) and local means of enjoying a break.

It turns out, wild camping is not just for confident, rugged men. This Dartmoor trip was an opportunity to spend quality time with my mate, get some exercise and fresh air, and treasure this spectacular planet we are so lucky to call home.

Our wild camping kit list

Tent and backpack

Sleep system


  • Helly Hansen women’s lifa merino midweight crew base layer: £85,
  • Musto women’s MPX active base layer long-sleeve top: £80,
  • Patagonia women’s reclaimed fleece jacket: £160,
  • Fjallraven women’s expedition pack down anorak: £340,
  • Fjallraven women’s Abisko winter stretch trousers: £205,
  • Rab women’s latok mountain gore-tex pro jacket: £460,
  • Helly Hansen women’s verglas micro shell jacket: £90,
  • Sealskinz waterproof mid-length sock: £32.98,
  • Sealskinz Bacton waterproof beanie: £35,
  • Sealskinz Harling waterproof all-weather glove: £29.99,
  • Buff merino fleece neck warmer: £30.95,
  • Hoka anacapa 2 mid gore-tex waterproof hiking shoes: £160,

Other essentials


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