Camping abroad: know the rules

Published 2024-05-27 10:02:31
Camping - Image by freepik

People are increasingly looking to spend time in nature, and camping seems the perfect answer. However, there are strict regulations that control camping and each country has its own set of them. So ensure you know the rules before you unroll your bedroll for the night.

Nature enthusiasts, hikers and adventure seekers embrace camping away from civilisation, swapping loud traffic noises with birdsong.

For the uninitiated, there are two main types of camping: wild camping and bivouac. Wild camping is a wilderness camp nestled amidst the natural surroundings, frequently spanning multiple days and occasionally may be accompanied by a vehicle. A bivouac is a minimalist overnight camp, lasting just one night, with only a tent as accommodation, serving as a temporary resting spot for wandering hikers.

Nevertheless, it's more complex than just wandering around the countryside and setting your tent up wherever you choose. It's essential to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of camping in a foreign country to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. From respecting local customs to adhering to environmental guidelines, here's a primer on navigating camping rules abroad.

Basic rules of Bivouaking

If you’re the adventurous type of person to embrace the thrill of uncertainty about where you'll rest your head for the night then bivouacking is definitely for you.

In addition to local official regulations that may be in place in the place you’ve chosen to bivouac, there exist universally acknowledged guidelines that every bivouac enthusiast should adhere to.

These include:

  1. Being as discrete as possible without disrupting the environment around you.
  2. Set up camp at nightfall and depart by dawn.
  3. Respect the environment, leaving no trace of your presence, like trash.
  4. Avoid pitching tents on private property unless permission is obtained beforehand.
  5. Refrain from bathing with soap or relieving oneself directly in water sources to prevent pollution. Steer clear of hazardous locations when selecting a spot to pitch your tent.
  6. Equip yourself thoroughly to mitigate potential challenges such as water scarcity, unfavourable terrain, or equipment issues.
  7. Be prepared to carry all necessary provisions and gear, possibly for multiple days.

In essence, bivouacking necessitates both preparation and flexibility, requiring a degree of experience. Once committed, embrace the unpredictability. Your chosen spot may be unavailable or exposed, the weather might force a change of plans, or finding suitable terrain could prove challenging.

Bivouacking is a personal journey that embraces uncertainty - hence, the reluctance to disclose precise locations. Each excursion is unique, influenced by factors like land ownership and permission.

If the call of the wild beckons, answer it, but understand the inherent unpredictability adds to its allure. Embrace and conquer uncertainty, as it's part of the charm of bivouacking in the vast majority of cases.

Bivouac rules per country

Ensure you understand the regulations of the site you’re thinking of camping in by doing your research. Here are a few general rules that can start you off, depending on the country you visit:

Denmark: The Danish Ministry of the Environment's website states that bivouacking is allowed on public land, though vehicle access is restricted. You're permitted to gather fallen branches for fires in designated areas, but cutting wood is prohibited.

Switzerland: the rules differ per municipality of which there are 2200! Bivouacking is generally well accepted (unlike wild camping). However, it's crucial to inquire beforehand about any cantonal or communal restrictions, such as those in Ticino. In this region, both wild camping and bivouacking are strictly prohibited, with significant fines imposed for violations. Given its popularity among tourists, rigorous enforcement measures are in place.

New Zealand: Bivouacking is generally permitted, with strict adherence to standard rules such as leaving the environment undisturbed. The Campermate app, tailored for New Zealand and Australia, helps locate suitable camping spots and nearby public amenities. Similar to France, there are protected sites where bivouacking is prohibited, information available on the New Zealand Ministry of Conservation website.

Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, and Finland embrace bivouacking under the Allemannsretten law, granting everyone the right to enjoy nature. Wild camping is permitted, but with conditions, as outlined by Norway's official travel portal such as maintaining a distance of over 150 metres from any dwelling and avoiding disturbing wildlife and vegetation.

Private properties are allowed if permission has been granted by the landowners. Whether it's a farm, field, garden patch, or even a spare bed, people can surprise with their generosity. However, always seek permission before settling in.

Regional and National Parks represent pristine natural environments and serve as ideal overnight sanctuaries. Each park operates under its regulations, essential for hikers to acquaint themselves with before embarking on their adventure. Detailed park regulations are available on the respective park websites.

Bivouacking is prohibited in Protected Nature and Site Heritage Zones

Generally bivouacking is prohibited in public locations like municipal parks; within 200 meters of a drinking water catchment area; in forests, woodlands, and parks designated as "preserved wooded areas" and on public roads and pathways.

In France, there are 16 protected areas, including biosphere reserves, UNESCO-designated areas, and ecological interest reserves. These zones harbour endangered fauna, flora, or heritage and are strictly off-limits for bivouacking. Additionally, bivouacking is not allowed near historical monuments, classified natural sites or even on the beach.

Places, where camping is prohibited in Switzerland, are natural reserves, Swiss National parks, federal hunting grounds, wildlife quiet areas and where access is prohibited.

Gear for comfortable Bivouacking

The key to success is the weight of the gear you’re lugging around. The tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, etc. should be as lightweight as possible. However, your gear should also be appropriate to the temperatures you’ll experience, especially at night.

Depending on the route, you might need to pack ample water and food, especially if provisions and water sources are scarce. Keep this in mind, as it can significantly alter the weight of your backpack.

You should determine the maximum load you can comfortably carry while covering 15-20 kilometres per day on foot. There's no shortcut to this; you'll need to conduct trials by embarking on hikes over two days here and two days there, gradually adjusting your load until you find what works best for you.

Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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