Granted, tent-free camping in the UK sounds insane. But once you’re lying in a cave that nature has so handily prepared for you, or are staring up at the night sky from a makeshift shelter with the stars above like an elaborate diamond canopy, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Here are our favourite ways to camp without canvas. 

Cave camping

Picture this: the wind is blowing hard enough to knock you off your feet – most tent campers would be struggling to keep their canvas shelter from blowing away – but not you. Instead, you’re nestled safe and sound within the stone walls of your overnight shelter. Let the storm tear a hole in the tents outside – it can’t bother you.

How to do it: There’s a host of caves high in the mountains of the Lake District and Wales’ Snowdonia all perfect for an overnight doss. If you get yourself an OS Map of the area you’re visiting, you’ll see that some are even marked on there.

Once you’ve found a likely spot, give it a search online to see if others have reported on its current state. Then, once you arrive, visit it in the daylight first, so you can ensure it’s structurally sound and big enough to lie down in.

Comfort? 3/5. Often a damp option, so a waterproof liner to put around your sleeping bag is recommended.

Hunt for a howff

Nothing at all to do with Baywatch, a howff is the old Scottish name for a natural shelter found in the landscape.

It will shield you from the elements: be it a crack in the rocks, a piling of stones that form a spot large enough for you to sleep under or simply a rocky overhang.

How to do it: Keep your eyes open for stable boulders with large overhangs and test them out by lying down in them to assess their suitability. They need to offer a flat platform, as well as adequate shelter from rain.

Comfort? 2/5. All depends how good a one you can find. By nature, they are usually not the most comfy or sheltered – but certainly fun to look for.

Restore a bothy

If the idea of surviving the elements doesn’t appeal, a bothy most definitely will. These old, disused farm buildings are lovingly maintained by a network of volunteers and charity donations so that walkers in remote parts of the UK – mainly the Scottish Highlands – can seek refuge in the wild.

At worst, they offer four walls and a roof with a handily placed shovel to ‘take care of business’; at best, sleeping platforms, wood-burning stoves and even fully functional toilets.

How to do it
: A great introduction to bothying is to take part in one of the Mountain Bothy Association’s volunteer weekends where you get to stay in these huts for free, make friends and swap stories around bottles of whisky (bothy tradition) while helping do vital maintenance work. For more information on the weekends, see

4/5. Depends on the bothy, but with the sense of camaraderie and four walls around you, it’s a great choice.

Build your own shelter

Why faff around looking for any of the above when you can, quite simply, make your own accommodation – all it takes is a willingness to put in the work. Better yet, you’re free to determine the size and scale of your own creation.

How to do it: For ease of finding materials, woodland is best. You will need the landowner’s permission before you do this in England and Wales, so Scotland – where wild camping is legal – is the easier option. A simple shelter can be constructed between two trees.

Make sure there are no loose branches above that will fall on you, then begin by securing a strong branch between two trunks – it should be strong enough to hold your weight.

Use long, thin sticks and place them vertically against this crossbar so that you have one side enclosed – this is what you’ll sleep under. Layer it up by weaving leaves through these sticks, then cover with loose leaves for extra insulation.

5/5. A shelter is only as good as its creator, but the satisfaction gained from building it makes this the winner.


Phoebe Smith is the author of The Camper’s Friend, published by Summersdale. Available now from all good book stores and online.


Photos: TNT; Phoebe Smith; Thinkstock

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