"Where are there good wild-camping spots in the XXX area?".
This question comes up in the online forums and has also been asked of us in our feedback forms, but is not really a sensible one as everything about it depends on a whole range of factors, many of which are personal to the originators and their plans. It has produced some terse and wickedly apt answers like "Any reasonably flat tent-sized patch of land". That says it all really. One of the joys of wild backpacking is finding your own great pitches well away from the obvious and popular spots, and gaining the experience to read the map and landscape to predict them.
The obvious requirements of the terrain for basic comfort are that the tent footprint should be as near horizontal as possible and free of significant hard lumps and holes. A slight slope is ok, but we ensure that the tent is pitched sloping top-to-bottom rather than sideways and that we sleep with our heads uppermost. The tent may be small but finding enough level ground is not always easy in some locations, and level patches are sometimes boggy.
Obviously the best of all if free of large tussocks and fortunately the most common. There are however vast tracts of moorland where the tussocks seem relentless, but it is usually possible to find a reasonable spot eventually.
Pitching on rampant heather is an interesting experience. We can usually find patches of quite short growth, but the main problem is getting all the pegs to reach the ground together, and it takes us quite a bit of trial and error with the placement of the tent to get them all in. The tent floor is sometimes bulging at first but once we sink into it and get the mattresses in, it is extremely comfortable. In winter it also gives extra insulation from the cold ground. A bit of judicious gardening in the porch makes life a little easier and safer if we have the stove with us!.
Can be soft and comfortable, but not recommended because the fine peat dust gets everywhere and sticks to everything making it dirty, especially in a wind which blows it into the tent. It won't do your camera any good at all if you forget to bag it. The standard pegs don't grip very well in it, although we carry a couple of V-pegs that are better suited to soft material. Note that in midsummer when the peat is very dry, sensitive areas like the Dark Peak District should really be avoided anyway, see the Legal Issues subsection.
Not usually a good choice, at least in most of the areas we walk that have mainly commercial conifer plantations, and it can be difficult to find a suitable spot as the ground is often a lumpy mess of tangled vegetation and bits of branches. Native deciduous woods are sometimes of value on low-level routes and we have used them a few times, e.g. an attractive glade on the West Highland Way and a small copse on the Cleveland Way. Then there are the owls...
On many of the high mountains the highest ground is rocky everywhere and our pegs will not penetrate. Provided there isn't a gale blowing, we can still pitch well using rocks as anchors if there are sufficient loose ones around. To prevent the rock damaging the tent, we put each peg through its loop horizontally to make a ' T ', and either wedge it between two fairly hefty rocks, or place a small rock on the peg and a larger one on top of that.
The shelter afforded by a high-level pitch is usually regarded as very important, but it depends on the season and weather. Some shelter is highly desirable in a strong wind, and also in moderate wind in cold weather, but most of the time we try to pitch on or very near a summit regardless of the conditions, which is potentially the windiest spot of all. This helps to reduce condensation and maintain a reasonable airflow in the tent, and in the summer months it can often eliminate the dreaded midge problem.
For maximum stability the tent should be oriented according to the manufacturer's instructions, if any were supplied. Our geodesic Voyager should be stable in any position but we always pitch 'tail into the wind' to avoid being blasted broadsides. This usually results in the best view ending up opposite the door!.
Whenever possible the excess snow should be cleared to ground level. We have always been able to clear an area quite easily by moving it aside with our boots, even when the snow was knee deep. Once pitched, we shield the thin gap between the fly and ground with a little wall of snow to prevent the direct ingress of spindrift that would otherwise blow in and settle on the inner. This is particularly important when the inner has mesh panels: the foot of the sleeping bags touch it and would get wet. Mountain tents for really serious locations have a snow valance for this, but our simple shielding method has always worked well enough here.
Our preferred high-level pitching means that there is little chance of drinkable water near the camp and enough must be carried up the final climb to last until the next descent to a reliable source. The amount you need depends entirely on your personal regime and the season. This is a very small price to pay for even the chance of a superb 360-degree dusk or dawn view.
On low-level routes and trails, discretion and privacy become the main factors and as there are no really remote locations, the 'pitch late, leave early' rule is strictly applied. Our priority is to find somewhere that is out of sight of any buildings and preferably hidden from well used paths. It depends how fussy you are about this, for example we have passed tents pitched in open view right next to the Dales Way by the river, something we would never do. On the other hand, when we did the Ridgeway we pitched just off the path a stones throw from Chequers, but we were shielded by trees and it was a weekday in October with nobody around. When we pitched on North Cliff on the Cleveland Way (this photo), the whole town of Filey was in view but a good distance away. Sometimes there is an easy way to climb to higher and more secluded ground for the night.