Wild Camping at Hard Tarn, near Helvellyn, in the Lake District, UK

An amazing early morning sunrise view from the fells that you can only get on a wild camp! This is from Nethermost Pike looking east to Patterdale and the mist over Ullswater, with the Pennines in the far distance.

The tent on this wild camping adventure at Hard Tarn in the Lake District, with High Craggs in the background.

Wild camping in the Lakes at Hard Tarn, near Helvellyn

Wild camping provides a completely different experience on the fells to regular day-walking - and is a great chance to get away from it all and unplug from the world. It's perfect for getting some time to unwind, as other than the scenery there are no distractions. It also makes you appreciate a little more the basic things we take for granted in every day life, such as running water and electricity!

On this occasion I was looking for somewhere where I may well be able to see a brilliant sunrise, and after a bit of digging around on the web I found the perfect place - Hard Tarn! It sounded a good little remote spot - tarns do usually seem appealing for a place to stop - and from previous walking experience in these parts - I knew from the mountain range above (High Craggs / Nethermost Pike / Helvellyn) you can get a good view east - so a good place for a sunrise. So the location was set - I just needed some decent weather, relatively clear skies and a space in my diary - the time come on 10th August 2012.

The map route to Hard Tarn, Wild Camping in the Lake District
The route (highlighted yellow) from patter dale to Hard Tarn, up through Grisedale Valley then off the beaten track at Ruthwaite Lodge

The walking route to Hard Tarn:

I'd walked these parts a few times before - so knew the route up to Grisedale Valley from Patterdale well - and had stopped at Ruthwaite Lodge a few times for a bite to eat as you get a superb view down the valley from it's elevated position. However once you get to the lodge along the well-marked path - it's a case of going off the beaten track- making your own path and following the river and cascading waterfalls up towards Hard Tarn - and using a map, the surrounding mountains (and an iPhone GPS as fall back plan) as your guide.

The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)
The path up Grisedale Valley towards Ruthwaite Lodge. You can make out the peaks of Dollywagon Pike to the left and Nethermost Pike just off centre to the right (where we would see the sunrise from!)

Ruthwaite lodge - we will be heading up to the heights behind it.

It's a good idea to stay close to the stream to use as your guide as it eventually leads to Hard Tarn if you follow the right one. The stream also makes a good place to have a wash in the morning :-)

Hard Tarn location on the fells:

The difficult thing about Hard Tarn is going up this way - you can't actually see it until you are level with it. A few times I had doubted that we were heading in the right direction - but just kept walking in good faith that we would stumble across it if we kept heading in the right direction - using the peaks of High Craggs and Nethermost Pike as a guide and also staying close to the stream that also headed in this direction.

location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as the guide
The location of Hard Tarn using the surrounding mountain range as a guide. Keep High Cragg to your left - Nethermost Pike to your right - and follow the stream and you will get there, eventually :-)

Getting there!

After a longer, steeper and higher than anticipated walk (it had been a while since I had walked with a big back pack on!) - Hard Tarn appeared. It proved to be a perfect little spot to pitch a tent - with a bit of flat space that wasn't boggy - and also some flat level rock face to sit on for when the grass is a little damp in the morning. It may not be the most accessible tarn in the area - but that can be considered a good thing - as then there is a good chance that you will get the space to yourself!

perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard tarn, Lake District
A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District

To the far left of this picture - you can see the path leading up to the range in between High Crags and Nethermost Pike - which is the route we took to get as high as possible to witness the sunset and sunrise. It's not an official path - but just about manageable, although a bit steep.

A perfect spot for a wild camp - my tent pitched next to Hard Tarn, Lake District Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn
Stunning views of the surrounding Lake District mountain range from Hard Tarn wild camp. A great place to get away from it all.

The fading light & sunset:

Here a few pics taken around the Hard Tarn area as the sunlight was fading - not a walker in sight now!

Looking down Grisedale Valley as the last drops of sunlight reach the distant peaks.

Nice warm glow on these peaks from the setting sun.

You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.
You get a really good view of St.Sunday Crag from Hard Tarn.

A sunset from the top of the Nethermost Pike Range - in the distance you can see the Solway Firth and Bassenthwaite lake I think.

Awesome night time views  of the stary sky & milky way!

One of the great things about Wild Camping is that at night you are removed from a lot of light pollution - and with a bit of luck - if the skies clear then the views of the night sky from a remote spot in the lakes are some the best that can be seen. On this occasion we were very fortunate - in that not only where the skies clear, but without planning it also turned out to be the night of the Perseid meteor shower - so we were very lucky indeed! I'd been in the Lake District before when there had been clear nights and I'd never seen so many stars - but this was something else. Not a cloud in the sky - no light pollution whatsoever, and a wide expansive view of the sky. You could actually see a faint mist running right through the centre of the sky - which I knew to be the Milky Way Galaxy - it was absolutely spell-binding and an amazing sight.  It was one of those sights that just took your breath away. And there is just something about seeing a night sky like this with thousands of stars in it that really make you think and get all philosophical. To top it off - every now and then a shooting star would fly through the sky due to the perseid meteor shower hitting earth's atmosphere - I later found out we happened to witness the year's most spectacular meteor shower for viewers in the northern hemisphere! With the mild night we ended up just bringing the sleeping bag & matts outside, putting some music on the speakers and just soaking it all up - knowing it's not often you get chance to see such a sight. As you can imagine this is of the great things about wild camping!

This isn't actually my photo - I found it on the web after searching around for something that represented what you could actually see with the naked eye. You could actually see the Milky Way galaxy across the centre of the sky in a sort of faint white mist - it was absolutely awe-some in the truest sense of the word.  

Wild camping sunrise

As people who know me will tell you - I'm not normally one to jump out of bed in the morning - but with the anticipation of seeing a glorious sunrise - it was easy to wake at 5am on this particular morning - and well worth it.

It was a bit of a 10 minute scramble to get up to Nethermost Pike - but it proved to be an excellent vantage point to see the sun rise. There was even a bit of mist in the low valley - so perfect conditions :-)

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike

Sunrise from Nethermost pike
Sunrise from Nethermost pike

Incase you think I'm making this all up :-)

A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range, sunrise, wild camp
A warm glow lighting up striding edge and the Helvellyn range

This time looking towards Dollywagon Pike

As it was around 6am by this time - these fellas were the only ones up there with us!

BACK TO CAMP & Grisedale Valley

As we were up at 5am - we were heading back to the tent quite early and were all packed up for about 6.30am!

Morning at Hard Tarn and it's time to move on from our wild camping spot.

As we headed back down to Civilisation and down Grisedale Valley - the mist seemed to be hanging around the patterdale area- and although maybe no more than 50m high - the mist did make you feel like you where higher than you actually where. I guess for those who were actually in Patterdale
 - all you had to do was climb a little out of the place and you would be out of the mist. It's something I will look to do if I'm ever staying in Glenridding/Patterdale - an easy way to be above the clouds!

Well there you go - another blog post wrapped up and an absolutely brilliant experience. I'd definietly recommend a wild camping trip to others, and everyone should do it at least once! Just make sure you plan the location right, pick a time when the weather is favourable to what you want to see, you know where you are going and you take the right equipment, warm clothes for those cold nights  & enough food and water. I've done a list below of stuff to take on a Wild Camp, and if you have any questions - feel free to post any comments and I'll try and help. Oh - and if you do go on a wild camp - please follow the golden rule of 'leave no trace' - and keep the area pristine for others :-)

Wild camping tips lake district gear checklist best where
If this blog post has inspired you to want to try out wild camping for yourself then here are my Wild Camping top tips: 

Wild camping top tips

Get the Wild Camping location right

It's vital to get the spot for your wild camp right - and I would recommend your first wild camp being somewhere you are familiar with and have perhaps visited before. Whenever I'm out on day walks on the fells - I'll make a mental note of somewhere that I think would be a good spot for a wild camp. I also search online for wild camping blog posts/videos/photos to get ideas. I personally prefer somewhere high-up with great views and ideally a stream near by for water. If it's overlooking a tarn or lake even better, and my favourite places are where you will get greta views of sunsets & sunrises. You should note though that you can't just pitch up anywhere - legally you should have the permission of the land owner in England. However, in the English Lake District, which is my wild camping area of choice - wild camping is tolerated as long as you pitch up above the highest fell wall, stay for only one night and leave no trace that you where ever there. As ever with wild camping - just pitch up late close to sundown and depart just after daybreak :-)

Camping spot

Like most tips on pitching a tent - whether on a campsite or out on the fells - pick a bit of dry, flat ground so you don't end up moving around in your tent. Also take into consideration the weather conditions and forecast - if it's windy or likely to get windier in the night (even though it's calm when pitching your tent) - then you don't want to be in too an exposed a position. Also if it's forecast to rain (or snow) - then is your spot going to turn into a bog or snowdrift? A bit of raised ground that is flat is ideal.

The right camping equipment

I'll expand in detail below on what gear I like to take on wild camps - but 3 of the most essential bits of kit to get right are your tent, sleeping bag and matt - if you forget everything else - these 3 items should get you through a night :-) Your tent should be up to the weather conditions and big enough for you and anyone else - but also light and easy to carry. In terms of sleeping bags - again it needs to be warm enough for the weather conditions and easy to pack away and carry. The sleeping mattress will help keep you insulated from the cold ground and help with a comfortable nights sleep.

The Weather 

It's essential to plan any trip according to the weather forecast, especially so for wild camps, and especially more so in places like the Lake District fells where multiple seasons can be experienced in 1 day! I've read stories of people going on wild camps in nice weather - and waking up the next day surrounded by snow. So don't let things like that catch you out. There are some excellent resources online now that can give very accurate forecasts for particular locations - such as the Met Office and BBC weather and a key one for the outdoors is the Mountain Weather Information Service. Be sure to know as best as possible what the forecast is before any wild camping trips and plan accordingly.

Wild camping is an experience everyone should try once - even if just to make you appreciate home comforts :-)

Essential wild camping gear list

Here is a list of the essentials I currently take on a wild camp - and where possible the links take you to actual products online you can buy and read further information or reviews (but support your local independent outdoor shops where possible!). I'm someone who prefers the best value options for maximum technical quality so everything I take is good value. 


(* Note I have linked to products I use where possible if you are interested and I'm not sponsored by anyone)

• Tent - as mentioned it's got to be up to the job of the weather conditions and light enough to carry on your back. Under 2kg is the magic weight to aim for - and there are tents to suit all budgets. If money is no object and you wish to camp in all seasons in extreme conditions, then the Hilleberg Soulo tends to be the connoisseur's choice (£800ish). The Wild Country Helm 1 is an excellent value sturdy alternative weighing in at 1.97kg and priced about £180. At the budget end and under £100 you might want to take a look at the Vango Nevis 100

• Sleeping bag - again it depends on where you are camping and the temperatures. Always try and get a down-filled bag for maximum insulation. A great value one from Alpkit is the ultra-light 3 season Pipe Dream 400 which you can pick up for about £190 and will keep you warm down to teh extreme of -4c.  Vango Treklite Lightweight Sleeping Bag, Imperial Blue, Ultra 900 which you can pick up for £90

• Sleeping matt - these are key to giving a comfortable nights sleep, and more so to keep you insulated from the cold ground. Unless you are camping in winter try something like the Thermarest Trail Lite Trooper Regular Sleeping Mat

• Travel pillow - another essential - a nice little pillow makes all the difference for me - and is worth tracking = you can pick these up for about £10/20 in most outdoor stores.

• Rucksack - you need something to cary all this stuff in and a strong, robust and weather proof rucksack of an adequate size is essential. Im currently using the Vango Nango 60 + 10 Rucksack which gives me 70 Litres storage and plenty of compartments.

• Torch - another essential really - it gets pretty dark out on the fells at night - and you also need to think of the worst case option in that you need to travel quite a way in the dark on tricky terrain - so don't skimp and save on a poor option here. I use the Nebo iProtec Pro 280 Flash Light - which is 280 Lumens a pretty powerful brightness up to 200m with many other functions - it costs £25 but really is worth spending the extra money on this potentially life saving bit of kit I'll also take a mini-camping lantern too that can give me light without having to hold it.

• Travel stove - again the lighter the better to help you cook with. I use the Msr PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit 2020 Camping Stove -great value and the lightest around. There are other options that are up to harsher conditions.

• Cookware - at a basic level you'll want a decent sized cooking mug to heat your water or food. Try and go for a titanium version for lightness & durability and it will be a good investment. Something like the MytiMug650.  You might even want to push the boat out and take a frying pan :-)

• Knife/fork/spoon - don't forget something to eat with! 

• Phone - your unlikely to get signal (and that can be a good thing if you truly want to get away from it all and digitally unplug!) but on many occasions I've actually got a signal on various peaks because they are high up - and you never know - you might need to try and get a signal in an emergency 

Food & drink

• Water - Its vital to take enough drinking water with you on your trip - I always carry with me 1 - 2 litres of water. If you know you are going to be camping where there is fresh water such as a stream from the fell tops - then you might want o use that to cook with after boiling it to be safe. Alternatively there are quite a few good instant water filtration options out there such as the Swayer filtersKatadyn BeFree, the Grawl Ultralight and the LifeStraw options.

• Snacks - it's not good to be hungry out on your trip - so take plenty of snacks that won't perish easily such as cereal bars, nuts, dried fruit, crips and even bananas 

• Meals - For evening meals I like to keep things simple - so foods that just need water really - whether thats noodles that you can add water too or boil in the bag stuff like pasta/rice or even meals you can get from specialist outdoor stores (although they can be pricier than supermarket options) 

• For breakfast - Again I'll keep it simple - I'll take a porridge pot which just requires hot water and for a treat sometimes maybe some bacon and bread buns :-) 

• Other Drinks - For drinks other than water - I'll take some tea bags/coffee sachets, and a little bit of milk/sugar. It's nice treat to also have a can of beer or three or a little bottle of wine too :-) 


• Insect repellant - it's an absolute essential this - often you'll get midges hanging around your tent - even more so if you are pitched up next to some water - so you'll want a good repellant. The strongest has Deet in it such as Pyramid Trek 50 Insect/Mosquito Repellent Deet Spray  - another more skin friendly option which comes with great reviews in the walking community (and is cheap) is Avon Skin so soft which you can pick up online for about £5

• Ear plugs - always a camping necessity for me - especially if the birds are up really early :-)

• Toilet roll - you never know when you need to go!

• Baby wipes - good for a little clean in the morning

• Sun cream - if it's sunny then you'll need this or you could end up burnt to a crisp

• Tooth brush & paste(travel size)  - another little home comfort that makes me feel a little fresher


You'll no doubt be an experienced walker if your planning a wild camp and therefore travelling/walking in the right gear so here are a few little extras: 

• Insulated jacket and extra layers - it does tend to get chilly at night - even in summer - so best to have the option of extra layers to put on - it's not fun being cold so better to to take some extra layers than not enough! I'm a big fan of Rap insulated jackets such as the Rab Cirrus Flex Hoody Steel

• Thermals - Depending on the weather - I take thermals too to sleep in - long-johns and a top, again better to be too warm than too cold 

• Spare socks - it's nice to put fresh ones on in the morning

• Flip flops - it's nice to give the feet an airing around the tent, especially after having boots on all day and these don't take up much room!

So that's my list of essentials for a wild camp and I hope it help's you in planning yours! And remember the one golden rule of Wild Camping - leave no trace! So please respect the land and keep it as you found it for others who will follow you - so don't leave any litter or scorched earth. 



  1. Brilliant write up. I love Helvellyn.

    1. Thanks Jamie - Helvellyn is one of my favourite walks too - mainly because of striding edge and the views from the top which ever direction you look. I think I'l be planning to wild camp closer to the helvellyn sumit in future too

  2. Really informative write up - it's made me want to try out a wild camping trip in the lakes too!

  3. Looks an amazing experience and inspirational place!

  4. Enjoyed that, a good read and some cracking photos. I've had my eye on Hard Tarn as a potential camping spot for some time - must get up there now that lockdown has ended.

    1. I did thanks Stuart :)
      I camped up at High Tarn last Thursday night - a very dramatic location, but I didn't have such good weather as you. Continued on over windswept Helvellyn after a very steep climb up the headwall of Ruthwaite Cove, and returned down Sticks Pass past Greenside Mine. A great mini adventure.

  5. Hi there where abouts did you park your car when doing this wildcamping trip? Cheers Josh

    1. Hi - in patterdale at the start of the walk - it’s quite a treck!

  6. Thank you Stuart for this brilliant write up! and the excellent list of things to bring. There are some that I did not think about at all so really glad I came across your post! If we park at Glenridding could you tell us how long it'll take to get to Hard Tarn, and how long it will take us the next morning to go to Helvellyn via Striding Edge and back down to Glenridding? Thank you :)

    1. Glad you found it useful Nat. So it obviously depend son how fast you walk and if your carrying quite a bit of kit it will slow you down. I'd say perhaps 2-2.5 hours to get to Hard Tarn up the Grisedale valley. Once you are up at Hard Tarn - its not much effort to continue up to Nethermost Pike. From there in the morning I would head straight to Helvellyn which may take 45mins as helvellyn is only and extra 80m in height to Nethermost Pike! Then if you want to tackle Striding Edge - do that on the way back down to Glenridding - which may take you another 2h? Be careful though as it can get quite chilly up there in the the autumn and winter - check the weather forecast fully :-)


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