Wild camping and bivouacing

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    Wild camping and bivouacing

    Just pitch your tent and enjoy nature? In Germany and Europe this is not allowed everywhere. We give important hints and tips.

    As with the article "The reset button for everyday life: Microadventures" the question about the legal situation and the practice of wild camping in Germany or a bivouac was raised, I explain these and present some tips, what one should absolutely consider when staying overnight in the (not at all) free nature or in the forest - just away from camping sites and Co.

    Attention, opinion: This article is based on my own opinion on the topic "wild camping". He has no claim to correctness or completeness and expressly does not represent legal advice and does not replace such in any way!

    Legal for wild nights

    All people in this country are free. That's it Public access rights as well as General right of access the free landscape. A natural site (corridor) which is not satisfactory (e.g. by fences or hedges) or which is marked as a private site by signs is accessible to the general public. Public areas may be used and entered by anyone for the purpose of recreation and enjoyment of nature - regardless of their duration. So in principle also overnight. These freedom paragraphs are affected and restricted by other laws, such as the property right, the nature protection law or by special rights of use.

    In Europe there is a strong north-south divide in connection with wild camping. While staying outdoors in the Scandinavian countries is just part of it and also by the Everyman (also Allemansrecht) are legally covered, it looks in this country already much stricter. For Germany (and comparable also for Switzerland and Austria) that is regulated by laws and there is simply one Ban on camping In public areas outside designated areas. This is usually regulated by the Federal Forest Act or Land Forest Act, but also the municipalities have their own regulations. 

    Specifically, this means: Overnight stays in the tent are legally only on campsites or specially designed places, such as the trekking in the black forest, in Rheinland-Pfalz, in the Spessart / Bavaria or the boof in the Saxon Switzerland, allowed, or of course with permission on a private property. But even here is the restriction that, for example, for reasons of nature conservation, camping on private grounds may be prohibited. So you are not allowed in the outdoors just because pitch his tent.

    The pure "outside sleeping" in a tent or bivouac sack is not a criminal offense in Germany, but an administrative offense. This difference is important, as we will see below. However, other offenses like damage to property (§303 StGB), Trespassing (§123 StGB), or over the path of Nature protection or fire protection (§306 StGB) lead to a report and thus to a fine or even imprisonment!

    Open fire

    In connection with wild camping, dealing with open fire always plays a role: in principle, open fire such as campfires or barbecue fires at a distance of 100 meters from the edge of the forest (of course also applies to heaths, bogs, fields ordered, etc.). Candles, torches, camping stoves of all kinds and under certain circumstances also smoking are to be understood under an open flame. Even that Induce one fire hazard is sanctioned (§306f StGB). For open fire there are, usually operated by municipalities, public barbecue areas. Otherwise, a fireplace must be "suitable", such as a non-combustible surface such as a gravel bank or the like. 

    Camp or bivouac?

    There are three terms used in the question of an overnight stay in nature, each of which is defined more or less precisely, but the demarcation, even in the legal texts, is reasonably vague and fluid.


    Camping is defined as the "overnight stay of persons in mobile accommodation such as tents, caravans, motor vehicles [...] in the context of tourism" - and is prohibited where it is not explicitly permitted. With us camping is almost only allowed on campsites and on private property.

    To store

    Camping means "pausing" and is, of course, allowed in contrast to camping. So you can sit down for a break and lie down and certainly protect yourself from the weather. The transition between camps and camping is of course hard to pin down: Are you still stocking or are you camping?


    Bivouac is a special form of "camping outside campsites during a short period of high alpine terrain" and is allowed (where it is not explicitly forbidden ...)!

    The practice

    Me and other) bivouac and wild camping would not be that awkward, but more generally understood as "sleeping without a tent" (but with a sleeping bag, mattress, hammock, bivy bag or tarp), even outside high alpine terrain.

    Behavior tips for outside

    If you exercise caution and prudence and observe the following points, you are in my opinion at least in a gray area:

    • In principle, do not stay overnight on private property or in nature reserves, national parks, biosphere reserves, natural monuments, nature parks and other protected areas - whether in a tent or "just like that".
    • Nature-friendly and danger-avoiding behavior: do not make a fire, do not disturb, make noise or otherwise attract attention negatively, the less obvious (keyword "tent") the better, no garbage or other soiling left behind.
    • Quite simply: by own behavior and the choice of the campsite ensure that one is not caught - and if that it can have as few consequences as possible.
    • While an orange tent at the campfire next to a forest path in the nature reserve is not really okay, I think the night in the bivy bag a bit "hidden" in order - that should probably go in most cases, passers-by, foresters or police. Important here is the distinction between offense and offense. From the fine of a misdemeanor can be waived, in case of a crime must be determined.

    Caught while wild camping - and now?

    If you get caught, you should be clear and polite in any case. Insight can reduce a possible fine under applicable administrative law! I personally think that following procedure Proper and proven: you volunteer your identity card and promise to behave calmly overnight and to leave the place the way you found it. In particular, you take your waste with you again. After all, you are not interested in a party or something like that, but in the experience of nature, and you also appreciate it and classify it. Such serious statements should defuse the situation. By the way, forest officials, unlike hunters and foresters, may even arrest you for the time being and notice the personal details!

    Situation in Austria and Switzerland

    For Austria the OeAV (Österreichischer Alpenverein) has published a booklet on bivouacking. In short, the situation is similar to Germany: an emergency bivouac in alpine terrain ("alpine wasteland") is allowed, a planned bivouac is equivalent to "tents" and will be punished. However, the specific regulations differ in the respective federal state. On the Website of the OeAV but this is well summarized.

    In the Switzerland It is even more confusing because of the differing legislation of the cantons. Again, the SAC (Swiss Alps Club) calls a bivouac above the tree line "unproblematic". The SAC has published a booklet on bivouacking at the website available for download. For the whole of Switzerland but there are indications that there is probably a kind of attenuated right of everyone. Does anyone know anything there?

    Situation in other European countries

    Loud Focus Wild camping is especially illegal in Spain, Italy, Greece and France, and it threatens horrendous punishments or even jail. In Spain, even helicopters are used in the hunt for wildcampers.

    Dangers in wild camping

    Central Europe's fauna and flora is relatively harmless. The biggest danger is therefore to be caught in wild camping. Depending on the state, this can lead to severe penalties, especially in connection with other misdemeanors and offenses. The other dangers, that is, the dangers inherent in nature, are rather low in Germany, even if sporadically some wolves are at home again.

    The greater danger is mainly caused by humans. Depending on behavior, the ecosystem is disturbed or destroyed and wildlife disturbed in behavior and rest. This is especially true in winter, when the energy balance of the wild animals is particularly influenced by external influences. Birds can be disturbed in breeding and nesting. In short: the natural activity, because of which one actually came, is already confused by the pure presence.

    Even the sometimes sensitive plant world resists a tent that stands in one place for more than one night: the plants are crushed and shielded from the vital sunlight.

    One of the biggest dangers is open fire. Fire is strictly forbidden, which is kindled in the forest and also 100 meters away from groups of trees. Open fire also includes camping stoves, hobo stoves, spirit stoves, and more generally all other types of open, visible flames. Fire should therefore be made only in approved locations.

    Of course, nothing is left behind in nature, except for its footprints.

    Take only memories. Leave nothing but footprints! (Quote Chief Seattle attributed)

    Conclusion for wild camping

    All in all one can say: an emergency bivouac is everywhere, especially above the tree line tolerated, On open spaces outside the forest, in some federal states wild accommodation is often not clearly and clearly regulated, that is: not prohibited. Bavaria is, for example, such a federal state, where much emphasis is placed on the right of access to the outdoors. An overnight stay in the forest is explicitly forbidden there, but the areas outside the forest were virtually forgotten to mention (unless they are restricted as private property or through nature conservation or otherwise, eg by the municipalities). In nature reserves or other designated areas of protection is the nocturnal, no matter how, of course, completely correct and express forbidden.

    We should also respect that, because protected areas are more important than ever, also due to the increasing number of hikers and mountaineers. Give the animals and nature a retreat, they are already under stress anyway, because their habitat, especially by us outdoor people, pushed back ever further.

    Tip: the practical Packing list for microadventures // eight tips for bivouacking // winter bivouac // An interview with "Mister Microadventure" Alastair Humphreys


    1. Thank you for this detailed and informative contribution! Interesting how it differs from country to country.

      Best regards!

      • Ja, nicht wahr? Bits und Bytes komplett ohne Nährwert, ganz im Gegensatz zu Deinem ausführlichen und gehaltvollen Kommentar.

    2. Die Tipps sind nicht nur super hilfreich, sondern auch noch total inspirierend. Besonders die Ideen zum umweltbewussten Campen haben mir gut gefallen. Ich kann es kaum erwarten, diese Tipps in der Natur auszuprobieren und die Freiheit des Wild Campens zu genießen. Macht weiter so mit euren spannenden Beiträgen!


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