Outdoor etiquette: rules and laws for being outdoors when camping


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Outdoor etiquette is there to make sure you don’t bother nature and wildlife, as well as your fellow humans, unnecessarily. Below are some of the basic regulations and advice for your next outdoor experience

Camping is becoming more and more popular as a form of vacation, and there therefore the need for outdoor etiqutte.but not every camper wants to spend their free time in a caravan on the campsite: Especially when the weather is better, adventurous natures look for the ultimate outdoor kick away from the plot.

The trend towards “#vanlife” is celebrated on the social media platform Instagram: With photos of the mobile home on the beach, lonely mountain lakes or under the starry sky. Of course, always with no other vehicles nearby. And if you want it even more daring, grab your tent to experience a short adventure in the forest.

What is allowed and what is not allowed?

The question remains: is all of this even allowed? Or more precisely: what is allowed and what is not? Can I just make a fire like that? Fishing in the lake or picking mushrooms for dinner in the forest? And what happens if you are caught with a motorhome or tent sleeping outside a campsite? We want to clarify exactly these questions in this article.

First a note: The legal situation for wild camping is quite confusing even in Germany, as the rules are predominantly issued by the individual federal states. We can therefore not go into every single detail in the article, but only provide a rough overview.

You should therefore inform yourself in advance about the special rules in the region in which you would like to camp wild. This can be done, for example, on the websites of the cities or districts or at the relevant tourist offices.

Wild camping with a motorhome: is it allowed?

The good news: In Germany, free parking of mobile homes outside of campsites is generally permitted, unless it is expressly prohibited. It is made possible by the regulation that allows “restoring driving ability”. Means: If you are too tired to drive on, you can park the motorhome in a parking lot and rest until you are fit again.

It does not matter whether you park your vehicle in a parking lot by the lake, on the side of the road or on a pass road in the mountains: As long as you can reach the place on a road suitable for vehicles, you can park the motorhome there for a longer period of time. as long as it is not on private property or a prohibition sign expressly forbids parking.

Of course, there are restrictions: Camping-like behavior is not desired, as the law states that it is about restoring your ability to drive. You should therefore avoid placing the camping table with chairs or other camping accessories in front of the motorhome or extending the awning. In addition, a rest break of a maximum of 10 hours is generally assumed. An overnight stay is usually not a problem if you drive on the next day.

Where is it not allowed to go wild camping under any circumstances?

Driving on forest paths is generally prohibited. Here you will usually also find a corresponding sign that says that vehicles are not allowed. Private land and agricultural land are also taboo. Free parking and camping in nature reserves, biosphere reserves, nature parks and landscape protection areas is also strictly forbidden.

Unfortunately, a quick look at Google Maps is often not enough to see exactly where a nature reserve begins and ends. Topographic road maps, regional tourism authorities or outdoor apps with map functions provide good orientation. In general, there are around 9000 nature reserves in Germany, but there are quite a few protected areas – so it is better to find out more beforehand.

If you would like more information about your next trip in nature, you can read on PiNCAMP:

Wild camping with a tent: what is allowed?

The rules for wild camping without a vehicle are quite confusing in Germany, as every federal state cooks its own thing here. In general, camping for recreational purposes with a tent is forbidden almost everywhere where it is not expressly permitted. There are exceptions, however: In Brandenburg, camping is permitted for one night as long as the rest area is not in a nature reserve. However, in our guide we advise against taking such trips if they are not really necessary.

A gray area that many wild campers like to refer to is the rule that allows bivouacking in the great outdoors. According to the law, you can rest in the great outdoors and take a break in almost all federal states. How long this break may last is not specified. In theory, you can stay overnight in the forest, but without a camping or trekking tent.

Free camping is strictly forbidden in all nature reserves. The ban is also controlled in Germany, especially in summer and in popular holiday regions such as Saxon Switzerland, the Black Forest or the Müritz National Park. Those who are caught often get off lightly with a warning, but wild camping counts as an administrative offense and can be punished with fines of 5 to 80 euros.

Campfire romance: is it allowed to make a fire outdoors?

The sun is slowly setting and the stars are rising. What could be nicer than lighting a cozy campfire and enjoying the evening atmosphere? Unfortunately, this is not so easy in Germany – and certainly not on a free parking space or campsite in the middle of nature.

The individual federal states make the rules for fire. In general, however, the following rule applies: Where a fire is not expressly permitted, it is forbidden. Open fires are prohibited, for example in forests, parks, on the beach and in nature reserves. This means that many lakes, which are often located in nature reserves, will also disappear. Here, if at all, a fire may only be made at designated fire places or barbecue areas.

Smaller fires such as candles or gas stoves are generally allowed outdoors. Even putting up a grill is not an open fire, but it contradicts the requirement that parking the vehicle should serve the driving ability. The camping grill must therefore remain inside in the free parking space.

Also note that fires of any kind are strictly prohibited in many nature reserves to avoid the risk of forest fires and environmental damage. This also includes supposedly smaller flames.

The penalties for illegally lighting fires are high. In national parks, up to 2,500 euros can be charged, in the forest even up to 5,000 euros. The Blekendorf community in Schleswig-Holstein even charges up to 50,000 euros for lighting a campfire on the beach. Again, a violation counts as an administrative offense.

Outdoor etiquette: Is it allowed to fish?

A fishing license is generally required almost everywhere in Germany for fishing in water. There are some exceptions such as Brandenburg, Saxony or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Here, too, you need a permit in the form of a tourist fishing license or a fishing permit.

If you camp by the lake or the river and would like to fish your dinner out of the water without a fishing license, depending on the federal state, you not only commit an administrative offense, but a criminal offense. Fishing on someone else’s private property is even punished as theft.

The fines are quite high and can run up to 50,000 euros. In the worst case, there is even a risk of imprisonment, whereby first-time offenders usually get away with a fine. Nevertheless, you should definitely get a fishing license or find out what proof is required in the respective state before swinging the fishing rod.

Collect mushrooms and berries: only for personal use

Collecting fruits, berries, nuts, mushrooms or herbs to refine the camping kitchen is not a problem in Germany. Condition for this: The amount should be based on personal needs. As long as you don’t drag sacks of berries with you to the camp, there is nothing to complain about.

Hunting and catching wild animals such as rabbits is strictly forbidden, as a hunting license is required in Germany. Unless you are a hunter, avoid shooting animals while camping. Similar to fishing, a violation is considered a criminal offense (poaching) and punished with high fines or imprisonment. However, the topic does not play a major role even for die-hard bushcrafters, let alone for average camping fans.

Unwritten laws for wild camping

In addition to the above laws, some unwritten rules for free camping in nature have also been established over time. These rules are not official laws and are (usually) not punished if they are violated. Nevertheless, they are no less important, especially as more and more people are discovering camping for themselves.

The most important unwritten rules for camping in nature are:

  1. Be respectful of nature and its residents on the campsite
  2. Avoid noise or camp in large groups
  3. Leave the place exactly as you found it, and don’t leave any trash or other debris behind.

In principle, of course, these rules also apply in the event that you park a vehicle on the side of the road for one night. And you benefit from it yourself, because after all, nobody likes to set up camp in a completely littered place. If everyone is careful, everyone benefits from it in the end. And with a little luck, you will still discover a campsite in the future that is at least as good as the best 5-star campsite.


Michelle Halterman
Michelle Halterman
USA, China, South Africa and now Munich - Michelle has come a long way in the world. She is an outdoor person and loves to be in nature with friends and on her mountain bike. Or she meets up with friends for pasta, vino, cappaccino & Co.



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