What comes to mind when you think about a camping trip? It can be a little different for everyone! On the most basic level, camping just requires being in nature and spending at least one night. If it’s your first time going camping, or if you’re looking to expand your camping skills and experience, you have to experiment with what type of camping suits you best.
For some, the value of camping is in escaping to nature for quiet solitude. For others, it’s a chance to enjoy whatever recreation brings them to the outdoors but still with a degree of luxury. There is no wrong way to camp as long as you are safely having fun!
The range of different camping styles stretches from easy and full of modern amenities all the way to a challenging and strenuous experience that will test your limits. Read on to discover all of the different types of camping to decide which ones best fit your current skills and desires.
Types of Camping
Not all of the lines between the different styles of camping are clear-cut and rigid. In some cases, you may be doing more than one type of camping at once or blending elements from several different styles. We’ve done our best to highlight the main differences between them, but remember, however you choose to do it is the right way to do it as long as you minimize your impact and do your best to Leave No Trace.
When most people picture camping, they think about tent camping. As the name suggests, you and your camping companions bring a tent to sleep outside. Tents come in all shapes, sizes, and weights and you can pitch them in a wide variety of places.
This type of camping is one of the broadest categories, as there are a lot of ways you can go tent camping. Generally, tent camping refers to camping at a designated campsite that’s relatively easy to access. The campgrounds often provide amenities such as a toilet within walking distance, fire rings, and possibly even a picnic table.
When tent camping, you’re likely to have neighbors, which can be a pro or a con. On one hand, neighbors can be noisy sometimes. But on the other hand, having neighbors nearby can be helpful for safety and inspiration. Walking through the campgrounds, you will see all different kinds of setups and things you may want to add to your camp kit.
Tent camping is an easy entry point to the world of camping and can be fairly inexpensive. Once you invest in a nice tent, almost everything else is an unnecessary extra at first. If you don’t already have a sleeping bag, you can bring pillows and blankets from home. Add the camping gear piece by piece as you need it or when you find good deals.
Sometimes, you may not want to sleep on the ground. RV camping is one of the best mobile solutions for adding a little more comfort to your camping experience. In many ways, camping in an RV can be easier than tent camping as you have more amenities built into your rig, including an actual bed with a mattress, a kitchen, and possibly even a bathroom on board. But you’ll have to balance the extra convenience with factors such as price, weight (your vehicle must be able to tow it if it doesn’t have its own engine), and parking. RV campsites can be pricier than tent camping spots and generally have less foliage.
RVs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. On the smallest end, you can find single-person trailers that allow just enough room to sleep. As RVs get larger, you will gain space for additional people and amenities. Pop-up trailers are a lightweight solution that many vehicles can easily tow so you can have the RV camping experience. On the other end of the spectrum, RVs can swell to bus-sized luxury apartments on wheels. RV parks and campgrounds often provide hookups for RVs to plug into electricity, water, sewage, and sometimes even cable TV!
Van camping is very similar to RV camping, except you’re in a van, of course! The space in a van means that there’s enough space for a sleeping area, some storage, and possibly a small kitchenette on board only. There’s not much room for much more than the bare necessities. But the campervan’s size is also a major advantage.
You can maneuver much more easily and fit into smaller sites while camping. You can also more easily drive and park it in town or at a store. This flexibility has made the van’s popularity grow wildly in more recent years, with some people choosing to stay on the road in their van for weeks, months, or even years at a time!
Stealth camping is a phenomenon where people camp out in a public place while remaining undetected. Stealth campers use a variety of methods to camouflage their van into looking like any normal van from the outside while it remains perfectly livable inside. Stealth campers stay in parking lots or other legal parking spots in an urban area that isn’t specifically designated for overnight camping.
For campers looking to explore and enjoy the great outdoors, this isn’t a primary type of camping. But long-term van campers may need to spend a night or two on the way to somewhere more beautiful.
This type of camping is known as boondocking, primitive camping, free camping, dispersed camping, or sometimes dry camping. No matter what you call it, boondocking is like RV camping or van camping completely self-sufficiently. Instead of camping at a designated campsite, you camp on public land without any of the hookups traditionally found at an RV site.
You won’t have an unlimited supply of water or electricity, but you can still use all of the features and amenities on board. With water storage and a portable or renewable energy source (such as solar panels), you can explore more remote areas while still enjoying your van or RV.
Car camping can refer to any time you take your car directly to the campsite. You can bring along anything (and anyone) that fits inside the car, and so weight is rarely a concern. More often than not, car camping implies that you will still be pitching a tent once you reach your specific campsite. But sometimes, people do choose to actually sleep inside the car.
When you can strategically lower or remove the back seats in the car, it’s easy to bring a small mattress to set up in the back for sleeping. Planning to sleep inside the car will eliminate some of the room you have to bring gear, but with the proper organization, you can make everything fit.
Also known as bikepacking, bike camping is a cool way to go further than what you can reach on foot. With well-packed panniers (those bags on either side of a bike’s wheel) or bike bags, you can let the bicycle do a lot of the heavy lifting while you pedal your way to camping adventures.
If bike camping sounds interesting to you, you’ll need to have a reliable bike that’s designed to handle the terrain of your trail. Besides your basic camping gear, be sure to pack some equipment to help maintain the bike in case of a flat tire or another minor mishap.
You don’t need a vehicle to enjoy the benefits of camping — you can even go on foot! Backcountry camping is also known as backpacking and requires campers to take all of their food, water, and gear with them in a backpack on foot. Experiment with tent camping before pairing down to only the essentials that you can carry to be safe. This style of camping requires plenty of advance planning, whether you’re looking to be on the trail for a few days or much longer.
For avid hikers who want to go further than simply an out-and-back or loop day hike, backpacking is a way to tackle longer trails. Unlike the crowds that can form on popular trails to see well-known landmarks, backpackers get to experience long stretches of solitude and pristine remote areas.
The peacefulness of a long trek is incomparable, but campers need to be prepared for situations that could arise when out there far from society, including minor first aid and wildlife encounters. Many backcountry trails require either a permit or that you register with the park rangers, but be sure someone at home knows your intentions before setting off on a backpacking trip.
The goal of ultralight backpacking is to do everything a backcountry camper would do but with an intense emphasis on reducing the amount of weight in your backpack as dramatically as possible. Ultralight backpacking should be reserved for expert backpackers only because you learn so much about what you need and don’t need on the trail. Once you have a good idea, you can start paring down and replacing your gear with ultralight versions.
How light is ultralight? Less than 10 pounds of base weight! A traditional backpacker may be carrying as much as 30 pounds of base weight. Ultralighters fully loaded with food, water, and gear may be carrying a mere 18-20 pounds only! It’s much easier to hike further and faster with only 20 pounds on your back instead of 50.
You don’t even need a tent or RV to go camping. To save weight and space or just for fun, some people choose to go camping with just a hammock to sleep in. You will need to plan ahead to make sure there are trees available to hang your hammock, but it’s worth finding a good place for the comfort of the hammock.
You can further enhance your hammock camping setup with a few extra accessories such as blankets or a sleeping bag, a tarp in case of weather (but will block your view of the stars), and possibly even a bug net depending on where and when you’re camping.
Bivvy Sack Camping
Another full tent alternative for campers who have weight or space restrictions, a bivvy sack is a cross between a tent and a sleeping bag. This waterproof sack only has enough space for your sleeping body. The setup is incredibly easy, but there is virtually no space for anything else. This is not a good option for people with privacy concerns or people who get claustrophobic easily, but it is a highly efficient shelter option.
That’s right–you don’t even need to restrict yourself to land only when planning your next camp trip. Camping via canoe or kayak can let you reach areas that are completely inaccessible to cars, bikes, or even on foot. This type of camping can pose major challenges, though, and is not recommended for beginner campers. For those looking to get deeper into the wilderness or who find themselves most at peace on or near the water, kayak or canoe camping may be your next greatest adventure.
Like all forms of self-sufficient camping, you’ll need to manage all of your water, food, and gear in addition to your small vessel. You and anything in your boat are likely to get wet, so bring plenty of waterproof storage for everything you want to keep dry. You even have to monitor the water levels on river trails, as rain (or lack thereof) can drastically affect your trip. Be prepared to sometimes make short land crossings and drag or carry your canoe or kayak to the next section.
Yes, it’s still camping, even if it’s only in your own backyard. If you’ve never gone camping before, this is one of the easiest ways to practice camping. You don’t have to go all the way to a big national park. Pitch a tent in your own backyard and take advantage of the green space you have right at home.
Try to bring everything outside that you can to make the experience as true to camping in a campground as possible, but it’s not cheating if you have to go back inside. Light a fire in a safe fire pit, roast marshmallows, and enjoy the night sky any day of the week.
Adventure camping is an exciting way to get an experience you may not be able to do by yourself or with your small group. In adventure camping, you’ll generally be on tour with an organized group. Together you’ll all carry the gear or have extra hands to help carry it for you.
Because of this, you can adventure further and last longer in remote locations — whether that is on your way up a massive mountain or on a deep expedition to another hostile area. One of the best advantages is the knowledge and skills you gain from having an extremely experienced guide leading you and helping you throughout.
Overlanding is a little like the backpacking version of car camping. If you feel stifled by sticking to only where the roads take you, overlanding may be the camping style that suits you.
Overlanding requires an off-roading-ready vehicle with all-wheel drive and the strong desire to explore wild, rugged terrain just for fun. Find yourself in far, remote places that are otherwise inaccessible to regular cars. Since this kind of camping takes you far from the beaten path, it’s important that your vehicle is completely self-sufficient and fully loaded with all of the food, water, and gear that you’ll need until you make it back to town.
Many campers start just in the summertime and take advantage of good weather before they get outside. Three-seasons campers who make the most of spring and autumn are very common too. Camping in the winter brings a whole suite of new challenges for the camping enthusiast.
Staying warm is key for winter camping, so you’ll need a lot of gear you may not already have. You’ll need high-quality warm layers and a thicker winter tent and sleeping bag, at least. It’s so exciting to feel warm even while hanging outside in the snow. Even the smallest tasks, like cooking and going to the bathroom, can be a little tougher in the winter than it is in the summer, but the peace and quiet of a snowy landscape can make all of the challenges worth it.
Survival camping is possibly the hardest form of camping that there is and should not be attempted except by the most experienced of campers. Survival camping entails trying to survive the most extreme conditions and difficult environments armed with very few or basic tools and not much else. A survival camper will expect to hunt and gather all of their food, find a safe, natural water source, and possibly even make their own shelter.
This style of camping can be incredibly dangerous and requires a lot of preparation, experience, and skills before you attempt this. For many, it is the ultimate test of their skills and the chance to demonstrate their mastery over the challenges of wilderness exploration.
Glamping is still camping, too. You don’t have to “rough it” to say that you camped. When you arrive at a campsite for “glamping,” or glamorous camping, you’ll arrive at the gorgeous scenery and hotel-level accommodations that are already prepared for you. It could be a nice large tent with a cozy bed and lighting or beyond. Your glamping experience may be in a cabin, a treehouse, or even a mountainside yurt. For most experiences, you only need to bring your clothes as everything else will be thoughtfully provided and ready for you.
What Type of Camping is Right for You?
Camping for you and your group can look exactly how you design it, and there’s no one way to do it right. And with this many different ways to camp, there’s bound to be a style that’s fitting to just about everyone — even folks with no previous experience.
Remember, you don’t have to dive in and buy a bunch of gear before you go. You can rent necessities or find them inexpensively second-hand in many cases. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to hike, fish, climb, or do any other specific recreational activities. As long as you’ve got the will to go outside and stay there, camping can be a hobby for you!
Pick up an RV rental from Cruise America and start your adventure!