To say you are going camping seems like an easy enough thing to say, but the reality is that there are a myriad of types of camping out there. From the grab and go weekend adventures, to the carefully though out multi-day treks through remote locations, the types of camping are as varied as the people that do it. In this article, I dive into some of the different types of camping and try to define them a little.
What Are the Different Types Of Camping?
There area a lot of different types of camping, from traditional camping in a campground, to backpacking, and even more extreme forms of camping. Here is a list of the more common types of camping.
- Basic Camping
- Traditional Camping
- Car Camping
- Group Camping
- Winter Camping
- Hammock Camping
- Survivalist Camping
- Stealth Camping
- Minimalist Camping
- RV Camping
- Specialist Camping
- Bicycle Camping
- Canoe Camping
- Motorcycle Camping
- Pack Animal Camping
Each of these types of camping is a little different and requires a different set of skills, tools, equipment, and preparation. Below, I’ll touch on each of these a little, more clearly defining them and what is involved.
Diving Into The World Of Camping
Below, I’ve tried to organize and define some of the various styles of camping and to group them together as makes sense. To me, each is nearly a separate subject as the tools and planning involved can wildly differ. You would have a very different set of camping tools for example for taking your family to a campground, than if you were doing a 3-day adventure into the desert.
When someone says they are going camping, some common images generally come to mind. Setting up a tent at a camp site, building a fire and sitting around roasting hot dogs, and telling scary stories after the sun has set all come to mind. As I define it ‘camping’ is car-based camping at established locations, whether that is in a pay-to-stay campground or at an established camping spot off a road in on public lands. There are some variations on this though and here is my breakdown of them.
This is the classic, load up the food, gear, the kids, and the dog and go find a good spot to set up camp, style of camping. You can more or less just unload the car when you get there and set up camp, or maybe carry it a short ways down a trail to your camping spot. Obviously, you can bring a lot more gear and food, which makes this camping in easy mode. Unless it starts raining as it so often does here in the PNW.
The term car camping oftentimes gets used interchagably with traditional camping. The definition is changing though with the rise of van life, and more people using their vehicle as both a cooking area and sleeping area. From simply unloading your Subaru and putting an air mattress in the back, to having a pull out kitchen and a roof mounted tent on your truck, to having a van built out for camping like I do with Leif The Adventure Van, car camping is a specialized thing.
This one gets dropped under traditional camping as it typically involves a bunch of people, several cars, a bit of planning, and a whole lot of cooking. Typically you will need to scout and secure a much bigger campsite as well, often times sending an advance person to find and claim it, unless you are just reserving one in a campground, in which case you probably need to do that far in advance.
It is you, the gear you can carry, and your wits, wandering into the wilderness to try and survive. Simple enough right but it can get a lot more involved as you get more specific and specialized in your backing camping.
Basic Backpacking Camping
At its most basic form, backpacking camping essentially is loading up your pack, hiking in a few or several miles to a camp spot, and settling in for the night. Reasonably light gear is a plus, and a good quality tent is suggested, but you don’t have to get too crazy with the planning or buying of equipment. From here though, there are some more advanced forms of backpacking camping.
Treking out into the snow to camp does not sound fun to most people, but for some people that just can’t get enough of that tingly feeling that their skin gets, or seeing landscapes covered in pristine snow, winter camping is where it is at. Obviously winter camping requires much warmer clothing and sleeping bags, as well as better tents, and cooking strategies from basic camping.
While you can hammock camp out of your car, most of the die-hard hammock campers revel in wandering deep into the wilderness to string their hammock up between two trees. There is lots of debate to whether tent camping of hammock camping is better, but they both have their advantages. If you are going to go hammock camping, you will need to change up some gear and plan your camp site a little differently. Plus, hammock camping is fun, until you go where there are no trees.
If you are an outdoor nerd that likes to take the nerdiness on pack weight to the extreme. Minimalist campers shoot for a base weight (excluding consumables like food and water) of around 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms). Achieving this weight often involves selecting lightweight materials, such as ultralight tents or tarps, down sleeping bags, compact cooking systems, and minimalist clothing. Bring on the Dyneema baby!
If you aren’t a ‘how light is my pack’ type of camping nerd, but like using primitive camping methods, and being ready for a SHTF situation, you may be a survivalist camper. Survivalist campers aim to develop skills such as fire-building, shelter construction, foraging, and navigation without modern conveniences, emphasizing the fundamental ability to sustain oneself in the wild. If the thought of setting off into the woods with a saw, a knife, some rope and a tarp appeals to you, survival camping is your thing.
Camping for the rebels, the rule breakers, and people who just want to see if they can pull it off. Stealth camping is all about going camping in places where you don’t want to get caught. This can range from camping in off limits urban areas (watch where you camp in the zoo), to rural areas on private property, and more. There are obviously some legal and ethical debates here, but you are a stealth camper. What makes anyone think you are going to follow the rules other than an extreme form of leave no trace.
When you want to go camping but take your whole house with you, there is RV camping. This can take many forms, from a camper on the back of your truck, to a 5th wheel trailer, pull behind travel trailer, on up to luxury RVs that are nicer than my first house. While you increase the comfort factor in your camping, you also limit your options on where to park. The larger and more glorious your RV, the less places you can go. You may be able to sneak your camper up a forest service road to a semi-remote spot, but your tricked out 45′ RV with antennas on the top should probably stay on the pavement at an RV park.
Glamping is for those times when you want to go at least semi-traditional camping, but want all the comfort and luxury you can get. Often times this will take the form of a rented yurt or tent, with all the amenities they can manage, right on up to a real bed and LED camp lighting. Glamping is perfect for romantic get aways, or for when you want to take that special someone camping, but they aren’t cool with sleeping on the ground with the bugs and the creepy-crawly things.
Camping takes so many forms and even this list isn’t completely comprehensive, as people tend to combine camping with their other hobbies.
A unique form of camping for cross-country, long-distance cyclists, bicycle camping adds some challenge to the already strenuous task of cycling all day. Why not add on having to haul all your camping gear with you as you pedal the miles away, only to have to set up camp when you finish for the day. Sounds crazy for a lot of people, but for bicycle campers, it is pure bliss.
Wall Camping or Big Wall Camping isn’t so much an activity that one sets out to do, but one that is required when climbing a multi-day wall. Most people would turn colors at the thought of strapping a platform to the side of a wall several thousand feet up and calling it home for the night, but if you are a hardcore rock climber, you might find yourself doing just that.
All the freedom of hitting the open road on your motorcycle, plus the added freedom of being able to set up camp pretty much anywhere you want. From street motorcycles crossing the country, to off road or multi-sport bikes wandering up remote roads, motorcycle camping gives you the freedom to travel a long ways, and particularly on roads trucks can’t traverse, and set up camp where other people can’t go.
Canoe and kayak camping is a special critter, offering you the freedom to use the waterways to get to remote locations and camp. From the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Cascadia Marine Trail, kayak and canoe camping will let you see parts of this planet in a way that few will. Sitting low in the water and moving quietly along, wildlife is easier to spot, and many times you have access to camping areas inaccessible by any other means. Gear consideration is obviously important, as is dry bags, navigation skills, and the like. The reward for traveling like the first explorers did though is absolutely worth it.
Pack camping or pack stock camping is using animals, such as horses, mules, llamas, or donkeys, to carry camping gear, supplies, and equipment into the wilderness. This is a whole different level of camping, and while you can carry much more gear, running a pack line and tending to animals is a specialized skill that takes a lot of training. But if you want to go camping deep in the forest and stay for an extended period, pack camping is exactly what you need to be doing.
Final Thoughts On The Types Of Camping
Obviously there are a lot of different ways to go camping. For me though, the important part is to go out and do it. Life is short, so go out and have some adventures. Whether that is just rolling your RV to a new place and exploring the local tourist traps, to hiking into the back country and hoping Bigfoot doesn’t eat you for a midnight snack, go experience new things. Except being Bigfoot’s late night snack though.