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What are the different types of camping?

February 10 2020

hiker and tent on hill top

At first glance, camping seems pretty simple: car, tent, hike, and eat. However, there are many kinds of camping and many small little aspects where beginner campers can get lost and caught up.

We’ve compiled a list of common questions—some more useful when you’re out there—to answer all your camping questions and concerns.

Who invented camping?

While you might think of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or John Muir, the father of modern camping is considered to be Thomas Hiram Holding, who wrote The Camper’s Handbook in 1908. Like Thoreau, Emerson, and Muir, he was active in the 1800’s, having crossed the plains as a kid, camped in canoes, and even camped on a bike. He founded camping clubs (which may or may not have inspired the Boy Scouts) and, with his writings, came to be seen as the father of camping.

What are the ten essentials for camping?

camping essentials
The ten essentials concept came to be from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills in 1974. While people carry more items (or less if you are ultralight backpacking), the ten essentials are a great place to start; most people’s basic lists have over half the items.

Here's our 10 essentials list below and you can read a more detailed review of these in our 10 backpacking essentials article.

  1. Navigation: Map, compass, GPS, and whatever else keeps you found instead of lost.
  2. Sun protection: sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to beat the heat.
  3. Insulation: long johns, extras socks, sweaters, jackets, beanies, gloves, and any extra layers for warmth.
  4. Illumination: headlamps, flashlights, and lanterns.
  5. First Aid: bring a first aid kit to prep for the worst (& maybe bug spray).
  6. Fire: lighter, matches, and other fire starters.
  7. Repair Kit and Tools: patch kit, knife, duct tape, zip ties, etc.
  8. Nutrition: a balanced set of meals and one extra, just in case.
  9. Hydration: water, but also water filtration systems to keep your H20 clean.
  10. Emergency Shelter: tarp, tent, space blanket, sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad.


How many types of camping are there?

The list is growing all the time as people get more creative and ambitious in the outdoors. However, the following seventeen methods are a great place to start to spice up your nature experience.

  1. Tent camping: the most basic camping. It involves, like the title, camping in a tent at a campground in a park.
  2. Car camping: pretty much tent camping, but where you sleep in your car.
  3. Backpacking: one of the most common kinds. It involves carrying all your things and hiking out for a couple days and on a designated trail.
  4. Van or RV camping: a more glamorous kind of camping where you stay in campgrounds with hookups, or not.
  5. Survival camping: an extreme kind of camping based on the idea of self-sufficiency. You leave civilization with a few items and live off the wilderness effectively before returning.
  6. Primitive camping: similar to backpacking, but the goal is to camp several nights in one more remote location of a park, instead of backpacking through several locations.
  7. Canoe camping: this is a great alternative to backpacking, as a river takes place of a trail.
  8. Bike camping: a lighter version of backpacking based on your bike.
  9. Overlanding/four-wheel camping: an outdoor experience with a four-wheel drive vehicle to carry you from point to point.
  10. Snow camping: a more advanced form of camping that can involve snowshoes and even building igloos.
  11. Ultralight camping: a form of backpacking with fewer items and focusing on miles covered on foot.
  12. Adventure camping: a kind of group camping that focuses on traveling/hiking/hiking through the day and setting up camp at night. It goes off the trails to immerse the hikers in nature.
  13. Historical/reenactment camping: a kind of camping where you bring the supplies from a certain time period, limiting what you can do and how you can do it.
  14. Work camping: a kind of camping where you usually manage campgrounds seasonally and get to camp out all summer. Some are paid and some are volunteer.
  15. Glamping: a newer form of camping to come in recent years to dress up the outdoor experience. Heavier on prep, lighter on later work.
  16. Backyard camping: mostly for the kiddos to acquaint them with the outdoors.

What is adventure camping?

landscape view from inside a tent
Sometimes called “wild” camping, adventure camping is a kind of camping where you hike, often with a group of people, for several days. The itinerary tends to go off the designated trails and immerse yourself in the unbridled nature.

The daytime activities usually involve some kind hiking/exploring while at night, you’re setting up camp, eating, and prepping for the next day.

I went adventure camping one time in Chile, following a glacial river instead of a trail to a glacier deep in the Andes. There was little information on the trail and we used Google Earth to plan the “trail” from satellite view and chase the river to our glorious, less-treaded destination.

Can you camp anywhere?

tent camp and sunset
The technical answer is yes, if you have permission. National and state parks have rules on where to camp, but some allow camping in sites that you set up yourself. Be sure to check the rules of the park you’re going to in order to avoid fees and penalties.

Do all campgrounds allow campfires?

Most do. However, during the dry summer months, fires tend to be prohibited. Be sure to have your fire in designated fire pit locations.

The best course of action, again, is to check with the park—sometimes with a phone call—to see if you can have one. Fines for fires can be insanely high, so be sure to check.

What should I do when it rains while camping?

First, don’t panic. Hopefully, you’ve brought your raincoat and, if you’re backpacking, you have a waterproof sleeve for your pack. Seek shelter or set up your tent. (If there’s lightning, don’t go to lone trees.)

If the rain spell isn’t too long, you can wait it out in your tent. Hopefully, you have a book or a deck of cards.

How do I shower when camping?

Some campgrounds have showers and some come with a little fee. Otherwise, you can bring a solar shower, fill it, let it heat in the sun, and shower. String up some blankets or tarps for a little privacy.

But if you’re backpacking and roughing it a little more, try to plan your trip around (non-stagnant) water sources and you can rinse off there.

Is it a good idea to take children camping?

group of campers and a lake view
Definitely. Camping is one of the most formative experiences a child can have. Some of my best memories are from the one week we’d spend camping in the Sierra Nevada foothills; the other fifty-one weeks are unmemorable.

Have any more questions that we forgot to cover? Leave a comment so we can update our answers! Happy camping!