What Kind of Camping is For You? Decoding 9 Different Types of Camping

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Who knew there were so many different ways of camping? There are so many ways people interpret this outdoor adventure. It can mean something different to everyone, ranging from sleeping under the stars with minimal gear to enjoying modern luxuries in the wilderness. In this article, we’re breaking down different types of camping, so you start your camping adventure off right – or get inspired to try new ways to camp.

Our youngest has described camping as “A place where you go into nature, find a place to put your tent or camper, make a fire and cook dinner on it. Then you do things you can’t do at home like go hiking, play games you can draw outside, and spend time with family because at home we all do other stuff.” And we sure can’t disagree with that, because no matter how you do it, it’s all camping!

About the Types of Camping

This can be a really confusing topic because there is no set terminology to describe the different types of camping.

The types of camping are generally defined by what you’re sleeping in and how you’re getting to your campsite. Some of the terms are used interchangeably (whether they should be or not) or have multiple meanings, so we’re avoiding some of the finer details to make it a little less confusing.

Types of Tent Camping

While camping can mean many different things, even tent camping has many variations. Knowing the difference and what to expect on a camping trip can help you plan and get prepared with the right gear for the type of camping you’re doing.

Developed Campground Camping

This might be the most common of the different types of camping, especially for families. It is occasionally called front-country camping. There is typically a parking space very close to the campsite, so some people call this “car camping” because your car can be used for gear storage during your camping trip.

A developed campground has defined campsites that almost always have a picnic table, fire ring or pit, and a pad for setting up your tent. These campgrounds also have a range of amenities – from the basics (restrooms and potable water) to resort-like features (pools, arcades, and on-site restaurants).

Rangers or hosts are frequently on-site to ensure campers are following the campground rules and to assist campers with anything they might need.

If you are a pure tent camper looking for a moderate wilderness experience, search for campgrounds that do not permit RVs, have limited RV hookups, or don’t allow generators. For some, pitching a tent in a sea of RVs can take away from the experience of sleeping outdoors.

Developed campgrounds tend to be in high demand in the peak seasons, especially at state and national parks. Be sure to check the reservation schedule and book your campsite early!

Backcountry, Primitive, or Dispersed Camping

They aren’t exactly interchangeable terms, but backcountry, primitive, and dispersed camping are often used to describe a way of tent camping without amenities, away from civilization, and out of the crowded developed campgrounds.

Backcountry camping without another soul in sight has a peacefulness you can’t find at many developed campgrounds

It’s always a good idea to read up about the camping area ahead of time since these campsites may or may not have some of the key features we expect at a developed campground.

  • a defined or numbered campsite: instead, they may only offer a clearing for a tent and a spot for a fire
  • restrooms: if they do, they are often vault toilets
  • potable water: make sure to check this before your trip, so you can bring your own or make another plan to get water
  • trash removal: if not provided, you will be expected to pack out all your trash
  • paved roads: access to the campsite may require 4WD or AWD

Some campgrounds or camping areas aren’t accessible by car, so hiking in might be required. The distance to the site can be short (a mile or less), so it may be a good preview of a backpacking experience. And in this case, a walk is required, so plan to pack only the essentials because you’ll need to carry it all in.

Backpacking, Bikepacking, or Boat In Camping

Add a little more adventure to your nights in the wilderness by getting to your campsite without a car. Walk, bike, or boat to (usually) primitive campsites where the stars are shining brighter than you can imagine.

Backpacking


Carefully selected camping essentials packed securely stowed in your backpack will prepare you for sleeping nearly anywhere in the backcountry. Lightweight tents, sleeping bags, and cooking equipment are designed to maximize what you can carry with you.

For the best experience, take the time to get properly fitted for a backpack, so you are able to comfortably carry it for long periods of time.

Bikepacking


If backpacking interests you, but the idea of carrying all your gear for miles on your back is a deal-breaker, try transporting your gear on a bike. All the camping essentials are packed in panniers that attach to the bike for stowing gear. And we’ve seen more and more about bikepacking lately as it has been gaining in popularity. We love the idea of covering a lot of area quickly on a bike instead of spending hours a day on your feet.

camping gear stored on a bike in a type of camping called bikepacking
Bikepacking is getting to be more common of the different types of camping. Haul your camping gear in panniers attached to a bike.

Bikepacking can also be a little easier for a family adventure than traditional backpacking. A few additional accessories for towing the kids on your bike, and you won’t have to worry about tired little legs just a few miles in.

Want to learn more about bikepacking? Get the basics of bikepacking here.

Boat Camping


This one can take on many meanings. Rafting down the Colorado River, canoeing through the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or kayaking a short distance at a developed campground (like this easy beginner campground near Loveland, Colorado) are all ways to experience boat camping.

Like backpacking and bikepacking, packing for a boat camping trip needs to be efficient since all gear will need to fit into the vessel with you.

Backyard Camping

Don’t discount your own backyard for a good camping adventure! There are many reasons this could be the best option for sleeping under the stars. It’s a trial run for families with young kids or anyone who is new to camping. And those that require access to some modern amenities can still enjoy a campout.

You can still do almost everything in your backyard as you can at a campground, while still having access to all the amenities you might need. And it’s a great time to try out some new camping recipes since a backup plan is just a few steps away from your campsite.

Make it as close to a campground camping experience as you can.

  • “Pack” only what you plan to use on your backyard camping trip.
  • Set up a tent or two in the backyard, complete with sleeping bags and cots or pads.
  • Hang string lights from trees and along fences.
  • Make a fire and cook dinner over the campfire.
  • Plan for the same camping activities (click here to get 45 ideas for things to do while camping).

If we may offer some unsolicited advice, we do recommend leaving the screens in the house. Detach from the devices and immerse yourself in the experience.

Glamping

Glamping: where camping is infused with a little “glamor”. What can be better than sleeping in the outdoors, with almost all of the comforts of home? This is one of the different types of camping that almost anyone can get into.

Tents used for glamping are often made of a heavy canvas that keeps in the heat (or cool air in the summer) and are semi-permanent structures with real furniture. They often have electricity running to the tent to charge devices and plug in the heaters, and may even have enough to power a mini-fridge or low-wattage microwave.

The rest of the experience is the real deal for camping though. Walks to the restrooms, cooking outdoors over the fire, and spending more time outdoors than in are still part of the glamping experience.

You can even venture beyond the tent on this one. You can also go glamping in yurts, huts, and sparsely equipped cabins.

glamping tent is one of the different types of camping that comes with a little bit of luxury
After 11 nights of tent camping, the Glamping Tent at a KOA in western Kansas was a luxury!

Different Types of Camping Without Tents

Survivalist Camping

Survivalist camping relies on the bare essentials, a few key pieces of equipment, and a lot of skill to survive in the wild.

This is the most adventurous of all types of camping. It’s not for the faint of heart. Survivalist camping requires a bit of research and a backup plan in case things don’t go as planned.

Before attempting a survivalist camping trip, it’s important to do some research and practice learning a few skills.

  • make a fire with just matches
  • forage or hunt for food
  • make a shelter for sleeping
  • locate and purify water
  • find direction using a compass

Camping Right Under the Stars with a Hammock or Bivy

This is a great way to really sleep under the stars on your camping adventure! Sleeping in a hammock instead of a tent is another popular way to go camping. Simply attach your hammock to two sturdy trees using straps (look for ones that are tree-friendly).

Camping in a bivy sack (or bivy bag) is another non-tent way to camp, but this one has you sleeping on the ground with a layer of protection from the elements.

REI has a good overview of hammock camping and a great guide for choosing the right bivy sack.

Car Camping

This is quickly becoming a favorite way to camp for our teens. After all our gear is unloaded and set up at the campsite, the older kids pile their sleeping bags and pads into the back of the 4Runner. They usually hang some strings lights and make it their space for the night.

SUVs, trucks, and hatchbacks work best, but laying across the back seat works too.

While sleeping in your car instead of a tent is car camping, though many mean camping with your car nearby when they say car camping.

The back of the car can be the perfect setup for sleeping

You have minimal access to electricity (be careful not to run down your car battery!), and water may or may not be available. Keep in mind that many areas don’t allow sleeping in vehicles. Before planning this type of camping trip, check rules and regulations first.

RV, Van, and Camper Camping

Get out into the great outdoors with a little home of your own – on wheels. It’s a great way to enjoy the great outdoors with many of the comforts of home. Most all can make camping in cold weather and in the heat of the summer more comfortable.

You can go basic, like an easy-to-maneuver teardrop or pop-up camper. Or go for a little more luxury, like RV and travel trailers with bunkhouses, outdoor kitchens, and full baths.

Boondocking or Dry Camping


RVs and campers can go backcountry camping too, though it’s not nearly as primitive as tenting in the backcountry. Boondocking or dry camping is when there are no hookups and you’re relying on the camper battery and water tanks for electricity and water.

What is your favorite of all the different ways of camping? Let us know in the comments!


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