Types of Camping

By Suzanne Wiley

Forty-two million Americans go camping every year. From one night to months, backpackers, hikers, families and RVers head out to unplug, enjoy the great outdoors and cook over an open fire. Whether motivated by adventure or the need to reconnect with nature and relax, camping—in all its different forms—provides young and old alike with plenty of benefits; in fact, studies have shown that camping:

  • Decreases anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces depression
  • Provides exercise
  • Encourages creativity

What is Camping?

Family sitting around a campfire and two green 12 Survivors tents pitched in the foreground
The traditional definition of camping includes sleeping in a tent. Now it can mean a hammock, sleeping bag, cabin or lean-to.

Webster’s definition of camping is: “the activity of sleeping outdoors in a tent usually for enjoyment.”

Most of us would agree that the traditional definition of camping includes sleeping in a tent; however, the meaning has extended to include other forms of shelter—lean-tos, cabins, hammocks, tarp shelters, pop-ups and even open-air sleeping in sleeping bags. Some also consider it camping when they RV.

‘Camping’ doesn’t mean the same thing to all campers. To some, it means a tent, a cooler, some camp chairs, a fire starter and marshmallows. To others, it means the comfortable luxury of their RV, a golf cart and a satellite dish. Survivalist campers probably don’t consider tent camping at the national park “real camping” and those tent campers probably don’t consider a Boondocker a “real camper” either. Either way, camping is enjoyed by millions around the world every year.

There are endless possibilities to the different ways you can camp. Your only limitation is your imagination. From pillow and sheet forts in the living room to climbing Mount Everest—camping implies spending a night outside the comfort of your own bed. Defining the types of camping is hard to nail down. There isn’t necessarily a stead-fast rule of how to define certain types of camping—only some good descriptions. Some camping types are widely known, while others are more obscure. All the different camping styles, however, can be divided into two major categories— primitive camping and car camping—under which all camping types fall.

Primitive Camping

Man in a hiking hammock suspended in the trees in the woods
Hikers and backpackers primitive camp and carry lightweight gear.

Primitive, or walk-in camping, requires campers to find a suitable spot in a remote location, hike-in all their gear and go without any amenities. A special consideration when primitive camping is having enough water. Many areas where people primitively camp won’t have cell service, so everyone needs to have an emergency plan, first aid kit and training. It is particularly important to follow the rules of Leave No Trace when establishing and setting up base camp.

Primitive camping includes:

Adventure camping

Usually associated with adventure-style races, adventure campers do a lot of traveling during the day and camp at night. This type of camping requires very minimalist and lightweight gear.

Backcountry camping

Backcountry camping is what most hikers and backpackers do. It is also a popular type of camping for climbers, cyclists, horseback riders and canoers/kayakers. These camping spots are not accessible by cars and are located in the undeveloped wilderness. Plenty of pre-planning is involved in a backcountry camping trip—especially dependent on what types of activities you are going to partake. Canoes hold more gear than backpacks, while horseback riders have the privilege of packing an extra animal with gear. Like adventure camping, gear is minimal, and weight is a serious concern.

Survivalist camping

Two hikers looking at a beautiful waterfall.
One of the benefits of primitive camping is finding secluded spots away from other campers.

Survivalist camping is for those wishing to test their skills and abilities by either walking into or being dropped off in an unknown area with very little gear and surviving using found resources and what little they brought with them for a determined number of nights. Survivalist camping is for those who want to practice self-reliance and face challenges and their fears. Many only take a fire starter, water purifier and a knife to practice their skills in shelter building, navigating, gathering food and building a fire.

Historical/Reenactment Camping

For history enthusiasts, historical and reenactment camping allows campers to indulge in fantasy and historical fact by camping according to certain time periods or significant events in history. Historical and reenactors use only equipment and gear authentic to the period.

Anyone can camp primitively; however, the further out you go, advanced skills and experience is necessary. Most hiking accidents occur due to lack of experience and improper equipment. Do plenty of research, practice with your gear beforehand and always tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Primitive camping is a highly rewarding experience. It is usually more peaceful than car camping and many primitive camping areas are free.

Car Camping

Two people unpacking a Jeep to go backpacking.
Car camping allows you to bring more comforts from home.

Unlike backpacking or backcountry camping, car camping allows you to take as much camping equipment and comforts from home that will fit in your vehicle. Car camping spots can be private or public but refer to a drive-up location where your car is parked at your campsite. These camping spots can be reserved or first-come, first-serve and usually have a fire ring, picnic table, tent pad and public restrooms with showers. Many have running water, electric hookups, grills, trash cans, dump stations and all-night security.

Car camping can also incorporate RVing and “glamping”—where campers stay in tree houses, elaborate tents or cabins and don’t sacrifice many luxuries they have at home.

This type of camping is best for families, beginners and for those with special needs. Car campers appreciate some of the comforts of home like an air mattress, cell service and running water. Other benefits of car camping include park rangers on hand in case of emergency and your car is close by if the weather turns bad. The downside to car camping is the lack of privacy and the potential for noise. Your neighbors can be quite close and depending on what type of campers they are, might be disruptive.

Ultimately, no matter what style of camping you prefer, everyone who enjoys camping appreciates the slower-pace, cooking over an open flame, observing nature and wildlife and the peace that only a wide-open sky and nature can provide.

What type of camper are you? Tell us in the comment section.

12 Survivors can help you gear up for your next camping trip—all you need to do is click here!