Four Different Types of Camping, Defined

There are a number of ways you can escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and get into the woods depending on what you're interested in doing, who you're going with, and how much you're willing to rough it. Die‐hard backpackers might scoff at car camping and car campers might find it tough to imagine carrying a tent for miles on end, but to each their own, right? Each type of camping, including luxury camping, has its merits, and each can be a perfect option.

Best if you want to rough it, get away from the crowds, and carry everything you need on your back, including your shelter.

In the most basic sense, backpacking is the act of heading out on the trail with the idea of spending at least one night out with what you've carried, and what you've carried only. You'll pack everything from the food you need for the entire trip to all of your clothing, your shelter, cooking equipment, and more. Gear and clothing selection is important because whatever you take with you, you're stuck with, and whatever you forget, you have to do without. All garbage comes with you along the way, and properly storing food along with storing garbage is super important.

Starting out backpacking can be intimidating, but it allows you a certain freedom other types of outdoor exploration don't. I'm a huge fan of backpacking because there's something special about having to be completely self‐sufficient, and distilling what you need down to what you can carry. Backpacking also allows you to go places that are more secluded, more wild, and more remote, and you get there under your own power. Check out these beginner backpacking blunders and backpacking checklist if you're looking to get started. Also, it's great to brush up on Leave No Trace principles.

Best if you want to rough it and are willing to carry everything you need, but prefer a more permanent structure to sleep in.

At the end of a long day of hiking, the idea of having to set up your own shelter before you can catch some shut eye can be daunting, especially if the weather isn't cooperating. Like tent backpacking, lean‐to, hut, and shelter backpacking involves carrying everything you need on you back except for your shelter. Depending on the trail you choose, you can find a variety of styles of pre‐built shelters to spend the night in.

A lean‐to is a three sided structure with a flat floor, typically constructed of wood, often built close to a water source, and often with designated food storage areas. Little almost‐houses nestled in the trees, perfect for settling into after a long day of hiking. Though they're already built for you, they tend to be cooler than tents when it comes to sleeping conditions, and if you leave the tent at home, you can't make changes to your itinerary if you're planning on sleeping in a lean‐to. If you want shelter, you have to make it to one, which requires good trip planning skills. But they're ideal if you want to leave a tent at home, and as a result, are common along routes like the Appalachian Trail. Learn more about what it's like to stay in one.

Though I've never stayed in a hut or a yurt of any kind, after reading about ski in ski out huts in Colorado, a trip like that is high on my list. So is a trip to one or all of the Appalachian Mountain Club's High Huts of the White Mountains. Typically, huts and yurts like these require advanced reservations and come with a price, but still require you to do some work to get to them. But once you're there, amenities like beds, tables, stoves, and kitchens potentially await you.
Best if you're looking to commune with nature, but don't want to carry everything and prefer to stay close to your vehicle.

I prefer backpacking when it comes to spending the night outdoors, but there's something to be said for making everything just a little bit easier. Car camping involves, in the most basic sense, driving somewhere, taking anything and everything you want, and sleeping outside at the end of the day. Campgrounds likely have toilets, sometimes showers, potable water sources, metal fire rings with cooking grills, and firewood for purchase nearby. All you have to do is show up with your camping equipment and food and enjoy yourself. It's a great way to introduce new campers to sleeping outdoors.

The best part of car camping, in my opinion, is that you can bring just about anything with you. You can bring coolers to store perishable food you wouldn't be able to take backpacking. You can bring as much gear as you want because you don't have to carry it anywhere. You can bring a giant inflatable air mattress to put in the tent. You have the option of sleeping in your car if the weather gets nasty, or just driving home. But you still get the chance to stay in some incredible wild places. Check out Reserve America to find campgrounds near your destination.

Best if you're looking for a retreat with more luxury and just about all of the amenities you'd have at home.

The idea of luxury excursions in the wilderness isn't a new concept, but glamping is a modern term. You get the best attributes of camping, like easy access to the outdoors, the chance to commune with nature, fresh air, and the feeling of a real retreat without some potentially less desirable attributes, like carrying your stuff with you, sleeping on a hard surface, potentially leaky tents, and without really "roughing it."

Like the author of this piece for High Country News, when I first heard the term "glamping," I rolled my eyes. Hut and yurt backpacking sounded like enough glamour for me. But I've had nearly a decade to accumulate the gear I need for backpacking and camping, I truly enjoy being uncomfortable sometimes, and the idea of working for my time with nature is appealing. And what if, for example, I want a romantic getaway that doesn't involve all of the preparation camping requires, but also doesn't involve staying in a cookie cutter hotel? Glamping starts to sound a whole lot better.

I've used Airbnb to try and find romantic outdoors spots, but Glamping Hub makes searching for the perfect getaway destination much easier. This cabin in the Catskills, this gem in the Adirondacks, and this tree house near my hometown on Cayuga Lake, all featured on Glamping Hub's Upstate New York getaways page, are perfect for my needs, but the Hub allows for much broader searches than that. You can glamp with as much luxury as you want, or opt for something a bit closer to roughing it.

How many types of camping have you tried? What's your preferred method? If you haven't tried backpacking or glamping, the two extremes, what's stopping you? We'd love to hear from you!

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