More Than Just a Tent: The Many Ways To Camp

Man looking up at stars next to campfire and tent at night

Key Points

  • There are many types of camping, such as tent camping, car camping, and backpacking.

  • Learn the Five Ws that apply to all types of camping: wood, water, weather, widowmakers, and wild things.

  • Brainstorm some fun outdoor activities to do on your next camping getaways like campfire stories, outdoor games, and birdwatching.

Camping is an outdoor recreation where you stay overnight. That's it. However, many gatekeepers insist there is only one right way to camp: their way. That's a bunch of hogwash. The types of camping are as wide as they are deep.

If you're new to spending time outdoors or even a veteran of recreating in nature, it's good to understand the various types of camping. Some are obvious and embody the typical camping experience. Others are more niche, requiring extra tools and knowledge.

RV campers enjoying a few beers

The Many Ways To Camp

Some folks prefer a tent. You may enjoy camping in an RV with a portable satellite TV dish and a diesel generator. Large swaths of people prefer the type of camping that takes them deep in the woods for several days.

There's no right way to camp, and there are many ways to do it.

Tent Camping

Tent camping is what pops into most people's heads when they imagine trekking into the woods. It's classic and traditional and by far the most popular form of camping. You pick a campsite, pitch your tent, roast some s'mores, and stay overnight in nature.

There are many types of camping tents: roof tents, teepee tents, dome tents, tunnel tents, cabin tents, pop-up tents, and backpacking tents.

Purchase the tent that fits your needs, and know how to clean it. Tents need a scrub down once in a blue moon. Don't neglect it.

Car Camping

It doesn't matter if you pull off the interstate or scurry down a dirt road; if you stay in your car, it's car camping. This is undoubtedly one of the most convenient forms of camping because it allows you to pack up and drive off at a moment's notice. Plus, car camping makes bringing along more supplies and gear easier. Car camping is ideal if you don't want to get too deep in the woods.


Backpacking requires bravery. You put all of your gear and supplies in a bag and beat feet into the wilderness. It's hardcore and requires more preparation. Even if you plan accordingly, the backpacking experience is challenging but immersive and rewarding.

A backpacker looks out over the horizon


Glamping is for the people who refuse to remove every amenity from their camping experience. It's luxurious, exemplified by the five-star yurts, cabins, and treehouses available for glampers. Only in the 21st century is it possible to fall asleep next to a babbling brook while binge-watching the latest garbage reality show you secretly love. It's glamorous; it's camping; it's called glamping.

RV Camping

RV camping is a fusion of glamping and car camping, but it loses some of the qualities of both. In an RV rather than a car, you're less flexible in where you can camp, and not all RVs supply the level of amenities required for glamping. Don't knock RV camping before you try it, though. It brings its own fun.

With an RV, you're mobile and able to pull into most campsites while also having a comfy bed, running water, and a full kitchen with you.

Winter Camping

If temperatures drop and you're itching to go camping, do it! Just be sure to bring the right equipment. You need parkas, wool socks, snow pants, subzero sleeping bags, and a heat source (good luck starting a fire).

Camping in the winter shows a new side of nature. Bears hibernate, trees shed their leaves, and the snow adds an extra layer of quietness to the land. It's an experience unlike no other with potential dangers not found in regular camping.

Your number one goal when winter camping is to stay warm. Bring the right gear and clothing to avoid frostnip and its older, meaner sibling: the dreaded third-degree frostbite.

Canoe or Kayak Camping

Canoe or kayak camping involves paddling to your campsite and setting up alongside a river or lake. It's a fantastic fusion of water and earth, allowing you to explore bodies of water during the day and fall asleep on their shores at night.

Survivalist Camping

Without a doubt, survivalist camping is the most extreme form of camping. You travel to or get dropped off in a remote wilderness with minimal gear, using only your skills and resources on hand to make it out. It sounds like the twisted desires of a masochist, but many people want to push themselves to the limit. Think of the show Naked and Afraid — people like that are just built differently.

Either you actively seek survivalist camping or it's forced upon you by an emergency. Many campers unexpectedly fall into the latter category. People get lost, hurt, and run out of supplies all the time. Nature doesn't care. It's not a place where talking critters hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

If you experience an emergency, ensure your survival skillset is good enough to get you through. That means knowing how to purify water, build a fire and shelter, secure food, and navigate without Google Maps.

Suppose you want to try survivalist camping for the thrill. Take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror — are you up to the challenge? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

A campfire burns near an alpine lake

The Five Ws of Camping

Campers of every variety must know the five Ws of camping to have a good, and more importantly safe, experience.


Campfires bring lots of enjoyment, but they are also a lifesaver during an emergency. Always camp in an area with lots of wood and know how to start a fire.

To get a fire going, look for dry pieces of wood ranging in size from toothpicks to pencils. This kindling helps ignite the fire. Bring an axe to cut the wood and a fire starter like flint-and-steel or a lighter.

Once the fire is going, use wrist-sized pieces of wood to keep it burning. Look for dead wood from downed trees.

Avoid using live wood. It's hard to burn and produces a lot of smoke.


Water is an essential element for all life. When camping, you need to stay hydrated. Humans can survive over a week without water. Physical exertion quickly reduces that timeline.

Bring your own water but prepare for the possibility of running out.

Don't drink straight from any water source — hello, Giardia. This is a nasty parasite that comes from consuming water, soil, or food contaminated with feces in which Giardia has made itself at home. Yuck. To ensure your water is Giardia-free, purify it first.

When setting up camp, stay within walking distance of water. Don't choose a spot where water collects near the shelter or runs through the area. Explore the campsite for signs of erosion, such as leaves and dirt pushed by water runoff. Camp away from where the water flows. 


Keep an eye on the weather. Sudden storms and extreme temperature changes are dangerous. These situations require preparation and immediate attention.

If you're in a wet climate, bring along the proper shelter to avoid getting soaked. Hypothermia is always just around the corner. Getting caught in a snowstorm is equally as bad.

The wind is annoying at times. It's tough setting up shelter and starting fires when it's windy. Look for natural windbreaks, like trees or large rocks. They help protect your campsite.

The wind is awesome as well. A cool breeze on a scorching day is a welcome relief.

Always check the weather forecast before setting off on your camping trip.


A widowmaker is anything in nature that might kill you. The wind often sends a broken branch crashing down, and riverbanks frequently flood during a downpour. Don't take it personally.

Mother Nature doesn't have a bounty on your head. She doesn't want to hurt you, but she also doesn't care if you're a casualty in her escapades.

Examine your campsite for any potential widowmakers. Look up, look down, and look around. It's called situational awareness; practice it diligently.

Three children sit on a river dock looking at nature

Wild Things

Nature is where the wild things are. Be aware of them. Pitching your tent 10 to 15 feet above a stream or lake helps avoid insects that swarm near the water's surface. Be on the lookout for harmful plants like poison ivy and poison oak.

Store food properly to protect it from raccoon raiding parties and other wildlife — like bears. If they live where you're camping, know what to do.

Do your research and know what wild things are in your area to avoid any surprises.

Camping Activities

If you're bored when camping, you're doing it wrong. This isn't an activity where you count pine needles and categorize rocks. It's fun! To get the party started, try out a few of these activities.


Get that body moving! Hiking is a superb exercise with splendid views. If you're twiddling your thumbs at camp, pack a bag and hit the trails. Just be sure to keep track of where you are.

Campfire Stories

Come on baby, light my fire — with a few captivating campfire stories. Gather around the flames and share some ghost stories.

Some classic spooky campfire stories include "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," and "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs."

These tales pack a frightful punch. Avoid them if you're camping with little ones — the only thing scarier than a ghost story is looking at yourself in the mirror after a sleepless night comforting your frightened child.

If you want to avoid the scary side of campfire stories, just share some memories.

Campers grill meat on a campfire

Outdoor Games

Outdoor games bring some competition to the camping experience. Chuck around a frisbee, set up a cornhole tournament, or when night settles, play flashlight tag.

Bird Watching

Bust out your dusty copy of the National Audubon Society's Birds of North America. It's time to spot some wrens! Bring some binoculars and watch yourself transform into a self-made ornithologist.

The different types of birds stagger the mind. There are bald eagles, bluejays, turkey vultures, and greater prairie chickens. That's just a ripple in the bird-watching pool. There are thousands of species for you to discover.


Planet Earth is drop-dead gorgeous. Get out there and snap some photos of this beauty.

Nature is a stunning canvas of colors, textures, and forms.

Sunrises offer pinkish hues mixed with the yellow aura of a new day. Sunsets show the final flailings of light as they dip below the horizons.

Tiny insects to towering elks make for stunning subjects. Capturing them on camera is a prime way to remember the majesty of the wild.

Camper gazes at stars through telescope


The light from a star travels millions of miles before it enters your eyes. Humans from every era of history look up at these gorgeous orbs of burning gases and try to make sense of them.

That's where constellations came from. There are the famous ones: The Big and Little Dipper, Orion and his belt, Cancer the crab, the Gemini twins, Taurus the bull, and dozens more.

Even if you don't know anything about constellations, there's still something profoundly moving about gazing up at a star, accepting how tiny you are in the grand scheme, and asking yourself what it's all about.

Camp How You Want

There's no right way to camp — but there is a wrong way. If you're unprepared, then rethink your camping trip. Safety must come first.

Once you know what you're doing, think about the type of camping that suits you.

It doesn't matter what type of camping you do. The benefits are still the same.

As John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, and all-around polymath, said, "Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."

Get in an RV, take your car out into the woods, backpack in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, hop in a jacuzzi on your glamping getaway — it doesn't matter. Nature teaches you many things regardless of how you camp. What matters most is that you're a good student, open to hearing Her wisdom.

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