Have you ever been scrolling through social media and come across some amazing posts about waking up in a tent to a breathtaking view? Or maybe it was someone chillin’ in the back of their car in a sleeping bag watching the sun rise? If you’re like me, then you probably think to yourself, “I wish that was me camping right now.”
With many ways to explore, it’s important to find which type of camping suits you, your style, and your budget the best. Do you enjoy the kind of hiking where you find yourself far away from everyone else with only the essentials you are willing to carry on your back? Maybe you prefer being in a tent at a campground where you may have some neighbors, but there is more luxury like a fire-pit for roasting s’mores and hot showers available? If making plans isn’t always “your thing” you may prefer spontaneously pulling over to an unexpected cool spot, exploring and then hopping in the back of your vehicle with a pre-made sleeping set up to catch some zzz’s.
If you’re not really sure, that’s okay, too! Here I will give you the inside scoop and pros and cons of car camping vs tent camping vs backpacking. Each of these can offer unique and unforgettable experiences.
Let’s talk car camping. This is definitely the most convenient way for you to get some sleep without almost no set up and tear down. Camping like this works best with a truck or SUV so you have enough room to spread out and get comfy. What’s so nice about this type of camping is that if you are driving somewhere at night and start to get tired, you can pull off basically anywhere, call it home for the night and no one would ever know you were sleeping in your car! Look for BLM land because you are able to camp or park in these areas for up to 14 days for free.
Our very first car camping experience was pretty amazing. A friend recommended that we check out Lone Rock Beach primitive camping at Lake Powell and we ended up staying the night. Yes, it is primitive, meaning that you drive onto the beach and set up camp (no bathrooms, showers, fire-pits, etc); but, it also means that you can park right along the shoreline and enjoy. That’s exactly what we did! We set up beach chairs, sipped on wine and played fetch with Cosmo until it was time to crawl in to the back to sleep. The best part was waking up to the sunrise the next morning and watching it from our “bed.” And not having a tent meant that we literally hopped into the front of the truck when we were ready and drove off!
*If you decide to go here make sure you have a 4WD vehicle. Utah is 2WD and it was a little sketchy getting out of the sand in the morning.
So how exactly does sleeping in the back work for us? Adam built a wood platform for Utah’s cab so that we are able to store all of our gear below the platform and sleep on top. It’s great because we don’t have to take all of our gear out in order to sleep. The only downside is that it is a small space to crawl into since the truck cab is not raised and we are not able to sit up fully. Even Cosmo has to crawl into the back to get comfy. But it fits all 3 of us perfectly to sleep and we can put down as much cushion as we need and layer on the blankets if it’s cold out. Not a bad setup!
Car camping pros:
- No set up or tear down (time saver)
- Make your bed as comfy as you like
- Sleep virtually anywhere
Car camping cons:
- Tight space
- Bed reduces potential storage
- Harder to get out in a rush or if it’s cold
Let’s talk tent camping. Sleeping in a tent is probably what you think of when you hear someone mention the word ‘camping.’ It’s the good ‘ol cuddle up in your sleeping bag and roast s’mores by the campfire type of thing. Tent camping is a really fun way to get away in nature, but also have some comforts of home still available to you.
Most of the time, tent camping requires you to book a campground. This means that you will likely have neighbors and it’s a little less private than car camping or backpacking. However, it also means that you will have access to real bathrooms, hot water to shower and a fire-pit to build a campfire. You can also bring as many blankets or air mattresses into your tent to make it the ultimate comfy! Just remember that at campgrounds there is a check-in and check-out time and sometimes they are first come first serve.
Tent camping at a campground also gives you the option to bring a cooler with your own food to make over the fire or on a stove. (Or you can do what we did and buy a Little Cesar’s Hot-and-Ready pizza to have for dinner ;)). Just make sure to buy or bring firewood!
Luckily, Cosmo has loved hanging out in the tent since our first time using it. We’ve usually been on the road or hiking all day and he can’t wait to crawl inside and catch some zzz’s. Tent camping is great because we can put his dog bed in the tent so it feels more like home to him! So if you have a dog, make sure he or she is good and tired and they will likely welcome a tent nap.
Tent campground pros:
- Access to toilets, showers and fire-pit
- Can bring and use comforts of home
Tent camping cons:
- Generally, must reserve and pay for a campsite
- Less privacy with neighbors
- Requires more time to set up and tear down
Let’s talk backpacking. Backpacking is definitely the most time consuming and initially expensive form of camping, but it comes with the best views and most seclusion, and this makes it TOTALLY worth it! Purchasing backpacking gear is quite an investment, so be certain that it is something you will do often. Backpacking requires hauling a heavy pack for miles until you find a place to call home for the night, so be sure to do some training hikes with your full pack beforehand.
The best part of backpacking, though, is the epic scenery and views you will get from hiking miles into nature and saying goodbye to civilization for a bit! Just remember, you can’t bring all the comforts of home, so if it’s cold make sure you have layers and a sleeping bag to keep you warm.
We absolutely loved our first backpacking adventure, which took us to Big Pine Lakes near Mammoth, CA. Can you believe this photo was taken in May?! We actually had to rent snowshoes in order to make it safely up the mountain in the snow. The only place we could find without snow on the ground was this rocky area, so we were sure glad to have our sleeping pads with us! This trip taught us a lot about what necessities we needed to pack and what we could have left at home. Here is REI’s list of the Backpacking Checklist, which is what we used to pack our packs!
Some things to remember when you backpack are that in some places you cannot build a fire to cook or keep warm, so bring lots of layers and a gas stove for cooking. In addition, you may need a bear canister to store food and other scented items to keep bears away (we are in their habitat after all). LEAVE NO TRACE meaning whatever you bring with you must come back down the mountain so that you are not littering or leaving trash behind. Lastly, bring a water filtration system so you don’t have to carry a ton of water with you the whole time and can refill instead.
- Choice of where to set up camp
- Views you can’t find by driving
- Stay multiple nights and day hike from your campsite
- More vulnerable to the elements
- You must carry all your gear and your pack can get heavy, so only bring the necessities
So, now that you know a little bit more about all the different options available for camping, get out there and explore!