So you want to go camping. That’s great, but where do you start? What are the different types of camping to consider? And what do you need for your trip?
If you’re just getting into camping for the very first time, or you’re thinking about getting back into it after a long hiatus (perhaps even years or decades long), you’ve come to the right place. Camping involves so much more than pitching a tent and cooking over a campfire.
Different types of camping can involve different styles, seasons, accessibility, gear, and preferences. On the most basic level, camping can be roughly divided into two categories:
- Frontcountry camping
- Backcountry camping
What’s frontcountry camping?
Frontcountry camping is the most popular and most most accessible type of camping. It allows you to drive your vehicle right up to your campsite and then set up camp. This type of camping is very beginner-friendly and family-friendly because it’s easy and convenient.
In addition to being easy to access, parks and campgrounds that offer frontcountry camping also have facilities like drinking water, washrooms, showers, and picnic tables. Some also offer RV hookups, which give you access to electricity, water, and sewer services.
What’s backcountry camping?
Backcountry camping is a different beast altogether. This type of camping takes place away from designated campgrounds and facilities, often in more remote areas. If you’re interested in backcountry camping, you’ll need to be comfortable with roughing it a bit.
Many backcountry campsites are maintained by park staff, and depending on the park and site you book, you may find a nicely groomed spot to put your tent, a privy or “thunder box,” a fire pit, and possibly a bench to sit on. If, however, you’re backcountry camping in remote areas that don’t have designated campsites, it’s up to you to find a clear spot to pitch your tent (or hammock), dig a hole when you need to go to the bathroom, and build your own fire pit.
Backcountry camping can be a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and enjoy some peace and quiet in nature. It also offers opportunities for some truly spectacular views and experiences that you just can’t replicate anywhere else.
What’s the difference between frontcountry and backcountry camping?
The main difference between frontcountry and backcountry camping is that you can drive your car right up to your frontcountry campsite—whereas with backcountry camping, you have to travel by foot or by boat to get to your campsite. Frontcountry camping is easy to access and usually has more amenities, while backcountry camping requires more planning and is a lot more rustic.
Another difference is that frontcountry camping typically takes place in developed campgrounds with designated sites, while backcountry camping can take place in developed campgrounds with designated sites, but also in undeveloped areas where you must find your own site.
Which type of camping is right for me?
Both frontcountry and backcountry camping have their merits, and the right type of camping for you really depends on what you’re looking for in a trip.
If you’re looking for an easy, convenient getaway with all the amenities, frontcountry camping is probably right for you. This type of camping is also great if you’re bringing young children along, as the developed campgrounds and facilities make it easier to keep them safe and comfortable.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more challenging, rustic experience where you can really get away from it all, backcountry camping might be more your speed. This type of camping is also great if you’re an experienced camper who enjoys being off the beaten path.
Now let’s break these two different types of camping down even further. Here’s a closer look at different types of frontcountry camping and different types of backcountry camping.
Types of frontcountry camping
The two most common types of frontcountry camping include car camping and RV/trailer camping.
1. Car camping
Car camping is the simplest and understandably most popular type of frontcountry camping. All you need is a vehicle to get you to your campsite, and then you can set up camp right next to your car.
This type of camping is great for beginners because it’s easy and convenient. You don’t necessarily need any special gear or equipment, and you can bring along all the comforts of home. At the very least, you might need a tent, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, a cooler, some basic cookware/cutlery, an axe or a saw, a first aid kit, and basic miscellaneous items like some rope, a couple of lighters, a tarp, and anything else you might need to make your trip more comfortable.
Pros of car camping
- Easy and convenient
- No special gear or equipment needed
- Can bring along all the comforts of home
- Access to facilities and amenities like drinking water, washrooms, showers, garbage dumping, beaches, outfitters, firewood, etc.
- Great for beginners
- Great for families with young children and pets
Cons of car camping
- Can be crowded in popular areas (especially during peak camping season)
- May not be as private as you would like
- May be less scenic than other types of camping
2. RV or trailer camping
If you want to bring your RV or trailer camping, there are plenty of campgrounds that cater to this type of camping. Many RV/trailer campgrounds have electrical and water hookups, as well as dump stations, so you can easily keep your RV or trailer stocked and comfortable.
RV/trailer camping is a great option for longer road trips that involve visiting different campgrounds along the way. It’s also a good option if you’re looking for a little more comfort than what car camping can provide.
Pros of RV or trailer camping
- Little to no camp set-up required
- No sleeping on the ground
- Access to electrical and water hookups on certain campgrounds
- Suitable for driving long distances and visiting different campgrounds
Cons of RV or trailer camping
- Requires renting or owning an RV or trailer, which can be expensive
- Restricted to areas accessible by road
- Not necessarily very remote or immersive in nature
- Lack of privacy in busy campgrounds
- Requires maintenance and fuel when driving long distances
Types of backcountry camping
Frontcountry camping is more limited than backcountry camping because it involves getting there with a vehicle. Backcountry camping, on the other hand, is much more versatile, remote, and of course rugged.
Backpacking is the most popular type of backcountry camping, which involves carrying all your gear on your back as you hike to your campsite on foot. For this type of camping, weight and space are at a premium, so you’ll need to carefully select the gear and supplies you bring along.
The most hardcore backpackers often opt for ultra lightweight gear and freeze-dried or dehydrated food. They also need excellent footwear and need to be in relatively good shape to be able to cover long distances (often on rugged terrain) with a heavy pack weighing 50 pounds or more.
A sub-niche of the backpacking style of camping is called “thru hiking,” which is when you hike a long-distance trail like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail—for weeks or months on end. These types of camping trips can take a lot of planning and preparation, but they offer an incredible sense of achievement and reward when you finally reach your destination.
Backpacking is a great option if you’re looking for a real challenge and enjoy being in nature. It’s also a good option if you don’t mind roughing it, as you won’t have any of the creature comforts that come with frontcountry camping.
Pros of backpacking
- A great way to get in shape
- A great way to explore remote areas and get closer to nature
- Extremely versatile across a wide variety of types of terrain (forests, mountains, deserts, etc.)
- Can be done almost anywhere in the world
Cons of backpacking
- Requires good physical condition
- Can be difficult or painful for people who experience foot, knee, or back issues
- Can be expensive if you’re buying new gear
- Typically requires lightweight or ultra lightweight gear
- Requires more hydration and calories due to physical exertion
- Can be long and arduous, with little rest or access to shelter
- Can be dangerous if you’re not prepared for the conditions
- Can be difficult to find water and other resources in some areas
4. Canoe camping
If you’re looking to get out on the water and explore different areas that can only be accessed via river or lake, canoe camping is a great option. This type of camping typically involves paddling to your campsite and then setting up camp there.
Tip: Check out our extensive canoe camping guide to learn more about it.
Although you don’t have to carry all your gear around with you on your back like you do with backpacking, weight and space can still be of utmost importance if your canoe route involves frequent or lengthy portages. A portage is when you have to carry your canoe (and all your gear) over land between different bodies of water.
If you bring a lot of gear, you may find that you have to carry your gear and canoe across each portage in stages—something known as “double portaging.” This can be time consuming, which is why it’s often best to pack as light as possible when planning a canoe camping trip that involves a fair amount of portaging.
Canoe camping, however, can be one of the most rewarding types of camping trips, as you get to see a lot of different areas and wildlife that are inaccessible to most other forms of camping. You also get to camp right on the water, which is extremely convenient for filtering drinking water, swimming, and fishing.
Pros of canoe camping
- Can explore different areas that can only be accessed via river or lake
- No need to carry all your gear on your back
- Can be extremely peaceful and leisurely or physically challenging depending on trip length, route, and weather
- Can camp right on the water
- Convenient for filtering drinking water, swimming, and fishing
- Great for wildlife viewing
Cons of canoe camping
- Need to own or rent a canoe (plus additional equipment like paddles and personal flotation devices)
- Need to have at least basic paddling skills or potentially more advanced skills depending on the route
- Can be difficult to navigate if you’re not experienced
- May require double portaging if you’re bringing a lot of gear
- Can be dangerous if you’re unfamiliar with the water, weather conditions, or canoe tripping in general
5. Winter camping
Camping is generally seen as a seasonal activity, but it can actually be enjoyed year-round. Winter camping can be one of the most beautiful and peaceful types of camping, as you get to experience different areas blanketed in snow. It can also be very physically challenging, as you’ll have to deal with lower temperatures, shorter days, and potentially difficult weather conditions.
Winter camping also requires vastly different and more specialized gear compared to summer camping, making it more expensive. In many cases, winter camping involves the use of a canvas tent with wood stove and chimney—a setup most winter campers refer to as a hot tent. The stove provides heat and a way to cook food inside.
Despite the snow and freezing temperatures, winter camping can be one of the most amazing ways to immerse yourself in the quiet, serene nature of the season. There are a lot less people around too, making it a great option if you’re looking for some peaceful solitude.
Pros of winter camping
- A great way to get outside and enjoy nature in the winter
- No crowds, very private and peaceful
- Physically challenging and rewarding
- Completely safe and comfortable even in extremely cold temperatures with the right gear
- An excellent activity to pair with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, or ice fishing
Cons of winter camping
- Requires a lot of expensive, specialized clothing and gear designed for keeping warm and withstanding harsher elements
- Can be physically and logistically challenging to get to campsite (requires snowshoeing, skiing, or snowmobiling in with a sled of gear)
- Requires a fair amount of wood processing
- Shorter days mean less daylight to enjoy daytime activities
- May require drilling a hole in a frozen lake for water access
- Can be extremely dangerous if you don’t have the right gear or are inexperienced
6. Survivalist camping
Survivalist camping is the most extreme and primitive form of camping. It involves camping often without the use of tents, sleeping bags, stoves, or any other modern amenities. Instead, survivalists typically rely on minimal gear, tarp or natural shelters, and their own survival skills to stay alive in the wilderness.
Many survivalist campers also bring very little food with them, relying instead on what they can find or catch in the wild. This can be a dangerous practice, as it leaves you susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, as well as hypothermia and starvation.
This type of camping is not for the faint of heart, as it can be extremely difficult both mentally and physically. It’s important to have a high level of experience before attempting survivalist camping, as it can be very dangerous if you’re not prepared.
Pros of survivalist camping
- Requires minimal gear
- A great way to test your survival skills
- Can be very rewarding mentally and physically
- A great way to connect with (and be humbled by) nature
Cons of survivalist camping
- Can be extremely difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous
- Requires a high level of knowledge and experience
- Requires a high level of mental and physical toughness
- Involves a high level of risk that can result in sickness, injury, or death
- May require special permits or licenses in some areas
- Not suitable for novice campers or those with little experience
Note: We don’t recommend trying survivalist camping without being accompanied by a qualified and experienced guide. The risks are simply too high to take on by yourself—even if you’re a seasoned backcountry camper or outdoors person.
Glamping is another type of camping that’s recently grown in popularity, which doesn’t really fit in the frontcountry or backcountry camping categories because it’s an entirely separate form of camping all on its own. If you’re not familiar, the term “glamping” comes from the combination of the words “glamorous” and “camping,” and as you might expect, it involves camping in a much more luxurious setting compared to traditional camping.
Glamping often takes place in campgrounds or resorts that offer upscale amenities like heated tents, hot showers, and gourmet meals. Some glamping resorts even offer safari-style tents complete with king-sized beds and private bathrooms.
Many glamping experiences also give you the opportunity to meet other glampers, enjoy activities together, and have meals together. Depending on the glamping destination, you may also be paying to have food provided and prepared for you, eliminating the need to pack or carry your own food with you.
Glamping is a great option for those who want to enjoy all the benefits of camping but don’t want to deal with the hassle of traditional camping. It’s also perfect for those who want to enjoy nature without giving up all the creature comforts they’re used to.
Pros of glamping
- A great way to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing luxury or comfort
- Most glamping resorts are located in beautiful settings
- Can be a great way to meet new people and make friends
- Many glamping experiences include fun activities led by qualified and experienced guides
Cons of glamping
- Can be more expensive than traditional camping
- May not be as rustic or rugged as some people prefer
- May not be very private or remote
- Not all glamping experiences are the same, so do your research beforehand
Try one of these different types of camping to see how you like it
Different types of camping appeal to different types of people and their preferences. You may find that you prefer traditional frontcountry camping with all the modern amenities, or you may prefer backcountry camping and roughing it in the wilderness. Or, you may just love glamping and enjoy the perks of a luxurious trip.
No matter what your preference, there’s a type of camping out there for you. So, why not try out a couple of different types of camping to see which one you like best? You may be surprised to find out just how much you enjoy it!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).