Camping vs Backpacking: What You Should Know

camping in campground area at night with star on the sky in national park campground.

Camping and Backpacking are very similar activities, is there really a difference between them? Backpacking after all is just an extensive form of camping, right?

There’s only one main difference between camping and backpacking. In camping, people usually drive up to the spot available to stay, either in an RV, a tent, or maybe a cabin. Backpacking is camping while hiking, and all the gear needed should be carried throughout the trip in a backpack.

There are different things you can expect from either camping or backpacking, it all depends on the type of experience you wish to have!

Camping: What to Expect at the Campsite

What you can expect from your campsite will all depend on whether you’re staying in an RV/van, a tent, or a cabin. Each of these campsites look different and depending on the area or campsite chosen, there could be all three available. The amenities could differ for the type of campsite as well, as it all depends on the area and whoever manages or owns that particular campground. (Source)

RV camping also has some dependencies on the type of RV chosen or used for the trip. There are full-blown RVs, the ones you can drive to the campground itself, and these can vary in size. There are also RV trailers, which are a little smaller and have to be hooked up to another vehicle to get to the campground. The other perk to RV camping is there are rental options available if you don’t plan on going camping often enough to buy an RV. (Source)

Typical RV campsites will include various ‘hook-ups’ to use for the RV during your stay. Full hook-ups provide electricity, water, and sewage at the site. Partial hookups are the most common, and these provide either both electricity and water or only electricity. RV camping with no hookups is called “dry camping” or “boondocking”.

Most tent campgrounds make it so you can drive up to your site with your vehicle staying close by. There will be a sandy pit area usually where you can pitch your tent. Usually, there will be a firepit in the area, and sometimes there are camping grills available as well. RV campsites are also usable for tent camping, although most people prefer to sleep in their RV.

Some campgrounds for tents will have shower and toilet facilities available for guests as well. Most of these types of campgrounds will also have safe/bunkhouses to stay in if the weather gets really bad during a guest’s stay. (Source)

Cabin camping is typically looked at in regards to summer camps for kids. But that doesn’t exclude them from family or couple uses. Typically cabin campgrounds have separate buildings used for toilets and showers than where one stays, much like a tent campground. The cabin where you stay will typically have some sort of frame for a bed, and sometimes cots or mattresses are provided for guests.

In that case, all guests need to bring would be sheets, a pillow, and a sleeping bag. There may also be electricity, air conditioning, and heating provided, but that varies depending on the campground. In most cases, it is often recommended that you bring a heating or cooling device. There are typically firepits available at a safe distance within an individual cabin site as well.

Different campgrounds will have different amenities. There could be hikes or trails in the area, a lake so you can go swimming, boating, kayaking, or canoeing. Some campgrounds will also have pools or other amenities like shooting and archery ranges. It all depends on what’s available in your area.

Backpacking: What to Expect from a Campsite

Group of asian woman hiker taking photo with smart phone at mountain peak

A backpacking trip would have a different feel than the different camping options we just discussed. When backpacking, the type of camping done at night is usually done in a tent. These trips typically last for a few days to even a few weeks.

Depending on your area, there may be specific trails or hikes dedicated to backpacking trips, and these trails may have designated areas available for you to set up camp in for a night. You may even see where others have camped before you because of the remains of their campfire. However, most of the time it will be up to you to decide where you will camp for the night.

However, one important backpacking rule is that as you are taking down your campsite to continue on with your trip, you leave no traces behind. That way the area stays clean and wild animals won’t be attracted to the area, putting other backpackers in danger. That being said, you probably won’t see other campsites from other people unless you pass them while they’re either setting up for the night or getting ready to head out again.

So, if there are no designated camping areas, how would you know where a good place to set up camp would be, especially without clues from previous backpackers? A good place to stop on a backpacking trip should provide all the safety and comfort to you as possible.

Some recommendations for picking out a good spot to set up camp for the night would be to be in an area that has a water source, if you need to replenish your supply this will be especially helpful unless you already have a sufficient supply of water on you. (Source)

However, make sure your tent is at least 200 feet away from the water source so you won’t be bothered by or bother any nocturnal animals that also use the water source. It should also be a relatively flat and clear area to better help in pitching your tent and make it more comfortable to sleep in! Don’t pitch your tent in a low area in case it rains, as you may get flooded out if you do. Avoiding pitching your tent on compact ground will also help to keep your tent from flooding.

It is also recommended to camp away from potential hazards. When hiking in a forestry area, some hazards may include dead trees or dangling limbs that could fall on the tent. In a more mountainous area, such hazards would include things like rocks or mudslides.

What Gear Do I Need for Camping?

The type of gear you’d need for camping would depend on your choice of campsite. Some things would overlap no matter which type of camping you choose to do, but there may be specifics that would be dependent on RV camping, tent camping, or cabin camping. The things mentioned here are mainly necessities, and any extras may be added at your own discretion.

If the weather is warm and the campsite provides food or you have a fridge in your RV, typically the only gear you would need would be blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, enough changes of clothes for your stay, gear or clothing appropriate for the activities planned, and toiletries.

If that is not the case, non-perishable food items and utensils to cook and eat with would also be included on this list. If you are cabin or tent camping, it would also be recommended to have shower flops or something similar to wear while showering in the provided facilities to prevent you from touching bacteria from the floor.

With RV camping, the main gear you’ll need would be mechanical skills and tools to care for any emergencies with the vehicle as you’re camping. It’s always nice to have a first-aid kit available no matter what type of camping you choose to do. But typically, everything you need should already be placed in or a part of the RV. This includes anything needed for sleeping, cooking, and cleaning (either self or the RV or the campsite).

Tent camping you’ll need a tent, preferably with enough space to hold all the necessary things during your stay. But you’ll also be able to have your car close by, and can store things in there while mainly using the tent for sleeping. A tool kit to help start and extinguish fires in the designated fire area, firewood, or tools needed to chop your own will also be helpful to have if you choose to stay in a cabin.

Camp chairs would be handy no matter if you’re RV camping or staying in a cabin or tent. Cooking wise can be as simple or as extravagant as you want or need it to be. A cooler to keep perishable food items good and safe for consumption, as well as non-perishable food items, would be necessary.

Some non-perishable food item suggestions would be things like oatmeal, granola bars, sandwich spreads that don’t need to be refrigerated, bread, canned beans or chicken, and a water supply of some sort. Cooking utensils would include pots and pans or a dutch oven, silverware, and a hot plate/ camp stove or griddle, cooking knives, spatulas, a can opener, aluminum foil, dishes to eat from (easy to clean or disposable), and trash bags. You’re chosen campground should have a dumpster to put trash in and this will help to keep animals away from your campsite.

If you’re not in a public campground and just roughing it in the woods, you’ll need to tie up food to be used and trash to keep it away from nocturnal animals who’d want to get into your leftovers. Just don’t get the two mixed up as you prepare your own meals!

What Gear Do I Need for Backpacking?

Set with different camping equipment on white background

Remember, for backpacking you need to be able to carry everything you’d need for the trip in a pack. If a group of people are going on the trip, it may be possible to spread the load necessary for the trip amongst each person. There’s also a type of backpacking where you pack super light-only the absolute necessities- for the trip, but this typically requires a high skill level and experience. Some backpackers will choose to canoe or kayak instead of hiking during these trips. In this case, most materials would be the same besides the added necessities for the canoe or kayak.

The type of gear needed for a backpacking trip is fairly similar to the type of gear needed for any other form of camping, just on a much more manageable scale. You will need things like a tent, sleeping bag, toiletries, cooking utensils, food, and a water supply-whether that’s bottled water or a water filter.

For backpacking, it’s best to stay light with what you bring, so non-perishable food items are recommended, such as oatmeal packets, granola bars, or things like that. Or dry food storage packets that can be bought specifically for such trips.

The recommended cooking utensils to take when doing a backpacking trip are small and typically are lighter in weight. This includes things like a small canister stove, fuel for the stove, a lighter or matches (preferably waterproof), and any pots or pans or utensils that may not have been included with the stove. This is very helpful to boil water and rehydrate food packets. Things to clean your cooking ware would also be recommended, like a rag or sponge and biodegradable soap. (Source)

When packing food, remember to pack enough for each day of your trip, and an extra day in case of emergencies, as well as snacks. If you’re in bear country, a bear canister or Ursack-type of sack is recommended when storing food as you settle down for the night.

The type of apparel to wear or pack would depend on the length of your trip and the climate of the area you’re backpacking in. For warmer climates, clothing that helps you to stay cool and is made out of a breathable material would be recommended. For colder climates, clothing that keeps you warm but also is a breathable material, as you’ll still be sweating as you’re hiking. Dependable shoes are also key during backpacking trips.

Toiletries would include things like a trowel, toilet paper (biodegradable if possible), sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, first aid kit, and toothbrush/toothpaste. In some areas, a WAG bag would be necessary to use instead of digging a hole.

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