Everyone’s gone camping at least once in their life. Whether you’re a one-timer who’s only visited the great outdoors once with a youth group when you were thirteen or you go every weekend you can, we’ve all pitched a tent and accidentally thrown things in the fire that we shouldn’t have. There’s always a moment when you wonder if maybe the campground bathrooms could be a little nicer or if that ridiculous solar-powered phone charger your mom ordered is actually that ridiculous after all. But wouldn’t that betray the tenants of camping and venture into…glamping?
Going glamping means taking along amenities that are “glamorous” or comfort-focused. There is a general upgrade in shelter, bathroom facilities, food prep and quality, and access to modern entertainment. One of the main differences between the two is Internet and electrical access.
Most people, unless they happen to be camping purists, will agree that the definition of glamping is less about what you have and more about how you think. If you bring along all these extra things to make yourself more comfortable, but still stick with the spirit of camping–communing with nature, getting away from civilization, having time to refresh and relax–then the difference between camping and glamping won’t really matter. If you’re really hung up on the differences, here’s a little more information to help you decide.
Where You Stay
The most prominent difference between camping and glamping is where you stay and what you stay in. They may seem like two different things, but they’re closely tied together.
Generally when camping, there’s a sleeping bag and tent involved. Most people throw a sleeping pad in there as well. With a tent, you have your tarp or ground cover, and whatever meshing the tent provides (or that you brought) to keep creepy crawlies out. They’ll get in anyway (at least, every time I’ve gone camping there are bugs in my tent), but the majority of the nasties stay out.
Additionally, your ground cover and rainfly will help keep water out of your tent if it rains–or keep it from getting absolutely soaked. When strictly camping, that’s your shelter and your sleeping situation: a tent, light protection from bugs and rain, and a sleeping pad.
Anything more luxurious than this is glamping.
As stated above, glamping is about upgrading to preserve comfort. In the case of sleep and shelter, this means bringing along a camper van, RV, or glamping tent to sleep in. Good quality sleeping pads are going to be around 4″ thick, while an RV mattress generally starts at about 5″ in thickness and goes up.
RV mattresses will mimic the width of regular mattresses and the sizing ranges from twin to king, while most sleeping pads stay at the twin or bunk level. In relation to the six-legged-friend problem, an RV is going to be much better at keeping them out than a tent. As for rain, I would be incredibly impressed if an RV could get soaked like a tent can.
Then, there are glamping tents, which are tents taken to the next level. Thicker fabric, more space, and more amenities like a bathroom, stove, A/C, and even a hot tub or sauna. Imagine the “no bugs, no rain, big mattress” of an RV, but in a tent looking like it stepped off the pages of Fashion Tents Weekly and you’ll have a glamping tent. Since the “enduring nature” aspect has been taken out of both these options, you’re definitely glamping.
Some more extreme versions of glamping take it a step further from an RV and a step closer to home. Rather than staying in a tent or a camper van among all the trees and wild animals your heart could ever want, you could stay in a cabin, yurt, or even a treehouse and still get that “out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere” feeling.
When camping, restroom facilities can be dicey at times. Whether it’s answering nature’s call or deciding that, yes, you do need a full face of makeup today, sometimes there is no choice in the matter. It’s safe to say that your restroom options will reflect whether you’re camping, glamping, or somewhere in the middle.
Toilet options when camping range from the classic “sneak into the trees and hope nothing gets on my pants” moment to braving communal restrooms that may or may not have flush toilets and may or may not have been cleaned/emptied recently. Similarly, shower and sink availability can go from “none at all, I hope you have wet wipes” to, yet again, another communal facility. If going to the restroom–in any form–is the least appealing part of your outing, congratulations you’re camping.
Glamping generally offers facilities that are closer to what you can find in your home. RVs, except for some of the smallest, will have a bathroom. Some glampgrounds–yes, that’s a thing–will have public facilities available, but anywhere you rent a cabin/yurt/treehouse will have a restroom attached with a toilet, shower, and sink. The question of running water and flushable toilets isn’t a question at all: the answer is yes. If you purchase your own glamping tent, choosing the facilities is up to you. Regardless of your selection, having a private restroom with running water means you’re glamping.
The weird middle ground comes down to portable toilets. Obviously, the toilet aspect makes it better than going in the woods and the private aspect makes it better than communal restrooms. However, the maintenance, cleaning, and disposal is still going to be up to you (this is also true in an RV). One of the most pressed upon differences between camping and glamping is the “roughing it” part of your experience. Having a readily accessible toilet isn’t roughing it, but having to deal with everything that comes after using it is. Whether you’re glamping or not by using a portable toilet is up to you.
Air-conditioning, that most blessed of inventions–and also a major determiner of camping vs glamping.
Most of the time at your campsite, there won’t be air-conditioning. If you’re really lucky, someone will have brought a portable fan or one of those water misters you can buy at Disneyland. Generally, though, you’re sticking it out in the heat, hanging out under trees, and waiting for everyone in your group to decide whether or not they want to go swim in the nearest body of water. You and the heat have become one–this is absolutely camping.
Glamping is the opposite of this. Depending, of course, on what type of shelter you pick–RV, glamp tent, cabin, yurt, treehouse–your air-conditioning options will be different. For example, an RV’s AC will work when it’s running, but you’ll need a generator or other electrical access to run it when the engine’s off. With the glamp tent, you’ll need to pick out a good air-conditioner just like your restroom, but glampgrounds with private, immobile rentals will have air-conditioning in their buildings. Either way, if you’ve got air-con, you’re glamping.
Food and Cooking
Camp food is one of those types of food that can either be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten or give you food poisoning. It’s a delicate balance.
There are the classic camping meals: tin-foil dinners, eggs-in-a-jar for breakfast, hot dogs, s’mores, chili, anything and everything you can make in a dutch oven, and Starbursts melted over the fire–what more could a girl need? Even those basics require various kitchen appliances (and not even the electrical kinds). Cutlery and dishes, for starters, but also pots and pans, cutting knives and boards, can openers, grill rack, mixing bowls and measuring cups, and maybe even a griddle. Besides that, you’ll need a fire and all that that entails–wood, coals, fuel, matches, a knowledge of how to even get it started. So while everyone loves your fireside chili and you want to try out shish kebabs, it’s going to be a bit of a journey to get there. You are definitely camping.
Glamping means bringing a bit of your kitchen with you. Whether it’s getting a camp stove that can go inside your tent, bringing along a camp coffee maker, a camping blender, or making sure your cabin, yurt, or treehouse has a kitchenette inside, your cooking experience is going to be closer to what you’d do at home.
Glamping options will have a wider variety of kitchen appliances and therefore glampers will be able to bring along more supplies, store or keep more food after they eat, and make a wider variety of meals. When the cooking quality goes up, the meal quality goes up. So, if you feel like you’re still in your kitchen but all the walls are gone, you’re definitely glamping.
This is perhaps the most difficult section to deliberate as modern technology is accessible almost anywhere you go. Cell service is practically inescapable, portable generators or solar panels are an available substitute for connection to the electrical grid, and most people bring their cars with them when they camp. So, where is the line drawn?
Camping is about leaving behind civilization and being in nature. It’s about enjoying and appreciating the natural life around you–fresh air, wild plants, and animals, and having the world open to you. Camping trims life down to simple living: self-reliance, leaving behind excess materials, and depending less on others. You can do all this and still post pretty pictures of the sunset on your Instagram and text your mom so she knows you’re safe.
As already discussed, having access to a lot of modern amenities, like flushing toilets and air-conditioning, turns your camping trip into a glamping trip, so that’s not going to be covered here. Rather, this section is for the other side of modern technology: the Internet and modern entertainment.
The majority of the population has a social media account on at least one platform, but most people will have two or three that they use regularly, whether through posting, consuming content, or messaging. It’s turned into an avenue for business, politics, religion, and education. Besides that, there’s texting, email, various messaging systems, online banking, video calls, libraries, music services, weather apps, maps and GPS, and calendars.
Our entire lives can be facilitated by modern technology–it’s impossible to live in the modern world and not use the Internet or a smartphone or a computer of some variety during your daily life. That’s not the line in the sand, camping might be about stepping away from the complications of life but it’s not about abandoning life completely.
No, in terms of modern technology, your camping trip is more glamping when you transition away from campfire games, hiking, swimming, and hanging out in nature to binging on Netflix or playing games on your phone, or spending all your time attached to your devices–not giving yourself the opportunity to step away. The entire schtick of glamping is bringing the comforts of your everyday life into nature with you, so if you find yourself hanging in your camp chair doing exactly what you’d be doing at home on your couch, that’s definitely glamping.
All of this is subject to opinion, of course. One thing that’s really integral to the camping experience is the mindset you have going into your trip. It’s about having fun outdoors, exploring an aspect of the world there isn’t much access to, and spending time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If you can do all of that and want to have modern amenities with you, that’s great. If you’d rather have just a tent and sleeping bag and go catch fish to eat with your bare hands, that’s great too! Just remember to enjoy your surroundings, the people you’re with, and to have fun.
The camping versus glamping debate can get heated if you talk to a camping purist, but your experience is defined by you: if you feel like you’re camping, then that’s what you’re doing. Just take along what you need to enjoy your trip and be kind to the nature around you. You can’t camp or glamp if there’s not a forest to retreat to.