What does it mean “to go camping”? “Camping” can mean lots of different things to different people. It’s always good to remember that “going camping” does have a broad range: from rustic backcountry camping (maybe under the stars?) to renting out a furnished modern cottage with electricity (but hopefully not with a television…), there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors and “go camping.” There are options for pretty much anyone, even for those people who otherwise say they “hate camping.” It’s always important to ask those people: “What exactly do you hate about it?”
I thought it might be good to outline the four basic types of camping since I’ll be using these terms a bit.
Luxury Camping – This is for those who enjoy the outdoors, but want to return to their own, private, enclosed space at the end of the day. Many campgrounds have cabins, cottages, or even houses with varying degrees of amenities. Some people camp in their own RV’s or luxury campers (I hope to own something like this someday…maybe…someday…). The idea is that you are able to spend the night in a place which is enclosed and has its own private “facilities.” Many people are unaware of these less rustic options in state and national parks, and so avoid visiting them. But they shouldn’t! This is a great way to enjoy the outdoors (and maybe a campfire or two) while still being able to curl up into a bed safe from critters, bears, and severe weather.
Car or Tent Camping – This is a little more rustic, and what most people consider “camping” to be. You’re outdoors, and camping in a tent, but your vehicle is a short distance away. Most state parks and public campgrounds offer these sorts of campsites, complete with a picnic table, a fire ring, and shared public facilities. But you’re car is close enough to store your food and to flee for refuge in severe weather or in the case of a bear attack (I’m just now getting used to the idea that Western PA has a considerable population of black bears). Most monthly scouting campouts are of this sort, with Saturday activities varying from trip to trip.
Short-Term Backpacking – The idea here is to carry all that you’ll need with you, including shelter, food, and enough water to get you to the next water source. Typically this requires carrying some form of water purification (filter, checmical tablets, etc) so that you can refill once or twice daily. These trips are usually short enough (one night up to about a week) that you can carry all your food with you for the course of the trip. If you’re lucky you get a chance to camp at a modern campground at least once in the course of your trip so you can shower and get rid of any accumulated trash. All of the backpacking trips I’ve been on have been of this sort.
Extended Backpacking – This type of trip lasts at least a week and some people go for months on the trail without returning home. These trips require careful planning since you’ll need to restock in towns along the way. Since you’re in town anyway, many people on extended backpacking trips will plan to stay at a hostel or cheap hotel once a week to get cleaned up, go out for a few drinks, and revel in civilization before hitting the trail again. A small class of these folks are considered “thru-hikers,” those who attempt to complete a long-distance trail (like the 2300 mi Appalachian Trail or 2600 mi Pacific Crest Trail) all at once, spending around 5-9 months on the trail. What a challenge!