Camping gives you the opportunity to learn new life skills, avoid electronic distractions, be one with nature, and clear your head. It’s like hitting the reset button.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to choose how you camp since most of the options can be such an investment.
One of the biggest decisions you’ll want to make is to your accommodations: to use a campervan or a tent?
There are pros and cons to each of those options. Let’s go over some of them.
1) What does “tent camping” entail?
Camping in a tent isn’t for everyone. Some campers say that everyone has to tent-camp at least once, to experience it before they decide how they will camp, long term.
For others, tent camping is too much of a strain on their bodies. This is something that you will need to decide yourself.
At the heart of it, tent camping means you pitch a tent in a campground (or an area of your choosing).
This means erecting the tent, hammering stakes into the ground, and tying your tent to those stakes, so the wind will not carry it and so the tent stays taught. Depending on what terrain you camp on (sand, grass, mountainside, or even on pavement), you might need different tent stakes, different lengths of rope, and various other accouterments.
When you tent camp, you will find that you spend more time in nature, doing outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, cycling, mountain climbing, or geocaching.
You can also spend time around the campfire reading a book or just enjoying the quiet solitude. It is an adaptable and accommodating vacation.
2) What do you need if you want to go tent camping?
Camping requires a number of general things, but tent camping requires specific tools and supplies for the tent alone:
- Tent (there are quite a few options for tents, and we’ll go over that later)
- Hatchet or mallet for tent stakes
- Extra tent stakes (this is so important)
- A tarp the size of the footprint of the tent
- Extra cord or rope (preferably 50 feet)
Along with that are a few supplies you will want to have in order to stay comfortable in your tent (even if you don’t require it to operate the actual tent):
- Mattress (like an air mattress or a mattress pad, the same size as your sleeping bag)
- Sleeping bags and bedding (I suggest an inflatable pillow)
- A small battery-operated lantern (with extra batteries)
- A notebook or book for some introspection or a quiet getaway
3) Tips for a good tent camping trip
If you decide to try out tent camping first, here are a few tips to ensure that you have a good time:
- Pack some items that have double uses or that pack well. Instead of a rain jacket, opt for a poncho which packs easily.
- Keep a few dry bags and containers to keep your small items (matches, spare batteries, etc.) dry.
- Comfortable shoes and wool socks (not the itchy wool, but wool hiking socks and silk liners) will keep the blisters at bay.
- Layer your clothes instead of just wearing something big and bulky. That way, you can peel off layers when you get warm.
- Bring a lidded, insulated mug to keep your cold drinks cold and your warm drinks warm.
- Remember toilet paper. Even if there are bathrooms there, it is good to carry a little toilet paper with you just in case. In fact, bring some moist wipes instead. Body/face/hand wipes are perfect for camping trips. There are some wonderful biodegradable options, but always remember that if you pack it in, you should pack it out as well.
- Summer tents have mesh windows to help with the moisture which builds up while you are inside. If you can’t use a summer tent, try to leave the upper window of your tent partially unzipped. This’ll also draw in some cool air.
4. What are the pros of tent camping?
There are a lot of advantages to tent camping. Just one of those advantages is the fact that camping is an outdoor activity. When adventurers camp in an RV or a van, there is a chance that they might end up staying inside. Some say camping in a van or RV won’t give you that authentic camping/outdoorsy feel.
Another benefit is the cost of the experience. It is much cheaper to camp in a tent. Even tent site costs are cheaper in a campground, versus a trailer or RV site. Not only that, the maintenance on a campervan and the cost of gas are exponentially higher than tent camping.
You have the option of going backpacking if you like to tent camp. Tents are much more portable than a vehicle. If you want to go further into the woods or camp in the mountains, sometimes you can only get to your ideal campsite by foot.
It can be difficult to find a place to park your campervan if you live in the city or if your driveway is already full. Tents can be stored easily in the garage, closet, or in a shed. Use plastic totes to keep them safe all year long, when not in use. Just make sure to properly dry them out first.
Maintenance for a tent is easy and can even be done at the campsite before you leave. While, airing out your tent, on a line at home, is a good practice, it isn’t always necessary. Keep a small foxtail brush and dustpan in your camp kit. You can use it to take the dirt out of your tent before you roll it back up.
5) What are the cons of tent camping?
While tents can keep most of the weather off of you at night, unpredictable weather can ruin a camping trip if you are unprepared. Tent campers have to prepare for the irregular skies.
Handicap sites are available, but tent camping isn’t an activity that all handicapped individuals can enjoy. There are other options for people who are handicapped, who want to also enjoy the outdoors.
Some people want to enjoy the outdoors but don’t necessarily want to sleep on the ground and experience the great outdoors so close. Waking up, drenched in moisture and sweat is also unpleasant.
Tent camping can be painful. Sleeping on the ground can hurt your back and neck if you are not properly outfitted. Hiking to the campsite can hurt your feet, especially if you have the wrong shoes.
It’s a little scary. Being so vulnerable out in the woods can be scary to some. The woods are beautiful but can also be dangerous if you are not careful.
6) What is a campervan?
A campervan (also known as a caravanette or a camper is basically a van that is kitted out to be a camper. It often offers sleeping accommodations, extra lighting, a small bathroom, a grill, and a small table.
They come in various sizes with smaller options having a small portable toilet and bigger sizes offering showers. There are even off-roading options, sometimes called 4×4 campers or 4WD campers (4-wheel-drive campers).
Typical versions are called “over cab campers” which look like a Luton van area above the cab of the van.
Other options include:
- High top (which don’t have anything over the cab, but are just built taller)
- Rising roof (which have a roof that raises, exposing fabric sides, to give you more headroom to stand up)
- Fixed roof (which look like traditional surf buses)
- Dismountable (which is added to a truck—over the bed of the truck—and can often be removed when not in use)
Some people make their own campervans by converting old vans (like white panel vans, Volkswagen buses, or station wagons).
7) What are the pros of a campervan?
Campervans let you camp outside no matter what the weather. If you ask a tent camper what their worst experience with camping was, you’ll probably get a story involving rain.
Campervans are great for longer getaways. While tents are great for short weekend jaunts, if you are looking to stay for a week, or for a long weekend (4 – 5 days), you can do so comfortably in a campervan.
While you may have the option of hooking up your vehicle while you are camping, you don’t have to unless you want to use the major appliances or water heater. If you carry a generator with you, you can power small appliances or a smaller water heater for short spurts of time.
If you just want to get away from home for a while and you can’t afford a hotel or a campsite with hookups, using your campervan and staying in a free lot is a great option. There are 24-hour store parking lots which will allow this, like Wal-Mart. This can also save you some money if you want to travel a long distance in your campervan.
There are many amenities, depending on which model you decide to buy. Some of the more common include:
- Bike rack
- Solar panels
- Awning (which is normally extendable)
- Wastewater tank for gray and black water (with grey being wash water and black being sewer water)
- Potable water tank
- Air conditioning
- Electricity powered by a battery or generator
- Water heater
- Small fridge
8) What are the cons of a campervan?
There are more expenses that go with a campervan than with tent camping: the price of the vehicle, license, registration, tabs, maintenance, fuel, campsite fees, wastewater fees (only in some places), etc.
The campsites available to campervans look the same. If you’re looking to go to a scenic or remote place (like a mountain or place which requires a hike), a campervan won’t be able to accommodate all of those treks.
If you’re not used to driving a larger vehicle, there might be a bit of a learning curve for you. Some campervans are top heavy and can’t turn quickly.
Some people think if you are going to get a recreational vehicle for camping, why not just get a motorhome? Motorhomes are more spacious and more comfortable.
9) Building Your Own Campervan
Are you feeling especially adventurous and creative? Like to work with your hands? One option is to build your own adventure vehicle or campervan. This isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. It might be more expensive in the long run, but you can make it specific to your needs.
You can choose the type of vehicle you like, customize the storage compartments for your sporting and camping gear, and the amenities.
Don’t cook much? Would you rather cook over a campfire?
Consider not including a kitchenette in the vehicle. Will you be using it by yourself or will you be using it with a partner? Single bed or double?
You must analyze what you want out of your camping trip. You also need to think about what kind of camper you are—and be serious and honest. Some people like the idea of tent camping, but don’t actually want to sleep on the ground. Other people love the idea of a campervan but don’t want to deal with the maintenance it needs.
Tent camping is great for the camper who:
- Wants to really experience the outdoors and doesn’t mind getting dirty
- Wants to be unplugged for the trip
- Want to enjoy the peace and quiet of the woods
- Shops for camping gear
- Likes the option of hiking to their campsites
- Would prefer camping in mostly temperate weather (you can tent camp in the snow, but you need special gear)
Campervans are great options for campers who:
- Prefer to be outside but don’t want to be cut off
- Want to get away from the city (or their regular day to day) with the option of enjoying nature
- Enjoys the peace and quiet of the woods
- Have the extra money to maintain a campervan
- Have the space for a campervan
Weigh your options and don’t be afraid to ask family and friends to test drive their campervans or to borrow their tent gear for a weekend.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.