Your shelter is your home during a camping trip, so not only does it need to protect people and gear from the elements, it has to be comfortable. What you choose depends on personalities and needs of the people sharing your sleeping, eating, and lounging space during the adventure.
Options: Tents come in various shapes, sizes, and styles, from ultralight backpacker bivvies with just enough room for one adult-sized camper, to multi-room glamping mansions. To identify your ideal tent style and size, you’ll have to consider the importance of various factors. Is standing in the tent space important? Are multiple rooms for your crew a requirement? Will you need storage space for gear, or will you stow it in the car? Must the tent fit an established tent pad, or will you be camping at more primitive sites on a regular basis? Do you want to use sleeping pads or cots? A tent can be sizable investment but if you care for it properly, it can last for decades, making it a very affordable option.
There are various large tent designs that can make family camping comfortable. One very popular model is REI’s Kingdom tents that come in four, six, and eight-person sizes. They’re large, divided, sturdy, well-ventilated, and very family friendly with an option for an extra-large vestibule. The Big Agnes 4-person Wyoming provides unique appeal for families who want separate areas with cover in between.
There are also various 3-to-4 person offerings like the low-profile, simple Flying Diamond 4 from Big Agnes, or the Kelty Trail Ridge 4 and REI Camp Dome 4, with classic designs and agreeable price tags.
Yurts are becoming more popular, particularly at established park facilities. A nice medium between tents and cabins, yurts allow campers to feel connected to the outdoors without the added energy it takes to pack and pitch a tent. The cost per-night of a yurt stay ranges from $10-$100, depending upon the location. Try your local state parks website for a listing.
Travel trailers come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny pop-ups to solid-wall construction, and there are a lot of options in this area. This is an appealing choice for those with a vehicle hefty enough to tow them (check your owner’s manual or local dealer) and for those with family members who require a little more of the comforts of home than a tent provides.
RVs are the most luxurious of camping options, whether it’s a Class C or full-blown bus. An RV of any type gives campers almost all the comforts of home in an outdoor setting. This is also the costliest choice in terms of investment and maintenance, but may be the most worthwhile investment as far as compromising with family members who people in your family who find this the only way to enjoy a camping experience.
*Keep in mind some areas have restrictions on tents and soft-sided trailers because of bear activity. This varies widely by region so you’ll have to check into local regulations to know what’s appropriate for that area.
While shelter is often considered the foundation for defining your camping style, there are other considerations to make, especially for those camping with children. What you consider appropriate in the way of kitchen plans and toys for enjoyment will depend on the type of campsite you choose and the activities you enjoy.
Most campgrounds and land management agencies explain amenities in campsites as primitive (sites that are nothing more than a bare spot on the ground) or fully-loaded with facilities like laundry and showers. Each agency or company is likely to have different definition, however, so be sure to research fully before heading out.
No matter which route you choose, try these tips that cross the spectrum of any camping style: If you’re new to camping, start small and local, allowing plenty of time to arrive and make camp before dark. Rent or borrow gear at first to determine what works for your family. When you do purchase equipment, remember that quality gear you know how to use is critical. Ask for assistance, attend a camping class, or buy camping guides to better familiarize your entire family with processes.
Pack light, at first. Remember, what you bring, you will have to unpack when you return. Make a few trips, then add to your gear list. Pay attention to weather conditions and prepare for the changes, any time. Checklists are very helpful for every aspect of camping; menus, shelter, toys, tools, laminate lists and keep with your gear. Encourage kids to help with planning, packing, and setting up; valuable skills that will also emotionally invest them in the adventure.
Be aware of hazards. This will vary by destination but you’ll want to be familiar with plants, wildlife, and weather considerations of the area.
While there are myriad ways to add flair to personal camping style, some aspects are simply non-negotiable. Following Leave No Trace principles are great guideline to consider whenever taking to the great outdoors, but keep these ideas in mind, too:
Secure your food! It’s tempting to think of campgrounds as the domains of people but animals are drawn to the temptations of easy access to coolers, backpacks, bags, and boxes. A good rule of thumb is to lock all food (and any personal products that contain odors, like toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) in a hard-sided vehicle. Practices vary by location, but be sure to secure your food according to local regulations.
Check local firewood policies. In many areas you are required to buy it on site or nearby because invasive pests find refuge and new territories to invade in the comforts of transported firewood. Still others require campers to bring their own to prevent harvesting at the campgrounds. Either way, you’ll need to know the policy and research options before you head out. Use designated fire rings and put your fire out completely each night. Campfires are a timeless camping tradition, but they have a heavy impact.
Use designated areas to dispose of waste, and always at least 200 feet away from any stream, lake, river, or other waterway. This includes dirty dishwater. Use existing campsites. Never make your own or expand outside of the designated areas.
Val Joiner is a former geologist turned adventure travel enthusiast. Her adventures can be car or motorcycle-based, but they always involve camping, hiking, geocaching, photography, and learning from every experience. She chronicles her travels at Val in Real Life and whether traveling solo or with her two sons, hopes her adventures will inspire others to discover all of the rich possibilities the world has to offer.