When you leave the city behind, the sky gets bigger. On a clear night,
a sea of stars shimmers above in the cool air. You feel you can reach out
and touch one. It's magic. In part, it's why millions of North Americans love
Campers come in three basic categories: backpackers, car campers, and RVers.
What all these forms of camping have in common is the opportunity to get away
from urban life and enjoy nature.
- Backpackers carry everything they need for camping on their backs,
including tents, food, and clothing. They will hike into remote camping spots
where vehicles cannot go.
- Car campers, or tailgate campers as they're also known, load
up their car or truck with the gear they'll need for a weekend camping trip
and drive to a campground. They may choose a campground with showers and toilets,
or they may choose something more rustic.
- RVers are so named because they take their recreation vehicles
with them when they head for the great outdoors. The RV offers all the comforts
of home, with a kitchen, shower and even television. These vehicles need campgrounds
with hookups for electricity, water, and sewer.
Campgrounds vary to match the needs of the camper. There are thousands
of campgrounds in America. Some are private, while others are government run.
The National Parks System operates 25,700 campsites in 548 campgrounds
across the U.S. These campsites come in all styles: tent camping, recreational
vehicle spaces, and backcountry camping. This doesn't include the thousands
of camping spots in private campgrounds.
Camping isn't expensive, but buying the equipment you need can set you
back a few hundred dollars. If you want a camper or trailer, be prepared to
spend several thousand dollars.
Mike Fleming suggests renting equipment when you're starting out. "See
if you like it," he says. Or you could go with friends who have all the equipment
until you can afford to buy your own.
So what do you need for camping?
- A tent is your basic home away from home. They usually come in
sizes to suit between one and six campers. Or, they may be purchased as three-
or four-season tents. A three-season tent is good for camping spring through
fall. A four-season tent can be used year-round.
- A ground cloth is a big piece of plastic which goes under the
tent and keeps the tent dry and clean.
- A good sleeping bag is a must. Sleeping bags are rated for various
temperatures, so make sure your bag is warm enough for the climate and season
you're camping in. You may also want a thermal pad to place under your
Camper Mike Fleming remembers taking a summer sleeping bag on a cool night
camping. "It was colder than I expected and I was cold the whole time," he
Backpackers have other equipment needs: backpacks and boots.
- There are basically two types of packs -- external and internal frame.
The external frames have metal or heavy plastic poles that you can see. On
internal frames you don't see any poles at all. All the metal is sewn into
Either type of pack is fine -- you'll just want to make sure it has a well-fitted
hip belt to deflect the weight from your shoulders. Backpacks vary in cost
from around $50 to over $100.
- Be careful choosing your boots. You'll want them to fit well and be sturdy
enough for the terrain you're hiking. If you injure your feet, the trip is
over and you'll need help to get back to civilization. Good boots cost between
$100 and $200.
Prices for camping gear vary widely, but the experts say price shouldn't
be your only consideration. Camper Sarah Boomer of Seattle warns against buying
the cheapest equipment available.
"Buy cheap -- buy twice," she notes. "I bought a $50 sleeping bag at first
and had to replace it." Good equipment will give you years of enjoyment.
Once you're properly outfitted, camping costs are minimal. Overnight stays
range in price depending on your style of camping. Tenters may pay only a
few dollars while RVers may pay $25 a night.
Fitness requirements change depending on the type of camping you choose.
Backpacking can be quite strenuous, but almost anyone can enjoy camping in
a recreation vehicle.
A love of camping can set you on a number of career paths. Forestry, biology,
and botany all require an interest in nature.
Some campers turn their hobby into a source of income by writing about
their experiences. Some become guides, leading others through a wilderness
experience, while others work as outfitters in camping supply shops.
If getting away from it all sounds like something you'd like to get into,
there are a number of ways to get involved.
Go with friends who know what they're doing. Or join an outdoors club.
Many sporting goods stores offer organized camping tours for modest fees.
It's important to go with someone who knows the basics of survival. Would
you want to be in the woods with someone who didn't know how to light a fire?
The National Park Service
Camping advice and information for beginners and experts
Checkout these special campsites across America
See the camping checklist, then search for a U.S. campground