Tent camping can be compared to camping in a trailer or RV, camping under the stars or in a hammock, or even renting a Hotel Room or Cabin. Each one of these has its advantages and disadvantages, but overall camping in a tent is the best choice.
Tent Camping is the best because it provides the closest experience to nature without being uncomfortable or exposed, and at an accessible price point. The flexibility of tent camping affords options for both solitude or social connection with the same set of equipment.Tent camping is a return to Humanity’s roots and is unsurpassed by other types of camping.
It’s my firm belief that everyone should experience tent camping in a variety of settings. No matter your income level or location, tent camping is an essential hobby. These are some of the most important benefits to tent camping:
Benefits of Tent Camping
Cheap and Accessible
The biggest advantage tent camping has over RV’ing or the #vanlife is the access. An entire tent camping setup for a couple can cost as little as $100. Some campsites cost money (though much less than a hotel room anywhere), but pretty much anywhere you go you can find free camping out in the woods. Some RV’s cost as much as a house!
Even if you were to go with the cheapest camper, some sort of old tent trailer, it’ll still cost you the equivalent of a month of rent for a glorified tent on wheels (disclaimer: I own a tent trailer). In order to buy a camp trailer though, you also have to buy a truck or SUV.
The accessibility of tent camping is unsurpassed. Absolutely anybody from anywhere can try out camping for a minimal financial investment. If you fall in love with it you can slowly upgrade your gear over time. If you hate it, re-list the gear on craigslist!
Connection to Nature…
Perhaps the best benefit to tent camping over types of trailer, RV, or van camping, is the proximity to the outdoors. I think that’s really the reason most of us get outside on the weekends- we want a break from city life and want to spend some time away from it all.
A few years ago I read the book The Nature Fix (view on Amazon) and learned a lot about what time in nature does for us. An important thing to realize is that a lot of the benefits only take hold after enough time outside. The book goes through the 5 senses, and the effect that nature can have on our health and happiness as we experience it in different ways.
A five minute walk through a city park is nice to clear you head, but an overnight backpacking trip is much more effective at actually reducing stress and allowing you to re-calibrate and refocus. You’ll also soak up a lot more Vitamin D tent camping than you would stuffed into a camp trailer since you’ll make and eat your meals outside.
RV camping or staying in a cabin will get you a good dose of ‘Vitamin N,’ but you’ll be limited in your exposure going back and forth indoors and out. With tent camping, you pretty much are fully immersed in nature the whole time.
…Without Becoming One with Nature
Sleeping under the stars is a lot of fun…unless it rains, or it doesn’t rain and there are mosquitoes, or it gets really cold, or you receive a visit from any wild animal. A tent provides protection from the harshest elements while still allowing you to partake in the sounds and smells of the great outdoors.
With less than a millimeter of material between you and the outside world it is easy to feel connected to nature without many of the drawbacks that have led us to build homes with doors and windows that close and latch. The right conditions can make sleeping out fun, but there’s a lot of risk involved without a tent overhead.
Camping with a group of friends, or for a family reunion, can be a great way to get everyone together to enjoy a good time. It’s pretty easy to fit a bunch of tents into a small area, and the discomfort of tent camping can actually serve to increase the time everyone spends together outdoors.
When a group of RV’ers goes camping together, they tend to spend a lot of time inside their RV’s cooking and eating meals, resting, or watching whatever is on satellite. With tent camping, everybody is outside making food together, playing games, or sitting around the campfire.
Tents can pretty much go anywhere, with the exception of a Flying J or side road by a beach in California (but really, there are better places to camp!). With tent camping you can choose to stay in a KOA, a National Park Campground, or out in the middle of BLM land where no one has ever slept before.
The flexibility of tent camping also opens it up for backpacking, bikepacking, and rafting or canoeing. You aren’t limited to roads, or even trails. This allows you to really get out and explore and distance yourself from other people and from all of the stress of the modern world.
I lived in Phoenix for 5 years after college. It’s not the worst big city ever, but as someone who grew up in the mountains, it was grating to hear the sounds of traffic 24/7 and to be locked inside a concrete jungle. My reprieve came every weekend when we’d drive the 2 hours up into the mountains and find a random little forest road to pitch a tent on and spend the night.
Connection to Roots
Whether your ancestors lived in teepees, lodges, huts, or caves, they all shared a common closeness with nature and each other that we tend to miss out on today. Tent camping is a connection to your roots, and will give you a greater appreciation for those who have gone before.
It’s pretty easy to fit all of your tent camping gear in a sedan, even with 3 or 4 people. As your tribe expands you definitely need to look into a small SUV or a roof bag, but for just a small group it’s really easy to fit everything into the trunk of a car.
You can also pitch a tent just about anywhere. You don’t need a big spot to back in a huge RV, and don’t need to worry about the condition of the road after the winter.
RV campsites require water and electricity hookups and are very limited in availability. Tent campsites are much more readily available as well.
There are really only two ways a tent can fail- you either break a pole, or tear the canvas. It’s really easy for anyone to repair either of these problems if they’ve got the right materials. I keep some cheap tent repair tape (view on amazon) in my tent bag and use it occasionally as pole supports wear through, or when my toddler pokes a hole in the side with a sharp stick!
It sure beats trying to troubleshoot a broken down RV or van engine when you’re out off the beaten path. The cost of having a camper or truck towed would pay for brand new tent camping gear every time! I remember one time having a family of squirrels decide to move into our tent trailer. It was not a fun job to get them to move.
Tent Camping VS VanLife
Camping in a van is a lot of fun. I used to have a Honda Element that we’d camp out of before our family outgrew it. It was really convenient to have everything right where you need it in the car, and to be able to try to ‘stealth camp’ in places where you definitely couldn’t set up a tent.
If you camp a lot, and are a solo camper or a couple, then a van can be a great choice. We rented a camper van on a trip to Maui a few years ago, and loved every minute of it. It was nice to be able to pull up anywhere and just climb into the back seat to make a meal without needing to pull out a bunch of equipment like you would tent camping.
On the other hand, vans aren’t cheap- especially the last few years. It’s not very practical to have a vehicle devoted solely to camping, but the camper modifications can’t be removed super easy. They break down all the time as well.
Most camper van setups, perhaps with the exception of some Sprinters and Vanagons, are limited to two seats. That means no bringing friends along, and no expanding your family size. Of course, you also can’t take your van backpacking so you are limited to where there are roads.
Tent Camping VS RV ‘Camping’
RV camping always makes me think of the scene in the original Goofy Movie when Pete pulls into the campground with his Transformer RV. One push of a button and suddenly out pops a swimming pool, basketball court, etc. Contrasted with Goofy’s little tent, it’s quite the resort.
With an RV you can be approximate to the outdoors while still maintaining all of the comforts of home. Most of the time when I’m going camping it’s because I want to escape a lot of those ‘comforts,’ so an RV doesn’t always make sense to me.
When I’ve RV camped in the past it was to avoid hotel fees on a long road trip across the country with a family that wouldn’t fit in a van. Kids end up spending most of the time inside the RV instead of out exploring, which can defeat the purpose of camping.
Tent Camping VS Pop-Up Camper
My small family of 5 owns a Pop-Up Camper. Of course, we also have a few tents. We just like camping THAT much. The camper came along when we outgrew our little 5 man tent and wanted to simplify camping with little kids.
When we ‘upgraded’ to a pop-up camper though, we also had to upgrade to a bigger SUV with tow capability. That’s another cost that should be considered before taking the leap.
A pop-up is nice since everyone has their own space and you can escape wind and rain. The added hassle of towing and the setup and takedown need to be calculated too though. For the annual camper, tents are probably easier. If you go out monthly though, a pop-up can be really nice to have.
Tent Camping VS Hammock Camping
Sleeping in a hammock can seem much more comfortable than sleeping on a thin inflatable pad on the ground, but that isn’t always the case. It can be difficult to find trees that are spaced the right distance apart to give you the most comfortable arch for your back.
It can be really cold sleeping in a hammock during some seasons of the year as well, so it’s good to have a pad in the hammock with you for insulation. Unless you buy an expensive hammock with a rain fly, you will be exposed to the elements as well.
What’s Better Than a Tent? Hammock camping is probably the most comfortable way to sleep outdoors. Tarp camping is more simple than tent camping; however, bugs and wind or rain can ruin a night outdoors with a tarp. Tent camping is the perfect mix between comfort and safety, and roughing it outdoors.
Are Campers Better Than Tents? Campers are more comfortable than Tents; however, they are much more limited on where they can stay and are much more expensive. Tents are the better choice for the novice or occasional camper, and campers can be the better choice for frequent campers with more disposable income.