Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Backpacking vs. Car Camping

It was when the pile of camping gear towered above me did it finally hit me.  No, not the tent that fell from the top of the pile.  The realization that packing for a car camping trip, (one where you drive right up to your campsite), was more labor intensive, added stress and consumed hour after hour of my time.  The thought of camping was slowly losing its appeal.  Why on earth did we need to take all this stuff?  Dishes, towels, pillows, grill, 6 propane bottles (all of which seemed to be at different levels) chairs, bikes, bocce, frisbee, fishing rods, boats(yes plural), ice, cooler for food, cooler for beverages, water jugs, and the list goes on and on and on.   

I was embarrassed with all the stuff we were bringing for a simple two night camping trip.  The back of the truck was full to the rafters.  Not an inch to spare.  We managed to make use of the whole truck by strapping down one boat to the roof and had overflow storage inside the cab.  Is camping not about getting away from it all, especially modern conveniences?  Can we not escape into the wilderness and enjoy each others company without 101 things to distract us with?  The answer to that is YES.  It’s called backpacking. (Or multi day kayak trips or bike touring).  Where you make do with what you can pack.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love camping and will happily take a weekend of car camping with good friends.  The adventure girl in me does however prefer the less is more approach when it comes to camping and enjoying the great outdoors.

Let me, if you will, breakdown the pros and cons of car camping vs. backpacking.

Pro - Backpacking allows access pristine remote areas with very little interruption from others. 
Con - Car camping restricts where you can go and are surrounded by many other campers.

Pro - I can set up a tent or hammock pretty much anywhere when backpacking. 
Con – Campground sites are all set up leaving no creativity or options.

Less is more
Pro - When backpacking, the only stuff to keep track of is neatly stashed in the backpack.   
Con - Not so much when car camping.  Stuff is everywhere and there is more to keep track of. 

Pro - With less gear comes less chores.  If you can’t pack the kitchen sink then you’re not doing dishes.
Con – The kitchen sink fits in the car so say goodbye to free time and hello to regular household chores.

Pro – Car camping wins this category.  There are no restrictions on weight or what to bring as long as it fits in the car.
Con – Backpacking requires special gear that is lightweight and able to fit in backpack with all the other essential gear. 

Pro – Car camping allows for a greater variety of food to bring.  Fresh produce, condiments and “real” ingredients are available.  No limits to the creativity of the menu.
Con – Since we pack gear and food in two packs for four people, our selection of food is limited due to space.  Not much fresh produce.  Freeze dried or packaged meals with snacks in between.  The kids are starting to carry more gear so hopefully we can work on adding some variety to our menu. 

Pro – Without a doubt backpacking wins.  It is an experience in itself.  The reward is the feeling of accomplishment and self confidence of getting where you want using your own power.  There may be bumps and bruises along the way but it is the journey that will be remembered for a lifetime.  The ever changing scenery tells a story along the way and you are in the starring role. 
Con – Car camping is shared with so many others I find it loses that something special.  It is still worth the experience.

There you have it.  Backpacking wins 5 to 2 over car camping.  This adventure girl is happy to be getting things ready for our next backpacking adventure!  

Happy Camping!


  1. Very useful information on this site and i will keep coming back to read your excellent posts.

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  2. Thank god for this! Backpacking feels like freedom. Car packing is a nightmare of too-much stuff.

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