How do you define camping?

Camping is a word that evokes as many different ways to be outdoors as there are different people. Camping can be anything from backpacking in the remote wilderness to sleeping in a luxurious RV in a park that resembles a small city.

While pondering the definition of camping, I have decided that there ought to be designated “classes” of camping. Rock climbs and 4×4 roads have classes to describe the difficulty of the climb or drive. These classes are usually ranked 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Enjoying dispersed camping in our Alaskan truck camper
Enjoying dispersed camping in our Alaskan truck camper

The thought of classes came to me while passing numerous “camping” signs along the highway – usually for an RV Park or KOA. Sadly in California there has been an increase of NO camping signs along our scenic highways, forcing folks to camp in noisy, developed campgrounds.

Staying in a “civilized” campground has never been my idea of camping, though we have occasionally succumbed to that. While young and physically fit I believe I was a camping snob. To call sleeping in an RV camping, was an insult to those of us carrying our food, sleeping bag and tiny tent on our backs in the rugged wilderness of the Sierras.

After over 40 years of camping I have become less of a snob, humbled by time. We are now empty nesters with some physical challenges, thus making the welcome change of “glamping” in an Alaskan camper mounted on a 4×4 utility truck.

Dispersed camping

Breakfast on the truck tailgate near an abandoned mine
Breakfast on our truck’s tailgate near an abandoned mine

For the purpose of this blog, my focus is on DISPERSED camping. Other terms that might be used are boon-docking, dry camping or stealth camping. This is for folks who enjoy the solitude and primitive experience of camping away from developed campgrounds and other campers. This type of camping is often found in National Forests or National Parks outside of developed campgrounds. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal or token operated showers, and little or no facilities; such as tables, fire pits or privies. The National Forest Service has a great article defining dispersed camping with guidelines to “leave no trace.”

For me, most of my years of dispersed camping have been “tailgate” style. I describe this as sleeping in the bed of our 4×4 pickup truck after a full day of driving desert back roads to discover abandoned mines, ghost towns, or isolated cabins. Meals were served on the tailgate where our cook stove, lantern and water jug sat.

We love to spend our evenings under the stars with a small campfire glowing while enjoying a good cigar and whiskey to warm the soul. In a wilderness setting there is peace with sounds of the wind in the trees and perhaps the distant call of an owl.

Now THAT is how I define camping.

Resource to find your perfect campsite

Not sure where to find your own secluded sweet spot to camp? I have researched and compiled a handy list of apps, maps and links to get you started. Just sign up for my camping goodies newsletter and its my welcome gift to you.

I hereby propose the following classes of camping:

(Note that nearly all of these classes can be enjoyed as dispersed camping.)

Class 5 – Backpacking:

Carrying your vital necessities by backpack on foot into the wilderness where there is no TV, internet, or “camp” store to buy what you forgot to pack.

Class 4.5 – Horse packing:

A variation of backpacking where you ride in by horse or have your belongings packed in by mules, or both. Any amenities you have must be packed into the back country.

Class 4 -Tent camping:

Tents can vary in size from a 1 man to a 2 room family size. These vary from canvas with poles to the instant pop-ups. All usually require sleeping bags and cooking on a camp stove or BBQ, hauling your food and beer in an ice chest. Tent campers enjoy the flexibility of staying in both developed campgrounds or in the rugged wilderness where vehicles are not allowed.

Class 3: – Truck or tent trailer camping:

Sleeping in the back of your pickup truck, jeep or SUV with or without a camper shell. Or, pulling a glorified tent on wheels with screened windows and a small kitchen.

Dispersed camping in a T@B trailer
Dispersed camping in a T@B trailer

Class 2 – Truck camper, van or travel trailer camping:

Camping in a camper mounted on a truck, van camper or small travel trailer (think R pod or T@B). A camper or trailer affords a place to eat “indoors” free of bugs and wind, a cook stove and perhaps a porta potty with either an inside or outside shower. Sportsmobile vans and Earth Roamers are the top of the line in this category and can crossover into the RV category.

Class 1 – RV camping:

Where you drag your 2nd home along with you that includes all the amenities of a luxury hotel suite. You get to clean and keep house, just like at home. (Do you sense a hint of snobbery?) RVs have their own set of classes and include everything from a Mini Winnie to a 40′ bus. Don’t forget a 60′ yacht can be used to camp! Who says you can only camp on land?


In our 40 years of camping I have had the privilege of camping in all classes 2 through 5. My parents enjoyed a 30 foot RV, so I did get to experience Class 1 when they took their grandchildren to Yosemite or the Pacific coast. I have yet to sail on a yacht however.

Let me know if I missed a style of camping that should be included in a “class.” Don’t you think having classes of camping would provide clarity and bragging rights? Why should the 4 wheelers and rock climbers get all the glory?

2 thoughts on “How do you define camping?

  • August 10, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    I like your scale of camping. I see what you mean about crowded civilized campsites. I have been to a couple of state parks that were a hot spot for people who want to get out of town and party in the wilderness. I have witnessed some wild and crazy parties at state park campsites and often wonder why the heck people would travel all the way to the woods just to get wasted. How do you find secluded campsites that you can also bring your car to?

    • August 10, 2018 at 10:13 pm

      Yes, I too have wondered why folks want to have loud parties in the quiet pristine wilderness. “Different strokes” as they say. 😉
      Plenty of folks go car camping in dispersed areas too. You just can’t get off-road the way a 4×4 can. You will need to be extra careful due to low clearance, loose soil, etc. but trust me, my hubby and I went plenty of places on back roads via our Chevy Nova or 2 wheel drive pickup truck. Be sure to carry a “regular” (better than a donut type) spare tire as flats are common in the back country.
      I have researched and put together a resource list of apps, maps and links you can use to find dispersed camping using your car. Simply subscribe to my newsletter and it is my welcome gift to you. 😉 You will find a link on my home page. I hope you will check it out.


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