Camping vs Backpacking

Several large tents set up in Base Camp in the Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness
Basecamp in the Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness

Ahead of my upcoming “Intro to Backpacking” event, Nancy asks about Camping vs Backpacking:

Question about backpack: what’s different from camping ? Sorry, I have no knowledges about camping and backpacking. Just started hiking .  But I am interested to learn everything you want to show me. Thanks.

Camping vs Backpacking

The simplest definition of “camping” is “sleeping outside.”  Backpacking is a subset of camping where you carry all of your gear to the desintation campsite in a backpack.

Camping doesn’t always involve hiking. Many people enjoy “Car Camping,” which is when you drive right up to your campsite and unload your gear from your car. Camping may also include “Canoe/Kayak Camping,” which is when you carry all your gear in s a small boat.

On the other hand, Backpacking always includes at least some hiking. The amount of hiking and camping involved in a backpacking trip can varry by the type of Backpacking trip it is. The basic types of backpacking are The Party, Base Camping, Traverse, Section Hiking, and Thruhiking.

Types of Backpacking

The Party – Some backpackers enjoy a short hike to a remote campsite that isn’t accessible by car. The hike is usually short and the focus is usually on enjoying camp life. Sometimes participants make several trips between their car and the site to shuttle in their supplies. I don’t really consider this “backpacking,” but many do.

Base Camping – Base camping is when you hike to a remote destination to camp, and then you use that as a base for other activities. This is typically used when hikers want to reach some destination, like a mountain peek, that is too far from the road for a single day hike.

Traverse – The traverse is a hike from one location to another that involves camping at remote sites for one or more night. An example would be hiking half of the Devil’s Path one day, camping, and then hiking the second half the next day.

Section Hiking – Section hiking is a series of traverses designed to complete a long distance hike. For example, I lead monthly backpacking trips along the Appalachian Trail.  My goal is to eventually hike the entire thing.

Thru-hiking – Thru-hiking is when you complete an entire long distance trail ina  single season. This typically involves quitting your job, selling everything you own, and going on a 3-6 month pilgrimage to find yourself.

You’ll notice that as my types of backpacking progressed, they became less focused on camping and more focused on hiking.  Many thruhikers don’t consider themselves campers at all. They are walkers. Camping is merely a means towards an end.

2 thoughts on “Camping vs Backpacking”

    1. Thanks Scott. I started camping and hiking separately. When I decided to merge them, I probably landed between The Party and Base Camp. I quickly became bored of sitting around in one spot not “accomplishing” anything and started to push the miles.

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