What Is the Difference Between Camping and Backpacking?

Two people with backpacks setting up camp.

You might’ve heard someone saying: whether you choose to name it hiking, backpacking, or camping – it’s all the same to me, buddy. Needless to mention, the person who said those words is completely ignorant of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the three activities. Today we’ll focus our attention on the difference between the two of ’em: camping and backpacking.

The truth is: the two activities do resemble each other in a certain way. If we told you to picture a camper, you’d imagine someone sporting a backpack. If we told you to picture a backpacker, you’ll imagine someone with camping equipment in their backpack. Okay, so where do we look for differences?

The main difference between camping and backpacking lies in the fact backpackers hike towards the campsite carrying all the equipment with them. Campers, however, usually drive to the campgrounds with all their gear packed safely in the trunk. Still, both outdoor activities give you a fantastic opportunity to spend some quality time surrounded by jaw-dropping nature.

That’s not even a whole tenth of what we’ve prepared for you today! Stay tuned for some useful information!

Table of Contents

The way we’ll tell the story

First things first, let’s get something straight! We’ll tell this story (if you can call it a story) in the following manner: first, we’ll talk about these activities individually and see whether or not the differences appear by themselves, without us pointing a finger at them. Secondly, we’ll do a cross-examination and highlight the differences between camping and backpacking. Does that sound alright? If so, shall we start?

What is camping?

Most of us know the answer by heart. You’ll rarely stumble upon a person who doesn’t know what camping is, or what this fantastic human activity involves. Still, let’s take and look if there’s something you’d call a standard definition of the term. Here it is: camping is an outdoor activity that usually involves overnight stays away from your home’s premises, either completely without shelter or using the most “primitive” solutions such as tents or RVs. Don’t bother remembering this one. It’s just a hard way of saying the obvious: sleeping surrounded by nature with or without a shelter.

What is the purpose of camping?

Okay, so there’s hardly someone who wouldn’t naturally (no pun intended) guess why folks like to stay in the outdoors. Besides the obvious (a break from the stressful environment of their everyday lives), here are some other reasons why people choose to camp every once in a while:

  • Tradition. Certain human activities are just passed on from generation to generation. Camping’s not an exception there.
  • Social bonding. Spending some quality time in nature is a great way to repair broken social bonds and establish new ones.
  • Obtaining new skills. When camping, you’ll have to endure all sorts of tasks (purifying water, for instance). Just being alone with your thoughts surrounded by nature is a great achievement for the modern urban dweller.
  • Health, both psychical and mental. Camping isn’t a static activity, as one might think. You’ll get to work some muscles, too. Also, being surrounded by nature is a fantastic medicine against depression and other mental disorders plaguing our contemporary global society.
  • Exploration. By camping out in nature, you’ll fulfill a basic human need to explore the unknown. You’ll get to experience wildlife firsthand.

Are there different types of camping?

Well, of course! You’ll want to know there’s a good number (10+) of different camping types. Let’s see which ones are the most popular with nature-loving folks.

Adventure camping

This type usually requires you to be an experienced camper before hitting the road. Also, it’s made for folks who have nothing against dealing with different kinds of challenges the wilderness puts in front of them. A summary of this type of camping can go a bit like this: during the day, you hike until you find a perfect spot to camp; once you’ve found it, you set up camp. The main objective of the adventure camper is to be completely immersed in nature.

RV camping

This one’s also pretty popular among campers worldwide. It enables individuals to enjoy fantastic outdoor destinations and let themselves be immersed in the scenic, sometimes otherwordly beauty of nature. Recreational vehicles (RVs) are equipped with everything a modern camper might need, from entertainment to bedding. The only thing an RV camper must do is to choose a good site. It can be a national park, forest, meadow, farm, or any other place an individual prefers.

As one can guess, RV camping’s all about comfort instead of survival. For more info on this amazing activity, click right here.


Before we check out what’s backpacking about, let’s say a word or two about glamping. This activity gained popularity only recently. Its appearance scandalized (might be too tough of a word, but still…) some portions of the worldwide camping community. It involves camping in a way most campers would tell you it’s artificial, with all the advantages of staying in a hotel. That’s exactly how this activity got its name: glamorous + camping = glamping.

For a more in-depth look at this phenomenon, check out this article covering the differences between camping and glamping.

A group of friends camping out in the wild.

What is backpacking?

There are two ways the term backpacking can be interpreted. The first definition stands that backpacking is essentially a form of independent, low-cost international travel. Needless to say, we’re more interested in the other definition which views backpacking as an outdoor activity and it goes a bit like this: backpacking is an outdoor activity that involves carrying equipment on one’s back while hiking for more than a day. In many cases, it also involves camping outdoors.

It’s easy to mistake hiking for backpacking, and the other way ’round. The main difference between the two activities lies in the fact a hike doesn’t have to last for days. If it prolongs, it becomes a backpacking adventure! A quick tip: here’s where to find one.

Why is backpacking good?

As you’ll see the benefits of backpacking are almost the same as the benefits of camping. Still, backpacking usually requires a more serious physical effort on your part than plain ol’ camping. Here’s why backpacking’s good:

  • You’ll have adventures to tell. Whether it’s your friends or grandchildren you’ll talk to – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ll be able to say: I was once attacked by a bear, but I outsmarted the fella.
  • Backpacking boosts self-confidence. Live every good physical activity, backpacking gives bring you back the confidence you’ve lost over the years.
  • It also challenges your survival skills. You’ll feel more comfortable in any situation life chooses to surprise you with.
  • It makes you less dependent on comfy living conditions. You’ll get to see what a luxury it is to have an apartment and a bed to sleep in.
  • Backpacking adventures are a great backdrop for many lifelong friendships. Backpackers are usually very friendly folks who know how to value social connections.

Now, let’s see if there are different types of backpacking.

What are the different types of backpacking?

Here we’ll show you two types of backpacking that test the limits, both mental and physical, of each person involved in such an adventure.

Mountain backpacking

While mountaineering alone is a tough nut to crack, mountain backpacking’s not a piece of cake either. Still, if you love reaching mountain summits and gazing at valleys that make your jaw drop to the floor, mountain backpacking might just become your new favorite activity. You’ll get to traverse forests, emerge through passes, and reach mountaintops while carrying just the essential items that will ensure you’re up to the task (no excess items allowed).

Desert backpacking

Are you, by any chance, looking for peace, calmness, and serenity? If so, the desert might serve as the perfect backdrop for your backpacking adventure. Keep in mind not all people are made to endure the emptiness of the desert. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’re bound to enjoy some fantastic scenery a few people can say they’ve witnessed.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about basic traits both activities have, let’s consider the main question of today’s article.

What is the difference between camping and backpacking?

You might have already realized this, but the main difference between these two activities is, of course, how do you get to the spot where you’ll set up camp. When backpacking, you travel on foot and carry all the gear on you. Camping doesn’t involve such physical endurance tests. You’re more likely to drive to the campgrounds. In other words: backpacking involves a bit of camping, but it doesn’t go the other way ’round.

Final words

That’s about it, dear folks! Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed browsing this one as much as the last one we did! Also, we hope this article lifted the veil of mystery surrounding the differences between the activities in question.

For more fantastic tips on spending quality time in nature, feel free to visit this page.

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