There was a time when the word “camping” conjured up one and only one image: a person in flannel pitching a tent in the woods. Not only is the flannel ensemble optional nowadays, but so is the tent. Modern-day camping reinvents tradition in favor of customized outdoor experiences that suit every type of camper.
These days you’ll see everything from hammocks to campervans in parks throughout the country. There’s no need to cram inside a stuffy tent, right? People are not only using a wide range of shelters and vehicles, but also jazzing up campsites with elaborate kitchen set-ups, fire pits, and super-comfy camp chairs. They’re using clever kits with paracord, tensioners, and carabiners to rig lines for drying clothes and towels, suspending lights, and keeping backpacks off the ground.
So revel with us in the era of the liberated camper, where you’re free to camp how you want, where you want—tent not included.
1. Get Off the Ground with a Camping Hammock
Hammocking has gone through a revolution in its own right. Once a rope-woven staple of Caribbean beach vacations and backyard hang-out sessions, the hammock is now a suitable shelter for camping adventures virtually anywhere (well, anywhere with trees). Modern hammocks sport lightweight nylon fabrics, high-strength buckles and carabiners, and creative suspension systems that make them durable and packable. Tailor your camping hammock setup with an insect net, rain protection, and a string of lights for a perfect night among the trees. For cool or cold weather, you can use a top quilt for warmth and an under quilt to retain more heat and block the wind.
2. Create the Ultimate Adventure Vehicle with a Roof-Top Tent
Okay, so roof-top tents are technically tents, but their unique functionality makes camping with one an entirely different experience. The beauty of roof-top tents lies in their flexibility. They allow you to transform your everyday car into an adventure vehicle at a moment’s notice. Since roof-top tents are removable and attach to the roof racks on a wide range of cars, they’re ideal for spontaneous weekend trips as well as and long overland hauls. Plus, they give you a great way to avoid critters that might wander into camp at night.
3. The Humble Bivy
Bivouac sacks, while far from new, are tried-and-true favorites for seeking shelter in any terrain. They’re lightweight and portable, provide insulation, and fit into tight camp spots. For these reasons, they’re popular with a wide range of adventurers, especially thru-hikers, rock climbers, and mountaineers. In recent years, bivy sacks have gone through a total makeover. Now they have superior waterproof and breathable fabrics, plus bug shields. Also, they’re a bit roomier, so you can feel a bit less like you’re spending the night in a coffin. Though bivy sacks are mostly used by hard-core adventurers, they’re also fine for casual camping. If you’re camping with a group of friends in a site with limited space, a bivy sack comes in handy.
4. Motorhomes, RVs, Trailers – Oh, my!
Go to any campground nowadays, and you’re bound to see more RVs, motorhomes, and newfangled trailer inventions than actual tents. That’s not to say that the image of the hearty camper has faded into memory. It’s just that more people are experiencing the joys of traveling and spending time outdoors in a way that suits them.
There’s no doubt that the conveniences of solar power, refrigeration, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a cozy bed make camping more, well, convenient. Because of this, RVs are the staple for long-term road trips and family vacations. More than anything, you simply can’t beat the get-up-and-go ease of hopping into the driver’s seat and jetting off to the next spot. And now that smaller and more affordable options are widely available, no one has to wait for retirement to find a suitable RV-style setup.
5. The Go-Anywhere Attitude of the Campervan
Hitting the mark as a somewhat pared-down version of an RV, a campervan straddles the line between indulgence and adaptability. Depending on the type of buildout, a campervan may not have all the luxuries of an RV (did you really need the cable television anyway?). But, at its simplest, the campervan will afford you a bed, storage space, and some relief from the elements. Oh, and you get a vehicle that’s far easier to maneuver than a 40-foot Class A motorhome.
Whether you build out your own camping setup from a standard vehicle (cargo vans, minivans, and SUVs all do the trick), or you get your hands on a ready-to-go campervan, you’ll be able to go pretty much anywhere. Cruising through a city, bumping down a dirt road, loading onto a ferry—you get the picture. Best of all, campervans can be customized to suit all types of adventurers, from a solo rock climber with three dogs to a surfing couple packing five boards, to a few friends loading up the mountain bikes for the weekend.
6. Nothing Beats Sleeping Under the Stars
When the temperature is mild, the clouds are at bay, and the critters are cooperating, it’s time to ditch the tent and all of the tent alternatives to sleep in the open air. Yes, you’ll need a stroke of luck to pull off a camping trip sans shelter, but when the conditions are right, you won’t regret taking advantage.
Whether you choose to sleep out in the open or tucked away in a cozy campervan, you’ll find that tent-free camping offers a real sense of freedom. While traditional camping is fine, it’s liberating to try something new. After all, one of the main reasons we head outdoors is to leave behind what’s familiar and explore new territory.
Written by Jenna Herzog for Matcha in partnership with GEAR AID.