The Hierarchy Of Camping

Ever pull up next to someone at a campground and notice they brought way more stuff than you did? Or get to a campsite after hiking nine or ten miles and look over to see your friend pulling all kinds of superfluous crap out of his/her backpack?

I mean, camping is roughing it, right? It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s perfectly natural to feel a little self-righteous when you notice someone has brought what you estimate to be too many creature comforts along: Come on, man, is that an Aeropress in your pack? Who brought the ice cream maker car camping? Whoa whoa whoa, is that a pillow?

Like the food chain, everyone who “goes camping” has a place on the spectrum of roughing it. Above you are the people who take fewer comfort items with them, and below you are all those weenies who apparently can’t make it a single night without their down booties/extra-thick camping pad/butane-powered curling iron/stuffed animal collection.

This is the Hierarchy of Camping. If you sleep outdoors, you are on it. And you look up to someone, unless you are a bear, because you are at the top. Or John Muir or Kennewick Man, because you have been dead for 100 or thousands of years, respectively. Your attitude toward those beneath you on the hierarchy is up to you, of course.


More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.


77 replies on “The Hierarchy Of Camping

  • Chris

    Bear Grylls is a poser and a fraud , put him above RVers. Bg wall climbers and mountaineers should replace him.

    • JT

      You must first eat a semi-rotted sheep’s eye ball before you cast aspersions on the Bear (not bears, but THE Bear.)

      • Deling

        Anyone who participated in fear factor can do that. It doesn’t make them a camper. I’m not saying Bear is not a camper. I don’t even know him. I have only heard about him.

    • brent

      While I’ll give you that Bear’s tv show was a drama and not a real show. He actually isn’t a poser, I mean posers typically don’t get into the SAS…just sayin’

      • Jim M

        Bear is an experienced mountaineer (read “The Kid Who Climbed Everest” by him) and a reasonable person. However like all reality shows the producers and directors write the script. Many of you will recognize stupid statements and acts on the progam. Bear doesn’t have a say about that. An article on him and the other solo survival man show uncovered many interesting facts, including a stay over night at a motel when the script had him surviving in the wilderness.

        • Tom Kitta

          He is responsible for what he shows on his show. If he doesn’t agree he should have not sign it with his name.

          How about climbing something that shows he is a mountaineer not has a rich father? Say like K2?

          He also, could not confirm it, was guided.

          • Sam

            He raised the money for the climb himself through various corporate sponsors, not long after breaking his back. Yes his shows are heavily scripted, he openly admits it, but there’s no denying he’s a talented guy – he was survival instructor to recruits in the SAS.

            Read his autobiography, you’ll be surprised!

  • ABomb

    I’ve always joked about taking a pillow backpacking (I’d sleep so much better) but haven’t done it, yet. I’m talking a full size pillow not one of those lame backpacking pillows that’s no better than extra clothes in a stuff sack. One of these days on an overnighter I’m gonna do it and make everyone else jealous.

    • greg petliski

      I’ve been using a hiking pillow for years as my at home pillow, along with either a Z-lite or an airpad. Unless its good down, no pillow I’ve ever used is supportive enough. I cant stand soft saggy mattresses, and moving a mattress is retarded. So I’ve been on a camp pad for about five years now and don’t plan on going back.

    • Gary

      ABomb, I’ve tried about a dozen different camping pillows and 99% suck! There is a backpack pillow made by the company kaikkialla ( that is freaking awesome. It comes in two variations (S and L) s weighs in at 150grams, the L just over 300grams. If you arent going ultra-light (meaning you’ve drilled holes in your toothbrush to reduce weight or decided to forgo oral hygiene all together) it’s definitely worth it. I sleep a hell of a lot better with that than on a rolled up shirt.

  • Kate C

    Awesome. As a trailer camper who *doesn’t require hook-ups* I do, seriously, scoff at my parents who always require hook-ups, and my brother who can only fit in the glamping category. He camps with a full bar and makes the best mojitos! So, yes, there is much scoffing, but wow, it’s fun to camp with them occasionally.

  • Jack

    Yeah I second the Bare Grylls comment and would through winter backpackers in with the mountaineers.

  • Mark

    My amount of scoff has been increasing steadily over the last 20 years. I still start all my fires using a flint and steel, but now-a-days I’m in an RV. The hard sides really take the bluster out of Wyoming wind and extend my camping a couple months on either side of summer. Would 20-year old me judge 40 year old me? Yes. But young me can stuff his coat full of smug for a pillow cause I have a real one and I’m getting a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s activities.

  • Justin

    Awesome, but one glaring inaccuracy: by any measure, Bear Grylls does not belong in the upper half of the pyramid… We all know he hightails it for the Days Inn as soon as the cameras go off.

  • HKBetz24

    What about ultralight backpackers who just claim to be ultralight backpackers because they make other people carry most of the stuff?

  • WildTerrain

    Excellent, still amazes me how much stuff some people take camping (even if they have to carry it). A waterproof bivy, knife and unreliable sense of direction has always made for my best experiences.

    Sorry but Bear Grylls has to be replaced with the legend that is Alastair Humphreys 🙂

  • Zaid

    The more you camp you generally learn to take less with you.
    However, I believe you may also learn how to sneak in little luxuries by packing more efficiently.

  • Jenny

    Hilarious! But, in all honesty, I feel like unless someone is being super obnoxious (in a way much more unsettling than bringing too much or too fancy gear) I try not to scoff too much. To each his own, serious. Maybe that’s naive of me since I’m squarely in the middle, occasionally lower-middle, of this chart, but anyone who is spending time outside is good with me.

    • Rob

      VW westfalia is at the top and bottom and everywhere in between because they scream camping..anywhere, anyhow, hook ups, no hook ups, base camp to ascend big peaks..its all good.

  • Ron

    Les Stroud “Survivorman” man should replace ” bare grills”. Love that spelling:). Agreed on the mountaineers and through hikers.

  • Velosopher

    It never ceases to amaze me how hierarchies exist in every endeavour in the human world. When I started road biking, I learned to scoff at people riding bikes in (horrors!) everyday clothes. When I got into mountain biking, I found people scoffing at my lycra. Now that I’m commuting by bike, I have to ride in my work clothes. A good cure for scoff-itis, and I’ve even learned to enjoy it.

    These days, I ride in what’s comfortable and suited to what I’ll be doing. Sometimes Lycra is helpful.

    I’m not above scoffing at times, but I’ve learned that the person I scoff at may turn around and beat me up the mountain, so I do my best to limit it.

  • Jake

    Here’s the deal with Bear Grylls. He is a badass, (seriously, there’s no denying that) but the man is also a gigantic liar.

    So there you have it, he’s a badass liar.

  • Eric Willhite

    Bear Grylls… although his TV show was a complete fraud and a dangerously inaccurate portrait of how to behave in survival situations, he would fit where you have him. His camping skills and tolerance levels are above the others. Survivorman or the guys from Duel-Survivor would have been a less scandalous choice, but we get the idea. I just wish I could eat bugs like them.

  • Traci Lehman

    Variety is the spice of life and I like to change it up here and there, although, I draw the line at bringing my TV.., unless I’m in an RV.

    Isn’t camping like pizza? It’s ALL good and fun no matter the kind, Or maybe it’s like icecream…all ice cream is good, no?

  • terry tyson

    To be perfectly honest, the “scoffing factor” stuff bugs the hell out of me. Smacks of elitism or an outdoor-adventure-hipster attitude. Does the Glamper have less of an enjoyable experience than the folks carrying ultralight gear? Is a rock climber considered more legitimate as an “outdoors person” than a external-frame backpacker? I’m with Velosopher and Traci, it doesn’t matter. The importance is in getting outside, enjoying the outdoors in the manner it suits you best.

    Forgive me, I’m old and often grumpy.

    • sj

      “I’m with Velosopher”

      Must be time to hit the sack – I read that as “I’m a Velociraptor…”. Hat’s off to you. I bet you’d get a spot even above bears.

  • Diane Lovullo

    When I car camp, I like to have fun with my gadgets. I bring a bigger tent, and the Dutch oven. The real fun is backpacking. Then it’s about packing light and having multi tasking gear. I never scoff at car campers, and there have been stormy, windy weather that I can appreciate people who choose RV’s and Trailers. The only time I might have scoffed a little was when I saw someone who had a microwave oven in their trailer. But that is a matter of camping culinary prowess, and nothing spells creature comfort like thick hickory bacon sizzling on a fire on a crisp clean morning.

  • Heather Antonacci

    Funniest thing I EVER saw was a family at a campground, in a tent. They had an A/C unit on a couple blocks, stuck in the tent doorway, with the door flap pulled in around it. Granted it was Florida, but…..really????

  • Danielle

    Ok, I have to reply. I’m 41 and have been camping and exploring for over 20 years. I’ve camped from Canada to Mexico, Maine to California and back again. I’ve spent weeks in the mountains with all I needed in a backpack and I’ve car camped across the US three times. I’ve met incredibly generous and cool people all along the way. Those with nothing to share but helpful tips, and RV’ers that invited me in to share a warm meal at a real (kinda) table.
    I’ve found that however you do it, however you get there, it doesn’t matter. As Bob Marley would say ‘Judge not’. People that seek out nature and solitude are ok in my book. Currently, I am a proud ‘stand up in your tent’ camper. I pack gourmet meals for grilling, great cocktails, music and an air mattress. Could I go bare bones again? Sure! I took my 8 year old to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and camped at Havasu. But, I don’t want to camp like that regularly. I do it well. And I’m one Happy Camper.

  • Ed

    Sleeping on the ground, eating cold rations, being wet, cold, hot, sticky or itchy is not fun. I don’t want to carry a thing on my back and have worked hard to avoid those missable things. Although I HATE the term Glamping there is something about being cool or warm, dry and not sticky while enjoying the out doors in my AIRSTREAM! I am way down on the bottom of this pyramid and enjoy every second of it. There are a number of rules of life and rule number 1 is “life is too short to poop in a dirty potty……

  • Chris

    While I enjoyed tent camping as a yoot, I find that I can carry more beer in my RV. Scoff all you want, but I’m pooping while reading a magazine that doesn’t have to serve duel purposes!

  • ER

    Who cares where someone is on the pyramid. Are they getting out and enjoying their idea of nature? Stop judging because you think you are more hardcore.
    Where would multi-day rafters go? We carry full bars, very compfy sleeping pads, gourmet meals…but we also carry our shit (literally our shit) with us for days on end.

    • 5 Watt Phil

      Spent a lot of time in my little RV this winter, but I wasn’t really camping for sport. I was kind of homeless for a while.

  • Melanie Mcdaniels

    I would like to request a re- do of this hierarchy… You have forgotten a critical group of “campers” they are those that sleep in the dirt without a tent, work 16 + hour shifts, breathe as and smoke and they leave everything behind 2 weeks at a time to venture into places no sane person would go by choice…. They are Wildland firefighters… I think they deserve some recognition perhaps below the bear grylls or the pct/at thru hikers. That is all…

    • Miles

      With a line for wilderness trail crewman just above the line for wildland firefighters (we have to ride horses or walk, not on engines). And definitely above the PCT/AT/CDT folks.

  • Elizabeth

    I find it funny now that I have branched out into glamping with friends and family, That what I considered glamping was a lot less than what others brought. When I show up with my tiny camper yet still use my back packing stove and my family shows up with a 4 burner stove, steak and eggs for breakfast, that I still cannot shake my “ultralight backpackers” mentality. I feel a sense of luxury with my chair and a cocktail but they pretty much bring the sofa. My backpacker roots run deep.

  • Michael

    The strangest thing I ever saw happened when I was car camping, with a tent I could not stand up in, at a campground. The RV next to me had a blazing campfire going, but I never saw anyone around it. Eventually a guy came out of the RV, tossed a few logs on the fire, and went back into the RV. I am guessing they were enjoying the fire through the window.

  • Joslyn

    The funny thing I was thinking is you could cut it up even more because within both backpacking and Ultralight backpacking there is some hierarchy to it. Those dipping into the absurd base weights of 5 or 3 lbs have been known to look at 9 lbs like they’re crazy. And I have seen a few 12 lb base weight folks staring at those sporting a 18 lb base weight like they’ve lost their minds. 🙂 All in all this was really funny and pretty accurate!

  • Steve Anderson

    Maybe add a row for “Campers with Attitude at Altitude”…. Conrad Anker, Ed Viesturs & Jon Krakauer.

  • Tom Kitta

    Who in their right mind put there “Bear Grylls” *everyone* knows the guy is a fake.

    Maybe survivor-man would be a good substitute or mountaineers / big wall climbers etc?

  • Tyler Coulson

    When they mention thru hikers, they always leave off the people who walk all the way across a continent or who do the ADT. Where do we fit on this list?

  • Alan

    Does the fact that I have a gas powered blender move me up one line, or down one line, in the scoff factor?

  • David

    Nice one..though no one has mentioned Reinhold Messner who probably deserves to share the shining glory up there with the bear.

  • Rob

    Elitism knows no bounds. I have been hiking and backpacking for 30 years. Seen plenty of purists, gear-heads and evangelists in that time. A higher proportion, I might add, on the East Coast; especially the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In my 20s and 30s I did some pretty adventurous backpacks and scoffed at the RV crowd or those that needed too many creature comforts out in the backcountry. I would not have considered myself an “ultralight backpacker” but I traveled pretty economically nonetheless. As I age my stance on that has softened. I think the most important thing is just to experience nature whatever your experience means or comfort level. I’ve known some RV’ers now who have become great allies in the fight for wilderness protection; even if they are only experiencing it from the roadside.

  • dave

    So Uncle S. took me camping with just a wool blanket, M-14, and a cotton canvas shelter half. I didn’t die of it but I wasn’t comfortable. I don’t think camping is about “roughing it”. I have always thought that the more comfortable you are with the less amount of gear was how you measured your camping skills. I seek to be as comfortable as possible with no excess gear. This becomes even more important as we move from car camping to motorcycle camping; I don’t want to be uncomfortable, but I do not feel good going to REI with an open checkbook. Enjoy what you can and can afford, learn from your successes and your mistakes! Never be miserable; that teaches you and your that camping is not fun. Good Luck!

  • Ted B

    Spend part of the summer on a glacier in Alaska. While waiting for the plane to fly you out try some target practice with you 357m, which you have for polar bears, by popping off seagulls. Blood and feathers everywhere. Now it snows very heavy the plane can’t make it and your ammo is all gone. Now that is man against wild.

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