Which Camping is Best for Your Dog: Backcountry Camping, Car Camping or “Glamping”?


Which Camping is Best for Your Dog: Backcountry Camping, Car Camping or “Glamping”?

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
– Albert Einstein

Camping is part of a long list of adventures that are a zillion times better when shared with a dog. There’s nothing like spending a day hiking or swimming, eating dinner by starlight and snuggling with your dog in a cozy tent, and then waking up and doing it all over again the next day.

Of course, most dogs love the outdoors, but all of our dogs are individuals. Some are ready to abandon the couch and hit the trails, while others might feign disdain at pine needles floating in their water bowl. The range of camping experiences are as varied as our dogs — which is right for you and your pup?

Backcountry Camping

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

Heading into the backcountry is the choice of camping purists, naturally. You carry a backpack with as little weight as possible into a primitive site ideally in the middle of nowhere. You pitch a small tent, purify water from a stream, hang your food and toiletries from a nearby tree to avoid a bear wandering into your campsite, use a shovel if you need a bathroom, and bring lots of resealable bags to pack out any garbage since it’s all about leaving no trace.


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You might need your dog to pitch in by carrying her own kibble and Zuke’s Power Bones in a doggy backpack since every ounce can feel like a pound when you’re on, say, mile seven of an uphill trek. So obviously, backcountry excursions are best for physically fit dogs.

Backcountry camping takes some careful planning, but the chance to be alone together in nature is infinitely rewarding. Your dog can run around off-leash and not be in violation of campground policies (though you’ll still need to keep your dog from chasing wildlife and keep small dogs close in case of predators). In the backcountry, dogs can bark their heads off at real or imagined squirrels without upsetting any neighbors, since ideally, you won’t have any. You can even howl at the moon together when it rises. (Seriously, if you’ve never howled with your dog, give it a try!)

Backcountry camping; photo courtesy of Bryce LaDuc

Car Camping

“Whatever form it takes, camping is earthy, soul enriching and character building, and there can be few such satisfying moments as having your tent pitched and the smoke rising from your campfire as the golden sun sets on the horizon — even if it’s just for a fleeting moment before the rain spoils everything.” – Pippa Middleton

There’s nothing like the grandeur of nature. There’s also nothing like having a cooler of beer nearby after a day of hiking. That’s where car camping comes in.

Staying at an established campground where you pitch a tent near your car is ideal when you’re working hard all week and can only escape into the woods (or desert, lake, or beach) for the weekend. It doesn’t take as much time and preparation as backcountry camping — you can have a camping box with cooking utensils, a pet first aid kit and other necessities packed and ready to go between trips. Just double check your camping checklist, toss everything in your vehicle, and go. If there’s no fire ban, you can stop for firewood on the way (or keep some in your truck).

Car camping is a great choice for social dogs who will find the sights and smells of other campers delightful. A nervous Chihuahua who barks her brains out anytime she hears a noise or sees someone walk past your campsite won’t love car camping, but a happy-go-lucky retriever will think she’s found heaven. And it’s perfect for puppies who need to be socialized to this new experience so that they’ll be camping buddies for life.

Car camping with Rio; photo courtesy of Jen Reeder


“Is that weird, taking my Louis Vuitton bag camping?” – Jessica Simpson

Back in the day, it seemed like RV “camping” was the height of comfort to be found in a campground.

People could park and stay inside their air conditioned vehicle, popping microwave popcorn and watching TV while running their noisy generators (potential proximity to an RV remains the biggest downside to car camping).

But recreational vehicles have nothing on the rise of “glamping” or glamourous camping. I admit, I’m not an expert on this topic. The closest I’ve come to glamping is being on the Kickstarter waitlist for the infamous “Coolest Cooler” campaign since 2014. (A cooler with a built-in blender? Some things have to be seen to be believed…)

Glamping is in a category of its own for a reason. Sometimes it involves signing on with a tour company that will cook gourmet meals for you while you recline in the comfort of an enormous tent — pitched by someone else — on a mattress filled with cotton instead of air. Repeat glampers might invest in teardrop trailers that can off-road and feature necessities like rooftop bedrooms, solar showers and espresso machines. A few years ago, Neiman Marcus was even selling a holiday “fantasy” Bulleit Woody Tailgate Trailer, a $150,000 mobile bar complete with an entertainment system, TV and a year’s supply of Bulleit whisky.

Glamping is sometimes dismissed as not being “hardcore,” but who really cares? It gets more people outside and can be an opportunity for seniors or people with disabilities to enjoy time outdoors with their dogs. Glamping can be a boon to dogs, too — older or injured dogs with mobility issues can benefit from a ramp into a cozy trailer or the comfort of a soft bed, and timid dogs will be able to retreat to the security of a big tent. Even a delicately coiffed Shih Tzu or pampered poodle could enjoy glamping — and think of the photo ops!

For some, it’s even a way a life: “vanlife.” This is the coolest form of glamping — people travel and live in conversion vans outfitted with comforts like appliances, wood flooring, solar panels and insulation. This isn’t living “in a van down by the river!” like Chris Farley’s “Saturday Night Live” character. These folks have seriously pimped their rides in order to spend as much time as possible exploring the country with their pups by their side. And wouldn’t most dogs love to spend life on the road with their humans?

Glamping vanlife style; photo courtesy of Bryce LaDuc

The Bottom Line

There is no “best” kind of camping — it all comes down to personal preference. Pick the one that inspires you to head out on an adventure with your dog and have fun!

#ZukesPack trailblazer Bryce LaDuc also contributed images to this post. Follow her adventures at @ladcub.

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About the Author

Jen Reeder

Jen Reeder is an award-winning freelance journalist who specializes in pet and lifestyle features. Her rescued Lab mix, Rio, and senior poodle, Peach, provide plenty of story ideas. She has written about pets for a variety of publications, including Family Circle, Modern Dog, The Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News, PawCulture, AKC Family Dog and Today.com, and for nonprofits like the American Animal Hospital Association and the Sierra Club. Jen is proud to be president of the Dog Writers Association of America and is also a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Colorado Press Association, and the Colorado Authors' League. Though Jen is a nomad at heart, living everywhere from Seattle to Australia, she currently resides in Durango, Colorado.
Jen Reeder