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Tent Camping vs Van Camping: Do you have a Preference?

Today we’re looking at the two different styles of camping to share some of the pros and cons of each. Are you ready to talk tent camping vs van camping?
Tent camping vs van camping- do you know which one is for you? We're sharing some of the pros and cons of each.

As you probably know, we’ve recently become big fans of van camping, and are continuing to further refine our approach and equipment with each trip.

We love van camping as a comfortable compromise between tent camping and RV camping. Each camping style has pros and cons, so if you’re thinking about making the leap, let us talk about some of the differences between van camping and tent camping.

Maybe we’ll help you decide to take that first step or convince you to try a new method of camping. If you’d like to learn more about van camping, check out our comprehensive post Van Camping 101. You’ll also find it linked from the top of the page. 

Tent Camping vs Van Camping: Which is Better?

Relaxing by our tent in the woods.

Cost of Tent Camping vs Van Camping

Let’s start with one of the biggest factors when choosing your camping style: cost.

Getting started with tent camping can be relatively inexpensive. You can often find tents and sleeping bags at garage sales or cheap ones at Wal-Mart or Amazon. This tent is our absolute favorite and has made setting up camp a breeze.

Some places, like REI, will even rent equipment so you can “try before you buy.” Unless you already have a van, getting started with van camping can be quite an investment. If you have a van already, then you will likely end up making modifications in order to enhance your comfort; this can be expensive as well.

In our case, we started van camping in our minivan and upgraded to my husband’s work van so while we’ve kept modifications to a minimum, we have invested in a few things to keep us more comfortable. Our van camping mattress is our #1 and most important investment and I’ve found some other gear that make things more comfortable too.  

RV and van rentals are becoming more common, so there may be a way to try out van camping before you commit to it.

Winner: Overall, tent camping is less expensive, but if you get hooked on any kind of camping, you’ll soon find yourself investing in more and better equipment.

Van camping in Tybee Island

Campsite Selection & Setup

Compared to RV camping, both tent camping and van camping are pretty easy when it comes to choosing a campsite.

If you are sticking to commercial campgrounds, like a KOA-style campground, the tent sites are usually comfortable and less expensive than sites with electricity and water.

Depending on your van set up, you may pay extra for a site with electricity and water, but if you are prepared to be “off the grid” for the night, you can choose a tent site, too.

The advantage of van camping is that you don’t have to set up a tent at all, and your sleeping quarters are wherever you want them to be. If the campground is full or you can’t find a campsite level enough to pitch a tent, in a van this isn’t a problem. Just pull over and go to sleep. My husband and I have spent many nights snoozing away in a Walmart parking lot.

Winner: Van camping is more versatile, as you can camp anywhere from a parking lot to a forest road or commercial campground.

You can tent camp just about anywhere.

Camping Weather

Weather is a big factor that can really affect your camping plans.

There is nothing worse than trying to set up a tent in the rain. It’s almost as bad is packing up a wet tent in the rain. But there’s nothing better than sleeping outdoors on a cool summer night, listening to cicadas or maybe even the lapping waves of a nearby lake.

With the right gear, sleeping out in a tent can be pleasant in any season, but you are definitely subject to the elements and nobody wants to leave a cozy sleeping bag to put on cold boots for a trip to the outhouse!

Winner: It depends on your van setup. If you have good air circulation and/or air conditioning, van camping is the winner. Otherwise, you’ll get a better breeze in a tent.

Van camping in the Florida Keys

Camping Safety & Security

Safety while camping is something that many people worry about and safety concerns may even keep some people from camping.

That said, there seems to be an unwritten rule of campgrounds that your stuff is safe in a tent. Of course, you can find stories of theft if you search hard enough, but in general, campgrounds are very safe, even for women camping alone.

That said, if you are out exploring all day, you may not feel comfortable leaving a $400 sleeping bag, or any kind of electronics, in a tent and you may decide to pack up your valuables to take them with.

On the other hand, if you are van camping all your stuff goes everywhere you go. This is probably a good thing, unless thieves see you as a target, knowing you probably have a lot of good stuff in that van!

Winner: Van camping definitely has a feeling of added security, especially for sleeping safely behind locked doors. Overall, camping is a pretty safe hobby, no matter which method you choose.

Tent camping by the water

Camping Gadgets

Let’s face it; some of us love camping for the fact that we can buy a whole bunch of fun gadgets to enhance our camping experience.

When meeting up with camping friends, it’s fun to compare gadgets and make a mental list of what you “need” next. From tiki torches, space heaters, reclining lawn chairs, organization systems or new cooking tools, there’s a ton of fun shopping to be done, whether you are tent camping or van camping.

I’ve made a list of all my favorite tried and true van camping accessories here

Winner: Both! Van campers and tent campers can shop ‘til they drop, either online or at fun stores like REI and Cabela’s.

After reading our pros and cons of tent camping versus van camping, what do you think? Have you tried them both, or do you have a preference? Tell us your favorite thing about your preferred camping style!

More Van Camping Posts: 
Van Camping 101: Easy to Make Privacy Curtains
Some Surprising Benefits of Van Camping
Van Camping with Thirty-One Gifts
Top Ten Van Camping Hacks Protection Status
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