Staying overnight in a wild, remote and scenic place offers a rather different experience from staying in a motel, hotel or bed and breakfast. Sometimes the discomforts associated with some forms of camping can be so acute—burnt and smoky food, biting insects, inadequate washing facilities, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements—that the experience of the outdoors must far outweigh these and the perception
of home comforts available in more usual overnight accommodation.
Hence there are two key elements to the overnight experience. One is the level of home comforts to be provided, and the other is the quality of the setting and the atmosphere and its enjoyment.
Home comforts can increase with the type of accommodation available, but there can be a consequent reduction in the quality of setting, the atmosphere and its enjoyment. The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum tends to favour backpacking with a bedroll or small tent in the wildest areas to fit in with the setting of remoteness and lack of human presence, whereas trailer caravans and motor homes set in developed areas supplied with electrical hookups and on-board bathrooms would be more typical of less remote, more gregarious settings. At one end of the scale there is the added thrill or tension of being amongst wild animals, some dangerous to humans, while at the other the risk of attack is minimal.
Nevertheless there can be a wide range of experiences. Dispersed camping sites can mean that it is possible to be alone in a motor home and feel away from others, while at some busy backpacking sites campers can feel very crowded. Therefore it is important to design to sustain the qualities of being close to nature but not too close to other people.
The market demand should be assessed before deciding what to provide. It might be segmented, allowing different sites or different parts of the same site to be developed for different categories of user in varied ways. For example, backpack hikers are likely to seek a remote, wild experience where there is some element of self-reliance needed. Alternatively, they might have a low budget for their trip and wish to camp cheaply in a field by a farm that may be near to a pub or bar to visit for a refreshment. Remote long-distance trails in the Rockies of North America will suggest the former, the West Highland Way in Scotland the latter. There is nothing wrong with either, except that both markets should be catered for if possible.
Family groups may camp because they also seek a
wilder experience, except that issues of vehicular access, safety and entertaining young children have to be accommodated. Camping has also traditionally been a cheap way for less well-off families to have a holiday or vacation, so that wildness may not necessarily be what they want. Families often prefer or will tolerate busier campsites, where they can mix with like-minded people and where the children can play easily and safely together while the adults socialize.
Trailer caravans may also attract a particular user group. In some places the users may return regularly to the same site and even the same pitch, spending several weeks there and meeting old friends from past years. This social side becomes difficult if the units are widely dispersed around a large area. There may also be another category of people who tour from place to place, staying one night at a site and then moving on. For them the social contacts outside the family or couple may well be secondary to the solitude and the variety of settings experienced.
Motor homes, because of their mobility, are most likely to be used by people who like to spend a fairly short time at one place. In the USA and Canada the biggest of these RVs (recreation vehicles) may be seen towing a car with a boat loaded on a roof rack. They stop at sites, and use the car for local expeditions and the boat to fish or sail on a nearby lake. Such a versatile vehicle requires plenty of space, and needs good roads.
Cabins, in contrast, can be owned by a family who use it for their vacations; or sites with a number of cabins may be built to be let or co-owned. In many places with lakes such as the Okanagan region of British Columbia almost every lake is ringed by cabin sites set down near the shore and tucked in amongst the trees. In Finland the recreational use of lakeside cabins is part of the national culture. Cabins for rent are increasingly popular. The quality of accommodation can be high, while the self-catering aspect attracts people, especially families, for whom eating in restaurants is too expensive or detracts from the experience. Cabins can be used all year round, and in some places such as ski resorts the high season is the winter; they provide the security of home comforts within an outdoor or wilder context.
A further user of camping facilities is the organized group such as the Scouts, Girl Scouts/Guides or other youth organizations. These offer youngsters the well-tried formula of fresh air, exercise, an introduction to nature, team building and pioneer skills such as open-air cooking, building things from materials found on the site, and exploring. As well as the supervision of large numbers of one age group there are requirements for segregating the sexes, formal activities such as parades, open-air services and separate areas for patrols or subgroups within the main camp area.