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If camping is new to you, getting started can be a bit daunting. You need to figure out what to pack, how to prepare, and—hardest of all—where to go. In British Columbia, we are fortunate to have more than 1,000 provincial parks and recreation sites, seven national parks, and hundreds of private campgrounds and RV sites. That alone can feel overwhelming, but camping is one of the most Canadian experiences you can have. If you’ve never been, or if you’re just starting to explore what camping is all about, here are a few helpful tips to get your stakes in the ground.
Being prepared to live outdoors, even if it’s only for a few days, means gathering the essential items. Many of these can be purchased from local outdoor retailers like Mountain Equipment Co-operative (MEC), Escape Route, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, and Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors. The alternative is to rent or borrow the gear you need. Vancouver companies like Rent-a-Tent Canada and Rent Outdoors offer rental and sharing services, as do many of the outdoor retail stores mentioned above.
Gear to borrow, rent, or purchase:
Bring from home or borrow:
Other camp needs:
Parks Canada has created a downloadable camping checklist—including what to bring if you are camping with pets.
A little research and preparation goes a long way to ensure your camping experience a good one. Parks Canada runs a Learn to Camp program in partnership with MEC. Participants learn about recreation safety, get camp-cooking tips, and learn how to pitch a tent and build a fire. Other great resources include Camping & RV in BC, AdventureSmart, and the MEC Blog. Get information on camping experiences in BC, safety tips, and inspiration for planning, and be sure to read the “Know Before You Go” section on the BC Parks website.
Choosing your destination is part of the fun, and in BC we have lots of options. BC Parks and Parks Canada offer facilities that are regularly maintained by park operators, Recreation Sites are a little more rustic, and privately run campsites and RV parks can range from basic to boutique, depending on the operator. No matter where you go, reserve your camping area well in advance as popular camping spots can book up several months ahead.
Discover Camping is the B Parks reservation website where you can make reservations for frontcounty (accessible by vehicle) and group camping. User fees range from $13 to $120 (for group campsites) per night. Parks Canada reservations for BC’s seven national parks—Gwaii Haanas, Pacific Rim, Gulf Islands, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and Yoho—book up fast, but these iconic destinations are worth the extra planning. Consider going on weekdays, when it can be easier to get into the most popular places. Parks Canada and BC Parks also offer cabins, yurts, and other options for those wanting to overnight outdoors with a little less preparation. Some of these sites are located in unique settings like Fort Langley National Historic Site and Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites.
If you’re feeling spontaneous, a certain number of sites in provincial and national parks are set aside for campers on a first-come, first-served basis, but have a backup plan. Recreation Sites are located in more remote areas and have basic facilities, and virtually all are first-come, first-served. Fees range from free to $15 per night.
Privately run campgrounds and RV sites are another great option, and they often come with perks. Think swimming pools, communal cooking areas, family-friendly activities, playgrounds, and other amenities. The Camping & RV in BC map is a good resource to help you find options across the province. Private camping fees vary depending on location and amenities.
frontcountry camping (a.k.a. car camping): Camping in a park or recreation area close to a road or highway. These campsites are generally accessible by vehicle and have basic facilities and recreational opportunities.
RV (camper van) camping: Camping with an RV (recreational vehicle) or camper van in a frontcountry area.
group camping: Areas set aside in provincial or national parks for large groups to camp together.
walk-in/cycle-in camping: Designated sites that do not allow vehicle parking (some frontcountry areas have walk-in/cycle-in sites).
backcountry camping: Camping in an area that is not frontcountry. This involves wilderness hiking and backpacking where limited facilities are available.
cabin camping: Backcountry areas that offer cabin accommodation. Many require hiking and backpacking to reach them, and some can be booked in advance.
pack in/pack out (a.k.a. no trace camping): In areas where no garbage facilities exist (primarily in the backcountry), you must take with you everything you bring into the area.
bear cache: A storage container designed to protect your food from bears and other animals. This may be a metal box, canister, wooden structure, or a hanging system. Always be prepared to create your own if nothing is available.
potable water: Water available in camp areas that is safe to drink or use for food prep.
outhouse: A pit toilet often found in backcountry or wilderness camping areas.
spork: A handy utensil that is a combination fork and spoon.
s’more: A delicacy made from graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. A camping must.
Now that you have a few tips and tricks, it’s time to go camping. Remember to have fun out there in the wilderness—it’s a pretty great place.
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