While tents are the go-to camping shelter, there are many other options you might not have tried yet.
If you’re driving to camp, your car is the best choice for shelter. If it’s packed with stuff, take the stuff out and pile it in the front seat. Even better, carry your gear on top in a waterproof car carrier. Stash your edible and scented stuff in a bear box. If you can fold down the back seats, this will be the most comfortable option. Lying down is better for your beauty sleep than sitting up in your front seats. Crack open a window for airflow, lock the doors, and fall asleep.
Camping in a hammock is easy and relaxing. A lightweight hammock is great for backpackers who want to forgo finding level ground to set up a tent at the end of a strenuous day. Many people find sleeping in a hammock more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, and a better night of sleep allows you to hike more the next day. Sleeping under the stars is another bonus.
You pull into your camp spot in the late afternoon and say “hi” to your neighbors who are setting up their tent before they go for a hike. Two hours later, you return and they’re just finishing up. You pull out your sleeping mat and your bag throw it on the ground near your fire, and hunker down for the night. For extra protection from the elements, consider a mummy bag. Just lie there and watch the stars turn the night sky into a milky wonder.
National parks frown upon building a lean-to in a campground, but if you’re backpacking off the grid, this is a good way to build a shelter. All you need are the natural materials that surround you on the forest floor, but you can build one even faster if you came prepared. Look around and see if you can gather some loose branches, some leaves, and something to tie with, preferably some roots or vines of some kind. If you can find a large enough rock that can protect you from the wind, you can use that as the basis for your shelter, or you can use a downed tree that is resting on its side for a shelter for the night. Make sure to observe all park regulations when building shelters.
This isn’t the tarp someone keeps in their truck to cover the stuff in their bed from getting rained on; this is the latest thing in backpacking. Although, when it comes down to it, those types of tarps can be just as good. You will also probably have a ground cloth to put down underneath your tarp. The most common and the simplest set-up is to take each corner and tie it off to a tree or other tall structure, or use poles to elevate the corners. For other shapes of tarp shelter, you can use trees, boulders and even your car as points of attachment. Once you tie the ropes you can toss your bag under your shelter and climb inside nice and dry.