What do you call a campsite without a tent?

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If you’re new to camping, terminology like “guyline” and “bivy bag” could seem odd. You may be familiar with the term “blaze,” but have you heard of its trail-hiking relative, the “cairn?” And if you venture out into the remote wilderness, you may even find yourself in the “backcountry” doing some “boondocking” or sleeping in a “bivouac.”

We think that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, so we’re here to help you make sense of some common and not-so-common camping jargon. This camping terminology and definitions guide will include phrases you may hear at your campground, see on a trail map, or come across when shopping for camping supplies. With a little assistance, you’ll be able to pack your “rucksack” and set off in your “rig.”

A happy couple enjoying tent camping at a KOA campground.

Tent Camping Terminology

If you are going tent camping, you will most certainly encounter the following terms:

1. A-frame: Tents that resemble the letter “A” when seen from the front are referred to by this word. A-frame tents, sometimes known as “ridge tents,” are a kind of earlier tent that was initially constructed with a horizontal pole with vertical supports at the ends and canvas strung around the framework. These tents often used tie outs and guylines (which we will define later) for improved stability. Contemporary A-frame tents are made of more common materials such as nylon and are supported by aluminum poles. A-frame tents are often small and only accommodate one or two people.

2. Bear bag: Bear bags are waterproof bags used by campers to preserve their food and cooking utensils when camping in bear-infested areas. These protective sacks are tied to a rope and strung to keep bears and other animals at bay. The technique of hanging bear bags is known as “treeing,” and a bear bag that has been strung up is known as a “bear hang.”

3. Billy: A billy, sometimes known as a “billy can,” is a small metal container used to cook meals or boil water over a campfire. Billy cans typically have a handle on the top for convenient campfire cooking, but makeshift billy cans may also be made out of coffee cans or other metal containers. The billy originated in Australia and has since come to represent bush culture.

4. Car camping: Tent camping is frequently referred to as “car camping” when done at a campground where the camper’s automobile is parked nearby. Car camping is a popular form of camping for those who do not want to carry all of their supplies in a backpack, and it is also a great option for families. It enables campers to carry more equipment and gear for a more pleasant camping experience as well as a wider range of campground culinary alternatives.

5. Carabiner: A metal clip with a spring gate or threaded closing is this valuable item. Carabiners are available in many sizes and can be used to attach ropes and anchors while climbing or simply clipping a water bottle to a daypack.

Man cowboy camping - camping with just a sleeping bag - in a beautiful, misty mountain backdrop.

6. Cowboy camping: Cowboy camping is defined as sleeping beneath the stars with no shelter. Camping like a cowboy with a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, or nothing at all is an option for people who prefer roughing it. Cowboy camping does not need a tent or shelter, which keeps your bag light and your adventures free.

7. Dome: This tent form is one of the most popular styles for contemporary camping tents. Most dome tents are made of lightweight aluminum tent poles that connect at the tent’s apex to form a curved frame. These poles run either inside or outside of the tent fabric and are held in place at the base of the tent by stakes, clips, straps or pegs. While classic dome tents are square or rectangular, modern dome tents are available in irregular shapes and sizes to accommodate any camping crew, from couples to large families.

8. Double-wall construction: Most dome tents will either have a double-wall or single-wall construction. A permeable and lightweight inner wall, known as a “canopy,” is used in double-walled tents. A double-walled tent’s canopy is not usually waterproof. The waterproof outer covering, known as a “fly,” protects the canopy from wind and rain. A single-walled tent features just one layer of waterproof and insulating fabric. Single-walled tents are lightweight, but they may not be highly breathable or allow for a lot of ventilation within the tent.

9. Four-season tent: Most tents are classified as four-season or three-season. Four-season tents are designed to be used in any weather conditions, while three-season tents are meant to be used only in spring, summer and fall. Four-season tents provide superior insulation and durability to resist severe winter conditions.

10. Freestanding tent: Certain tent models need the use of pegs or guylines for stability, whereas freestanding tents do not. The tent poles of a freestanding tent often connect into a peg at the base of the tent allowing it to stand up without being staked into the ground.

11. Gear loft: Within some camping tents is a gear loft that gives extra storage space for small goods. The gear loft is most often made of a small panel of mesh or fabric that can be hooked inside the roof of the tent to serve as an overhead shelf. Gear lofts may also be bought separately and attached to a tent.

Closeup of two hikers hands grabbing tent ground steaks.

12. Ground stakes: Ground stakes are tiny anchors that are used to anchor a tent to the ground. Tent pegs are often composed of metal with a little hook or ridge on top. To plant a tent in the snow during winter camping, special broad pegs known as “snow stakes” may be used.

13. Guyline: Guylines are wires that are used to increase support and keep a tent dry. Guylines are attached to the tent’s rain fly and then staked to the ground or tied to nearby trees or rocks. This tightens the tent surface to better guide rain away from the tent and keep it stable in windy circumstances. Some tents may have guylines built-in, while others require guylines to be tied to loops in the rain fly.

14. Kindling: To get the flames going, several different sizes of wood must be utilized while constructing a campfire. Kindling, which consists of tiny sticks or wood, is the second smallest ingredient required to make a fire. Kindling should be dead or extremely dry for the greatest results while trying to make the ideal campfire.

15. Mummy bag: To save heat, this sort of sleeping bag is intended to wrap securely around your body. Mummy bags feature a hood at the top to keep your head warm, and they taper at the foot to keep your toes toasty. Mummy bags are smaller and simpler to pack than rectangular sleeping bags, in addition to providing effective warmth.

16. Pole sleeves: Pole sleeves are fabric tunnels that span the length of the tent, either inside or outside. When pitching a tent, the tent poles slide into the pole sleeves.

17. Potable water: Potable water is another name for drinking water that is safe to drink without further water treatment. If you are hiking or adventuring outdoors, make sure any water you drink is potable or use a water purification system first.

Four friends setting up their tent in the mountains by adding a rain fly.

18. Rain fly: A rain fly is used as an extra covering in double-walled tents to keep the tent dry and sheltered from the wind. Rain fly may just cover the top of the tent, allowing campers to view out the tent windows and enjoy more air flow. Rain flies that cover the whole tent give exceptional protection from the weather.

19. Shell: The shell is the outer layer of a sleeping bag or outdoor apparel item. When choosing the right camping gear, look for a shell material that suits your specific needs, whether it be water resistance, insulation, breathability or durability.

20. S’mores: We hope you already know what we’re talking about, but if you haven’t had this famous camping dish, you’re in for a treat. S’mores are created with a roasted marshmallow sandwiched between graham crackers and a chocolate chunk within. S’mores are traditionally baked over a campfire, although they may also be made at home on a stove. While classic s’mores are composed of the simple recipe of marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers, there are many creative s’mores recipes to suit any taste. For additional ideas, check out some of KOA’s favorite s’mores recipes.

21. Stake puller: When it is time to pack up your campsite, a stake puller can be used to help remove tent stakes from the ground. This tool comes in handy when the earth is cold or hard.

22. Tinder: Tinder is the first form of fuel used in the construction of a campfire. Tinder may be any highly flammable substance that will smolder when struck by a spark. Tinder is used to start a campfire, which then catches the kindling and ultimately the bigger pieces of wood on fire.

23. Temperature rating: While looking for a sleeping bag, the temperature rating might assist you in determining which sleeping bag is most suited to your environment and season. The International Organization for Standardization regulates sleeping bag temperature ratings, which include the comfort temperature, maximum temperature, limit temperature, and extreme temperature. These sleeping bag temperature ratings describe the temperature at which an average person may sleep comfortably, perspires somewhat, is almost chilly but still in equilibrium, and is at danger of hypothermia.

24. Tent pad: A tent pad may be provided in a campground dedicated for tent camping. Tent pads are flat patches of sand, cement, gravel, or mulch where you may pitch your tent. Campers without a tent pad may need to look for the flattest location to put up their tent.

Aerial view of a travel trailer RV on a back-in KOA Patio Site.

RV Camping Terminology

You should be familiar with the following words while RV camping:

25. Back-in site: While looking for an RV park, you may come across those that are referred to as back-in sites. The RV driver must back up into these campsites. RV campsites can also be “pull-through sites” which are those that the driver can enter from one end and exit from the other.

26. Boondocking: Also called “dry camping,” boondocking describes RV camping in campsites without any electric, water or sewer hookups. Boondocking enables RVers to camp in distant areas by depending on their RV’s self-contained utilities.

27. Full hookup: RV campsites that are described as full hookup sites will have access to the campground’s electric, water and sewer supplies. RVers camping at full hookup sites will be able to connect to these utilities, allowing for more convenient and pleasant camping.

28. Hula skirt: When traveling on rocky or dusty roads, RVs can kick up a lot of debris and stones. A hula skirt may be placed to an RV’s back bumper to keep debris from striking cars behind the trailer.

29. Rig: Rig is one of the many camping terms used to refer to an RV. Whether you call your RV a rig, trailer, camper, or motorhome, the name you give it is entirely up to you and your camping style. We welcome RVers of all types, no matter which label you like.

30. Self-contained: While most RVs use external hookups to access utilities at a campground, some RVs can supply their own electric, drainage and water needs. These RVs are known as self-contained RVs, and they might be an excellent choice for more comfortable boondocking.

Fifth-wheel RV with slideouts on a Pull-Thru RV Site at KOA.

31. Slide-out: Some RVs include slide-outs that can be extended to increase usable living space and then retracted while driving.

32. Snowbird: Snowbirds are RVers who go south in the winter to avoid the colder weather up north. At KOA, we welcome both snowbirds on their way south and RVers who wish to stay through the winter. With numerous KOA campsites available year-round around the nation, you may spend the winter in whatever climate you wish.

33. Toy hauler: A toy hauler is a recreational vehicle that can transport motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, or other outdoor “toys” within. These RVs have a large interior space designed for safely transporting equipment for those who love outdoor adventure.

34. Underbelly: The underbelly refers to the floor surface or underside of an RV. Water hoses, pipelines, and other valves may be found in the RV’s underbelly. In the winter, RVers who hope to keep using their RV often add protective material to the RV underbelly.

35. Winterizing: Those who want to use their RV all year round may need to add some protection from the snow and weather and prepare their RV for the cold. Those storing their RV for the winter season should also take measures to ensure their camper is protected in the winter. Winterizing refers to the process of preparing an RV for winter. If you don’t want to winterize your RV, become a snowbird and travel to warmer climates.

Group of young adult friends hike up a hill together.

Hiking Terminology

Whether you’re going on a lengthy trip or simply a short day trek from your campground, here are some hiking words you should be aware with:

36. Blaze: Blazes are little rectangular markings painted on trees to indicate the location of a route. If numerous paths exist in the same region, various colored blazes might be used to differentiate them. Trail blazes assist hikers in identifying the route they are on and staying on the right path. When a trail turns or comes to an intersection, a “double blaze” is used to indicate which direction hikers should go. A double blaze is made up of two rectangles, with the top blaze offset slightly toward the trail’s curve.

37. Boardwalk: A boardwalk may be created in marshes or other locations with vulnerable species to allow hikers to traverse the area without inflicting damage. Hiking path boardwalks resemble the wooden plank boardwalks that many people are acquainted with at their favorite beaches. Hikers may traverse through wet places or waterways by building more rudimentary boardwalks out of logs, planks, or pebbles. Puncheons are the name given to these rudimentary bridges.

38. Cairn: A cairn is a tiny mound of rocks that may be used to indicate a route in lieu of a blaze. Cairns are often utilized in locations without trees, such as the desert or the alpine region. The name “cairn” is derived from the Gaelic meaning “heap of stones,” and cairns have been used throughout history to lead explorers and mark pathways.

39. Daypack: A daypack is a compact backpack that is meant to store enough gear and food for one day of hiking or other outdoor activities. Daypacks have enough space for essential items, such as flashlights, snacks, water and an extra layer of clothing, but they are not large enough for overnight gear.

40. Leave No Trace: Whether hiking in a state park or exploring the wilderness, you may come across signs encouraging you to “Leave No Trace.” This technique refers to enjoying nature without leaving anything behind or disturbing the creatures in any manner. Leave No Trace encourages outdoor lovers not to trash, harm flora, or leave food behind. Hikers following you should notice no evidence of your presence if you effectively Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics developed the Leave No Trace principles to encourage conservation and sustainable relationships with environment. Leave No Trace is also known as “packing out” and is commonly abbreviated as “LNT.”

41. Ridge: A ridge is a thin and long ridge of land that runs along the summit of a mountain. Ridge trails are hiking trails that follow the ridge of a mountain or chain of hills and often offer excellent vistas along the way.

Close-up of a blue hiking backpack, thermos and trekking sticks.

42. Rucksack: Hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts often utilize rucksacks, which are backpacks with shoulder straps. Rucksacks are often composed of canvas or another tough material. These sturdy bags are also generally designed to fit more gear than a regular backpack, making them a great addition to your camping gear list.

43. Summit: The summit is the highest point of a mountain and often offers incredible views of the surrounding valleys or mountain ranges. Certain hiking paths may also have a “false summit,” or a peak that looks to be the highest point but is not. Fake peaks may be disappointing while trekking difficult treks, but they also indicate that even greater vistas are coming.

44. Switchback: Switchbacks are used to describe trails that zigzag up a peak or ridge. While switchbacks increase the length of the trail, they make it easier to climb a steep slope by creating a more gradual ascent.

45. Topographic map: This map style depicts terrain features, roads, bodies of water, and elevation. Hikers often use topographic maps to view the change in elevation of a mountain or to locate a nearby water source.

46. Trailhead: A trailhead is the beginning of a path or an entrance point into a lengthy route. Trailheads are typically marked with signs or blazes to indicate that you are in the right spot for starting your hike.

45. Walk-up: Although many high altitude peaks require climbing or bouldering to reach, some may be reached by strolling. These accessible peaks are also known as walk-ups. Those who do not have climbing experience can still enjoy epic views from high altitude walk-up summits.

Happy family with small children hiking outdoors.

Backpacking Terminology

Backpacking trips often involve at least one overnight on the trail. Before you go, familiarize yourself with the following terms:

46. Backcountry: Backcountry refers to deserted sections of forest, public property, or national parks that are not accessible by road. Backpackers often visit these wilderness locations in search of tranquil camping away from civilisation. If you want to give backcountry camping a shot, make sure you are confident in your wilderness and navigation skills and check state regulations for camping in backcountry areas.

47. Bearing: When navigating outdoors, your bearing is the direction of travel from your current position to a future destination or landmark. A bearing is measured in degrees from 0 to 359, with 0 representing magnetic north.

48. Bivouac: Due to inclement weather, a hiker may be obliged to halt and set up a temporary campsite while hiking. This improvised campsite, called a bivouac, may consist of a tarp, sleeping bag or bivy sack, but it does not include a tent. Climbers may also bivouac on ledges for the duration of a multi-day climb.

49. Bivy sack: This tiny and lightweight sack may be used as a temporary sleeping shelter to keep your sleeping bag dry and warm. Most bivy sacks are the same size as sleeping bags but constructed of a lighter material. Bivy shelters are a newer version of a bivy sack that includes small poles or hoops to lift the material away from the camper’s face to create a structure similar to a one-person tent.

50. Primitive campground: Although many campsites, such as KOA, include facilities such as bathrooms, water, and power, basic campgrounds do not. A rustic campsite might just be a piece of land or a defined camping place. Primitive campgrounds do not have fire pits, and campers should check state regulations before building a fire at a primitive campsite.

Try Camping at KOA

If you need to brush up on popular camping jargon before your next trip, KOA can help. Choose a KOA campsite as a location for your next outdoor trip. With over 500 campsites throughout North America, you’re likely to find a KOA campground wherever you go. KOA has campsites for every kind of camper, including Deluxe Cabins, pull-through and back-in RV sites, and classic tent camping sites. Looking for something unique? Experience one of KOA’s unique housing alternatives for an unforgettable camping adventure.

Now that you’ve learned the important camping jargon, look for a KOA campsite to put your newfound camping knowledge to use.


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