Why go camping? We explain the appeal of sleeping outdoors

Why go camping
(Image credit: Getty)

Spending a year camping in Britain with our two small children put the question of why go camping to the forefront of our minds as it taught us many things. But the one that’s really stuck with us is the disconnection from nature that comes with living in a house. Under canvas, spending our days immersed in the sounds, sights and smells of the natural world, was something that took a while to get used to. Having experienced it as part of life for so long, however, we still haven’t quite readjusted to the muffled existence of being back indoors. 

In this busy, modern world, regular camping trips are a great way to reconnect with that forgotten wildness – both outside and within ourselves. Simplifying life down to what we can carry in a pack, or what we can fit in the car, forces us to focus on what’s really important: food, fire, shelter – and maybe a beer or two. Whether you’re wild camping solo or pitching up at a campsite with friends, that boiling down of existence to its essentials and the sense of wellbeing it brings can be found nowhere else. ‘We need the tonic of wildness,’ as Henry David Thoreau put it, after his own year in the woods.

Wild tonic

There’s a wealth of research that backs up our experiences of camping. Natural England’s 2020 nature connectedness report found that regular visits to natural environments positively influenced both wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours in adults and children across a wide socio-economic spectrum. A 2009 study on family camping suggests it is restorative, improves family functioning, enables people to better experience nature, and enhances self-identity, social interaction and learning. Its authors note that the act of living outdoors allows us ‘to relate to one another in a way that recalls an earlier and simpler era’. 

We’ve also found we all sleep better in a tent, something we’ve always put down to the reduction in artificial light meaning we can tune into, and be guided by, the natural rhythm of night and day. Researchers at Colorado University-Boulder found that camping allows us to synchronise our internal clocks to the solar day, normalising melatonin levels and improving our quality of sleep. Even with young children, bedtime feels like a natural progression after spending a relaxed and enjoyable evening around a campfire, while days spent bathed in fresh air and sunshine invariably bode well for a restful night.

Getting away

Aside from its numerous benefits to our mental and physical health, camping is an affordable, accessible means of getting away and seeing new places. There’s a vast variety of campsites to choose from, depending on your requirements, from a basic field at one end to those offering hot showers and freshly baked croissants at the other. A camping holiday is also brilliantly customisable. Whether you choose to spend your days exploring the local running and mountain bike trails, taking to the water for a swim or paddle, hiking in the hills, or simply sitting outside your tent with a good book and a glass of wine, life under canvas really does offer something for everyone.

Jen and Sim Benson

Award-winning outdoor adventure writers and photographers, Jen and Sim are the authors of eight books, including The Adventurer’s Guide to Britain, Amazing Family Adventures and the forthcoming 100 Great Walks with Kids, which will be published in March 2021. In 2015 they spent a year living under canvas, exploring Britain’s wild places with their two young children. Find out more at Adventure Places.