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Off-grid versus tech-packed - what is 'proper' camping?

May 23, 2014
by Laura Canning | about camping

'Don't make me leave my baby behind...' One of the surest (and funnest) ways to provoke debate/start a fight in camping circles is what designates ‘proper camping’. A tent in a forest in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a sleeping bag, matches and a torch – or a lodge (possibly also in a forest) with wifi, flushing loo and flatscreen telly?

We are, as always torn/sitting on the fence on this one (well, it is election week). In the off-grid camping corner:

- there’s possibly nothing better than the smell of campfire smoke and getting back to basics in the middle of nowhere

- you can pretend you’re the only (wo)man left standing and you’re on some sort of post-apocalyptic quest (we admit this might be just us)

- you can  buy all sorts of fire starting and other sonic screwdriver style gadgets for off-grid camping, which, let’s face it, would look a bit silly in a five-star yurt

- the boss can’t track you down

- you don’t have to deal with those annoying types who bray into their phones near you about how the widget reports need to go out to Tokyo, like tomorrow

- you get to show the kids/other half the camping of your childhood, including how to use a compass rather than Google Maps

- you can spend proper time with family without the distraction of telly and internet.

Stop. Playing. Candy. Crush. On the other hand, you get to spend proper time with the kids/other half without the distraction of telly and internet… In the tech-packed/luxury corner:

- not all kids are able to sit quietly with a book of an evening (many would laugh hyperactively in your face for even suggesting it), so electricity/wifi is to many a blessed necessity

- your relationship may not end  when your other half doesn’t succeed with the last of the matches to light the campfire on which you were to make dinner, just after you’ve tramped three miles to buy the sausages

- you’ll be properly and snuggily protected from any rain/cold

- just because you like your gadgets doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting on your bum playing Candy Crush all day: it just means you’ll be able to cook the steak properly, chill the wine and have perfectly straightened/waved hair as well

- you don’t have to deal with Bear Gryll types striding around proclaiming loudly about ‘true camping’ and the most environmentally friendly way to bury their own poo

Fun the old-fashioned way - a fully-charged laptop and a horror DVD, even/especially if camping in a field in the middle of nowhere, is a spectacular way to frighten yourself silly about hordes of zombies lurching murderously up the next hill

- apps , maps and finding your next campsite .

Whichever side of the fence you fall on (again, we’re sitting firmly on it), has it covered. We have tent pitches, luxury and five-star sites, lodges, tipis, yurts and wigwams, sites with campfires allowed and sites to suit all budgets as well as the off-grid aficionados and the tech-specced luxury lover. Here’s how to find them.

In the off-grid corner

The wild camping and sites in a remote location filters are good places to start, as is filtering all our 935+ bookable sites for tent pitches (for we assume as a hardened camper you won’t want a three-bedroom lodge with flatscreen telly, Freeview and iPod dock).

Many off-gridders do so in their own campervan or motorhome , while light travellers can look for rent a tent sites, particularly those filtered with wild camping . If you’re making your own way around the land (especially effective if on a post-apocalyptic quest as above), look for sites with pick-up from public transport or where you can leave the car at home .

Bunkhouses are another good bet for getting back to basics as a group, such as at Woodland Park Camping Huts , Shropshire . Although these four-, seven- or nine-berth camping huts have electricity, they’re set around a woodland pond in a peaceful wildlife haven , with acres of walks, horse rides and bike rides all around.

The valley around Eco Camel Adventure Many farm campsites come with all mod cons, but several still offer the back to basics/off-grid camping experience many of the overworked yearn for – filter farm campsites with tent pitches to find likely sites: Bakesdown Farm in Cornwall has exclusive pitches in a half acre field and Forest Camp in Italy has a tipi on a farm deep in the woods of the Parco della Fessa forest.

Off-grid options are still available even if you want to grade up, such as at some camping pod sites or sites with gypsy caravans .

Prefer to stay off-grid to show the kids that Xboxes don’t run automatically on Scotch mist – but want plenty to do on site exactly because of this? Dozens of our big holiday parks have non-electric tent pitches as well as oodles of entertainment: look for tent pitches on sites with indoor swimming pools , outdoor pools , kids’ clubs or a play area .

Top ‘get away from it all’ sites

Keens Cottage Camping , Somerset : bell tent with double gas ring and charcoal barbecue, on the edge of Wimbleball Lake in Exmoor National Park

Isle of Iona Campsite , Argyll : old-style camping on a car-free island

Eco Camel Adventure , Andalucia : off-grid luxury glamping in the Sierrania de Ronda mountains

Atlantic Surf Pods , Cornwall: hobbit-style off-grid pods in beautiful Bude

North Lodge , Pembrokeshire : off-grid cabin overlooking the Preseli Hills of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

See also

Wild camping touring sites

Wild camping sites with tent pitches

Tent sites in a remote location

You could of course also look for naturist campsites : you can’t get much more off-grid than that…

In the tech-packed/luxury corner

Inside Yealm Cabin As our pre-Chrimbo news story showed, 85% of folk these days expect to stay digitally connected on holiday . (64% also check their work email daily while on leave too, but they’re beyond help.) Whether tent camping, caravanning , glamping or holidaying in France or Spain , twitchy fingers can stay connected using our tips.

Firstly, no surprises for guessing our luxury , five-star and caravan for hire parks are the ones most likely to have swish facilities. The Retreat in Dorset is a luxury static caravan park with new fitness suite, gym and treatments on site; its three-bedroom holiday homes accept dogs and are available from £179 for three nights (dog-free and four-bedroom lodges are also available on site).

Lodge parks are also a likely option for the tech-obsessed not to get too twitchy: filter for five-star lodge or luxury lodge sites or lodge parks with wifi . Yealm Cabin in Devon has a log cabin to yearn after (seriously, we could live in it), all fully-equipped on a site with wifi.

If you’re happy to camp without electric hook-up, but must still have your gadgets, look for sites with charging facilities . This most likely means laptops and phones, but we don’t see why hair curlers and ebook readers shouldn’t count too. You can also search for sites with a TV room or a bar/clubhouse where you’ll be likely to catch the latest sporting fixture, ie the World Cup.

Two-storey tipi at Domaine les Moulins Around 40% of sites now have free wifi for guests ; again, you can filter this in dozens of ways, such as free wifi on sites with a bar/restaurant . We also have over 565 sites with wifi and over 400 with internet access, either free or for a nominal charge.

Tipis, yurts and wigwams can be either/or when it comes to tech access: plenty are hooked up to electric and have kitchens and bathrooms, but a sizeable amount stay off-grid around the pitch and have wifi, charging facilities, TV etc at reception or in a communal area: have a look at the site listing to see what’s what.

Staying in touch but not talking: being on-grid and the type to tweet running commentary about everything that happens on holiday doesn’t mean you can’t also be a solitary type and avoid people, like, in person. Stay on-grid at wild camping sites: filter for wild camping sites and wifi , wild camping and free wifi , or wild camping sites with charging facilities .

Top sites to stay connected in style

Heathside Caravans , Suffolk : deluxe pods with ensuite, heating, fridge, microwave and wifi (dogs go free)

Lee Wick Farm Cottages and Camping , Essex : luxury converted shipping container with aircon, wetroom, double bedroom, lounge/kitchen and patio; pods with kitchen, loo and iPod dock with DAB radio

The Olive Garden , Alicante : luxury bell tents in Spain with free wifi, iPod dock, hammock, spa pack with locally produced wine and breakfast hamper delivered to tents each morning

Domaine Les Moulins, Vendée : a two-storey tipi – with room service! The Majestic tipi also has free unlimited wifi, a fully-equipped kitchen with coffee machine and an ensuite bathroom

Safari Glamping , Dorset : bell tents in a cider orchard, free gin and tonic, private shower room and ‘the finest cotton sheets and feather pillows’

'Free gin and tonic'is edging us off the fence into the 'luxury' corner, but on the other hand, being able to sing/warble Stairway to Heaven outside a tent in the wilderness as an off-gridder is jolly tempting too. (As we said, it is election week...) Non fence-sitters, over to you!