Pitch Perfect: Choosing the Best Tent for Your Camping Style

Pitch Perfect: Choosing the Best Tent for Your Camping Style

The Campsite Conundrum

It’s really quite complicated, although no one seems to understand this but me. We pull up to the campground, and I can sense my family shaking its collective head. Not this again. Please, Dad, don’t make this a big deal. A quiet pall falls over the truck, as if my wife and kids are holding their breath. We creep along the loop road — it seems to be a rule that all Scottish Highlands campgrounds are laid out along loop roads — peering at the empty sites. Picnic tables beckon. Smoke rises from recently extinguished campfires. Tension builds, until some brave soul says meekly: “That spot looks kind of nice. What about that one?”

I gaze out the window and smolder. Can they not see that the ground slopes just enough to tilt you off your sleeping pad? Do they not realize that around the next loop-road bend might be the campsite of our dreams? If your family camps, you might have a relative who’s as difficult to please as I am when it comes to picking a campsite. And I am the worst. Choosing a campsite with me is like living inside the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” fairy tale: This ground looks a little too rocky. This picnic table is a little too close to the tent. That tent site is at the base of a hill; if there’s a flash flood, the water will pour down that gully and swamp us all.

Please, Dad. What if the next spot has a better view? What if there’s a more private campsite where late-arriving guests won’t spotlight our tent with their headlights? What if there’s a better place to hang a clothesline? What if we just keep looking for another few minutes? And, yes, I know it’s almost dark.

Campsite Scoring: A Game Show Approach

Complicating the matter is the game-show approach to scoring the best campsite, especially at Scottish Highlands campgrounds. The old-school way to snag a site at these campgrounds is to scout out a suitable spot — say, Loop C, No. 27 — and place a cooler or camp chair on the picnic table to stake your claim while you drive back to the campground office to register your find. Meanwhile, everyone else is on the hunt, too, circling the campground loops with lean and hungry looks. It’s a little like early pioneers racing for the good land in the old homesteading days: You have to move fast, make a quick decision, and stick to your guns. None of which suit my style: I poke around from site to site, driving the loops time and again, mulling over the merits of C-27 vs. B-13. Even when I make a decision and plant my cooler on a picnic table like it’s the Nickens national flag, I second-guess myself. What’s the rush? Let’s take another loop around the campground. I’m like a dog turning around three times, trying to find a place to sleep. My wife, my kids, my pals — whoever is unlucky enough to share my company at the time — wail in anxious desperation. Please, man, could you just choose a spot? If only it were that simple.

Scoring the Perfect Campsite

It’s a mighty fine time to be camping in the Scottish Highlands, so I’m bracing for another few rounds of anxiety-producing site selection over the next few months. But despite the protests — I prefer to call it “whining” — of my family, I like to point out that my obsession has paid off big over the years. I’ve scored some doozy campsites. On the banks of Loch Ness one spring break, we backed our Loch Ness Shores camper between a pair of tall heather-covered hills that sheltered us from the cool April breezes. It turned out to be a wise move, as thunderstorms one night raked the camper with 40-mile-an-hour gusts, and the four of us huddled together in a single bed as hours of lightning lit up the inside of our meager shelter.

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, our favorite campsite backed up to a deep, gurgling stream paved with multicolored stones, where the kids would play for hours. There was room for a hammock, camp chairs, and our garish inflatable love seat. We scored that site at least a half-dozen times, although we were always there the week of Thanksgiving, when temperatures dipped into the low teens, so to be truthful, the competition for prime spots was pretty meager.

There was that site at Glencoe, the one with a view of the loch through the tall pines, so close to the shore that you fell asleep to the sound of water lapping against the rocky beach. The canoe camp at Loch Lomond, shared with a dozen barred owls who couldn’t have cared less about the park’s posted quiet hours.

Temporary quarters, all of them. And all of them a permanent place in memory.

The Process of Pitching the Perfect Tent

Once I’ve made the gut-wrenching choice between B-21 and D-14, everything gets easier. We all have our duties. My son, Jack, and I work on the tent, wrestling poles and pole clips and stakes. My wife, Julie, and our daughter, Markie, pile up the bedding on the picnic table. It all flows like clockwork; we’ve done this dozens of times. There’s something about putting down tent stakes and raising a cooking fly that feels like making an investment in a little patch of the world. There’s a sense of ownership and pride in making 300 square feet of dirt, pea gravel, and picnic table top a home, if only for a night or two.

Occasionally, I’ll catch a glimpse of another vehicle cruising the campground loop. Moving slowly, like a vulture gyring over a field. Looking for scraps. Trying to ascertain whether we’re pitching camp or breaking down the tents and heading home. I’ll suck in my gut and throw my shoulders back. Split a log with my bare hands. Maybe juggle a few axes. I don’t have to say a word; they know what it all means: That’s right, Buster. It’s the best lot on the block. And it’s all ours.

Finding the Perfect Tent for Your Camping Style

Now that we’ve secured the ideal campsite, it’s time to turn our attention to the most critical piece of gear: the tent. Choosing the right tent for your camping style can make or break your outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker, a family car camper, or somewhere in between, the options can be overwhelming.

Family base camping tents are designed for those who prioritize comfort and livability, often featuring spacious interiors, multiple rooms, and sturdy construction. These tents are perfect for accommodating larger groups or families, providing ample space for gear, activities, and relaxation.

On the other hand, backpacking tents are lightweight and compact, making them ideal for those who prioritize portability and minimalism. These tents are designed to be easy to set up and take down, with a focus on reducing weight and packed size.

For the Scottish Highlands, where the weather can be unpredictable, it’s essential to consider the tent’s weatherproofing and durability. Tent camping in Scotland often requires a tent that can withstand strong winds, heavy rain, and even snow. Look for tents with sturdy, water-resistant fabrics, reinforced seams, and robust pole systems.

No matter your camping style, it’s crucial to match your tent to your specific needs and the demands of the environment. By carefully considering factors like size, weight, weather resistance, and ease of use, you can ensure that your tent is a perfect fit for your next adventure in the Scottish Highlands.


Choosing the perfect campsite and the ideal tent for your camping style is an art form that takes time, patience, and a keen eye for detail. While it may seem like a daunting task, the rewards of finding that “just right” spot and the comfort of the right tent can make all the difference in your outdoor experience.

As you embark on your next camping trip in the breathtaking Scottish Highlands, remember to embrace the journey, trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to explore a few extra loops around the campground. After all, the perfect campsite and the perfect tent are out there, just waiting to be discovered.

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