Yesterday's camper was happy if they got two minutes of hot running water and a campfire pit. Today's camper wants that—and 24/7 access to Instagram.
According to a 2015 survey by Kampground revealed that 83% of campers take their cell phones along on camping trips. What's more: 70% of survey participants reported going online with their device at some point during their stay. So, if you want to keep pulling in campers, this is the one trend you'll want to keep up with.
Ready to get started setting up WiFi at your campground? The first thing you'll need to do is make sure you already have high-speed internet access. Then, follow these four helpful steps.
Step 1: Create a Map of Your Campground
To lay the groundwork for WiFi, you'll need to have a map of your campground. If you don't have an accurately scaled map already, you can just take a Google Maps screenshot of your campground. Print it out, and mark the following:
Highlight every structure, from cabins to bungalows to yurts.
Mark out potential obstacles. WiFi signal coverage can be slowed by concrete, trees, steel, and heavy building construction.
Circle “zones" by priority. This will determine where you set everything up. Your office and highest priced cabins may be top priority. The entrance driveway may be the lowest.
This map will help you make educated decisions on your device and signal strength, so make sure it's as clear as possible.
Step 2: Pay Attention to Internet and Power Locations
As we stated before, you can't set up WiFi without a pre-existing internet connection. Mark the location of your current internet equipment. That's where you'll be installing your wireless router. Then, mark all power outlets on your campsite. If you're limited on power outlets, you'll have to do a little more electrical planning in your setup.
Step 3: Decide Where You Want Your Wireless Access Points
A wireless access point (WAP) connects campers to your current ethernet internet connection, allowing them to move freely within the covered areas of the campsite while using their phone, laptop, or tablet. There are two components in a basic WiFi setup:
Wireless router: an internet router that also functions as a “Wireless Access Point" (WAP). Essentially, this is just the gateway that allows you to access the internet on your device without physical wires.
WiFi range extender: These little guys plug into a typical wall outlet and can multiply your wireless router's signal and extend coverage.
Ideally, you would install a router in the center of your campsite, where you'll have the best opportunity to expand coverage. Then, use multiple WiFi range extenders to fill in the gaps.
Step 4: Pick Up the Best Wireless Router
Even routers installed in the perfect location won't be quite as effective if they're lacking quality.
Here's why it pays to look for these features before you buy.
Single- or Dual-Band
A “single band" wireless router means your router will operate over a 2.4GHz radio band. This is the same band that microwaves, mobile phones, and Bluetooth devices and locations operate on—meaning your connection could get a little crowded. We recommend you opt for a dual band model if possible for less interference.
Guest Accessible & Secure
For security reasons (nobody likes to get hacked!), make sure your device includes the option to have a password-protected guest login for your wireless in addition to the admin login. Use an easy-to-remember password for your guests, and change it fairly regularly to avoid attracting potential “WiFi rogues," or those who don't have permission to access the network.
We won't dive too far into the numbers, but your router speed is drastically affected by its ability to send and receive information (shown by “802.11 protocols"). If you spot a WiFi router that has 802.11ac technology, you'll likely be happy with the outcome.
If you can't find a weatherproof router, make sure you either house the router indoors or install it in a weatherproof box. Not all routers are born campers!
Easy to Install
Planning on installing your WiFi router and extenders yourself? You probably don't have all the time in the world to set up a complicated WiFi system. Choose a WiFi router that's easy to install and offers great customer service. Linksys and Netgear are two well-respected names in the industry.
Once you've chosen the WiFi router for your campsite, set it up. Then, try out different devices throughout the campsite. If you have a lot of weak or dead spots, then you can install compatible WiFi extenders. Generally, setup is easiest when the WiFi router and the extenders are by the same manufacturer.
Consult Experts With the Right Questions
If you're not a technical expert—or just don't have time to research the right equipment on your own—call in the experts. You don't have to hire a pricey consultant who demands a hotel stay, either. Just head to your nearest Best Buy or other electronics store with your campground map, or request a visit from your current internet provider to determine what you need.
Here are some questions to be prepared to answer (for many of these, the map will come in handy), and some basic terms to know.
Do you have basic internet already? Where is it located?
Where are electrical sources located?
What's the size of your campsite?
How far do you want to extend coverage?
Reference these helpful WiFi terms and definitions so you can have a productive conversation with a consultant or internet provider. For more, see the WiFi Glossary on Talk Tech to Me.
Wireless Access Point (WAP or AP): the bridge that connects wireless users to a wired internet connection
Channel: the path for wireless transmissions, determines a wireless router's speed
Closed Network: requires a password for users to access the network
Open Network: does not require a password for users to access the network
Passphrase: a password for a network connection
Service Set Identifier (SSID): refers to the name of the WiFi network
WPA (WiFi Protected Access): the secure encryption for a network; protects against hackers, not as strong as WPA2
WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access v2): currently the strongest encryption for a network
The Bottom Line
A WiFi connection provides so much more than just the ability to post hiking photos on Instagram. It also means campers can check email, access maps, and discover new hidden treasures close to your campground. Now that many cell phone providers are enabling WiFi calling and texting, we've reached a new frontier. A smartphone is now the Swiss Army Knife of electronics. So just follow these simple steps, and your campers will enjoy a richer 21st-century camping experience.