Online camping directories have grown in popularity massively over the last couple of year, and we’re putting three of them to the test in our virtual hunt for a perfect camping destination. We’ve come up with a scenario for a camping trip, and we’re going to be using all three sites to find a campsite which suits our needs. Our review will rate each on how easy, informative and pleasing the experience was.
So… We’ve decided to take a long weekend’s holiday in a 3-man tent over April 15th-16th, somewhere near the Welsh border (we like Ludlow so somewhere within 30 miles of there would be nice), but we want a rural setting. We’ll have our dog with us, and some friends will be coming with us on motorbikes for one night.
Campingninja.com is a great looking sight, with bold colours, a really simple interface and an inviting little South-Park-esque Ninja character, which is quite fun. They’re the newbie of the three and heavily into social networking, blogging and hooking up with other sites like Fidgetstick.
They allow you to create a membership log-in so you can bookmark your favourite campsites and make bookings through Campingninja without having to go to the campsite directly.
However, the flip-side of being a new and exciting-looking site is that Camping Ninja only has 116 campsites listed in its directory so far. Actually, I quite like this fact because it means that they haven’t just ‘borrowed’ reviews from other sites in order to create an instant directory.
So, on with the booking!
Right on the front page there’s a large search box which asks all the pertinent information (where, when, how long for, tent or van). Alas, the Ninja is unable to find me a site within 30 miles of Ludlow. I expand the search to 50 miles. Success, 4 sites found and displayed on a map for me.
Clicking on any map result gets you a summary of each campsite, a photo and a rating out of 5. You can then click through for more information or to make a booking. Out of the 4 results I choose Oak Cottage Camping which says it allows dogs, is VERY secluded and is on a farm, which is right up my street. It’s a comprehensive description with lots of photos and really gives an idea of what the site is like. There are 5 user reviews, 4 of which paint a similar picture of peace and tranquility (and one which says that the site doesn’t exist!).
Camping Ninja also has a very comprehensive listing of what is, and isn’t provided at the site.
Booking is very simple, and you can use a credit card to pay the campsite a deposit. Camping Ninja themselves don’t take a cut, which is nice.
All in all, Camping Ninja was an excellent browsing experience. I easily found a perfect campsite, got loads of information on it and some very useful reviews. The layout was easy to follow and the process quick and simple. The only thing letting Camping Ninja down is the depth of their database, which they are trying to grow.
PitchUp.com has the same light-hearted and playful styling as Camping Ninja, with an inviting front page and a heavy involvement in social media.
However, since they’ve been around a lot longer (since 2009) they’ve amassed a database of some 5000 UK campsites, which is quite impressive!
Their front page has an easy to use search facility, and under the ‘advanced options’ you are able to search with specific criteria like ‘dogs allowed’, ‘open fire’ and so on.
My search generated 5 results, which can be displayed on a map and each come up with a basic set of icons saying which type of camping they allow (tent, van etc.)
Unlike Camping Ninja, Pitchup doesn’t diplay any pictures of the sites** (see comments below), and their list of amenities is a list of ‘does have’ rather than ‘does have and doesn’t have’ – I prefer the latter as per Camping Ninja. And unlike the Ninja, Pitchup‘s ratings (where they are used) are taken from official ratings, rather than reviews. [There are plenty of user reviews, but Pitchup has so many sites listed that a lot of them aren’t covered by reviews]
What Pitchup does bring up though is a set of local attractions for each site – cycle routes, pubs, National Trust sites and Walking routes. That’s a nice touch.
However, the biggest difference between the two sites is that you can’t book through Pitchup.com – you have to follow their links to the campsite’s own website or phone number. **See note below
Overall, Pitchup has a great offering. It’s easily searchable database and criteria based searching are excellent, and it’s number of listed sites is impressive. It lacks slightly in the photo and review department, where Camping Ninja’s listed sites all have photos and reviews, but therein lies the trade off between the two.
** Pitchup sent us an email with a couple of interesting points in it. I’ve copied this into the comments below. Andy
UKCampsite.co.uk is a behemoth of a site. Its discussion board/forums have hundreds of thousands of posts and I think it’s the UK’s largest camping site. I’ve been using it for years to find campsites around the UK, but that’s not to say that I love it.
The front page is very, very yellow and quite overbearing on first sight. However, the campsite search is front and centre, so you can ignore everything else unless you’re interested in it.
A ‘quick search’ for Ludlow brings up a load of results, none of which are particularly relevant to me, so you’re much better off clicking the ‘campsite search’ button at the top of the page and then doing a specialised search from there. I reckon they should dump quick search altogether.
In specialised search, you’re able to narrow down an area of the country (by clickable map, so your Geography has to be decent) and then narrow down search results by selecting criteria (dog friendly, tents). You can’t, however, use site-specific criteria like ‘quiet site’, so by narrowing down as far as possible, you then have to read the site synopsis to get a feel for what their style is.
One great benefit of UKCampsite is that there are so many users on it that almost every campsite has a load of reviews. And those reviews tend to be much, much more in depth than Camping Ninja and Pitchup’s. I guess that would be down to an older audience with longer attention spans…?
UKCampsite don’t rate their sites, and reviews don’t accomodate ratings either, so you are left to read through each review in order to know if it is positive or not.
UKCampsite is the site I’d go to if I wanted reams of information, or a broader view of a campsite from more reviewers. The lack of photos means that I’d have to search elsewhere as well though (I like photos). I can’t spend too long on UKC though, it gives me a headache.
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