Simply put, several members of the cast go on a camping trip, and disaster ensues. This plot is sometimes used even in situations where the characters do not live anywhere near the wilderness, nor seem the type who would even go on camping trips or have any experience doing so. In fact, you can guarantee that out of a whole group only one person will even think the trip is a good idea: Dad (if it's a family Sitcom) or the guy who remembers doing it as a kid it with rose-colored glasses. Another variant is the father (and it's nearly always the father) coming up with the whole thing as a way to have a cheap vacation, either because they can't afford better or because he can't be persuaded to unchain his wallet.note As anyone who's ever done this can tell you, a motel room and a pitch at a campsite are actually quite similar in price, and exceedingly cheap examples of either should be regarded with some caution.
Typical disasters include being snowed in, freezing in a cabin, never-ending rain, struggling with a Hard To Light Fire, running out of food, or getting attacked by incredibly fake-looking bears (or Bigfoot. Or every animal.). It would seem much safer to go to a lodge to avoid such things, but that's not usually in the budget. It's much cheaper to use an old wood cabin set, or dark set obscured by bushes where the camera never moves away from a campfire. An even cheaper device is characters going ice fishing, sometimes in said cabin.
Occasionally the excuse given is the trip is part of a "company retreat", in which case it's the Pointy-Haired Boss who's the only one who thinks it's a good idea.
See also Macho Disaster Expedition and Summer Campy. Don't Go in the Woods is the darker and deadlier horror equivalent of this. Compare Deadly Road Trip, where any trip to a foreign land ends badly.
Camping: Anime and Manga
Deliverance, like the James Dickey novel on which it's based, plays this trope completely straight and to its logical, tragic extreme.
The premise of Cheaper by the Dozen 2 has the Patriach of the Baker family taking his family to a camping lodge. Of course, things do go awry but what really dampens the trip is the father competing with his arch-rival and his family.
The Great Outdoors. Possibly a Defining Moment.
Cannibal Holocaust portrays this in the most scary, bloody, gory and violent way imaginable.
In one of the Bruno And Boots books, the students go on the annual "wilderness survival" camping trip, which is nicknamed "Die in the Woods". (The canoe they bring along is christened the SS Drown In The Woods.) It really does become a matter of wilderness survival when all their supplies end up in the lake.
One of the The Berenstain Bears books details a horrible camping trip that's tainted not only with everything imaginable from floods to swarms of insects, but Hype Backlash. (Papa bear spends the first third of the book hyping the trip up to be the experience of a lifetime)
Outdoor humorist Patrick McManus, who has written for such magazines as Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and whose articles have been collected in numerous books, more or less specializes in chronicling bad camping/fishing/hunting trips.
Charlie goes on one with his dad and friends in Stephen King's (writing as Richard Bachman) Rage. He overhears his father discussing the Cherokee Nose Job with his friends (slitting the nose of an adulterous wife) and how he would do it to his own wife if she cheated on him.
In the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Greg joins the boy scouts (so he could change his father's mind on shipping him off to military academy), and a father-son camping trip soon takes place. Unfortunately, Greg is unable to go because he is sick on the day of the trip, but Frank (Greg's father) was forced to go because he signed up to be a driver, so he has to go by himself. He ended up getting put in a tent with two boys, and one of them bit the other because the one who got bit laughed at the biter for wetting his pants. And the biter wouldn't let go, so Frank had to pry them apart. And it ended up with the bitten one in the emergency room. Frank was not pleased with this.
The Brady Bunch: "A Camping We Will Go," a Season 1 episode. It's anything but (of course), but the trope is imagined by the boys pre-trip, who are sure it will end up this way since they believe the girls will ruin everything.
Step by Step: Much like their ancestors from 22 years earlier, the Fosters and Lamberts go on a camping trip shortly after Frank and Carol are married. The Lambert kids have been camping before, which naturally clashes with the city-like Fosters ... but a good time ensues in the end. Nevermind that Frank's Chevrolet Suburban gets knocked into gear and plunges into the lake.
Sanford and Son: Fred and Lamont go camping together, and naturally they get into an argument. Lamont wants to leave and cool off ... that is, until the truck won't start. A girl scout troop, which had been camping nearby, arrives later and they figure out that Lamont had flooded the engine. Fred then pretends that he knew the engine was flooded and it was his way of getting his son to stay for some much needed father-son time.
Star Trek: Enterprise, "Strange New World." The world in question has flowers with a hallucinogenic toxin that make Trip, Travis, and the two crewmen with them extremely paranoid.
Community has one of these in a flashback, though the trip became horrible due to an argument between Jeff and Britta about how to pronounce s'mores, among other almost indecipherable dialogue from the rest of the group.
Mr. Belvedere: Wesley's trip to a summer camp takes a frightening turn when a camp counselor "rubs his shoulders" in an attempt to molest him. Fortunately, Wesley speaks up, and the counselor (who resigns) is forced to admit he has a problem and needs help.
The trope image comes from Bottom, s Out, where Eddie remembers to bring the can opener but Richie forgets the canned food; they attempt to go blowpipe hunting with a tentpole and darts, and Richie is repeatedly injured; Eddie almost burns his own face off while trying to light the gas stove (he forgot to put the valve in); and since Wimbledon Common is technically just a giant public park, they're harassed in the middle of the night by a flasher. Also, they appear to have set up camp in an area labelled 'dog toilet', meaning there's dogshit all over the place.
Taken to the most extreme levels of parody in Stella, as Michael, Michael and David descend into desperate savagery within minutes of entering the woods.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "The Jem'Hadar" where Sisko, his son Jake, Jake's best friend Nog and Nog's uncle go on a trip to a planet in the Gamma Quadrant, only to wind up encountering the Jem'Hadar forces of the Dominion (for the first time).
Most of the Top Gear presenters' long-distance overseas trips invariably feature something along this line, but the most famous example is when the three go on a caravan holiday to see what the fuss is about and if they'd enjoy it. They do not, most likely since it ends with the caravan on fire.
"Michelle" from Series 2: Chris loses all the tents and most of the gear because he didn't tie it to the roof of the car; the only remaining tent then gets soaked when the tide comes in; and the car they came in also gets flooded by the tide. Oh, and drama ensues.
In Hyperdrive Vines is tricked into purchasing a barren planet that is almost, but not quite, completely inhospitable to human life. He kidnaps Jeffers and drags them down onto the surface of the planet, it wasn't a pleasant time.
In one episode of Monk, Randy Disher and Adrian Monk go camping with a group of kids. They have to deal with a bear and two criminals.
Eureka has this trope n spades, starting with the tent acting up, and ending with an angry TINY trying to attack them all.
In the Gene Simmons Family Jewels episode "Alpha Male", Gene's family went off camping in an RV for Sophie's birthday. They dealt with a snake, a bear, and a park ranger with a fire extinguisher.
The Inbetweeners did this for their Season 3 finale. It involved sinking a car in a lake, eating raw sausages and then throwing them back up in the tent.
In the Father Ted episode "Hell", Ted is granted the use of a caravan for the weekend which turns out to be barely large enough to accommodate Ted, Dougal, and Jack. It begins pouring with rain almost as soon as they get settled in (and Dougal has forgotten to pack any board games, reducing them to hide-and-seek and the famous "Small... far away" explanation of perspective), the only nearby attractions are St Kevin's Stump (an ordinary tree stump) and the Magic Road (on which objects roll uphill in defiance of gravity), the caravan turns out to have been double-booked to the flamboyant Father Noel Furlong and his youth group (who cause the caravan to fall on its side with a re-enactment of Riverdance), and Ted and Dougal repeatedly anger a fellow camper who ultimately leaves them stranded on a country road with four slashed tyres.
"Camping". Leslie sends the parks department on a camping retreat to come up with new projects. Ironically, everyone in the parks department save for Ron and Leslie hate camping. Tom brings so many electronic gadgets he drains the van's battery, stranding everyone, while Andy goes to the wrong camping site and has to trek through rough terrain to get there. In the end they all go to a nearby bed and breakfast run by a Crazy Cat Lady (who dies in The Tag of the episode).
A later episode showed Ron and Leslie taking their respective children's clubs (she started a girls club after the other one said it was boys only) out camping. Leslie has a comfortable cabin and a variety of activities, while Ron has them sit silently in the open, eating cold beans with their activity being "survive". It doesn't take too long for one of the boys to decide he'd rather be a Pawnee Goddess. Ron eventually hands over his club to Leslie, but she places an advertisement for boys and girls who are interested in survivalist camping.
The Bundys/Rhodes spend a week in a cabin. No food (until the women find a trap door filled with it near the end of the episode), all the women come on their periods after the first day (at first, it was just Kelly who was on her period, much to the surprise of Bud, who constantly makes fun of her for being sexually promiscuous and not using protection), and said cycling attracts animals who surround the house.
Bud rents Al to some neighborhood kids for an overnight campout so he can pay for concert tickets. Al falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the van in a ditch, the supplies are lost, Al and Bud resort to using a flashlight as a campfire, Steve gets incapacitated by poison oak and bee stings, and Buck the dog runs back home and doesn't bother to let Peg and Kelly know that Al, Bud, and Steve are missing.
In one episode of Two and a Half Men, Alan feels bad about not doing enough father-son activities with his son Jake, so he drags him out into the middle of the woods for a camping trip. Cue Alan desperately trying to entertain the bored Jake in a tiny tent, including making an attempt at a truly horrible Ghost Story and getting him to sing songs. Did we mention the torrential rainstorm?
In The Middle, the Hecks go on a camping trip during summer vacation, since Frankie wants them to have a family bonding experience and they can't afford anything else. Axl gets fed up with Sue constantly pestering him about what high school will be like, Brick spends as much time as he can reading instead of actually experiencing the great outdoors, and Mike and Frankie reflect on how their honeymoon was also a Horrible Camping Trip. To top it off, Sue gets her first period during the night, which attracts a nearby bear and forces everyone to seek shelter in the car. They can't even escape from the bear by driving away, since Brick had inadvertently drained the car's battery by keeping the dome light on for hours so he could read by it.
The "Canteen Boy Goes Camping" sketch on Saturday Night Live. The good news is that no supplies or food were lost. The bad news is that it was still bad because Canteen Boy was mocked by his fellow Boy Scout members and spent the rest of the night getting molested by his pedophilic scoutmaster Mr. Armstrong (played by one of SNL's most frequent hosts, Alec Baldwin). Unlike the Mr. Belvedere example above, there was no special, dramatic moment in which Mr. Armstrong realizes what he did was wrong (though when Baldwin came back to host in season 20, he and Adam Sandler had to perform the sketch again in a more politically correct way, as the sketch caught a lot of heat for implying that all Boy Scout masters were pedophiles), but he did get what he deserved when Canteen Boy summoned all of the snakes in the woods to attack him.
On the third New GirlThanksgiving Episode, Nick decides to take the gang camping and hunt for their Thanksgiving dinner like the Pilgrims did. The only thing Nick catches is a fish that was already dead, while Cece, Jess and Winston decide to go "foraging" at a nearby grocery store. In the end, Jess gets sick from eating the fish and falls into a bear trap Nick made.
The Yes song "South Side of the Sky" sounds like it's obliquely describing something like this. It actually describes the experience of mountain climbing/traversing a tundra and dying of hypothermia, though the way it's written, it's not so obvious how dark the song is.
On the next trip, Calvin dropped a bag of supplies (including the camera) in the lake; when Calvin's dad dove down to retrieve them, he accidentally put them on his glasses, shattering them. Calvin and Hobbes decide to wait until he is in a better mood to tell him he left the car's headlights on before launching their canoe.
It's mentioned Dad takes them on these trips every summer, in spite of Mom and Calvin openly hating them. Dad on the other hand, seems to enjoy the great outdoors no matter how many bad things happen on every trip. One comic however had him explain he takes them on those trips every summer instead of a cruise or more enjoyable vacation so the rest of their year will feel better by comparison, but given his habit of sarcasm it's hard to say if he's being serious about that. Then again, since he is the Trope Namer for Misery Builds Character...
Any of Roger's family camping trips in FoxTrot. In fact, they were usually so bad, that the kids notably cheered louder when they learned that after Roger got his job back, they won't go on the camping trip, and usually have to find some sort of excuse to get out of it, such as trying to cram the car with luggage (with some of them being filled with nothing but packaging peanuts) just so there wouldn't be enough room in the car to accomodate them, and taking Roger's attempts at encouraging via exact words and exploit them to delay the camping trip.
Perhaps the crowning example is the Skeeter Falls trip. As the name implies, the campsite is near a waterfall which acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and the ever ignorant Roger books the vacation when the mosquito population is at its peak. They have their own personal ranger only because they are the only campers there, and are surrounded by swarms of mosquitoes all day and night (having forgotten to pack insect repellent). The only natural attraction in the area is a geyser which goes off at 3:38 am and is two hours' walk from the campsite. To make matters worse, a bear gets into their campsite, and Roger is too busy marvelling at it to notice that it has eaten all of their food except for half a bag of gummi-worms and three mini pretzels. Instead of taking the logical choice of leaving camp early, Roger decides they'll simply catch and eat fish for every meal, which very quickly wears on Andy and the kids. Roger remains so oblivious to the rest of his family's misery that when he shows Andy a bumper sticker (given by their ranger as a parting gift) reading "I left my [blood] at Skeeter Falls", which he alone finds hilarious, Andy wonders if they have one saying "I left my husband at Skeeter Falls".
Roger also took the family to a desert campsite called Cactus Flats. In the middle of August. For two weeks. Even worse, a news report featuring said desert mentions that it's the hottest it's ever been — it's so bad that Peter Arnett (a Real Life reporter famous for his coverage of both Gulf Wars) was sent to the scene and he quit his job just so he could leave the desert as soon as possible. When the family finally gets to the desert, the only source of entertainment they can find is watching Jason play Tetris on his Gameboy. When the family gets ready to leave, Andy nearly strangles Roger after he offhandedly says "see you soon" to Cactus Flats, livid that he might take them there again.
Yet another one combined with Macho Disaster Expedition: Roger goes on a boys-only trip, and tries to wake his sons up at two in the morning to go fishing. When they refuse, he goes alone, saying some of them will be eating fish tonight. Cut to...
Peter: Are you sure you don't want any canned tuna, Dad? Jason: It's pretty good if you spread on a cracker. Roger: I'm not hungry.
The Family Circus did this twice - once in the 70s, and modified and rerun again in 2009.
Dilbert has also gone on one - to Clyde Canyon, which turned out to be a three foot hole in the ground. After spending the weekend sitting in the hole, Dilbert and Dogbert learn that the real Clyde Canyon was just over the next ridge. They decide it probably isn't worth developing their photographs of the trip.
In Megaman Battle Network 2, Lan decides to go on a camping trip with his friends out of boredom. First, they run into a swarm of bees. After dealing with that, they soon run into a malfunctioning electronic bear in which Lan sends Megaman.EXE to go delete the virus that is causing it to malfunction. Finally, they find themselves in the middle of an internet terrorist plot to blow up the nearby Okuden dam.
Rehashed in Magnetman/Knightman's chapter in Battle Network 5, with a fishing trip, a cave, and a giantmining drill.
One is planned in Gunnerkrigg Court, when the teachers take the students out into the woods in the rain. Then pretend there's an emergency and retreat to their luxurious home while something lurks in the woods. The kids quickly figured out it's "the kind of thing adults would do to make a trip more interesting" and devised a counter plan... Among them were at least two fledgling mad scientists and three magic users known to us. Hilarity Ensues.
Ben and his family from Loserz once go on such a trip. Maybe not as bad as other examples on this page, although bees are still involved.
Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, "Camp Keep a Good Mac Down", where in the time it takes to walk from the camp to the campsite, Bloo eats all of the food, then finds blueberries. On the way back to the campsite he eats them all to test that they're safe, then drinks all of their water trying to wash the taste out. Herriman's no help either, keeping the others from putting up a tent by repeatedly criticizing every inconsequential detail and then having them tear it down.
Kim Possible, "Camp Wannaweep", after their bus breaks down. Ron saves the Cheersquad from a mutant human/fish-monster... which turns out to be a former camper who fell in the toxic lake. Then again, that camp was traumatizing in general.
Season 1's "Call Of The Simpsons"note The first ever episode to be screened in the United Kingdom has Homer's new RV fall off a cliff, and after a string of disasters, he eventually ends up covered in mud and mistaken for Bigfoot.
The Season 4 opener, "Kamp Krusty", showed Bart and Lisa going to the title summer camp, which turns out to be a badly run-down place guarded by Krusty's heartless accountant Mr. Black and the school bullies Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney. After the campers are forced into working in a sweat shop, enduring natural hazards of all kinds and miserable living conditions, and being subject to Barney Gumble dressed as Krusty, Bart gets fed up and leads a rebellion against the suit running the camp.
In "Boy Scoutz 'n the Hood" from Season 5, a river rafting trip results in Bart, Homer, Ned Flanders, and Rodd Flanders stranded at sea after Homer loses the map of the river. Thankfully, their lives are saved when they run into an offshore oil rig that just happens to have a Krusty Burger franchise aboard (which was about to close as the oil rig was unmanned and therefore had no potential customers).
"The Teachings of Don Jake" — The family go on a camping trip, get lost, then Jake, Helen and Quinn eat psychotropic berries and go crazy. Daria saves the day when she finds the cell phone hidden in her mother's bag and has the family airlifted to safety.
There was also the class mountain retreat which included a snowstorm (the season four episode "Anti-Social Climbers").
One episode of Danny Phantom renders a mandatory camping trip for Danny and Maddie when they are stranded in the forest. Maddie does fine, but Danny is a complete dunce at it. This hatred is taken with the actual camping trip episode where the only one visibly excited is Sam. Unfortunately the trip is a typical disaster when nearly all the students and faculties are kidnapped by ghosts. By end though, Danny realizes camping has its merits and enjoys it.
"Phish and Wildlife", where Hank takes Bobby with him and the guys on a camping trip. All is well until an army of hippies show up for "The Gathering".
Also, the "Order of the Straight Arrow" episode. It's one of the more benign examples, but something did go bad: Bobby allegedly killing the whooping crane he thought was a snipe and everyone trying to ditch the body while escaping the law and a group of nature-loving hippies.
In "The Camping Episode", where Squidward is continually attacked by a sea bear.
In the survival episode where SpongeBob and Patrick fall out of the back of Sandy's truck and must fend for themselves.
In the episode with the conch shell ("Club SpongeBob") where SpongeBob and Patrick do fine, but because Squidward doesn't believe in the powers of the conch shell, he's not allowed to eat anything.
"Nature Pants", where SpongeBob tries to live in the wild with the jellyfish, with disatrous results.
In the KaBlam! episode "The KaBlair! With Project", Henry, June, Mr. Stockdale, Mr. Foot, Henry's mom and Jimmy McGee go on a company camping trip, but they hear the loud roar of a bear and Mr. Foot freaks out and escapes in the camper, leaving everyone else stranded. Hilarity Ensues.
In "Roughin' It", Arnold and Gerald are taught by Grandpa Phil camping the old-fashioned way, much to their chagrin. Meanwhile at a adjacent camping spot, Helga and Phoebe live high on the hog as Big Bob Pataki tests out the high-tech (but cheap) camping gear that he plans to sell. When the gear fails the kids and Big Bob during a hike in the woods, Arnold saves the day by applying the survival skills Phil taught him earlier to get back to camp.
In "Fishing Trip", Gerald, Sid, Harold, and Eugene (and their dads), Arnold and Grandpa Phil head to the woods for a fishing trip. After failing to catch any fish and losing their provisions to a bear (except for cans of beans), the boys (and their fathers/grandfather) are all miserable, but refuse to tell the others for fear of disappointing them. After much suffering, they finally admit this to each other and decide to to to the nearby resort for a not-so-back-to-nature trip. (Oh, and Davy Jones has a cameo at the end of the episode.)
Jimmy Neutron, his friends, and his dad went camping in the episode "Augh! Wilderness". Unfortunately, his dad won't let Jimmy bring his gadgets and wants to rough it. After an explosion, it gets worse.
In the Flintstones/Bewitched crossover this was played straight for Fred and Barney. Not so much for Wilma, Betty and Sam, who got a little help from Sam's magic.
Moral Orel has Orel going on the worst camping trip ever with his father resulting in what was the darkest episode of the show. And then it just got darker... The culminating moment was when his father, in a drunken rage, shot Orel in the leg. Then drank the rubbing alcohol that could have kept Orel's leg from getting worse. Then passed out for two days while Orel suffered. Then denied shooting Orel, saying that since he didn't remember it, it wasn't his fault. And was only concerned that Orel killed a bear rather than his son's well-being. And, months later, admitting (in front of the town no less) that he was glad he shot Orel. Yeah, it's that kind of show.
The Barney Bear short "Bah, Wilderness" had Barney suffering such indignities as a malfunctioning phonograph, noisy nighttime animals, and a flash flood while trying to sleep during a camping trip.
An episode of '"Garfield and Friends'' has them going on a camping trip, against Garfield's will. They end up chased by a bear and have to keep dancing and singing to keep the bear entertained. They end up doing this late into the night Garfield notes that sadly of all the times he's been camping with Jon, this is the best time he's ever had.
Kick Buttowski gets "Those Who Camp, Do" in which Kick, currently obsessed with a Survival-style tv-show, decides to camp on his own out in the forest rather than the family's camping site. Kick, being who he is, takes on every challenge the wilderness has to offer him like a boss... however, his older brother Brad goes through his worst nightmare while tagging along.
Regular Show: "Camping Can Be Cool". Nobody thought to bring matches, Rigby intentionally forgot the tent and accidentally forgot the tarps, Mordecai locked the keys in the car and the park rangers showed up to yell at them for camping in a restricted area. Then it started to rain. And then Deer Man showed up...
Spoofed on the South Park episode "I Should Not Have Gone Ziplining", which is presented as a I Shouldn't Be Alive-type show with shots of the boys screaming in horror. The horrible part of the trip, however, is how horriblyboringthe boys found it.So much that Kenny dies of boredom.
The Total Drama Island episode, "The Sucky Outdoors" features an overnight camping trip as the challenge. One team spends the night treed by a bear and in a driving rain; the other team must also spend the night in the rain after their tent is burned down; and Katie and Sadie, who get separated from their team, must spend the night in a cave. (But they, at least, don't get rained on.)
On the Bob's Burgers episode "A River Runs Through Bob" the Belcher family goes with Tina for a make-up camping trip because she was sick when her Brand X Girl Scouts troop went. A lot of the problems stem from the fact that Bob thinks he's a master outdoorsman when he very much isn't.
In The Proud Family episode "Camping Trip" the Prouds and Boulevardezes go on a camping trip which quickly spirals into calamity when their RVs are swept away in a flood. For Oscar and Felix it gets worse from there, as they're forced to climb up a mountain, end up getting attacked by a yeti, a bear, and a squirrel, and somehow end up in an area untouched by time and captured by a mother pterodactyl.
Ice Fishing Examples (the car keys will be dropped in the hole):Live-Action TV
Futurama: Fry falls into the ice, catches a cold, and this results in New New York almost getting thrown into a sun because the people of the future have cured the common cold and thus have no immunity against it, resulting in a city-wide pandemic.