There’s no way in the world that we should still like camping.
A few years ago, we wrote a book on the best campgrounds in the Northeast. Another writer ghosted on the project, and we (foolishly) jumped right in. Because we had so much ground to cover, researching hundreds of campgrounds, we camped for months. We camped in the rain. We camped in the mud. We camped in black fly season. We inspected the restrooms for insects. Not a glamour gig! A low point came when one of us literally stumbled upon a black bear sleeping outside our tent. Black bears are invisible in the dark, as it turns out. And of course it was raining.
We survived, learning valuable lessons, like “don’t leave peanut M&Ms in the tent or raccoons will come.” Our kids vowed never to camp again, and our friends still check our car for camping gear before hopping in, just in case. You’d think we would hang up our tents and mummy bags for good.
You’d be wrong.
Come June, our Inner Girl Scout kicks in. She knows where all the primo camping spots are, and she is ready, airing out the tent and testing her flint (in case she ends up in a “Man vs. Wild” situation.) And it’s not just us: Jarrett Kelley of Woburn, representing the millennial contingent, says, “I love camping. My friends and I have taken an annual camping trip every summer for the past eight years.” Even before the pandemic, younger people were embracing camping, according to a report by Kampgrounds of America.
Here are 10 reasons why camping is awesome, especially now.
Who hasn’t spent way too many hours glued to their devices lately? While most campgrounds offer WiFi now, do you really want to be that dude who’s wandering around the woods looking for a decent signal? So, once you’ve reached your destination (thank you, GPS), turn that sucker off. You’ll be amazed at how peaceful life is. Let them Zoom without you.
In shaky economic times, being spendy on vacation isn’t realistic for most of us. Camping is a bargain. In Massachusetts, residents pay less than 20 bucks per night for a tent campsite at most state parks. Coastal spots like Horseneck State Beach cost a couple of bucks more. Maine residents pay $15 to $25 for state park campsites . . . you get the idea. You will need a tent, sleeping bags, and that all-important air mattress (because nobody enjoys sleeping on the hard, cold earth) but you can probably borrow them from outdoorsy friends or rent from an outdoors store. You’ll also need a bundle of firewood (bought at the camp store or in town since it’s illegal to transport firewood across state lines in New England).
Connecting to nature.
So you took a few walks around the neighborhood during quarantine? Yay you. It’s time to get acquainted with nature after dark, when the night sky is a blanket of stars, the peeper frogs and crickets are a chorus of chirps, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a twinkle of fireflies joins your party. By day, you’ll be astonished by the array of birdlife around you as you wander the woodlands. No wonder that being outdoors is a natural depression-buster; it’s hard to feel awful surrounded by all of this.
Resetting your body clock.
Having trouble sleeping lately after reading the news or binge-watching “Snowpiercer”? We feel you. One of the joys of camping is you fall asleep pretty early (most campgrounds have “quiet hours” that begin at 10 p.m.) and you wake up with the sunrise. Being awakened by noisy birds beats a phone alarm any day. By 10 a.m., you’ve probably had a nice picnic breakfast with “cowboy coffee” (it’s a thing; look it up) and maybe had a hike or a dip in the lake. “Camping is great because you’re up and down with the sun,” Jarrett Kelley says. “It provides a relief from societal pressures that pull our rhythms out of balance.”
In theory, you can make S’mores on your kitchen stove. But the only way to properly make them — because the camp-happy Girl Scouts of America invented this treat — is on a campfire, roasting the marshmallows on a stick. You can get fancy with artisan ‘mallows, whole-grain graham crackers, and fancy chocolate, but nothing beats the old-school S’more, constructed with (charred on the outside, gooey on the inside) Stay Puft marshmallows.
Developing handy life skills.
Do you know how to set up a tent? Build a fire? Cook something tasty on a wood fire with a minimum of ingredients? These are all good, basic things to know. Bonus points for constellation identification (without using the app!).
Even if you’ve got a backyard at home, there’s something about camping that inspires simple pleasures like playing catch, tossing a Frisbee, hiking a trail, and taking a dip in a lake. (We’re very partial to campgrounds with lakes or swimming holes.) Ghost stories, even. And there’s that old favorite: sitting in a lawn chair by the campfire just shooting the breeze.
Rekindling the romance.
As long as you don’t start screaming at each other while trying to put up the tent (a relationship-tester if there ever was one), you’ll discover that camping with your significant other is kind of . . . romantic. No screens means you’ll actually talk and listen to one another, and zipping those two sleeping bags together is ‘way cozy. Everyone looks better in the glow of firelight, and without the usual routine, you may find yourselves doing sweet things like reading aloud to each other at bedtime. (We know this sounds made up, but it really happened.)
Of all the human activities, camping smells the best. There, we said it. It’s a combination of piney woods, wood smoke, green grass, citronella, and sunscreen. Heady stuff. And you can keep the aroma going if you wear the same outfit home; wood smoke really is better than anything dreamed up by a perfume company.
See “s’mores.” Everything tastes better outdoors, from charcuterie to chicken. Most commercial and state park campsites (other than the backcountry ones) have fire rings for campfire cookery. Simple things like kebabs work well. We’ve gone fancy (cilantro and lime shrimp wrapped in foil) and basic (burgers, grilled vegetables) and enjoyed every bite. Google “campfire cooking recipes” for a bazillion easy ideas. The only time things fell apart is when we arrived too late and had to cook in the dark. You don’t even have to cook; just load up a big cooler with picnic stuff and ice — and s’mores ingredients.
And here’s another major plus: It’s easy to social distance in a tent — provided you’re sharing it with folks in your bubble. Kind of perfect for the summer of 2020, wouldn’t you say?
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com