"A bad day camping is still better than a good day working."
Camping Enthusiasts wholeheartedly agree with both of those quotes – a good camping trip truly is the ultimate in freedom. And, even at its worst, grabbing your sleeping bag, first aid kit, stove and all your camping essentials for a fun trip to a state park is a lot more fun than working. There’s simply nothing better than making a reservation at a site in a national forest, leaving the city, heading into nature and spending a few nights eating at a picnic table under the stars in the great outdoors to get some perspective on life. And, given the uncertain times of the global pandemic, we could probably all use a nice camping trip in a state park right about now, although it may not be a good idea, given the Covid-19 restrictions.
There are a lot of Camping Enthusiasts in the United States - 42 million of them participated in car, backyard of mobile camping last year, and consumers spent almost $3 billion on camping gear. The RV industry alone has a $114 billion impact on the economy every year.
Camping is as old as we are. People have used makeshift shelters and built fires to prepare food and stay warm since the days of cavemen. But camping as an American pastime, with sleeping bags, grills, flashlights, coolers, backpacks, camp site reservations and all the camping accessories we now automatically associate with it, didn’t really start until the 1900s. During the years of the Industrial Revolution, because of the focus on manufacturing and work, people started to yearn to re-connect with nature. This time period saw the explosion of national parks as well as summer camps and youth scouting organizations. As such, there was also an explosion of duct tape, headlamps, hiking boots, civilian conservation groups and firewood chopping skills.
The first mention of combining roasted marshmallows with Graham Crackers to make the ultimate camping treat over burning firewood – S’mores – was in the 1927 book “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.” Campfires, and campgrounds, were never the same again.
There are so many different facets of camping, however, our narrow focus here is figuring out what are the best camping items? There are so many fantastic pieces of camping equipment that it’s quite subjective. The best approach is by posing this question: what’s your favorite camping item and what does it say about you?
Of course, this is first – it is the fundamental camping item, the iconic symbol of humans braving the elements in backcountry and hopefully getting a good night’s sleep. Believe it or not, the first ones date all the way back to 40,000 B.C. in Russia, as verified by carbon dating (it’s not just for dino bones). There are even references to these flimsy sleeping capsules in the Bible - Isaiah 54:2 for those keeping score at home - and they were used in the Wild West and by soldiers in the American military in all American wars.
Today, modern tents are no longer used as permanent dwellings. Rather, they allow us to escape from our abodes, make a reservation at a site and head out to a state park to experience nature.
One of those locations is Pismo Beach, California, one of the greatest places to witness a sunset in all of the U.S.A. FYI, there are 103 campsites there, and, after a night braving the elements, you may want to freshen up using one of their paid showers.
If this is your favorite camping item, it says something about you. You’re conservative, you like the classics and you don’t like to take chances. A tent is a safe choice, but it’s a good choice - you can’t go wrong with it – and it definitely doesn’t belong in the camping list that went wrong.
A camp chair is camping standard issue, perfect for sitting in after slaving over chopping up firewood. There are tons of different types of camp chairs, from stools to ones that fold to chairs with carrying bags to everything in between. In terms of what to look for, you should assess the chair’s comfort, storage, and the durability of the material. Oh, and don’t forget to follow the weight capacity guidelines (a theTUNDRA team member learned the hard way that ignoring weight guidelines leads to your butt landing in the dirt).
If you’re the fireside musician type, stools are the go-to. You’d look silly playing the guitar sitting on the ground, right? Same thing goes for all of you storytellers out there. If you love spinning yarns late at night around the campfire, your story carries more weight if you’re in a chair or on a stool.
If a camping chair is your pick as your favorite camping item, you’re probably a stable person, perhaps the backbone of your family or group of friends. You’re not flashy, you don’t love all of the attention. You just get the job done. So don’t forget one of these on your next camping trip. Put it on your checklist.
Ah, the skillet, a cooking item that’s as important as a cooler - cooking is a vital component of camping. A skillet should be in your top three items on your checklist. Imagine being on a camping trip and not making a fire from firewood indulging in bacon and eggs at dawn, or a simple yet sumptuous meal of corned beef hash over the campfire at night?
Cast iron is the way to go with a camping skillet as it makes a huge difference in taste. It’s the best material for chefs everywhere because it gives you control and flexibility when it comes to temperature control. The other great thing about a solid, cast iron skillet is that it also serves as a great diversion tool should you need to scare away wild animals at night. Bears don’t tend to like that “clang clang clang” sound. If your favorite camping item is a skillet, you love to cook and have an iron will.
“S’more” is what you get when you contract “some more.” And who wouldn’t want some more graham crackers, marshmallows and milk chocolate (preferably Hershey’s)? Americans have been indulging in these camping delicacies for nearly a century. They’re traditionally cooked over a campfire with firewood, with the marshmallows usually held on a stick or a metal skewer. The trick is to get them golden brown, but not burnt, though some people do insist on on setting their marshmallows on fire before putting them on the graham crackers. How uncivilized.
Here are a few fun S’more facts: August 10th is National S’mores Day; Americans buy 90 million pounds of marshmallows per year; 2.1 million S’mores are consumed per day during the summer; and Michigan is the state in which the most S’mores are consumed, perhaps because of the high number of state parks there. We knew we loved Michigan. If the S’more is your favorite camping item, you’re not afraid to indulge, you enjoy the finer things in life, and you’re probably a sweet person.
Other camping meals you may want to try include overnight oats, fluffy egg white camping pancakes and healthy trail mix protein bites.
A guitar definitely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the world of camping. But when you really think about it, they’re instrumental (get it?) to camping. Guitars add flavor. They add depth. They add soul.
Sitting around the campfire singing classics like “American Pie,” “House of the Rising Sun” and “Hotel California” has become woven into the American camping tradition. There’s just something magical about the guy or girl who pulls out their guitar from their case, with a beer in their hand and the sun setting, when they start getting the magic going.
If you a guitar is your favorite camping item, you think outside the box, and you probably love belting “livin’ it up at the Hotel California” way too loudly.
The hot dog is almost as fundamental to camping as the sleeping bag. What else are you going to cook over the campfire, a burger?! Ok fine, people cook burgers when they camp, but it just doesn’t feel quite as right as a hot dog, the no-brainer of cooking meals. Perhaps it’s because they’re easy to cook, perhaps it’s because they’re universally loved (unless you’re vegan), or maybe it’s because they’re inexpensive…whatever the case, all we know is this - we dare you to go on a camping trip and not eat hot dogs. It can’t be done.
Did you know that the very first hot dog (once called dachshund sausages) was sold by a German immigrant out of a food cart in New York in the 1860s? Then, around 1870, a man named Charles Feltman opened the first hot dog stand on Coney Island and the rest was hot dog history.
If a dog is your favorite camping item, congrats, you’re as American as baseball and the Stars and Stripes.
There are almost too many fantastic camping movies to list here. There’s the quirky and excellent Wes Anderson film MOONRISE KINGDOM with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Bill Murray. One of the spookiest found footage movies of all time, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, takes place in the woods. Don’t forget about the hilarious John Candy and Dan Ackroyd camping movie, THE GREAT OUTDOORS. The heart wrenching based-on-a-true-story film INTO THE WILD, starring Emile Hersch, was directed by Sean Penn. The Burt Reynolds classic DELIVERANCE features one of the most famous movie quotes ever - “squeal like a pig.” And finally, STAND BY ME, which stars River Phoenix and Corey Feldman, is about a group of boys who go on a camping trek in search of a dead body.
The ultimate camping trip experience may involve watching one of those movies as you camp. Then again, one of the points of camping is to take a technology break. In related news, the author if this article read the book INTO THIN AIR, which chronicles a disastrous Mount Everest trek that resulted in eight deaths, as they hiked to Mount Everest Base Camp, which was definitely surreal.
What does it say about you if you pick a camping themed movie as your favorite camping item? It probably means that you’re not a hardcore camper. You may be more of a Film and TV Enthusiast than a Camping Enthusiast, but that’s ok, you can be both.
A campfire provides warmth, heat to cook your food and is the ideal spot to sit for sing-a-longs. Plus let’s not forget about those magical crackling sounds and smoky smells that make camping, well, camping. From ancient days, when fires were started by rubbing two sticks together, to modern times, one thing’s for sure – campfires are essential. So, whether you made a reservation for a site in Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park or your friendly neighborhood campsite, you’ll be having a campfire or it’s just not camping.
If you select campfire as the camping item you can’t live without, you just might be a pyromaniac.
Woooooooo, ghosts! We classify ghost stories in the same category as guitars. They provide excellent color commentary, great flavor, for any camping trip, so add a spooky tale to your checklist. Whether it’s the ghost stories “The Smiling Man,” “The Missing Scout Leader,” or an abridged version of “The Lovely Bones,” these stories are required listening for campers, particularly kiddie campers. Lying in your sleeping bag, staring up wide-eyed with fear is an age-old rite of passage for American children.
No one has been able to pinpoint exactly how the tradition of telling ghost stories around the campfire began. Maybe the tradition was started by…a ghost? If this is your favorite part of camping, you’re more courageous than we are.
Recreational Vehicles, a step up from car camping, are synonymous with the road and camping (and glamping). There are several types – motorhomes, campervans, caravans, fifth-wheel trailers, popup campers and truck campers. The first known caravan was a horse-drawn covered wagon, which have been around since the 1740s. By the 1920s, they was a much-used vehicle by U.S. Camping Enthusiasts in state parks everywhere. They’rere also closely associated with parks and campsites, as this enthusiastic writer describes.
This world inspires intense devotion among millions of Camping Enthusiasts throughout the world (like Alan Wiener, who runs the group Everything About RVing). Whether you’re glamping in one that’s pimped-out or using a rudimentary one just for sleep, they bring a whole new dimension to the camping experience. Just ask Marcus Lemonis who, when not starring in CNBC’s “The Profit”, is the CEO of Camping World, a company that specializes in all things Recreational Vehicles plus camping supplies. The only thing that Marcus loves more might be the American Flag.
If this is your camping item of choice, you’re the kind of person who likes to keep their options open. You don’t like to be pinned down. You love the open road.
The Last Word On Camping
Before you head out on our next trip to a campground, before you make you camping checklist, there are some wonderful sites to explore to deepen your knowledge: www.campingworld.com, www.campendium.com, www.recreation.gov, www.reserveamerica.com, www.freecampsites.net, www.rei.com and www.gocampingamerica.com
Just remember, once America, and the world, has gotten through this uncertain time, follow the wise words of President Teddy Roosevelt and grab your cooler, your pack and all the accessories you need, and go on another trek, as far into a national forest as you can, for another dose of “lonely freedom.”