The main reason people started building houses with thick walls wasn’t to keep them warm, it was so they didn’t have to listen to the annoying sounds of domestic life; dogs barking, televisions blaring, neighbors yelling at each other . . . The decision to go camping is to return to this era of village life and, ideally, our campsite selection should be based on our own desired level of privacy, but that’s not the reality when you’re checking into most campgrounds. A “tent camping” spot can mean anything from the gravel gap between two Winnebagos, to an isolated area requiring a permit to access. We should break down tent camping into several categories. First, there’s “road trip” tent camping, in which you’ve packed your tent because you don’t want to pay for hotels, and will settle for anything just off the highway. The subset for this category would be the people who seek out crowded campgrounds just off the highway because they actually want to be there and may or may not consider themselves to be “roughing it.” These tent campers may also have a more refined taste in “organized” car camping and tend to seek out facilities with amenities like playgrounds, rivers, lakes or possibly a go-kart track or a Starbucks . . . And they might also prefer campgrounds situated in thick woods, because by the time Memorial Day weekend is in full-swing, what seemed like the Garden of Eden will have become THE JERSEY SHORE, forcing more modest tent campers to seek any privacy provided by whatever foliage has not been hacked down for firewood.
There’s another form of car-camping, the more remote — what I like to call “SUV-Primitive” — car-camping in which you arrive at a scenic, remote location via 4×4 vehicle and pitch your tent near the vehicle. This is great fun, and can be done even on cross-country road trips — especially Out West — because you don’t have to drive down a two-track on BLM land for very long before you’re very much alone.
Finally, we have the quintessential form of tent camping which involves a human-powered effort called walking. Walking is a great way to access remote locations, but I’d like to point out that the concept of “remoteness” is only relative to the size of the wilderness. For example, if you’re in the desert, you’ll probably get more isolated, faster by driving a vehicle down a lonely two-track. But if you’re dealing with a small State Park in the Appalachian Mountains, your best option for the true “Walden Pond” experience will be to hike for a few hours down a trail. Locations you’ve hiked into are usually never as remote as you think they are, but it feels good to do it, and to know you can live, at least for a few days, off of the stuff you have in your backpack.
Of the three methods described, I prefer car-camping with a 4×4 vehicle, because I can get away from the crowds, my setup feels pretty minimalist (since I have a tent, not a pop-up trailer), but I still have the comforts of things like folding chairs, a large stove for cooking and a place to put it (tailgate). Also, the open space around me offers a chance to do things you can’t at a KOA campground, like plink cans with my BB gun, shoot my bow, or practice short-game shots with my sand wedge.
The good thing about staying at a franchise campground like KOA is that you can expect a certain level of consistency across the board, when it comes to everything from online reservations, to the kind of food they stock in the camp store. With over 450 locations, KOA has been America’s leader in campgrounds for almost 50 years. They have a wide range of facilities, from the semi-rustic tent camping, to RV parks with swimming pools and lounges. Find out more here: http://koa.com/
Jellystone Campgrounds are the second largest chain of campgrounds, with 70 locations in the US and Canada. Find one near you by going here: http://www.campjellystone.com/history.html
Tent Camping Tips:
1. When making your campground selection, try for areas in the woods. Even if it’s not hot and you don’t need the shade, you’ll be glad there’s a few bushes between you and the Flanders family.
2. When considering different “established” campgrounds for tent camping, you should look for a place that has areas designated specifically for RVs, group sites, smaller size sites for cars only, and possibly even a selection of rustic, or semi-remote sites to choose from. Tent camping just isn’t as fun when the tents are mixed in with the RVs and large family reunions.
3. Are there nearby attractions and/or recreation opportunities? Make sure you don’t reserve four nights at a campground in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do, unless your goal is to do absolutely nothing.
4. Prepare for MOISTURE. You’ll be feeling like an authentic frontiersman, proud of your minimalist requirements, as you sit in your tent right next to an idling RV. Until it starts to rain. Then you’ll just be the wet guy in site 15-F being stared at by those warm, dry people in the RV. Make sure to bring a ground tarp to put your tent on. Bring the RAIN FLY, and use it, even if it doesn’t rain, because it keeps you warm. There are plenty of things you’ll decide at the last minute to leave at home, but DON’T leave the rain fly.
5. If you’re camping at an “honor system” campground where you have to put ten bucks in a little envelope and drop it through a slot in a big, iron, bear-proof tube, just pay the ten bucks and resist the urge to pull one over on “The Man,” just cause you can. It’s only ten bucks, and it costs money to maintain even campgrounds that might appear primitive.