Camping. This single word conjures vastly different mental images for different people. My grandfather, having grown up during the difficult Depression era, often says that he would rather be in jail than be forced to camp. My grandfather’s argument is that he grew up without electricity, modern plumbing or central heat and he cannot imagine why people would choose to put themselves back in that situation. Many people now consider camping to be synonymous with parking a luxury motor home or travel trailer in a fully-equipped site at an RV park, while others consider sleeping in a tent sans running water or electricity to be camping.
My personal taste runs toward sleeping in a tent without any modern conveniences, though as I enter middle age the prospect of a van or simple trailer to protect from rain, bears, and similar camping annoyances does become more appealing. I still have no interest in the fully-equipped, luxury RV, “camping” lifestyle though. In fact, my wife and I lived in a 17′ Fan house trailer for several years and never considered it camping. Our little trailer, customized to meet our needs, was simply home. We were quite comfortable. In my opinion, bringing a fully-equipped, mobile house on vacation just does not seem like “camping” by any standard.
I recently returned from a weekend camping trip in the mountains of Carbon County, Montana. This camping trip, the fourth annual all-church camping trip that our church has held, is always a good time with friends and family. This trip provided the opportunity for some personal reflection on why I love camping. These reflections were prompted while I observed that some of my fellow campers literally brought more stuff for a weekend camping excursion than I own. Nonetheless, despite the differences in what we each might consider “essential” gear for a weekend in the mountains, it still represented a weekend-long scaling back and simplifying of lifestyle for each camper. So, with my concept of camping already explained, I will share several reasons why I enjoy camping.
Camping provides the opportunity to simplify
Camping provides an opportunity to simplify and to remember what is really important. Modern life has a way of breeding chaos through the endless accumulation of more possessions. Most people have many more possessions than they possibly need, and we are all constantly bombarded by media advertisements and messages designed to convince us that we need yet more. We do not.
Camping provides an opportunity to live without all (or most) of the modern conveniences that seem so essential and indispensable at home. Camping requires us to consider the value that each item provides in contrast to its’ size and weight. This situation is even more true for backpackers than for “car campers” since the backpacker is further limited by the need to carry everything he or she needs (or wants) in a backpack. In any event, many modern conveniences, even items that seem like necessities, are left behind when camping.
I have always tended toward a philosophy of simplicity in my life. This truth was made particularly clear to me during a week-long canoe trip that my father and I took in 1998. We canoed in the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada one summer as part of a seminary class on wilderness leadership. The trip required us to carry everything we needed in our canoe – and thus on our backs during portages. On the first day of the trip I found myself missing my children, my frame pack (the Duluth pack we were using did not suit me well), and my microwave oven. Building a fire to cook required advance planning and a time investment of an hour or more. This seemed tedious when compared to the modern convenience of microwave ovens. By the seventh day of the trip I missed only my children and my frame pack. This experience helped me to realize just what I need for survival and happiness – and it was very little.
Camping provides the opportunity for downtime
Camping provides an opportunity to enjoy some downtime and to remember the importance of margin in our lives. Modern society seems to constantly find ways to keep busier and for people to be more “productive” at every moment. Camping provides an opportunity for downtime without computers, cell phones, and other modern activities.
Camping provides an opportunity to relax, unwind, and enjoy some time without busyness and distraction. Hopefully this respite both recharges our soul and body, but it also provides a reminder of the necessity of margin.
Camping provides the opportunity to unplug
Camping provides an opportunity to unplug and to communicate face-to-face. Communication in the modern world is increasingly “plugged in” and digital rather than face-to-face. Family members may communicate more through text messages and social media than through face-to-face conversations. Camping provides the opportunity to reverse this pattern, even if only for a few days.
During our recent church camping trip people sat around the fire and visited with one another, played board games by the light of a lantern at a picnic table, or played guitars and sang. In other words, we unplugged and enjoyed communication and entertainment that is all but lost in our high-tech, always-on world.
Camping provides the opportunity for reflection and thought
Camping provides an opportunity to reflect on life and to think about things from the perspective of a different environment. A change in scenery and environment can be quite helpful in providing a different perspective on problems or situations that we may be facing. A change in environment is helpful in considering the questions of life.
This article is the result of some reflection that I enjoyed while on a recent camping trip. These reflections were quite natural. Many philosophers and writers throughout history have understood the value of nature and getting away from the busyness of normal life.
Camping provides the opportunity to appreciate nature
Camping provides an opportunity to appreciate and reconnect with nature. Modern society is increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Modern cities, housing and conveniences are all designed to isolate and protect humans from the natural world. Camping offers the opportunity to reverse this pattern and to reconnect with the natural world.
Camping offers the opportunity to see wildlife, plants and scenery that would otherwise be missed. During my most recent camping trip, my son and I just missed seeing a bear with two cubs. Another camper told us of seeing the bears in an area we had passed through only moments before. During our previous church camping trip in the same location we saw a bull moose walk through the woods right next to our campsite. These opportunities would have been missed if we were not spending time camping in the mountains.
Camping also offers the opportunity to reconnect with the sounds of nature. The sound of a rushing creek, for example, can easily be mistaken for wind in the trees or a gentle rain falling on leaves. Birds make an amazing variety of sounds in the trees, as do squirrels. Turtles splashing from a log into the lake is a sound that will never be heard from inside a motor vehicle. Camping provides the opportunity to learn the language of nature.
There are many reasons why I love camping. I love nature and would live outdoors if the opportunity were available. Family responsibilities preclude that dream at this point, but I do love to be outdoors whenever possible. My love of the outdoors is one reason why I love camping. I have shared several other reasons in this article, but there are certainly many more as well. Ultimately, I believe that camping is therapeutic and is quite useful in helping us to remember what really matters in life and what is truly important.