The Lessons Of Glamping On A Path To Hiking
Glamping: noun, informal an activity of camping wherein participants create a lifestyle of glamour, affluence and/or luxury, removing all semblance of privation in an otherwise primitive setting. Examples: Burning Man, Pennsic War, Renaissance Faires, et al.
With such a robust history of camping from a young age, it was only natural to continue the pastime into adulthood. I had acquired a taste for living history, and through experience with tabletop role-playing games I knew what I wanted. I had canvas tastes and a nylon budget so I quickly set to design and construction. It was really no different from Cosplay, but the scale could be much grander. I wanted to be a Norse Jarl and dove into the research.
The clothing, or garb in the jargon, was the first thing and I unknowingly re-created a historic 14-piece tunic. Fortunately, I worked in a sewing shop at the time. I worked out a deal for materials and created a maker-friendly pattern for an externally braced canvas A-frame tent and dayfly. A poly tarp covered in a fabric painter’s drop took care of the floor, a full futon bed, footlockers, and my camp was well on the road. I could set up and tear down all of it by myself because of my designs. People would rush to help only to suddenly see that big sheet of canvas in the air.
- Watch out for depressions in the ground. I missed one and had my own pond for the duration of the camp. My floor was good, but it was eerie to step down and watch bins ride the wave.
- Look up for dead or overburdened limbs before pitching a tent. Twenty feet behind my tent the walnut-laden limb ripped off a healthy tree and crashed down into a neighbor’s yurt. Only the roof rafters saved them.
- Use appropriate sized stakes. Loose soil needs longer ones, hard soil may not let you pull them out.
- Stake guy ropes farther away in windy conditions and keep stakes perpendicular to the rope. If you stake a guyout right next to the tent it’ll just pull the stake out. In the picture of the canvas tents compare the rope angles between my dayshade and the small circular tent. We had a storm and the round tent was flattened.
It was troublesome to continually take such a big setup camping. It required at least a full-size pickup and the poles for the dayfly were 12 feet long. The pickup changed to a Suburban, some breakups happened, multiple moves and the large, heavy totes of gear were a problem. I had also started to become disillusioned with the people I was regularly doing living history re-creation with, so I liquidated it.
I went out and bought a large, moderately priced nylon tent that could fit a full-size bed and a leaner selection of gear. Along the way, I found an older Hilux (they’re not called that in America) and stopped driving the Suburban except for winter trips. My leaner, smaller camp and burgeoning prepper, minimalist ideas clashed with the bourgeois mentality of the other people. I gritted my teeth for a while longer before switching my big bed to a soldier’s cot and eschewed them all.
- Flag long guy ropes. Doesn’t matter what color the rope is, when the sun goes down you can’t see them.
- Drive stakes flush to ground or cap them. I treated someone with a foot laceration when they stepped on someone’s sharp stake.
- If car camping and parking on site, face car downhill. The tires may sink if parked for a while and become stuck. It’s easier to rock a vehicle out with a downhill runway.
- Try not to camp on too great a slope. Some slope is good to allow water to run off, too much and you wake up at the bottom.
New Group, New Problems
It wasn’t all roses and sunshine in the next group of people I camped with. They really put the G in glamping. Generator noise became a new thing. Before it was drums all night, now it was motors, the pulse of house techno, flashing lights, and lasers. Plunged into a new subculture I adapted past the shock and found a vibrant group of creative thinkers. I had the community I needed at the time and a weird nonsupport group. My kilt and FiveFingers were cool instead of strange.
People would pop up with something broke, not working or complex. All the time spent making big blocks of metal smaller, squishing metal bars into trinkets, and tinkering with odd things made me the ideal fixer. I started hearing things like “everything just goes better when he’s around” and I found myself part of another dysfunctional family. I upgraded the tent and went winter glamping. That second year was memorable for many reasons. I still get a little misty over it. I never used a tow strap so many times in one weekend.
- Don’t camp on top of an exposed hill. Everything becomes a sail and you will not be able to manage it without extra planning and gear.
- Frozen ground is firm enough to drive on but if it thaws you will slide, spin tires or sink.
- Adding a second windproof layer to a tent doubles heat retention.
- Put liquids in a cooler to prevent them freezing.
- Alcohol burners need a lot of TLC when it is below 40 degrees. Preheat the burner and the fuel and anticipate the need for priming fuel.
Going on these fully planned trips and hanging out with an ever-variable group of weirdos was therapeutic. I would be on top of the world and in my element; lending a hand, advice or a full on lesson of some sort. Coming back from riding that freedom and the endorphin high was catastrophic. Once more the brakes have to come on. Not going camping at all was out of the question, it was the only healthy respite I had. I could only deal with “the details of normal living” if there was a camp on my schedule.
It needed to be more accessible. That meant easier to pack, set up, tear down and repack for the next trip. The wigwam-style tent had drawbacks, but I liked the design. In the second winter camp, I tried to reinforce it, but the tarps I ordered were packed under the wrong size. I ordered a smaller version of the tent, ditched more gear losing tables, chairs, cot, heaters, camp stove, coolers, footlockers, virtually all of it. I was no longer glamping and I wanted simpler yet.
- You don’t need much if not camping in one place for a long time. Pack for what you will do, not what you might do. If you didn’t use it last time, you’re probably not using it this time either.
- It’s OK to sit quietly and watch the sun come up, or go down, see the stars, and the moon. You don’t get to do that during the 9 to 5 grind.
- For events, get in early and stay late. Watching the progression from an empty campground to full and buzzing and back has its rewards.
- Act like an owner of the space you are in. Take care of it, pick up litter, help your neighbor, teach Leave No Trace, chat with the property manager. When you pack up, leave the space better than when you arrived.
- The less you bring, the faster it is to pack up and the more often you can take advantage of spur of the moment trips.
A Dream Rekindled
I car camped small for a while. Gear was kept in a neat pile of duffels close to the door. When I would come back everything would be laundered and restocked. The little Hilux could be loaded in minutes. I was considering converting the Suburban fully into an adventure vehicle, but it was never the same after that winter trip. Not having a garage space to make everything right was the biggest limitation.
About this time I had to move abruptly into a less than ideal situation and took half my possessions to a landfill or pawnshop, not having any storage. Security was so bad I had to go armed again. I jumped at the first roommate needed ad I could find. This became a family and I introduced them to the free-thinking culture I was a part of. My kit expanded to accommodate them.
Hooked, they scoured the internet for more and discovered vlogging hikers on the Appalachian Trail. I binge watched entire seasons of videos. After months of excited research, the acquisition of gear was started and day hiking began. A plan to hike as a family and homeschool from the trail was made. An overnight family test hike showed weak points in the plan and regrettably, we scrapped it.
After a short debate I decided to do the Appalachian Trail. I started training and testing gear in earnest as conditions at work deteriorated. Hiking helped me create mental space but I was struggling. I needed respite and tried therapy again. That failed and I started missing work, and when I was there I could barely control depressive anger cycles. It was clear something had to give, but I was hiking! It was a long journey from 13, my first pack and a crushed dream, to 43, a pack full of trail ready gear and living that dream.
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