We had a really nice weekend camping. We went with several other families, so there were a total of five kids, with ours the youngest at five and eight, and the oldest being twelve. We went out to Wolf Gap, which is right on the border between Virginia and West Virginia.
I was impressed at how well the boys did hiking, since last year they were pretty whiny on a much shorter hike. There was one section where you really needed to climb up some rocks, and both boys made it with only a few helping hands. (They needed a bit more assistance on the downhill there.) D whined a fair bit on the way up, but then raced down ahead of us trying to keep up on the way down. N was a trooper for most of the time, but was clearly wiped by the end.
Other than the hike, the boys mostly spent the time obsessively poking the fire. There were enough adults there that we were able to take turns supervising them, and no one got set on fire. The kids all thought we should have a fire going at all times, so we told them they were responsible for collecting enough firewood to make that happen, and the older kids even each took a turn with the saw. The adults were able to actually have some conversations, as well as reading, and staring into the fire. We all ate far too many roasted marshmallows.
This was car camping [e.g. we could drive right to the campsite, but we slept in tents, not the car] so we were able to bring a ridiculous amount of supplies. We had folding chairs and tables, a two burner stove, big tents, beer and soda, barbecued chicken, watermelon, coffee w/ cream, you name it. This is the sort of camping that I did with my family when I was growing up, but as an adult I somewhere along the way decided that I only wanted to do backcountry camping, where you only have what you're willing to carry. That's obviously not going to happen with the boys until they're old enough to carry their own gear, but this weekend made me realize that it's some sort of stupid snobbery to think that car camping isn't worth doing.
The two burner stove that my friends brought is pretty much identical to the one my parents bought at Sears 40 years ago, and a quick online search shows that Coleman still makes pretty much the identical model. I remembered that when I was little we were able to buy the fuel for the stove at gas stations, which makes me think that car camping must have been far more popular then than it is now.* We hypothesized that it's been driven out by the combination of:
- Camping as a cheap way to travel has been driven out by cheap motels and low-fare air travel.
- Those who do travel and camp mostly use RVs. (When did RVs get popular?)
- Now that air conditioning is so ubiquitous, not to mention television and the internet, not so many people are interested in sitting in the woods and getting eaten by mosquitoes. (My boys did complain about our not letting them bring their DSs.)
- Those who do still camp are more likely to be the hard core folks who want to backpack and not car camp.
*I'm not entirely sure that's true — it looks like white gas was used for things other than just camping stoves and lanterns.
What do you think — has car camping declined? Will it make a comeback in the recession? Do you do it? What's the one piece of gear that you couldn't live without?
Ok, I found some statistics from the outdoor industry foundation. I think this is the trade group of the people who sell gear. It's a little hard to read, but I think they're saying that 49 million Americans went car camping at least once in 2004, down 18 percent from 1998, and 13 million Americans went backpacking at least once in 2004, down 23 percent from 1998. If anyone can find longer-term trends, I'd love to see them.