I recently participated on a post about my top three favorite camping items. I was one of 11 global outdoor personalities asked about the topic. The variety of answers got me thinking about what it means to go camping. Who you ask may affect the answer. How people camp varies widely. For kicks, I’ve boiled it down to 5 classes of campers, ranked in terms of most to least common.
1. Car Camper The car campers are the most common of our camper classes. They shop at a wide variety of stores from Walmart to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports & Outdoors. This catchall class includes the throngs of family campers that invade our National Parks every year.
They typically are loud - sometimes boisterous if they are out to celebrate (bachelor parties, underage teenagers, etc.). In many parts of Europe, the younger men and women, car camp out of convenience after leaving rural pubs. They also make the best smelling meals from their camps. With the extra planning and plethora of carrying capacity, they lure us to their temporary abodes with the aromas of bacon, blueberry pancakes, bratwurst and just about any marinated meat you can put in a plastic container.
Not to imply that car campers are the Neanderthals of the camping world – not at all. Rather, they are the fabric of the camping world. This group also includes the more refined. These are the older folks that can enjoy the great outdoors and still manage to include some comforts of home – satellite tv, fine wine, an assortment of local cheeses and a camp chair with a built-in side table.
2. Ultra-Lite Weekend Warrior The ultra-lite weekend warrior is the fastest growing camper segment. These are the gadget-prone, the tech-savvy and the ones with the latest and greatest gear from REI, EMS or Sierra Trading Post. You can find them at camp plotting their next hike with their GPS, heating up stream water with their JetBoil system and slurping noodles with their lexan spork. When not camping, they often spend their time keeping fit by running in 5k’s, doing yoga, biking or whatever else suits their sport-du-jour. Many 14er climbers find themselves in this class.
This camper class uses all means at their disposal to achieve their goal – be it a mountain summit or a trail loop. They love the outdoors but have a timetable to contend with. After all, its’ their day jobs that give them the opportunity to get outside.
3. Hunter The hunter is the next class of camper. They have come a long way since the days of the Jim Bridger and the mountain men. Like the ultra-lite weekend warriors, the hunter class is tempted by the wide variety of gadgets available - in the form of bug repellant camouflage, night vision scopes and more zippers and pockets than you can possibly need in a vest. Whether they use a rifle, bow or fly rod, they often procure their gear from places like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s or Gander Mountain.
Hunters are not afraid to carry a little extra gear like an ax or a fully stocked Yeti cooler, as long as they can get some help from an ATV or horseback. It’s no surprise that hunters have the best tasting beef jerky and masters of the grill at home.
4. Long-haulers If campers were on a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle, the long-haulers would be at the top. They forgo pain and push beyond physical ends of endurance to achieve incredible accomplishments. There are really two subgroups here – the expeditionist and the through-hiker.
The expeditionists are the pro-athletes of the camping world. They notch-up 7-Summits climbs and tackle far-reaching and inhospitable climates in the name of country, science or money. The later would include all of the guides-for-hire that take clients for large sums of money. These long-haulers are so kick-ass, they buy direct from manufactures like North Face, Gregory and Patagonia. Their skin is leathery and dark from years of ultraviolet punishment but their eyes reveal a childlike playfulness. If you ever have a dinner party, you want an expeditionist at your table to share exotic stories of death, disease and adventure.
The other half of the long-hauler class is the through-hiker. The through-hiker is very different from the expeditionist. They still push themselves beyond their physical limitations, but do so in different ways and for disparate reasons. Rather than blaze a new trail, the through-hikers hike long-distance, established trails like the Pacific Coast Trail, Camino de Santiago or Appalachian Trail. They shop at a variety of places and include traits from other camper classes. They have to sometimes rely on the kindness of strangers or strategically plan meal and gear “drops” along the way.
5. Survivalist Thanks to the popularity of shows like Les Stroud’s “Survivorman” or Bear Grylls’ “Man vs. Wild” the survivalist camper class has seen a recent surge. Most viewers are content to live vicariously through the onscreen personalities. Our survivalists feel that the purest connection with nature is how our earliest ancestors, the hunter-gatherers survived.
The survivalist has no need for gadgetry (save for maybe a Swiss Army knife) and performance fabrics. They do more with less. Backpacks, sleeping bags and cooking stoves are conveniences that don’t have their place in the world of the survivalist. A knife is often the one tool that gives the survivalist the ability to create what he or she needs – food, shelter and warmth.
At a minimum, the ability to survive on one’s own is valuable skill-set. Attaining these skills and enjoying doing it…that’s another question.
What class camper are you? More importantly, are you a happy camper?