This isn’t your father’s tent — or backcountry camping experience.
As innovation has changed other outdoor activities — how did we ever find and catch fish before sonar came along? — it also has changed backcountry camping.
Sure, you can still pitch an ordinary tent and cook on an ordinary camp stove — there’s something to be said about camping with just the basics. But there also is something to be said for all of these new-wave offerings that, ultimately, continue to change the face of primitive camping in the Northland and beyond.
And it starts with the single-most recognizable piece of camping gear.
Today, tent options are through the roof. While larger tents and shelters for families still have a following, the push continues toward super-small, ultra-light tents for the always-growing backpacking and backcountry camping sectors. While small enough to be paired with a backpack, these tents have fewer parts and pretty much set up themselves.
Innovations continue to one-up even recent upgrades meant to make the tenting/camping experience more doable while still embracing the minimal factor, too. For example, even with continued upgrades to sleeping pads, sleeping bags and other such gear, there’s only so much you can do with uneven, rocky terrain, and even fewer options in wet, rainy conditions.
How about a hammock tent? The idea isn’t new, and hardcore backcountry campers have been known to pair sleeping bags with hammocks to form a sort of cocoon, particularly in colder weather. The idea makes sense in places that might not be right for tents and also eliminates the need to pack a traditional shelter.
All of that was the premise behind Lawson Hammock’s Blue Ridge Camping Hammock (www.lawsonhammock.com), a hybrid tent-hammock and recipient of the Gear of the Year Award by 50 Campfires, a nationally-known camping authority.
The Blue Ridge is the epitome of backcountry camping/tenting for 2016. It’s big enough for one adult, sets up quickly and in places that might not be tent-worthy. It’s also compact and lightweight enough to take on a backpacking trip. All you need is two trees about 12 feet apart.
The bigger TreePod (mytreepod.com) is built to hang from a tree/branch. And, on the other end of the spectrum, for those who choose to camp from their vehicles in the backcountry, the Tupui rooftop tent (tepuitents.com) mounts to most roof racks.
Like the tent-hammock concept, the tent-sleeping bag combination has long been mulled, especially by backcountry campers looking to save on space. A foreign company, Polarmond, recently came out with the All-in-One sleeping system (polarmond.ch/?lang=en), which recently won the Gold Award at the highly-regarded Outdoor Trade Fair in Germany. Built with mountaineering in mind, it’s a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and tent all in one.
Gadgets and gizmos galore
These combo efforts are becoming the norm across the camping world as many look to downsize, particularly those in backpacking and backcountry camping circles. And, mostly, it involves gear that is already fairly compact — nuts-and-bolts stuff, mainly — and taking it to the extreme.
A water bottle might be at the forefront of this continued effort.
Well, the Seattle Sports Firewater Multi-Bottle (seattlesportsco.com) isn’t just a water bottle. It’s also a solar-charged lamp, and the rubbery bottle also can be used for waterproof storage. The light — and solar panel that can be charged via USB port — is in the lid, which can be removed and used as a separate light if you’re using the bottle as, well, a water bottle. The light has three settings, including a flashing mode for emergencies. And, for packing purposes, the collapsible bottle folds up. A glow band around the rim of the bottle helps you find it in the dark.
ThermaCell (thermacell.com/mosquito-repellent) has also embraced that lantern combo concept with lamps that double as mosquito repellent units — a fitting function in this neck of the woods. The smallest model might be compact enough for backcountry camping, and the repellent emitted from the unit covers a 15-by-15-foot area. Although not much bulkier than, say, a large water bottle, it’s probably too big to bring on a backpacking trip, but would come in handy when mosquitos and black flies swarm in the late-summer months in the Northland.
And for campers looking to pack extra light, Tarp Buddy (tarpbuddy.com) can help them get by with just a small tarp, if they choose — and a few of the Tarp Buddy fasteners. The small plastic fasteners (a pack of 10 weighs less than 6 ounces) can be attached to the tarp, which in turn could be held up by, say, large sticks to create a basic shelter. For those with a little more room in their bags, tarp shelters can also be built with the aid of some rope and tent stakes, even hiking poles.
Minimal is crucial when it comes to cooking, too. More and more campers — especially backpackers who don’t want to include a cooking stove in their packs — cook over an open fire. But for windy, dry conditions when making a fire isn’t always an option, or for those who prefer cooking on camp stoves, they are getting more compact, even backpack-worthy.
Food options are changing as well. Instead of filling up with packages of freeze-dried food or, even more daring yet, living off the land, there’s a new option for backpackers and traditional campers.
Fireside Provisions (firesideprovisions.com/) out of San Francisco is a meal-delivery service for campers. With about a week’s notice, the company can ship specialty meals to your home — or to a public campground, if it has a postal address, but not to the trail or backcountry.
The menu is extensive — and constantly growing — with entries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with snacks, including a funky variety of trail mixes. The company is starting to include perishables, but for the most part, and with backpacking meals in particular, it deals in non-perishables. Still, what it lacks in, say, fresh meats, it more than makes up for with interesting pairings and high-end ingredients. For a backpacker, one day of food costs $15.
Food for an entire weekend comes in a box about the size of a laptop computer (and about three times deeper) — and that’s for traditional camping; the backpacking packages are more compact.
It’s a big step up from traditional freeze-dried fare, and the carefully-packed foods take up less space in your bag, too. The meals come with preparation instruction on the package labels, and there’s a “to-bring” checklist (it’s short; preparing most everything on the menu is basic, too) after Fireside Provisions founder Kip Clifton reportedly forgot a spatula during a camp-out not long before opening last year.
“We don’t want you to leave anything out,” Clifton said. “We worked hard on (getting items) fresh off the grid and an expanded backpacking menu, and that’s where the majority of orders are coming from. We just launched a new menu. Now we’ve got all these pita lunches. We’re trying to make it simple so you can do it (prepare meals) on the trail.”
Life in the backcountry at its finest.