A Writer’s Guide to Camping

Me hammock

Listen, I’m a little bitch about my sleep. If I don’t get my 7.5 hours, I morph into an emotional toddler. There I’ll be, tearing up about the Capri Sun straw that won’t go in and remember: oh yeah, no sleep.

I hate being sweaty. Two years of 9-month stretches stewing in my own brine during Peace Corps makes me feel low-grade anxiety as soon as I recognize my armpit as two pieces of skin sliding together.

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I also like some good food. None of this rehydrated shit. I like the original hydration in the fresh food cooked to perfection. Which means I bring a meat thermometer, along with everything else.

Because I am a glamper. Which is, I think, the perfect thing for a writer to be.

Some people play the suffering game. They remind me that I what I call camping is car camping. Yes, congratulations. Please sit on this trophy then be gone with your scout badges. You win. And I win. Because I am playing a different game. 

I am a writer coming to the forest or the mountains or the fields for life itself, that thing that comes before writing. I never fail to find it.

If I want nature-induced suffering, I’ll read Pete Fromm from the comfort of my hammock. 

Why writers might love camping glamping

It’s cheap. It’s wild. It’s flexible.

Camping is cheap.

I just found an SUV-ful of firewood, then spent $70 on an ax, gloves, and goggles, because I like having eyes. A bundle of firewood is usually $7, and I am a pyro of the highest order, so I can easily burn 10 per trip.

Though the $70 felt expensive at Lowe’s, if I can become the kind of person who chops my own firewood, that’s so much cheaper in the long-run. And, let’s be real, a little badass.

Camping is a skill. Not one I had when I arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. It’s one, thanks to my best friend up here and her happy camper family, that I have acquired.

A hotel is easily $150 a night, and a camping site around $20. Plus, you’re more encouraged to cook food you brought than eat out, and enjoy the pleasures of nature rather than entertainment you have to pay someone for.

Used gear is really easy to find on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or in thrift stores. Apparently a lot of people think they’ll camp and then realize they just don’t. This is sad for them, good for you!

REI offers a useful camping checklist here.

Camping is Wild

The second I close the car door to the wide open, I feel returned. Leaves. Chipmunks. Water falling. Oh yeah, birds came from an explosion in blackness a billion years ago. Wild.

It clears me of deadlines and iMessages. It envelopes me in mountain ranges and lake views, and blocks me from reloading Instagram.

Step one: I hang a hammock from the trees, and sink into the firespark-singed cloth. I flop a notebook on my lap and remember a story idea I’d been meaning to find time to write out.

What I love about nature is that it’s not marketed to you. It’s a quiet truth.

Camping is Flexible

As a writer, I can go on my schedule, which means I can wait for the good (non-sweaty) weather. I can work a rainy weekend and head out right when most people have to head in. It’s a privilege we get to play with, one of the things I fought so hard to get.

Glamping Essentials

Take only what you need to survive. And thrive. And drink. And eat. And relax. And laugh.

Seating options: I mean, look at this ridiculous camping chair I scored:

Hammock, of course. These hammock straps make things so much easier. I have strong feelings, as well, about how terrible the dig-into-your-ass white rope hammocks are. You want a hammock that has a small weave, so as not to get waffle ass. Nylon hammocks just kind of make me sad. I’d go for a South American style one. Ooh, I also just saw this quilted one and kind of want it. This one‘s damn cute too.

All. The. Books. One per day. At least a ridiculous amount. I also love bringing things you can just kind of leisurely pick up, like a lit mag or a poetry collection. But the best kind of camping, to me, allows for hours and hours and hours of hammock read time.

At least one hilarious floatie:

Sleeping situation: Listen very closely because what I’m about to tell you is essential to your camping happiness:

  1. Blow-up mattress with internal pump (or buy a blower upper)
  2. Power converter that plugs into the car
  3. Ear plugs
  4. Sleeping mask
  5. A warm enough sleeping bag. They are graded by temperature. Estimate low. Don’t get a mummy one unless you like bondage or panic attacks.
  6. Sassy and warm pajamas

It’s not all pretty

You’ll forget stuff. It will be too windy. You’ll get lost. You’ll run out of graham crackers while you still have chocolate left.

But it’s always, always worth it.

And usually, its gorgeous.

I just looked over at my notebook, made from one of the illustrations from my book, at The Writer’s Life Diet. There, at the top, is my tent under the moon.

Comment below with your favorite camping spot or tip!

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