Those of you who wiggle out of family camping trips by claiming youre just not into roughing it will have to find another excuse.
A range of camping options and innovations have made it far more comfortable to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the Great Outdoors.
Soft rugged is what so many Americans are seeking in their outdoor experience today, says Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, or KOA, which runs about 500 campgrounds around the country. So much so that he now refers to the camping industry as outdoor hospitality.
KOA has beefed up some of its campgrounds to include both basic and luxury cabins the latter being the kind more often equated with family resorts than places to pitch tents. Rental costs $100 to $150 per night. Some sites offer coffee carts, pancake breakfasts, kids activities and entertainment.
Campers who want things a bit more but not much more rustic can browse the equipment lining the shelves at well-stocked outdoors stores (although some of the fancy new goodies may hike the price of that simple camping trip).
Take, for instance, REIs Kingdom 8 tent, which is big enough to sleep eight. For $529, the tent is not just waterproof and bug-proof but also has moveable room dividers to create separate spaces with private entrances. Fill it with cots, airbeds and perhaps a ceiling fan created for tents, and youre bound to get in a good nights sleep. Toss in another $100, and you can add to it a garage to store food or gear or use it as a place for the family dog to sleep.
Nifty outdoor stoves and cooking gear have made campfire-cooked canned beans and hot dogs moot, unless you really like them.
REIs camp kitchen, for example, is a folding trove of food-prep workspace and storage all of which can be carried around in a zipper bag. It even includes hooks for hanging up spatulas, and windproof screens so the elements dont mess with your cooking.
Coleman, one of the biggest manufactures of camping gear, sells a camping oven that fits handily onto one of the companys two- or three-burner grills.
Dont even think about grainy cowboy coffee, or even those classic enamel percolators. French presses, specifically engineered for outdoor use, now are the way to go if youre picky about your coffee preparation (although the experience may not be exactly what youre used to in your own kitchen). Coleman sells a propane-powered drip coffee maker that you dont even have to put over heat.
Freeze-dried food now includes dark chocolate cheesecake, spinach puttanesca and Indian dishes.
And the retailer Eastern Mountain Sports sells solar chargers for your portable electronics because, as its website says, Trees dont come with electrical outlets to charge your iPhone.
Some purists snub the idea of making camping more comfortable. They question whether lugging and using all that stuff dilutes the nature of, well, getting back to nature.
Much of the fancy new stuff is meant to be driven, not carried, into a campsite, and is heavy enough that retailers dont recommend carrying it far.
So can you really get away from it all when you are bringing it all with you?
There are so many different kinds of camping experiences, and they are all camping, says Avery Stonich, spokeswoman for the Outdoor Industry Association. Its all what it means to the individual.
You can even go out to dinner if you go camping, she says.
All of which has spurred a newfound interest in camping among folks who might not have tried it otherwise, says Stuart Bourdon, editor and associate publisher of the magazine Camping Life. Campgrounds near lakes or the ocean are particularly popular, with reservations filling up a good two months in advance, he says.
The camping experience can be as close to a home kitchen and bedroom experience as you want to make it, Bourdon says.
The way Rogers at KOA sees it, the facilities and the gear are only small parts of the larger experience of being in a campground, which he calls the last small town in America.
People who consider camping the Marriott will be very accommodated both in terms of the facilities available and the amenities, he says, adding, Its hard to have a campfire in a Marriott hotel room.