Posted by: Philip Rushton | August 26, 2013

What Camping Says About Our Culture

It is 3:30 am. I am laying on an uncomfortable air mattress in a cramped tent. The zipper in my sleeping bag has split open, which has allowed the cold air to enter in. downsized_0824131148aThe rowdy neighbors in the campsite next to us are still talking, and their volume increases with every alcoholic beverage. James wakes up and begins to to cry with an intensity that is sure to wake up everyone around us. Julie reminds me that it is my turn to try and soothe James. I roll off the mattress on to the hard damp floor of the tent, pick James up, and think to myself, “why on earth are we doing this?”

When you think about it, camping is an odd thing for us to do. As I laid awake with James at our church campout this weekend it felt as though I had paid for a weekend of self-inflicted hardship. We left behind the comfort of home to re-enact a primitive existence. We traded traded a warm house for a flimsy makeshift shelter, a stocked kitchen for a smelly cooler, and comfortable furniture for a dirty picnic table.

And yet, people love camping. The campground we were at was completely full. It was also one of the few places I could find space for our group of 50+ people, which means that the hundreds of campgrounds in our area were also full. State parks require you to reserve sites months in advance. Private parks are often limited to those with expensive memberships. Camping, despite its obvious limitations, has a huge appeal. The question I was wrestling with, as I laid shivering in my tent on Saturday evening, is why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

I wonder if camping is popular because it provides us with something we do not experience in our day to day life. Perhaps the countercultural nature of camping tells us something about what our mainstream culture is lacking. For example, the simplicity that camping imposes upon us may be appealing because it liberates us from the frustration of consumerism. It is well documented that American culture is hyper consumeristic. While we make up 5% of the world’s population we consume more than 25% of the world’s resources. Perhaps camping is simply a by-product of our cathartic need for the freedom of simplicity. Maybe camping is appealing because it allows us to get out of the frustrating cycle of needing to have it all. (Though we have also invented the 300,000 dollar R.V. with a satellite dish, so I may be overstating the point for some!)

Camping also offers us an alternative to the isolating aspects of contemporary culture. In our day to day lives we often struggle to connect with our neighbors. As Albert Hsu writes, “air conditioning brought people indoors. Television kept them there.” Often our homes become private cocoons that insulate us from the outside world. As one social commentator writes, “we have replaced community with cocoonity!” Yet, when you are camping it feels as if there are a different set of rules. People wave when you drive by their site, random strangers talk to each other, and kids make friends with kids they have never met before. Camping provides a context for us to experience the type of community that I think a lot of us long for.

Camping also helps us reconnect with nature. Most of us do not get experience natural spaces very often. We drive from one place to another and spend hours in front of computer screens and smart phones. Perhaps camping is appealing because it returns us to the beauty of creation.

Maybe this crazy practice of leaving the comforts of home behind in order to rough it out in nature makes sense after all. To be sure, these sociological observations were not very convincing as I shivered in my tent with a wailing baby at 3:30 in the morning. I will think twice before tenting with a one year old again! Nevertheless, there were a lot of aspects of this past weekend that I wish we could experience on a more regular basis back home.


  1. body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}I enjoyed the article once I realized that “Camping” in the title was not about Harold Camping.  😉  jim macgregor

  2. Well said, Phil. And next year you can camp with a 2 year old!! another new experience!! I always look forward to your posts on Mondays, even while I wonder how you manage to keep finding time to write them!



  3. Well said Philip, I one hundred percent agree and we love camping, our one big vacation a year is spent on Shuswap lake with 20-30 family members and friends.

  4. Solutions Inc. Tent camp in your own back yard with secondary option of relocating to house at 3.30 a.m..To keep in the spirit of community, invite a few friends over for potluck supper as part of the great adventure.After community has left,bag the tent idea and go for ease and comfort. Henry

  5. We loved your comment about camping. It brought back memories – good and bad. We could even laugh about the bad. I’m glad we had those experiences, and also glad that now are kids are grown and we no longer camp.

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