Taking the chaos out of camping

Published April 26, 2006 12:13 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Humorist Dave Barry once wrote that "camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business." To those who have never tried sleeping in a tent or who may have had a bad initial experience, those words must ring true.

Yet, many more love camping.

So much so that camping is the No. 1 outdoor vacation activity in America, according to the Adventure Travel Report. About one-third of the U.S. population has camped in the past five years and only 6 percent did not like it. The average age of a camper is 37 while campers' medium household income is $43,000.

Here's a look at two basic questions for getting started camping - and enjoying it.

What to buy - or rent: o Getting started requires basic equipment, such as a tent or recreation vehicle, sleeping bags, cooler, stove and light source. (See checklist.) Prices on these items can vary greatly.

A look at Cabela's Web site (http://www.cabelas.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.cabelas.com), for example, revealed that tents range from $29.99 to $1,289. Kirkham's canvas tents, which are made in Salt Lake City, are considered by many to be the nation's best-made car camping tents. They range in price from $244.95 for a basic two-person model to a deluxe style selling for $744.95.

The debate beginning campers often have is how much to spend for what might be a one-time experience.

As a rule, novice campers don't have to buy the top-of-the-line gear. But cheap is not always best.

A tent that leaks in a storm, a sleeping bag that fails to meet minimum warmth requirements or a difficult-to-light stove can all ruin the experience.

Then there is the chance that the camping will be so much fun you will want to do it again and the cheaper gear will not last as long.

One way to avoid spending a lot while exploring camping is to rent gear the first couple of times you go out.

The Salt Lake City R.E.I. store rents tents, sleeping bags and pads, backpacks and stoves, with daily rates that drop the longer you might use the gear. Tent prices start at $15 for the first day for a two-person tent and go up to $25 for a six-person tent.

According to R.E.I.'s Ashley Braithwaite, the rental equipment is the same stuff being sold on the floor so it is well tested and in good shape.

"This is a good way to try it out," she said.

There are also a number of companies that rent motorhomes or recreation vehicles for those who want to camp but aren't interested in sleeping in a tent. Other basic equipment such as coolers, lights, camp chairs, utensils and pots and pans can be purchased but, more often than not, can also be scraped together from available household items.

Where to go: Camping novices who live along the Wasatch Front might want to consider a close-to-home first-time spot, such as in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, Utah Lake, Antelope Island or Willard Bay state parks, the Cherry Hills Private Campground in Kaysville or the Little Sahara Recreation Area. That way, if the weather turns awful or things just aren't going well, it is easy to pack up and go home for the night.

In Utah, the best times to camp in southern Utah's deserts are in the spring and fall. In the summer, consider hitting the U.S. Forest Service alpine areas , including the High Uintas, Nebo Loop, Logan Canyon and Boulder Mountain, or higher-elevation National Park Service areas such as Bryce Canyon or Cedar Breaks.

Because of the popularity of camping, reservations are a good idea, especially on Memorial Day, July 4, July 24 and Labor Day as well as most summer weekends. That is something that comedian George Carlin found funny.

"Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations," the famous cynical comic once noted. "When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong." All of Utah's state park campgrounds accept reservations. Call 322-3770 in the Salt Lake City area or toll-free 800-322-3770 outside of the region.

In addition, a company called ReserveUSA makes reservations at many popular federal campgrounds in Utah and around the country. Call toll-free at 877-444-6777 or log on to ReserveUSA's Web site - http://www.reserveusa.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.reserveusa.com - to make reservations.

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