The setting sun soon reminds all four why they chose to retry camping: the romance of sundown, campfire stories, starry skies and an escape from any device with a keypad. The experience has timeless appeal for many Americans. One-third of us have camped at least once in the past five years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Afterward, only 6 percent said it wasn’t for them—flattering feedback for any activity.
The Butlers and Edwardses boosted their chances for a good trip by bringing along the latest amenities of luxury camping, a trend that turns outings into something more like Friends than Survivor.
Need the daily caffeine fix while watching a campground sunrise? Brew a cup on the camp stove with a portable espresso maker. How about a cold treat in the afternoon? Pull out the hand-cranked blender for smoothies. Also tucked away in the campers’ vehicle are folding chairs with footrests, inflatable sleeping pads and shatterproof champagne flutes.
The star toy is the collapsible galley unit bigger than the kitchens in some city apartments. It has two pantries, a spice rack, utensil hooks, roomy counters and, yes, even a kitchen sink. (To go truly luxe, they could’ve added a hot-water heater and shower enclosure complete with a shampoo niche.)
The gear makes camping newly appealing to people who demand a little pampering, says Mike May of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. "Some people think of camping as roughing it and bugs and sleeping on dirt. That’s a fallacy, " he says. Manufacturers now fill shelves with gear that’s simpler, more comfortable and less likely to break in a rookie’s hands. "Those who like camping, they’ll put up with pretty much anything, " May says. "But those who are novices in camping, that’s your real audience that you’d like to invite to the experience. "
With shelter secure, it’s dinner time. Beth, excited at the possibilities of their cutting-edge camp kitchen, arrived in North Dakota with plans for an ambitious menu. First up: lemon chicken sauteed with artichokes and capers. She pulls the chicken out of its marinade, places it on the grill and quickly learns it’s hard to gauge the temperature of a clean butane flame. Despite a cloud of smoke, the chicken escapes without severe burns.
Later, when everyone is tucked into their sleeping bags, the campsite grows quiet. But every few minutes, there’s a soft stirring as a camper peeks through the tent window to make sure it’s only the wind that’s rustling and not a bison looking for a back scratcher.
By morning, Steve and Sally have dishes hanging on the utensil hooks. A stars-and-stripes tablecloth covers the picnic table. Everyone is rested (thanks to Sally’s discovery that inflating the sleeping mats makes a significant difference!). Sally toasts bagels over the fire grate; Steve proudly sips coffee brewed with a java press and says, "I could get used to this. " Except for the occasional bison trudging behind the junipers across the river, it could have been a Sunday morning in suburban Indianapolis.