1. You desperately needed to unplug.
You didn’t realize it until the wifi signals were miles behind you and the allures of social media and email had faded beyond the horizon…but you desperately needed to unplug.
We are incredibly adaptable creatures and technology has given us so many tools, but we simply aren’t made to be tuned into tech all day, every day. When you extricate yourself from the digital web and get back to the simplest and most fundamental of things — fire, starlight, rivers, trees, mountains — you’ll find your body and spirit were craving the remedy that is nature.
And if you’re car camping and close to civilization, you may still have cell reception from your campsite, so take note: Fight the urge to check Facebook or post to Insta. No screen time. That can wait. Turn off your phone and put it in the glove box. You don’t know the next time you’ll get to experience this feeling.
2. Camping builds and strengthens bonds.
It’s a sweet and surprising symbiosis: When you camp with friends, you rely on each other in ways that are important. If you’re hiking to your campsite for the night, the world is reduced to your campmates. Suddenly your tribe is small. You set up the tent, I’ll gather firewood. You get the fire going, I’ll go for water. I’ll clean the fish, you open the wine!
Simple things become a team exercise in living simply together. Maybe you’re car camping in the midst of other clusters of campers, or maybe you’re traversing a mountain pass. Either way, you form a like-minded tribe that relies on each other, whether for safety or for s’mores. Working together to make camp, cook, stoke the fire, make music — you may discover new dimensions of friendship that simply aren’t awoken in normal, “civilized” life.
3. Nature does not have to be (and is not) scary.
Some people who didn’t grow up in or constantly exposed to nature have an inborn fear of the natural world. This shouldn’t be surprising; what we don’t understand we tend to fear, and nature can be red of tooth and claw. To the uninitiated, nature can appear a death trap — grizzlies and forest fires and starvation and a million night shadows waiting just off the trail, outside the orange circle of firelight. Without electricity, double-paned windows, and access to all of life’s comforts and commodities, one can’t be blamed for fearing for one’s safety.
Although nature should be respected and revered as the awesome and mysterious entity it is (an entity we are mysteriously part of), we should question the knee-jerk fear of all things wild. Yes, there are dangers. Yes, we may be caught unawares. But the more time we spend in nature, the less we’ll fear and the more we’ll grow to love, cherish, and stand in awe of the world as it was before the human mind created illusions of safety and danger.
4. You’ll always be tempted to bring too much stuff.
Bringing entirely too much is a constant reality of car camping, where it’s not incumbent on you to carry everything on your back for miles. The novice camper often overwhelms themselves with unnecessary accouterments, gadgets, and gear. But remember, “simplicity is happiness.” Bring what you need with room for a few tiny luxuries, like a flask of scotch or a ukulele. You don’t need to drain the camping supply store of every possible piece of tech and gear. Be prepared, pack light, and enjoy the lack of stuff you don’t really need.
What you do need is fresh air, the quiet of the wild, the brightness of stars, a blanket, a book, the murmur of a brook, and the smell of woodsmoke soaking into your skin. If you’re car camping, don’t burden yourself by creating a mini-civilization around you. Leave the junk at home and enjoy those things you need to be minimally comfortable.
5. Cooking with fire is primal and awesome.
Camping cuisine is often simplified to what can be heated with fire.
Back home in ordinary life, we might order food from a team of culinary professionals who will assemble and prepare it out of sight, or perhaps we shop at a sterilized market to later go home and deploy an arsenal of kitchen gadgets. Put into words, our routine is alarming. Much of our food acquisition and preparation is a far cry from roasting or grilling over an open flame — the only tool we actually need.
Deep in the recesses of the psyche, we still stand in primate awe of the Promethean gift of fire. Cooking over the open flame taps into what shaped us as a species. It feels good. It smells good. It warms our skin and paints the night in orange and yellow light. The taste of charred meat or a gently toasted marshmallow roasted over a fire is soul food.
6. The best conversations happen around that campfire.
You’re passing around a bottle of wine and poking the embers with a stick when your best friend tells a story that — in 10 years of friendship — you’ve never heard. Hopes, fears, the nature of reality. The meaning of life. The conversation veers towards nostalgia and slams head first into hilarity. The conversations and interactions while camping often have a deeper, more playful, and more soulful timbre. You’re not distracted with the million banalities of life; you can focus on this night, this fire, this group of good people.
Why can’t it be like this forever? Why don’t we just quit our jobs and sharpen our sticks and do this day after day, night after night?
7. Sleeping under the stars is everything.
Cities are bereft of one of Earth’s most defining features: the starscape. Without the intrusion of artificial light, the night is a wonder of infinities. Sadly, even many not-so-metropolitan places are suffering from light pollution, and the stars that wheeled over our ancestors’ heads since the beginning are being smudged out one by one.
A return to nature can mean a return to the night sky as it truly is — a wondrous, inspiring, and beauty-filled expanse that boggles the mind and stirs the soul. Staring up at the stars is your birthright as a human. While you’re camping, relish in the stars. If the weather is fair and the mosquitoes merciful, spread your sleeping bag on the ground and peer into the glimmering lanterns of the Milky Way. Fall asleep searching for shooting stars and satellites.
8. You’re out of touch with your circadian rhythm.
Spend a few consecutive nights in nature, away from artificial sources of illumination, and you’ll find yourself reverting to the natural cycles of light. You’ll wake when the sun rises instead of when the alarm clock chimes. You’ll grow tired when the stars shine, instead of when you’re done watching Game of Thrones. Without the artificial input of a thousand devices and the glare of a thousand light bulbs, you’ll find your circadian rhythm kicking in.
During the first few months of my marriage, my wife and I spent a month and a half camping on the beaches of Costa Rica. It wasn’t long before we were turning in a few hours after nightfall and waking up when dawn lit the sky and warmed the interior of our tiny tent. We seemingly had no choice but to follow the natural cycles of light. We saw the sun, moon, and stars for what they are — our original time-keepers and the only light we really need.
9. Being a little (or a lot) uncomfortable is good for you.
We moderns don’t like to suffer the slightest pebble in our shoe or cramp in our style. The entire machine of modernity seems to be programmed to stamp out even momentary discomfort and replace it with a parade of entertainment and pleasure. We flee potential boredom and discomfort like rats fleeing a burning ship.
Camping shouldn’t be an unpleasurable or overwhelmingly uncomfortable experience, but you may have to face life without padded walls for a few hours. This is a good thing. The point isn’t to suffer, but your sleeping arrangements don’t need to include a memory-foam mattress. Your shoulders and back may ache from the hike in — that’s good. You may feel chilly, so step closer to the fire. You may not have your favorite snack on hand, so you’ll appreciate what you do have. Go into the tiny discomforts with gratitude, and they’ll melt away by the light of the campfire.