Spring has sprung, and while it’s far from balmy, warmer weather is imminent. And that means many more opportunities to experience the outdoors. We know making plans is easier said than done, so we created a little guide to get your creative juices flowing. Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks for finding a campground, choosing co-pilots, gearing up, and, of course, eating well.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
We’re lucky to live in a time when the definition of “campground” has morphed to include all manner of curious, beautiful escapes—like goat farms, vineyards, and wild backcountry tracts. Explore the options being offered by a handful of newly minted, land-sharing companies:
Hipcamp: A database with over 280,000 campsites across the US, including many interesting options for staying on private land. We recently tried Hipcamp and ended up on a farm, drinking red wine in the sun. So, yeah, it was pretty good.
Untrodden: Soon to be launched platform for connecting folks to off-the-beaten-path lodgings all over the world.
Of course, there are also thousands of pristine, national and state parks that should not go unexamined. Many of these parks are right in your own backyard, and can be booked through two main sites:
ReserveAmerica: The backbone for most North American campsite reservations. Visit their site, plug in your zip, and see what turns up.
Recreation.gov: The largest inventory of federal land in America, with partnerships with a dozen national agencies
*Pro-tip: Create a recurring reminder on your calendar for 8am on the first of the month. This is when many campsites are opened for reservations for dates that are six months out.
PICK YOUR PLEASURE(S)
There is no rulebook on spending time outside. Want to flip through a frivolous magazine while dipping your big toe in a river? Bust it up a mountain to a field of alpine wildflowers? Scramble over boulders like a rare, poisonous lizard? It’s all fair game. Before you go, choose a few activities that you enjoy to headline your camping experience. You’ll eliminate FOMO while there, and leave with a quiet sense of accomplishment. Need inspiration? Check out:
The Outbound Collective: Curated adventures by a large community of outdoorsy people. Activities include reviews, photos, maps, and tips.
The National Park Service: Use the NPS’s handy Find a Park website to comb through hundreds of spectacular spots all across the country. Also, it’s the centennial celebration of the NPS, which means there are many perks available, like free admission for all fourth graders in 2016. Next month kicks off National Parks Week (April 16-24), during which 127 parks will waive their usual admission fees.
Acquiring the right gear for the outdoors need not be stressful nor expensive. Check out these alternatives before you sink next month’s rent into a sleeping bag engineered for the tundra.
Get Outfitted: A great retailer for renting skiing and camping equipment.
The Clymb: Deeply discounted flash sales on premium outdoors equipment.
Craigslist: Don’t laugh. Craigslist has routinely delivered impressive, second-hand finds for us for years. Pro-tip: Make a list of the gear you need (or just the gear you’re fantasizing about) and create an alert through this app. You’ll get emailed whenever that item is posted.
Patagonia / REI: If you’re really keen to shell out some clams on brand new gear, Patagonia and REI have our vote. Amazing customer service, solid environmental practices, and, in many cases, lifetime product guarantees.
BE IN GOOD COMPANY
If camping is new to you or if you simply want to go with a group of like-minded folks, here are a few ways to get connected to the right people.
For guided experiences:
Trail Mavens: Currently operating in California, Trail Mavens offers outdoors experiences for women who want to learn wilderness ropes with other women.
Expedition Backcountry Adventures: A family owned outdoor adventure company based in Denver that creates custom adventures for groups.
REI: Always a winner. They offer local, year-round classes and events to experience the outdoors and learn new skills.
They also do insane adventure travel if you want to experience more exotic locales.
NOLS: One of the most well-respected and established outfits for students (of all ages) to experience remote wilderness expeditions and to learn technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics.
For meeting new camping (and adventuring) co-pilots:
Gociety: A friendly social network designed for people who love the outdoors and who want to find company in a quick, spontaneous way. Browse by region, activity, experience level, and sign up for “adventure plans” that appeal.
Meetup: There are meet-ups for everything! Join an existing group of explorers in your community or start your own.
Slack: Oddly enough, this workplace communication app has spawned a community of backcountry enthusiasts. Thanks Internet!
PS: They created half of our spring camping menu. ☺