Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Glamping: Outside Magazine, Whose Side Are You On?

The first time I heard the term "glamping" it was from some online news
source like this one. The article seemed to be promoting high-end guiding services that had discovered a niche market based on what might be referred to as "Everest Angst," wherein the biggest, best, most highly coveted goals can be earned simply through the swiping of a credit card.

It seems that commercial advertising has so focused on outdoors recreation as an exciting way to market products - everything from clothing to cars - that people actually have begun to believe the boring old Jones' next door have gotten out of Indiana and are headed straight for an adventure in the Temple of Doom.

Not wanting to be left behind, they jumped in their old cars and headed right out to get that gas-guzzling SUV, and those high-tech clothes designed for temperature extremes, just KNOWING they’d soon be out livin’ the life; cruising through desert dunes, splashing across rocky rivers, sliding down tree-filled snow slopes and parking atop crested buttes. Preferably all in the same day.

These people had the cash to go out and grab that adventure and dammit, that’s exactly what the marketers intended for them to think about doing. But then…reality hit. And though those cars, or trucks, or vans or whatever they are’s, all come with GPS, and the technical gear comes with hangtags detailing the finer points of each item, they don’t come with the faculty to know "what’s next" once one gets wherever it is they’re dead set on getting to.

Enter – the glamour-camping guided service, selling gentle hikes that will be touted as 'strenuous.' With back-country settings that…conveniently…have access roads to minimize approach times, enabling clients to get to the heart of their getaway more readily. And double occupancy tents that could hold twenty people if they were sleeping in bags, on pads, and not in king-sized four-poster beds piled high with down bedding and fluffy pillows. The packages seem to focus on comfort in the way of sleeping and eating, with beautiful scenery as a backdrop. For three, four and more times the cost the same guide service can charge for the same trip sans the luxury goods.


I didn’t give much thought to the thing, except that I knew we’d probably get to hear the occasional funny story n the online forums, from those of us who’d run into this "species" when we were out there.

But then someone lent me a recent issue of Outside magazine, which had a story about the debauchery that is Everest’s base camp, and another on the new phenomenon of glamping. That changed things. Conveniently, the story’s also in their website here, and if you care to take a gander, it is a read worth taking, if you have concerns about land stewardship and access issues.

As a marketing niche to keep guide services afloat, I haven’t really got quarrels with this attempt at creating a trend in luxe al fresco living. But “Outside” doesn’t cater to the uptown crowd. I am fairly certain their demographic is the urban male, mid twenties through early thirties, based on the style and content of the publication. They don’t seem overly concerned with writing about things from a woman’s perspective in many cases, although this glamping story actually could be seen as "something for the girls" (well, at least for some city girls who might want to try on a modified outdoors experience).

Now, it should be noted that the same issue of the magazine DID have one or two small blurbs about locations that would have catered to the luxury camping crowds, but chose not to link the glamping term with those places. Spin, I suppose. Outside knows their reader isn’t spending $1000 plus on a weekend getaway. But glamping is a buzzword they must have wanted – well, needed - to explore, if they were not to be left in their competitors dust. (Oh, the trials of being a magazine editor…). So….why not create a working person’s version of the fad?

Why not, indeed!

As if you hadn’t seen this coming…. Here’s my opinion as to "Why not?"

The version of the trend that Outside exemplifies amounts to no more than suggesting a bunch of drunk twenty-somethings head out for a weekend of partying, with no regard to the effect this will have on neighboring campsite visitors, natural resources or access issues.

Young people already grab a case (or three) of beer and a tent and have at it, as anyone who’s ever camped at a KOA, State or National Park site knows. It’s a rite of passage that some of us never quite seem to grow out of. On any long-weekend holiday it’s almost a given that your campsite neighbor on at least one border will consist of a group of fifty year-olds, drinking away time and sleeping off the daylight.

But at least people opt for some sense of stealth in this pursuit. They may get rowdy and annoying, but they usually have some semblance of an understanding that it isn’t quite right to be loud and falling-down drunk till the sun comes up.

The "Outside" article goes above and beyond the call of responsible outdoor rec journalism in touting the idea that this type of revelry is…cool.

Not only that, but peruse any climbing forum out there and you’ll see threads dedicated to activism in keeping access for campsites across the country. Closures are constantly a threat due to things like trash being abandoned. The pendulum swings the other way too, with user fees increasing faster than inflation in order to provide “services” like flush toilets, showers and paved drives. In the former instance, I can’t help but find it…difficult… to believe the glamorous glamper is going to pack up their empty beer cans, wine bottles, disposable…everything…and those fancy sombreros and tent decorations so necessary to provide the right "ambiance."

In the latter instance – it’s NOT the person truly interested in getting into nature who desires those modern conveniences. Most people who spend more than a few weekends a year on the road DON’T want to see campsite fees competing with gasoline for the title of “Largest Expense of the Trip.” They’re more than happy to squat over an outhouse pot or dispose of their poop al fresco. If a body begins to reek, they have highly enough developed route-finding skills to locate water. For these folks, taking a shower within walking-distance of a campsite is tantamount to being a gym climber.

Here’s a photo I took a few years ago which, to me, is a fair example of what one could anticipate with an increase in glamour-camping.

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This porta-potty is one of the few amenities offered at the Multiple Use Area in Gardiner, NY. It is one of two free camping areas near the Gunks. The other niceties include a driveway/parking area that in a great place to test the suspension and clearance of your vehicle, and….well, I guess that’s the only other convenience, actually.

There’s no running water, no picnic tables, no designated parking spot per site, and no trash receptacles. There IS a small bulletin board, which states the guidelines for use; one of which is that – what you bring in, you need to take along when you leave.

Most weekends someone will leave SOME trash they shouldn’t have, simply out of laziness. Bottles and cans can be recycled a half mile down the road at the little store where the items may very well have been purchased in the first place. Rock & Snow has provided access to their trash cans for me when requested, and it doesn’t take too much for brains to come up with a plan for disposal utilizing one of the chain store drive-through trash cans on your way back to the highway….

Somehow, I just can’t imagine someone so “fabulous” that they think a smattering of glitter and confetti would be a great way to spark up the drab dirt of a campsite’s ground having the consideration to do anything more with their garbage than what is shown in this picture above (which was a fluke even for the MUA, which has a history of drunken revelers anyway).

The United States is NOT Europe, where this low-budget idea seems to have originated. We have incredibly powerful government lobbies jumping at any chance available to close down our recreational areas. Developers chomp at the bit when even the slightest whiff of an “eau du natural” bit of land appearring precariously protected wafts past their noses. The LAST thing we need is a stupid trend weakening links in the chain that safeguards what public lands we still do have available.

Please don’t promote the idea of glamping. If you hear talk of the idea at the company watercooler, be the first to offer a “helpful” dose of beta, emphasizing aspects of outdoor living such as…Oh, such as big spiders that seem to invade even the tightest zipped tent entrances, 10pm quiet hours, smelly outhouses and the like…

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