Volume 14, Issue 39 ~ September 28 - October 4, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

The Easy Life on the Camping Trail

From icemakers to tents wired for lighting, creature comforts are in

But is there any comfort to be found?

—William Butler Yeats

Not infrequently poets write of love, which in 1928 prompted William Butler Yeats to take a pen in hand to scribble the above. But in matters other than of the heart, the same question is often asked. Men, women and children are on the hunt for comfort in most avenues of life.

Like camping.

When I was a boy, comfort on the camping trail was being reasonably warm, reasonably dry and with a belly reasonably fed. That was 70 years ago. Today it’s another story.

Campers lacking the amenities of a five-star hotel consider themselves primitive and uncomfortable; not sufficient is the experience of bonding with nature, hitting the road, serenity under the stars, the nostalgia of the campfire and toasting marshmallows.

Creature comforts are in, whether one hits the trail with everything stuffed in a pack on the back or in a motor home that can cost a quarter of a million bucks.

Alan’s Icemaker

I was reminded of this not long ago when preparing for a three-day camping experience with wife Lois, daughter Heather, her husband Jon, their daughter Grumpy (a.k.a. Mackenzie Noell) and friends Alan Doelp and his wife Carroll. If you recall, Labor Day weekend was a total washout, heavy rains and winds, so we called Susquehanna State Park and canceled.

I felt let down, but Alan was devastated. He’s new to camping, and novices to the trail are always trying something new, anything new. They’re what I call gadgeteers, on the hunt for anything that will make camping more like home.

Alan was devastated because for this Labor Day junket he had purchased an electric icemaker, for which he probably paid more than the price of a good Coleman lantern — always a good investment for a camper. The icemaker could come in handy in making ice cream at the campsite, which was also among his plans. Be self sufficient; that’s Alan’s motto when on the camping trail. He wants to get away from it all but takes everything with him. You figure.

Wired for Lights

Not long after we scrubbed our trip to Susquehanna State Park in Harford County, my brother John of Salt Lake City sent me the outdoors section of the Salt Lake City Tribune covering the big annual Summer Outdoor Retailer’s Market.

Had Alan seen it, he would have booked the first available flight to Salt Lake City, ordered everything, then bought a tractor trailer to haul all the stuff on our usual Memorial Day trek to Cunningham Falls State Park. He’s a camper who can’t have enough in comfort and convenience.

He’s the type who won’t have enough until the campsite is more comfortable and convenient than his home in Linthicum. I tend to think he would then live at the campgrounds — and go home on weekends for a stab at primitive camping.

He is not alone in his quest; that Salt Lake City extravaganza was an eye-opener for one interested in an easy life on the camping trail. Let’s take a gander:

When it’s dark inside the tent and the occupants want to find something, they pick up the nearby flashlight and fumble around.

Not necessary these days. Tents are now available with built-in lighting systems. Hey, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A lazy camper can turn on the switch via a remote, and there’s a dimmer, too.

It’s all tied up with LCD technology. Wires are sewn into tents. The lighting unit is the size of a quarter, and when turned to the maximum (there are three levels), the five-watt setting will emit sufficient light that the inhabitants of a 10-by-10 tent can read without eyestrain. Expect to see a bright interior glow from some tents you pass on your before bedtime walks at campgrounds next year. It’ll be like Times Square at midnight.

Gadgets Galore

The gadget many campers insist on is a Swiss Army knife. The more the implements, the higher the cost — and one can pay close to a hundred bucks to open cans, pull corks from bottles, tighten screws, pick one’s teeth, pluck a hair with tweezers, saw a sapling, cut cloth or anything soft with mini-scissors. Yes, there is a blade or two also.

Wenger, which makes the popular Swiss knife, is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary. In various models over the past century have been 85 implements that perform 110 uses. To mark the centennial, the manufacturer has put all 85 implements into one knife. And what a knife. It is eight and three-quarters inches wide.

Included are such things as a golf-club cleaner, a cupped cigar cutter, watch-case back opener, telescopic and laser pointers, tire tread gauge, wrenches and awls. With it, you can do anything and everything. But you’ll pay a price for this two-pound-11-ounce camper’s delight. It’s priced at $1,200! Its manufacturer is confident that Alan Doelp isn’t the only one out there who must have everything.

When I was a boy camper, sleeping comfort was any place I could find without a rock or sapling stubble underneath the blanket, never mind sleeping bag. Those who leave their Posturepedic mattresses at home can now sleep soundly on a $60 Big Agnes memory foam sleeping pad that’s four inches thick and conforms to your body.

If you don’t want to hand-crank a radio for power to check on what’s coming with the weather (as can be done with the new gadget from L.L. Bean), Kestrel has made pocket weather meters that clock wind speeds, barometric pressures and such and have their own weather station. Only $89.

If you want to take a canoe trip, Coleman has come up with a PFD with built-in radio, so you can call ahead to be sure supper is ready when you return to the campgrounds. There’s even backpackers’ weatherproof gourmet chocolate, five bucks for four ounces.

Also, if backpacking — is your thing, there’s the $179 Syncpack that holds 10 pounds of easy-to-reach things mounted midway between tummy and chest via a connection to the traditional pack on the back.

Hey, William Butler Yeats: Yes, there is some comfort to be found — and we’re finding it. Enough said.

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