I get the initial appeal of camping. There’s the fuzzy fantasy of listening to Bruce Springsteen and throwing back a few cold ones with people you like (mosquitos do not figure into this). I can almost hear the sizzle of black bean burgers on a skillet over an open flame, and see the tight-knit quilt of stars hanging above your crew. There's the possibility of getting to spoon a hot person. And don’t forget the campfire smells that mysteriously cling to your clothes long after returning to your tiny urban apartment. It’s basically fall! We should get extra about the season even before the PSL plague descends.
This is all why camping, in theory, sounds alluring—it promises an escape from our buzzy tech bubble, a welcome reprieve for many of us. But in practice, it infuses what should be a relaxing trip into a frantic fight for survival. If adulthood is all about solving problems and navigating unforeseen challenges, camping is inventing a billion more of each. Do people who like camping know about Wi-Fi and beds?
Luckily, over time and with enough invites rejected, friends eventually learn to accept your affinity for flushing toilets and stop pressuring you to sleep on the ground with them miles from a CVS. Dating is different. We can all spot a dating app cliche from a mile away (what crimes do you plan to commit in which a partner is necessary? Stealing pizza doesn’t seem worth it, TBH), and may even be guilty of a few ourselves. But why is it that men feel obligated to alert potential sex partners of their REI membership?
For research, I asked my male-identifying friend Dustin who dates women. “I don’t know,” he helpfully said. “I guess the rugged nature thing is appealing.”
It’s easy to speculate how pushing a camping trip early into courtship could help assert traditionalist, heteronormative displays of masculinity; like, "I’m a helpless lady person. I need you—A BURLY BRUH WITH A PENIS—to assemble this tent as shelter for the night or I will perish!"
Can I put a tent together myself? I have never tried. Will I? I don’t ever intend to; I’d prefer to save that mental labor to find a dope-ass log hut or whatever tucked in the woods, equipped with niceties such as linens not dusted with dirt, so I may enjoy the outdoors but also have a retreat that is not trying to kill me. If a dude wants to impress a woman early in their relationship, you know what else is effective? Reading the part of her Bumble bio that says, “I will not go camping with you,” and craft an opening line about getting coffee or tequila instead.
An amazing aspect of maturation is feeling secure in what we like, and what we don’t. Forcing myself to go camping—whether to sate the friend group or fool a new date—when I know it’s truly unpleasant, isn’t the same as “being adventurous.” In fact, I’d call it simply “a bad plan.” There are ways to push toward personal growth other than trying to force a fit with what’s ultimately an uncomfortable, expensive (I refuse to do the math for this REI camping checklist, but I can assume with confidence the total is around eleventy billion dollars) quest for pseudo-survival.
If you seek growth through discomfort, there’s plenty of other options. Off the top of my head, some include: a kickboxing class, mastering the art of weed-infused oil (it’s extremely difficult, IMO), seeing how fast you can mow a neighbor’s lawn (with consent, obvs), sending a dozen thank-you notes for people in your life who deserve it, and unsubscribing from all those Tiny Letter subscriptions you never open. You do not have to learn about bunions firsthand or eat sandy pancakes for breakfast to know progress.
And, sure, I do believe there are a select few people who authentically enjoy carrying a backpack of PopTarts to the top of a pointy tree hill. To these people, I say: Do you! And congrats on understanding the first definition of “tinder,” and having the ability to hike through a hangover.
But for the rest of us? I urge you all to take solace in the fact there is a much more cozy, constructive alternative to this camping nightmare: cabins. Ahh, yes, you can even bring a hot person to spoon indoors. Enjoy the great outdoors, but don’t insult your ancestors by passing up all the technology they sacrificed their lives to bring you. That would just be plain rude.