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October 2012 Firing Order Editorial

Posted in Features on October 1, 2012
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What happened to camping? When did some self-absorbed, highbrow, pompous ass decide to call it something so pretentious sounding? I’m talking about overlanding. It’s not like I’m discovering America on my drive over a well-traveled gravel road through a national or state park. Heck, my dad took me and my siblings over many of these same trails 30 or more years ago in a VW camper on P-metric car tires. We called it camping back then. We had a blast cooking regular ol’ hot dogs and marshmallows on wooden sticks that we whittled from whatever we could find on the ground. We played with sticks, rocks, fish, and bugs. We had pillows from home, Spiderman pajamas, and Sesame Street sleeping bags. We wore jeans and running shoes and we got filthy, hardly ever washing our hands. The VW camper had a pop-top tent that was thinner than my most threadbare T-shirt. The fridge in the VW barely worked, so our food staples were things like canned corned beef hash, jerky sticks, and Tang orange drink.

Today, most of the “overlanders” I meet insist on bringing all the amenities of home, and then some. Many of them have better camp dishes and cookware than I have in my house. They even create more extravagant meals than I eat at home. I think they are missing out on what is so awesome about camping in the first place.

And why is it that about the same time the term “overlanding” started surfacing that the required camping equipment became so complex and expensive? Do I really need an ExOfficio shirt, khaki pants, and a floppy brimmed hat to properly traverse and enjoy my favorite 4x4 camping trails? I mean really, who needs a titanium coffee cup?

For years I simply rolled out my sleeping bag right there on the ground because I hated to set up and take down a tent every night. I eventually graduated to a cot and that has worked out well for over a decade. Of course the equipment you will need depends on the terrain and weather you find yourself “overlanding” in. I spend most of my time in the Southwest, so I can get away with the minimum—although there have been a few cold nights in the desert when I stuffed one sleeping bag into another to keep warm and when I woke up the next morning my 2½-gallon jug of water had frozen nearly solid.

I remember my first trip over the Rubicon. I had packed really light, mostly because I was driving a flatfender Jeep at the time. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are not much bigger than a modern-day, side-by-side ATV. They don’t have all that much storage space. Anyway, once I was close to the trail I decided I needed a few things. So I picked up an el-cheapo propane lantern and camp stove at the grocery store, of all places. I still use both of them regularly to this day.

I recently attended the Overland Expo in Mormon Lake, Arizona, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue. Interestingly enough, while I was there I had a conversation on this exact topic with another off-road magazine editor. He was irritated that people had begun to call their camping trips expeditions. In his mind, the term expedition should only be used for true uncharted (or rarely charted) adventures with potentially dangerous and often unsuccessful outcomes. I assume that to him this included something like driving through the Darien Gap or possibly crossing the entire Middle East region in a 4x4 plastered with giant American flags.

Of course, the activity of cross-country travel has changed significantly over the past 160 years or so. Truth is, the first settlers of the western U.S. could be considered overlanders, only they didn’t have fancy titanium cups, a portable coffee press, running water, cell phones, GPS, or electricity. In some aspects I guess I think overlanding has become an upscale, snobby hobby. The whole point of going camping is to get away from the daily grind and not bring it all with you. The idea is to cook simple basic meals using limited resources, turn off cell phones and computers, and be a part of the outdoors. If you bring all the amenities of home with you, you might as well just camp in your own back yard.

I wouldn’t trade my early primitive camping trips for any amount of today’s hi-tech outdoor gadgetry. Those were some of the best experiences of my life. I can’t imagine polluting those memories with an excessive amount of complex and unnecessary camp gear.

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