$56 A Night To Pitch A Tent? Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

tentSince when did camping become expensive? I live in Chicago and have spent a ridiculous amount of time researching places to camp over the Memorial Day weekend in the last two weeks. If I had planned ahead, booking a campsite would be quick and easy but we tend not to plan very far in advance, which makes travel during holidays complicated and sometimes expensive.

We wanted to camp at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin this weekend, but alas, there are no tent sites available on a weekend there until August 30 (!) and a host of other state parks in that region, including Mirror Lake, Rocky Arbor, Buckhorn, Governor Dodge, Lake Kengosa, Wildcat Mountain and others, are also sold out for the holiday weekend. Most of the state parks in Wisconsin charge just $12-15 per night for tent sites, though they have a three-night minimum stay on holiday weekends and a $9.70 reservation fee.I checked into some private campgrounds around Wisconsin and was floored by some of the prices. A place called Baraboo Hills wants $56 per night for a basic tent site with water and electric (the most primitive site they offer) and they are actually sold out. And other more basic campgrounds are nearly as pricey – at Fox Hill the price is $41 per night, Jellystone Park Campground in Fremont wants $45 for tent sites, the KOA-Wisconsin Dells charges $40 and up and Sherwood Forest will set you back $43, plus 10.5% sales tax. Most places have a three-night minimum for the holiday and most, even some of the priciest ones, are sold out.

Capitalism can be an ugly thing when you’re trying to plan a last minute trip on a holiday weekend, along with 8 million other Chicagoans and at least a few million Cheeseheads. The bottom line is that the camping season in this part of the country is very short, and comparatively few people camp during the week, so campgrounds have to make their cash on the few peak weekends they have to work with.

Last summer, I stayed at a private campground near Devil’s Lake that charged twice the price of the state park, which was sold out. And although it was adequate, it wasn’t as nice as camping in the park itself. Private campgrounds often offer a lot more amenities than the state or national parks, like swimming pools and play areas, but if you’re just looking to commune with nature, you’re often paying more to camp at a place that may not be as beautiful and serene as a state or national park.

But while Wisconsin clearly underprices their state park campgrounds at just $12 or $15 a night for most basic tent sites, Illinois prices some of their parks much more aggressively. I looked into camping at Starved Rock State Park, near Ottawa, in the north-central part of the state, but they charge $35 per night for a basic tent site with a three-night minimum on holiday weekends, and were sold-out anyway.

Neighboring states charge less to camp in their state parks this weekend – Indiana charges $20, Michigan $14 and Iowa as little as $9. But every park with positive reviews on Campfire Reviews and other sites within a 3-4 hour radius of where we live seemed to be sold out for this weekend, even though the forecast looks iffy for most of the region. I thought I’d hit paydirt when I found a tent-site at a place I’d never heard of called the Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area in Kewanee, Illinois, but before I clicked the reserve button I noticed the fine print: there was no way to drive to this tent site. With a wife and two little boys in tow, I don’t think we’re up for trekking out to a site with our coolers and gear in tow, so it was back to the drawing board.

I kept looking and finally found a site at the Roche-A-Cri State Park in Central Wisconsin. I couldn’t find a single review from anyone who’s camped there online, there are no showers and we got the last tent site available, located right next to a pit toilet, but it’s a bargain at $14 per night ($12 per night for Cheeseheads, three-night minimum stay).

If you’re looking for a place to camp this weekend, I highly recommend you use the city search function on the Reserve America site, since it allows you to see what’s available near a given zip code or town. And check back frequently, because cancellations do pop up. Also, check You Tube, because there are plenty of helpful campers out there who have documented what the various campgrounds in the Midwest look like.

Be prepared for three-night minimum stays and prices that might be higher than you’re expecting. And if you want to camp at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin next Memorial Day weekend (May 23-26, 2014), mark your calendars – you can book starting on June 23 of this year. But please don’t, because I’m certain I’ll forget and will be scrambling to find a place to camp (and complaining about high prices again) at this time next year.

Photo: A Thoroughly Befuddling Tent Tag

chinglish
If you travel, without question you’ve had your share of experiences with “Chinglish,” or other corrupted forms of the English language. After all, there are books and websites devoted to this stuff. But while trekking in Bolivia last month, I discovered an entirely new form of linguistic weirdness, in the form of a tag on my (outfitter-supplied) tent.

It was a brand I’d never heard of, called Alpkit, and the tent had no information as to its origin. You can imagine my befuddlement upon reading this after a full day of trekking at 15,000 feet. I thought perhaps I was hallucinating.

Now that I’m home, I’ve discovered that Alpkit is a UK outfitter, and upon reviewing their site, I realize the above is entirely tongue-in-cheek. That doesn’t make it any less amusing. Here’s to more gear manufacturers having a sense of humor.

[Photo credit: Laurel Miller]

New Technology May Lead To Light- And Heat-Sensitive Tent

tent, camping
The tent we’re all familiar with from camping trips may soon be old tech thanks to a new material designed by a team of Harvard scientists.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have announced in a press release that they’ve developed a flexible material that can shed or retain moisture, and turn from opaque to transparent.

You can see how it works in the image below. The material is a liquid-repellent film that coats, and is infused in, an elastic porous backing. Normally the surface is flat and will shed water, but when the backing is stretched it changes the size of the pores, causing the surface to become rough and retain droplets.

In its normal state the material is transparent, but when stretched it becomes opaque. The material could be used to make a tent that blocks light on a dry and sunny day, and becomes transparent and water-repellent on a dim, rainy day.

The material may also be used in products as diverse as contact lenses and water pipes.

Researchers were inspired by the function of tears, which block materials from damaging the eye, and flush out these materials, yet remain transparent. Such inspiration is typical of work at the Wyss Institute, which looks to nature to find solutions to technological problems.

Top image courtesy Krish Dulal. Bottom image courtesy Harvard University.
tent, Harvard

Gift Guide for Warm Weather Adventurers

Gadling Gift Guide: Hiking BootsAs December approaches and the holiday season draws near, those warm summer days that we enjoyed just a few months back are already a distant memory. But no matter what the calendar says, I guarantee the adventurer on your shopping list is already plotting his or her next warm weather escape. Considering summer really is just a short plane ride away, here are some suggestions for what to buy them for their next adventure.

Keen Voyageur Hiking Boots
A good pair of shoes are essential for any adventure and the Keen Voyageur hiking boots are a great option for any summer escape. Both comfortable and durable, these shoes are well ventilated, keeping your feet cool and dry, while also preventing unwanted moisture from getting in. Amazon has them starting at $87.21, making them a bargain for trail shoes of this quality.

Gadling Gear Girl Pam Mandel is a fan of Keen shoes too, recommending the McKenzie as a versatile warm weather shoe for a variety of activities. ($85)

ExOfficio Sol Tech Tee
Staying cool and dry is one of the most important aspects of enjoying any outdoor activity in warmer weather. The ExOfficio Sol tech tee not only wicks moisture away from the body, it is also highly breathable, and provides UPF 50+ sun protection as well. All of that is marketing speak for “it’s comfortable to wear when it’s warm outside.” Available in a variety of colors, the Sol is perfect for hiking a local trail or traveling to the far side of the planet, and is a perfect addition to any adventurers closet. ($25)

Pam also recommends the BugsAway line of shirts from ExOfficio as well. The shirts earned high marks in her review of a variety of mosquito repelling gear. ($40)

Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts
A good pair of cargo shorts are a necessity for any warm weather adventure, and Columbia delivers a comfortable, durable product with the Silver Ridge. Super lightweight and breathable, these shorts are quick drying and include large pockets, as well as an adjustable waistband. With a UPF rating of 30, they also provide solid protection from the sun, and look as good around town as they do on the trail. ($20)Gadling Gift Guide: Marmot PreClip Safari HatMarmot PreClip Safari Hat
Staying protected from the suns rays is an important aspect of any warm weather adventure and a good hat helps considerably. I’m a big fan of Marmot’s PreClip Safari Hat, as it has a wide brim, is comfortable and cool to wear, and is highly packable. It is also waterproof and so lightweight that it actually floats. I’ve carried mine with me on six different continents and it remains one of my favorite pieces of gear. ($35)

Sierra Designs Meteor Light 2 Tent
The summer months are tailor made for camping and a good tent is an essential part of enjoying evenings in the backcountry. The Meteor Light 2 from Sierra Designs is a perfect 3-Season option that stays warm on cooler nights, but provides plenty of ventilation when it gets warm. It sets up in just minutes and sleeps two comfortably. ($210)

Kelty Cosmic Down 20º Sleeping Bag
While a tent is important for any camping trip, when it comes to getting a good nights sleep, it is only part of the equation. A good sleeping bag is essential as well, and the Cosmic Down 20º is a great choice for warm weather outings. Kelty has managed to make a comfortable, lightweight, down sleeping bag that won’t break the bank. ($75)

Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack
Nothing inspires adventure like a good backpack and Osprey makes some of the best. Their Stratos 24 daypack provides plenty of storage for a long day (or even overnight) on the trail. Its size makes it perfect for peak bagging or other short, yet gear intensive, adventures. The Stratos’ integrated suspension system helps you to stay cool on the move and the pack is hydration ready, keeping water close at hand at all times. ($89)

If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, Gadling gear reviewer Mike Barish recommends the Raptor 14, also from Osprey. He found it to be the perfect options for day hikes in warm weather destinations such as Zion Natoinal Park. Read his review here. ($81)

Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle
Staying hydrated on our warm weather adventures is vitally important, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for drinking warm water while on the trail. The Polar Bottle uses an insulating foil to reflect back the heat of the sun, keeping the liquids inside cooler for a lot longer. These bottles make fantastic and affordable gifts for the hiker, trail runner, or cyclist on your list this year. ($11.25)

3 “glamping” accommodations for the luxury camper

glampingFor those who are unfamiliar with the term, “glamping” is a way for travelers to experience the outdoors, like camping, but with more luxury amenities, like electricity, running water, and sometimes even modern architecture. Check out this list of stylish canvas accommodations from around the world, perfect for those who want to get closer to nature…but not too close.

Wildman Wilderness Lodge
Australia

Recently opened in April, 2011, this small, luxurious safari lodge features wildlife tours, hiking, biking, and culture in Australia’s Norther Territory while still providing the comforts of home. Made of recycled building materials, these free-standing cabins are surrounded by trees and grassland yet include air-conditioning, luxury bedding, upscale furnishings, and an en suite bathroom. Prices range from $285-$505 per person, per night.

For those who want to rough-it just a bit more, Wildman Wilderness Lodge also offers safari tents that are spacious and fan-cooled withwood floors, beds, and en suite bathrooms. Prices range from $215-$375 per person, per night.glampingValle de Uco
Argentina

This new wine-and-golf resort being built in Mendoza is the latest in glamping sophistication. Canopies furnished by 5-star hotel designers include four-poster beds, roll top baths, indoor and outdoor showers, and fire pits. Don’t spend too much time inside, though, because there are many different nature experiences to be had. Because the arid region has its own natural spring, the landscape is a combination of lakes, rivers, forests, and meadows, making it perfect for nature strolls. Horseback riding, hiking, and star-gazing at the observatory deck are also available.

The first phase of the project should be finished by the end of the year, with rates beginning at $300 per night.

glampingRasa Resorts
India

This 500 square foot tent will have you forgetting that you’re not at an extravagant hotel. Each of the 40 structures include large bay windows, curtains, and a high roof that slopes down to form a canopy over the beds. A contemporary atmosphere is created through color schemes of concrete, wood, and red stone. You’re not too far from nature, however, as private outdoor gardens are right at your backdoor. Moreover, the rocky terrain and nearby sanctuary offer plenty of opportunities for hiking and bird-watching. Prices begin at $148, which includes breakfast.