What IS glamping, anyway?

 

Retired Associated Press editor William Kronholm and his wife recently spent six days on the Salmon River in Idaho, rafting during the day and enjoying a gourmet meal with wine each night before retiring to their tent, complete with a mattress, fluffy pillows and floor rug. Kronholm, whose previous standard for wilderness luxury was simply having a dry pair of socks, wrote an article describing the experience as a “delightful shock.” He calls it “glamping,” a mashup of glamorous and camping, and informs us that a similar six-day trip could be ours for the price of roughly $2,500.

Paws Up, a ranch and resort in Montana, markets its elaborate tents to the luxury camper.

The idea of luxury excursions in the wilderness is nothing new, but the term “glamping” is only a few years old; Google Trends shows that people started searching the term online in 2007. Recently I’ve seen the word come up quite a bit, which sparked my curiosity: What exactly defines the glamping experience? Does using the Thermarest LuxuryMap sleeping pad count? What about a winter ski trip to a wood stove-heated cabin? Or packing that extra dessert you know you’ll crave on the trail?

The Online Urban Dictionary defines glamping as: “Satisfying your craving for the outdoors and your penchant for a good meal, nice glass of wine, and a comfortable bed.” Another online dictionary describes it as like a hotel, but where your room opens to a beautiful landscape instead of a lobby.

I’ll admit, when I first heard the term, I rolled my eyes. I agreed with Ben Gadd, a Canadian wilderness guide, who called it “just silly.” Most summers of my childhood, my family would pack the mini van with our heavy, two-room Coleman tent, thick flannel-lined sleeping bags and fold-up cookstove. I learned to expect a week of great hiking and beautiful scenery, as well as dirty feet, mosquito bites and a lot of work. But it was a pretty cheap way for a family of five to vacation.

As an adult, I’ve begun to assemble my own array of camping gear.  While fancy new gear isn’t at all cheap, a few luxuries really can make the experience, well, more attractive. Inflatable sleeping pads make the ground a lot softer, and fiberglass tent poles are incomparably lighter than our old Coleman steel frames. It turns out that I do like to stay warm in a down sleeping bag, and meals with a little bit of extra care – like pancakes spiced with cinnamon chips – taste amazing on the trail.

At first, I wrote off glamping as another example of our consumer society. But add up the costs of all that camping equipment, and you’re well on your way to covering the cost of a night at one of the fanciest glamping locations. For people who camp frequently, those initial costs of purchasing gear are more of a lifetime investment. But for those who just want one camping trip each summer, hiring out for a more comfortable experience might not actually be so silly. So does my penchant for warm sleeping bags and tasty trail food qualify as luxury camping?

In a sense, glamping is not at all a new phenomenon. Until recently, these cozy expeditions have been the realm of the ultra-rich. Today, elegant wildland experiences are a bit more accessible than they were at the turn of the 20th century. As it turns out, there’s a wide range of experiences that now qualify as “glamping.”

Ultra-Glamp

These glampers have cash to spare. They want to step out into expansive landscapes that evoke the idea of adventure, but they like someone else to handle all the details – and with style. In the early 1900s, British and American adventurers to the African plains hired tailors, chefs and dozens of porters per person for extravagant game hunting trips. President Theodore Roosevelt joined a Smithsonian-led safari, hunting Africa’s big game for the museums during a months-long trip that rang up a bill of a 2005-equivalent of $1.8 million. Today’s high-end glamper can get a Montana-based “American Safari” experience at Paws Up Resort 45 minutes east of Missoula. The Montana ranch glampers won’t take home any big game, but they might enjoy shooting clay pigeons and fly-fishing. Heated slate floors and individual bathrooms make these tents more like fancy hotel rooms. With meals prepared by chefs, and access to all the resort’s amenities, this vacation starts at $1,025 per night.

Semi-Glamp

Out'n'about is one "treesort" in Oregon offering a suspended getaway.

Some glampers want a hot meal waiting each morning but are happy to leave the tailored suits at home. The Swiss Family Robinson members didn’t set out as glampers, but by making the best of an extremely bad situation, they paved the (literary) way for tree-loving campers today. Stranded on a deserted island, the industrious family built a home in the trees – something kids have dreamed about ever since. Exploring the island by day and eating what they could find or grow in the evenings, some family members decided not to leave the accidental paradise when the chance finally arrived. In southern Oregon, where the trees are big enough to support multi-story tree houses with porches, several hosts aim to make childhood fantasies come true. Guests don’t even have to hunt for dinner. A night at Vertical Horizons starts at $225 per night.

Minimalist Glamp

The taste of a hotdog cooked over a campfire and the smell of woodsmoke in their hair is part of what really makes the experience for these glampers. A good example might be President Chester A. Arthur, who joined a team of explorers in Yellowstone National Park in 1883. The media called the trip a boondoggle, but the president made no apologies. The expedition carried supplies for miles on horseback and mules, and slept in unheated tents despite inclement weather. While President Arthur was an acclaimed angler, fishing wasn’t just for recreation on this trip; the crew tracked down their own protein for meals. Today’s minimal frill glampers are happy preparing their own meals, but like having a comfortable bed. In close range of the Tetons, near where Arthur’s crew ventured, Moose Creek Ranch in Victor, Idaho offers “luxury tents” with queen-sized beds and wood burning stoves for $100 per night.

All this talk of glamping made me wonder if the new term reflects any real consequences for the environment. On the one hand, it might mean more people are using, and possibly abusing, the outdoors. Yet there’s nothing like hands-on experiences to encourage people to care. Maybe embracing comfortable camping experiences will get more people outside and boost enthusiasm for protecting undeveloped landscapes. Or is it, as I originally thought, nothing more than self-indulgent consumption? I suppose you could say the same about my Thermarest.

Katie Mast is an editorial intern at High Country News. Image of Paws Up courtesy Ranchseeker via Flickr. Image of Out'n'About treehouse courtesy Nicholas Boullosa via Flickr.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: