Hey, Kids, Let's Go Glamping

Glamming Up The Outdoors For The Facebook Generation

August 18, 2009|By Lori Aratani | Lori Aratani,The Washington Post

The idea of "roughing it" has taken on a new meaning.

The Coleman outdoors company sells air mattresses with built-in alarm clocks and night lights, and tents outfitted with "integrated lighting systems" and auto-roll windows. For those who can't bear to be unplugged for any length of time, DirecTV has a portable satellite and Kampgrounds of America offers wireless Internet at most of its camp sites.

With fewer people participating in outdoor activities, retailers and park officials are doing everything they can to coax them into the great outdoors. Hard-core campers may sniff at the level of hand-holding - air mattresses equipped with built-in speakers for MP-3 players - but some environmentalists and outdoors advocates applaud the efforts. That's because they worry that a population more familiar with Google than the Grand Canyon ultimately could hurt conservation efforts.

"We're out of balance," said Cheryl Charles, an environmental educator. "We're not against technology. But when kids spend so much time hooked to [an] electronic umbilical cord - things have to change."

To compete, retailers and park officials are scrambling to make camping and other outdoor activities easier and more comfortable. That's why outdoor outfitter Gander Mountain offers a portable battery-operated mosquito repellant system in forest-friendly camouflage colors. For added privacy, REI, an outdoor-gear store, sells tents that can be divided into multiple rooms. This summer, rangers at Virginia's Shenandoah National Park offered weekend seminars for camping rookies on how to pitch a tent, build a campfire and plan a proper camp-friendly menu.

Some say such plush amenities go against the true spirit of the outdoors. It's not camping, some sniff, but "glamping" - as in a camping experience short on hardship but long on glamour.

Retailers say it's the reality of the market.

"There's an expectation of a certain level of comfort or people won't go outside," said Jeff Willard, senior vice president of global marketing and new product development for Coleman. "It needs to be comfortable. Otherwise, people are going to stay inside and do Facebook."

Washington Post researcher Meg Smith contributed to this article.

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