Why Camping is Good for the Soul

Posted on August 25, 2014

For what it’s worth, I considered simply writing, “Because S’mores.” and calling it a day on this post. In hindsight, that may have been a smart move considering it’s taken me two months to hit publish.

Let’s face it, we take nature for granted. I’m sure at one time or another, we’ve all thought something along these lines:

Nature is, like, always going to be there. Plus, I follow some awesome photographers on Instagram so it’s like I’m enjoying the outdoors every day.

Nature is for when I’m old, or retired and touring the country in my RV.

I get to watch the sunset and sunrise every single day on my commute–I like to take the hour sitting in traffic to reflect on how lucky I am.

It’s time to stop these crazy thoughts. Nothing about nature is a guarantee, except that it’s constantly changing (think drought, fires, etc.) and always being threatened by lack of resources, political idiots and commercial entities. The best way to understand how important it is to preserve these special places is to get out and experience them. One way to do this is to go camping.

Despite what you’ve heard, camping isn’t as dark, dirty, or hard as it sounds. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Just like chicken soup, it’s good for the soul. Hopefully, this will help you find a reason to pack up and get lost this weekend.


Weekend adventures

Part of the reason people don’t think about camping is because of marketing. (Yes, seriously.) We’ve been trained to believe that our vacations should be extravagant, exotic getaways with all-inclusive food and entertainment held inside five-star facilities. According to billboards and travel ads everywhere, if your vacation isn’t one or more of these things, you’re doing it wrong.

Not to say I’d never take a fancy vacation where I’m stuck inside all day, I’m way more likely to jump on the opportunity to take a road trip and spend my days outside. No matter where you are in the country, I guarantee there is a kick-ass park waiting to be explored within a half day’s drive of where you live. Grab a map (you know, that colorful, symbol-filled wad of paper) and draw a radius roughly 350 miles around your city. Anything within that circle is fair game for a weekend getaway. (If you’ve got a hybrid, it’s hella cheap, too!)

Toyota Prius in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Food, park fees, and round-trip gas from Birmingham, AL to the Smokies for 2 people (2 days, 1 night) ~ $100. Can’t beat that.

One awesome thing about camping is that it doesn’t need to be planned far in advance, unlike a full vacation. It’s also cheaper than any night out on the town you’ve ever had. That said, grab a tent and go anywhere-even your backyard-for a night or two. Home truly is where you stake it.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Big Creek Campground

The only four walls I need.


Going off the grid

We joke about it, but we’re becoming scarily dependent on technology. Have you ever forgotten your phone in the car or at home? It’s a terrifying experience, right? We lose our way without our phones, and forget about using a paper map—way too difficult to remember how to read those things. </snark>

Put down your phones and cameras for a weekend. Better yet, go entirely off the grid–seek the land of no reception. Or, at the very least, turn your phone on airplane mode. When you’re not responding to every phantom vibration and notification, you can enjoy every bite-size moment.

The only screen in front of your face should the mesh of your tent. Get outside and ditch the LCD light for a little star light.

Big Creek Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Love the life you live

Social media has allowed us to peer deeper into everyone else’s lives and all the amazing things they get to do, buy, experience, and eat. As we know, we tend to only post the best moments of our lives, or should I say, the least typical moments we get to experience. We’re given the option to control peoples’ perceptions of ourselves, so of course we’re going to make it look epic! Seeing a friend’s new car, exotic vacation, promotion, newborn–these things only make us feel inadequate and boring.

Here’s an idea: instead of hitting up that rad new bar in town this weekend, convince your friends it’s time for a change of scenery. Find a campground a outside of the city (literally getting away from your routine can do wonders for your mind), throw some beverages in a cooler (don’t forget a bottle opener), and genuinely enjoy each other’s company without the drama and overpriced nachos.

Don’t be those campers, though–familiarize yourselves with LNT principles, and avoid pissing off your camp-neighbors by being too noisy during quiet hours.

Campervan in Grand Teton National Park

One day, this will be mine. // Seen in Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.


A simpilier life

Our neighborhoods provide a safety net of reinforced walls, security systems and guard cats. It’s easy to become complacent when living in this kind of environment. When you remove all the comforts of home, think about what you have left–food, water, and shelter. That’s all you’ll really ever need.

Getting outside puts you back in touch. Use your bare hands to build and secure your tent, to light your stove that will boil your water, and of course–to sift through the woods to find that perfect s’mores stick. I guarantee you won’t be eating five-star meals or sleeping on a pillowtop mattress, but you’re going to experience how simple our lives could be. Sleeping under the stars, the sound of the wind whispering through pines needles and a distant river cascading down into the valley–there’s no hotel amenity to match this experience.

Colter Bay Sunrise, Grand Teton National Park

Just the worst view to wake up to, right? So terrible.


You wake up in the morning and emerge from your tent to find the sun greeting the day and your stomach growling. If you were at home, you’d probably sleepwalk to your fridge, eat your burned bagel and quickly forget how boring the morning was. In the great outdoors, you don’t mind telling your stomach to shut the hell up for a minute while you take in the sunrise.

Breakfast in Grand Teton National Park

It’s a slower way to live; one that increases awareness, strength, and confidence that you can exist without all the excess and routine in your life. Simplicity is key out here, and by spending time in nature, you learn to embrace an uncomplicated life.

I cringe when people brag about working long hours, when they have to catch up on last night’s Kardashians, and buying more things to squirrel away into their homes. There’s no happiness in any of that.

Happiness is recognizing humility, being immersed in experiences that fill us up with with awe and wonder. Going off into the wild for a weekend can sound frightening when we find comfort in being surrounded by distraction. We’ve lost touch with our instincts–we wander the world with our heads down, thinking we’re experiencing the most life has to offer on our 4-inch screens.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Big Creek

Sat on the banks of the Big Creek in GSMNP taking photos and enjoying coffee. These are the best moments.

If camping has taught me anything (other than how to dodge mosquitoes and pitch a tent in a downpour), it’s really driven home the point that collecting moments is way more important than amassing things.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir

Why Camping is Good for the Soul by

2 Replies to "Why Camping is Good for the Soul"

  • trav
    August 25, 2014 (10:52 am)

    It’s amazing how much of our lives, goals and expectations are determined by the deep pockets behind marketing campaigns. You are spot on there. And there’s a bumper sticker in your definition of happiness: “Happiness is letting humility sink in…”. Wonderfully stated.

    • Zack Sylvan
      August 25, 2014 (11:19 am)

      Thanks, Trav! Love the sticker idea 😉 It’ll go right next to my Trekalong one!

      Just another thing camping provides–a clear perspective. So many people spend all their time thinking about meeting deadlines, running errands, and reacting to the pressures and norms set by everyone else around them. Everyone deserves to experience the freedoms only found in nature, but I’m fine holding on to that secret for a while longer!

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