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Camping has changed - for better and worse | Opinion

Does high-tech gadgetry and fancy-schmancy camping gear mean that camping is in danger of losing its real spirit?

Camping has changed a fair bit since Banjo Paterson wrote about ol' mate, the singing swagman who chose a spot under a coolabah tree and waited for his billy to boil.

But it's changed for the better – and worse.

Sure, advancements in equipment, safety and shelter are more than welcome, but many changes have come at a real cost, in terms of moving the experience of camping further and further away from its true origins, which involved residing in the great outdoors with few possessions or home comforts.

That's no longer the case at all.

While camping has already progressed too far, according to grumpy old barstools like myself, the recent CES (Consumer Electronic Show) 2024 in Las Vegas gave a little glimpse into the near-future of camping, including a preview of the LG Electronics Bon Voyage camper-trailer, and – in bad news for old grumpy blokes like me – high-tech glamping seems to have become the norm.

But with every gear and tech advancement are we at serious risk of losing the real spirit of camping altogether?

Read on.

Camping has changed – for better

There's more camping stuff. Yep, there's much more gear nowadays than even a few years ago: there's a huge range of sleeping bags, swags or tents, chairs, tables, awnings, cooking utensils, portable cookers (or just buy a camper-trailers or caravan with a built-in or slide-out cook top) and so much more that I guarantee your head spins when you go looking for something camping related to buy.

But more important than the sheer volume of stuff available, is the fact that the gear available today is – mostly – an improved version of whatever has come before: it's easier to use, more efficient, and the quality of materials and build are much better than ever before.

There’s much more gear nowadays than even a few years ago.

There's more technology. Why miss out on your favourite streaming service while you're out bush? You don't have to these days. Nor do you have to forego your morning frappuccino because there are myriad coffee machines for that. You never have to stumble around your campsite at night ever again because there's now eye-wateringly bright LED lighting every which you look. Not forgetting the fact that your phones, tablets and drones will always be powered up because you have portable battery packs and solar panels galore.

There are more people. It's wonderful! Camping is very much a social occasion – it's a happy mixture of different ages, cultures and backgrounds, coming together as part of a common pursuit: to thoroughly enjoy the great outdoors.

Camping has changed – for worse

Camping is now worse, and mostly for the same reasons it's also better. Confused? Stay with me.

There's too much stuff. Whatever happened to roughing it? Now you can stay fed and hydrated, heated or cooled, entertained and mollycoddled to your preferred comfortable state of being in the great outdoors. Where's the bloody fun in that?

If, as mentioned, you can get slide-out drawers for your clothing, sleeping bags, spares and even a kitchen sink with a stove-top as well, why should you even bother leaving your house?

There's too much technology. Ah, the serenity of camping, right? Peace and quiet, with nothing but a gently flowing creek and soft birdsong as your soundtrack. That is until the people in the tent nearby decide to fire up their Bluetooth speakers and blast Taylor Swift turned up to 11, from dawn to 10pm – and that's if you're lucky. Or they're all watching an NRL game at maximum volume on a big screen TV that they've somehow transported to your beloved out-of-the-way campsite, purely for the sake of not missing one second of televised sport.

And speaking of people: there are too many of them. People have turned camping into a nightmare. You can forget all about any modicum of peace and no quiet. At a modern-day campsite, there's too much loud talking, too much loud laughing, too much loud music (those bloody portable speakers!) – not to mention too many kids playing, laughing and having fun – all too loudly.

What I reckon

One of the great things about camping is that you can scale your trip to suit you; the degree of difficulty and discomfort is entirely up to you.

Want a no-frills minimalist adventure? No worries – leave all of your gear at home and enjoy the wild ride.

Want a five-star-style outdoors experience during which you will likely want for nothing? Just take everything you can think of – and that kitchen sink in the slide-out drawer – and have a whole lot of fun.

It's all camping.

Marcus Craft
Contributing Journalist
Raised by dingoes and, later, nuns, Marcus (aka ‘Crafty’) had his first taste of adventure as a cheeky toddler on family 4WD trips to secret fishing spots near Bundaberg, Queensland....
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