Yes, We Camp, and if You Don’t, Here’s What You’re Missing

Forget the misconception that black people don’t camp. Here’s a comprehensive guide to get you started or to enhance your family’s camping experience.

Grown folks in the woods         
Grown folks in the woods          Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro

How to Get Started

So what do you do when you want to venture out to camp but you have no experience? Sydney Morrow, a recent college graduate and camping aficionado from Seaside, Calif., recommends doing research on what exactly you’re looking for in a campsite.

“Finding the campsite that fits your lowest comfort level will ultimately determine how much you enjoy camping. For example, there are sites that come with functioning bathrooms or heated showers, barbecue pits, water spouts and electricity; sites that only have water spouts and a BIFFY (“Bathroom in forest for you”—a literal hole in the ground); and sites that don’t have anything at all. Honestly, camping isn’t for everyone, but those with the slightest interest owe it to themselves to give it a try,” Morrow suggested.

Mapp always suggests that people utilize the ReserveAmerica website because you can select the amenities you’re looking for in a campsite and make your reservation. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just pop up at a campsite and expect an opening to be available. National parks like Yosemite typically have a yearlong waiting list, and the National Park Service advises people to reserve a year in advance.

Among the camping destinations Mapp suggests are Assateague State Park in Maryland, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Arches National Park in Utah, and the ever-popular Grand Canyon in Arizona and Big Bend in Texas.

Once you have your location set, there are a few bare essentials you’ll need for your camping trip. TV executive Eric Easter, a longtime camper, suggested, “Water; multiple methods to start a fire—flint, magnifying glass, matches, lighter; a serious knife—not a Swiss Army knife but something that can slice cake or kill food, if it comes to that; baby wipes; and a very heavy flashlight that can double as a weapon. Because … hillbillies.”

Mapp commonly utilizes outdoor retail giant REI, not only because of its great customer service but also because of its generous return policy. “You need to look out for clothing, hydration and food. If you don’t have the right clothes, water or food, you can forget it and just go home,” she advised. Mapp also recommended finding a camping mentor, someone who has in-depth camping experience: “They will know about what’s local and will be OK with you coming along with them on the next trip.”

If you don’t have the right clothes, water or food, you can forget it and just go home. 

It’s Never Too Late

How do you get more black people involved with camping? Most of those I spoke with said their first exposure to camping came at an early age.

Amy Alexander, a journalist from Washington, D.C., appreciates her experiences. “It is good, for example, to challenge yourself in the context of nature, which really doesn’t care if you have a nice car or a fancy house or college degree,” she said. “You either figure out how to ford the freezing-cold river without putting yourself at risk or you don’t. In my case, being exposed to the awesome landscapes in California and other parts of the West really helped me expand my perceptions of the world and my place in it. It also felt terrific to hike 7,000 feet up and camp atop Half Dome.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t start camping later in life. Alexander, a single parent of two children, is still looking forward to taking her son on his first camping adventure.

Mapp believes that if more black people share their camping experiences and stories, it’ll change the perception about the various activities involved in camping. “We have to tell a different story about camping by tapping into the ways we’re connected to the outdoors. Getting that story out there and helping to shift the representation about who camps will get more people involved,” she said.

So break away from your typical vacation. Get your supplies together, pack up the car, and explore the natural surroundings that exist in your state and national park systems.

For more information and resources on camping, visit Outdoor Afro’s website, like it on Facebook, or follow it on Instagram and Twitter. Also check out Urban American Outdoors’ TV show, like its Facebook page or follow it on Twitter.

Also at The Root, learn more about the best places to camp and enjoying the outdoors:

By Tent, Trailer or an RV: Some of the Best Places to Camp

Career Spotlight: Park Ranger Shelton Johnson on Why Spending Time Outdoors Is About Civil Rights

Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.