No one has yet made a survey of the number of people who do not go camping each year. They are the gregarious hordes, happy with civilization, who slink off at vacation time to comfortable, air-conditioned hotels, chlorine-treated swimming pools and planned recreation. They would agree with the essayist who once summed up country living as a great damp place where birds fly about uncooked. In short, non-campers would not be caught dead (or alive) in the wilderness. They are bucking a trend, of course, for surveys have been made of the number of seemingly normal human beings who get the urge once a year—plus a few stolen weekends—to dash off into the woods. The statistics on campers are fascinating and contradictory. One source estimates that a veritable army of 37,000,000 Americans will hit the trail in 1966, as opposed to a mere 5,000,000 in 1961.
Another source claims 25,000,000, and so it goes, with the figures ranging downward to the more reasonable estimate of 8,000,000 plus, which would indicate a 3% increase each year since 1961. Sporting goods manufacturers don't really care what the figures are, only what they represent; for business in sleeping bags, tents, Coleman stoves and the hundreds of other products designed to keep you comfortable in uncomfortable surroundings was never better. Each year there is something new or something old improved upon. The space program, because of its necessary concentration on weightlessness and the cramped living quarters of a capsule has given impetus to lightweight, functional products that benefit not only astronauts but campers as well. There is on the market this year the Space Blanket, a covering with high insulating properties (it returns 80% of the covered person's body heat to him) and is still flexible at 60° below zero, weighs only 9¼ ounces and can be carried comfortably in the pocket of a hunting jacket.
The material in the Space Blanket was developed by the National Research Corporation for use in outer space and has been used on practically every major space shot. Grounded campers will find that it can also be used for a hunting blind, boat blanket, windbreak, cockpit sunshade and poncho and as a ground cloth, since it lies flat. On a boat it will serve as a radar reflector. All you need do is secure the blanket with some marline or light line and run it up the mast. Or it can be wrapped around a boat fender, or any other convenient object and hoisted into the rigging. It can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, though neither dirt nor lint easily adheres to it. The price is $7.95.
New designs in sleeping bags and tents multiply almost as fast as campers. The latest in sleeping bags is one with a snap-in lining that can be thrown into a washer along with the rest of the laundry. Tents, of course, come in all sizes, shapes and materials. There are long, short, oblong, round and square tents, ranging in price from about $69 for the simple poplin-covered two-sleeper to the spacious $175 12-foot-by-12-foot home away from home covered with gray poplin. Many experienced campers, though, still prefer the commonest, oldest A-wall tent with side walls some two to three feet high and with a ridge roof under which it is usually possible to stand erect. It is still one of the best tents available for both extremely hot and very cold weather. Colorful, functional synthetics are at least partially responsible for the boom in tent-making. Those who inhabit the elegant Eureka Space Tent (sleeps four and looks like a summer cottage) may want to carry furniture along. There is a unique portable table with four built-in stools available at $34.50. All of it—this five-in-one Masonite combination, manufactured by the Milwaukee Stamping Company—folds and fits into a suitcase. The table measures 33 inches by 28½ inches and when folded has a depth of five inches.
The simple back-packer, who is strict about being miserable, would scoff at such refinement, for he believes if he cannot tote it on his back it should be left at home Choosing the most comfortable, functional back-pack is the most important thing this type of hardy camper will ever do. The Alpine frame rucksack and the Alaskan pack board are highly recommended by Whelen and Angier, authors of the classic On Your Own in the Wilderness. Both were used by the Army during World War II and may still be picked up from surplus dealers.
Once in the woods there is no excuse for getting lost, say experienced campers who have never been lost. The cheapest way to keep track of yourself, if you're the type who can get lost in a revolving door, is to always carry a magnetic compass. They cost less than $6. If you're going to be off in a boat, however, in unfamiliar water, you may want to invest in a radio direction finder. Currently on the market is the Nova-Tech Pilot II. It is portable and doubles as a 4-band aircraft marine radio. The 4-band receiver picks up planes in flight, aircraft control towers, the entire marine band, police calls, shortwave, 24-hour weather reports for 200 miles plus AM music, news and sports. It costs $129.95, which is more expensive than a compass, but then all you get from a compass is north.
Camping, it would seem, with all its modern conveniences, is becoming more and more refined. Perhaps the nth degree of refinement was reached some years ago when the young heir to a publishing fortune went out in the woods to rough it and took his butler along to clean the tent and do the cooking.