Can Experienced Campers Enjoy Organized Campouts?
We pitched our tent at just about the farthest spot we could find. After all, we are experienced campers who typically head outdoors for the solitude and freedom of nature; we don’t go to the wilderness to find close human contact.
But this weekend wasn’t typical. This time we weren’t camping to find quiet and (dis)connection in the outdoors.
This time, we were camping closely with other families. And participating together in activities. For 24 hours straight.
We weren’t sure what we had gotten ourselves into, but we knew we’d be pushing our camping limits… albeit in an entirely different way than our typical.
You see, we’re lifelong campers. Independent types who like to do our own thing on our own terms, at least when we leave the city and head for the wilderness to camp.
We’ve always thought an organized campout would, at best, have little to offer us, and at worst, be too forced to feel authentic.
And so it happened that we found ourselves on our first organized family campout.
Why did we try an organized campout?
Just a few days earlier, I had mentioned to Terri at the Visit Champaign County tourism board that we didn’t have anything planned for the upcoming weekend. She suggested we register for a family campout coming up in her area, at the Allerton Park and Retreat Center.
My instinctive reaction was excitement: Camping! Outdoors! In our beloved tent! I’m in!
Then, the details of the scenario hit and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Lots of families. Close together. Possibly with limited outdoor experience. All hiking, eating, and playing together. Every minute. For 24 hours. This could be tough.
But being one of those people who sometimes orders a drink or a meal I don’t expect to like, just to see if it’ll prove me wrong (spoiler alert: jackfruit did, but eel fishball soup did not!), I decided to go ahead and give this organized campout experience a try. And along with me, Homer and Mag did, too.
Any guesses how we liked it?
What did we think of organized camping?
We loved it!
Okay, let’s not get crazy here. We didn’t looooooove it in the way where we will give up our normal camping style and become addicted to community organized campouts. Seclusion in the woods and freedom to follow our own whims and passions will always be our true camping style.
But we certainly loved it in a way where we will not hesitate to jump in on another community campout event on any weekend where we don’t have something already planned.
What did we love?
Packing is sooooo easy!
With meals and events taken care of by the organizers, there was almost nothing we needed to bring.
A tent, sleeping bags (and sleeping pads and pillows, because we’re not that hardcore), a few layers of clothes, and we were out the door.
No meal plans to make. No cooking equipment to load. No food to buy, pack, chill and transport.
And the best part? The less you pack before a trip, the less you have to unpack when you get home. Double win!
Recreation is even easier.
Although we normally just go where the wind takes us, so to speak, on any given day of camping, that style still does require a bit of research and effort. Have to find out if there are good trails. Or canoe rentals. Or a scheduled ranger talk. Then decide which sounds funnest. Is most affordable. Easiest to get to from the campsite. So even being open to any possibilities requires research into said possibilities.
At an organized campout, just show up at registration and be handed a program for the day; no thinking required. Isn’t that every parent’s dream?
Unique activities are offered.
Atlatl throwing, anyone? Really, you don’t know what an atlatl is? Neither did we. The beauty of this organized campout: people passionate about hobbies we’ve never even heard of were brought in to expand our experiences.
How about sleeping bag races? What, you don’t want the kids getting grass stains on their sleeping bags? Again, the beauty of this organized campout: sleeping bags were supplied for the races. And even better: prizes were given!
What about animal shows? Huh, you don’t want to trap an owl to teach your kids all about its ear tufts? An organized campout might have a big enough draw to bring in an area animal expert. And his animals!
And morning yoga on the lawn? Really, no desire to have the neighbors look out their kitchen window and watch your contorted down dog? An organized campout just might offer morning yoga in a private, sunken garden with only a few of your fellow intrepid campers as witnesses.
What did we not love?
Unaware (or inexperienced?) people
Despite having acres -and acres!- of open space to choose from, another family pitched their tent about 10 feet away from ours.
And they turned out to be a family who gets up at 6:15 a.m. and talks and laughs and chases each other around at their regular daytime loudness level, even though it’s 6:15 in the morning and other campers are still asleep inside their very nearby and completely unsound-proofed nylon tenting. Agh!
Of course, this can happen in any camping situation, not just at an organized campout. Just feels less likely to happen amongst regular, experienced campers. Hopefully.
Because organized community campouts are typically held in parks, or similar non-campground settings, few are likely to have full bathrooms with showers available.
Not a deal breaker in this case, since it was only a 24-hour event; we can go that long without a shower. But I can’t pretend it wouldn’t have been nice to feel clean before heading to a coffee shop on our way out of town, and especially before sitting in the car for 2-1/2 hours home.
Expectations vs. Reality
Before our first organized campout, the three of us rated how we expected to like the experience, on a scale of 1 to 10. We totaled our scores, and guessed our enjoyment would be:
After this first organized campout, we rated how we actually enjoyed the experience, on a scale of 1 to 10. We again totaled our scores, and we concluded our enjoyment had been:
Clearly, this experience was so much more enjoyable than we had ever given it credit in the past.
→ We will definitely participate in more organized campouts in the future! ←
Have you been on an organized campout?
How was your experience? Tell us about it in the comments!
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