Ace Your Camping Date!

Want to bond in the great outdoors? Here’s what to pack, how to handle roughing-it differences, and more info to make the experience romantic.

By Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro

t its best, the camping date strips down a budding relationship to its bare elements, bypassing the hullabaloo and stresses of dating in more civilized environs (reservations, hip clothing and bistro selection, etc.). Still, roughing it brings its own challenges—and to make sure your romance survives, we’ve decided to provide a trail map on how to pull it off. For added perspective, we tracked down Monica Bowman, veteran through-hiker of both the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Coast Trail, and no stranger to backpacks, trailblazing, and the joy of camping with a flannelled companion. Get ready to blaze a trail and get to know your travel companion in a whole new way.

Don’t rough it too much
Does your guy or gal consider “roughing it” using non-dairy creamer? No
Try your best to accommodate less-rugged types.
problem. Hapless city-boys and high-maintenance ladies can still be wooed in the wild by ensuring some creature comforts. Camping doesn’t necessarily mean backwoods… or strictly one on one. A group of friends can share a country cabin or a twosome can go car camping, where your pitched tent is within shouting distance of a packed trunk of iced drinks and gear. “Instead of communing with nature at dirt level,” says Bowman, “you can sit comfortably in camp chairs, sip Champagne, watch movies on a laptop, and still have the illusion of a wilderness experience by building a romantic campfire and sleeping under the stars.”

Since not every tent mate is a natural born Davy Crockett or Lara Croft, try your best to accommodate less-rugged types. It’s not a survival competition to see who can hike the furthest with the heaviest pack, thus the more in-shape party mustn’t leave the other languishing in the trail dust. Push too hard during your first wilderness outing, you might not get another date back in civilization.

Pack for romance
For backcountry camping and hiking, certain items are worth the extra backache. When the sun sets, surprise your date by unpacking a fantastic bottle of wine you schlepped up the mountain. Want to make her smile in the early morn and ease that slight knot in her back? Delight her at dawn with fresh coffee in a small French press, and think ahead for additional mood-enhancers. Pack a collapsible pole for the fishing hole. Return to the classics by roasting s’mores or breaking out cards for a rollicking game of Crazy Eights. Bring an iPod and portable speakers or a book of poetry to read to each other. Studious types can even tote a small mushroom or birding guide to note wild things that don’t grow in the ’burbs. And forget those cowboy movies—camping food need not consist of canned frank n’ beans. Fresh fruit and vegetables require no litter-producing packaging, and offer a tasty break from bags of Gorp or chalky mouthfuls of energy bar.

Let Mother Nature lead the conversation
Early on, you two learned how to coexist while sharing a meal at a linen-covered table or by passing the popcorn and licorice ropes at the cinema. Realize that “no matter which style of camping you choose, you’ll be alone together for an extended period of time without the crutch of motorized reality,” says Bowman. Like commenting on your delicious entrée when pressed for chitchat on the dinner date, use Mother Nature to steer conversation. The hooting of night owls, visiting rabbits and deer,
Surprise your date by unpacking a fantastic bottle of wine or other non-outdoorsy indulgence.
or the sound of rustling leaves are all fodder. (“Ah, much more musical than my roommate’s ring tones and alarm clock”). Without mundane worries, daydream aloud, debate global warming, and let the rhythmic cicadas bring out your dormant contemplative side not seen since you aced Philosophy 101. (“Besides stare at these mountains, what do I really want to do with my life?”) Then again, camping in the wilderness also means taking in the verdant views without a word. “Sometimes,” says Bowman, “just a smile or handholding on the trail says it all.”

Avoid the ick factor
After a long day of climbing, will she still be as gorgeous without makeup, curling irons, and hairspray? With greasy hair and two-day stubble, is he the same hunk? Perfumes, creams, and scented oils attract unwanted critters, so full toiletry kits are verboten. Without the usual sundries, camping raises intimacy — for better or for worse — as bed-head and morning marches into the woods become the norm. Heeding nature’s call, as some put it, is best left unmentioned, as unfunny comments like “How’d it go?” or “Did you remember to go downwind, honey?” will not endear you to someone who is self-conscious. As far as dirty nails and sweaty brows, a hand towel and some biodegradable soap make for a refreshing pit stop. Once you’re into the realm of bandanas and ponytails, enjoy the experience; like a good dive bar, everyone’s good-looking in low lantern light. In fact, Bowman says, “You may be more attractive when all the glamour is washed away.”

While camping romance may never equal a sumptuous evening on perfumed sheets, a modicum of hygiene allows for cleaner coupling. Hand-sanitizer ensures, at the very least, your mitts are fresh. Bring extra hiking socks to curb foot funk in your 6’x5’ tent. As for romance, you never know what will happen in the forest, so common courtesies apply: Pack protection and the all-important supply of baby wipes. “They work for neck and brow, as well as more private places,” admits Bowman. Time-tested intimates can get cozier with his/her zip-together sleeping bags that form one large nest for two lovebirds. And, since woo is ideally pitched in moonlight, check lunar charts before embarking: Waxing gibbous means it won’t be pitch black if you and your sweetie get amorous.

Phineas Mollod traded his J.D. for the editorial life and is often found riding the congested E train with his wife and daughter in New York. Jason Tesauro pushes pen and ink by day and leads the lifestyle seminar series by night, ne'er far from his sweetheart and a Brady Bunch houseful 'o tots in Virginia. Together they are the authors of The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice and The Modern Lover: A Playbook for Suitors, Spouses, and Ringless Carousers.
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