After more than two months in lockdown, Skylar MacDonald and David Anderson had a bad case of cabin fever. Avid adventurers who are used to camping year-round near their home in Whycocomagh, N.S., they were desperate for a change of scenery, but with campsites and national parks closed due to the pandemic, their options for pitching a tent were minimal.
So on a rainy day a few weeks ago, they set up camp inside, converting their small loft bedroom into an outdoor oasis, complete with a river, fishing pole (for the fish), crackling fire and a tent big enough for them and their border collie, Indie.
“We thought of all the things we love to do outdoors and tried to bring them indoors,” says MacDonald, 25, a baker who, with Anderson, also runs Davey and Sky Media, a videography and photography company that promotes Cape Breton as an adventure destination on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
“We used construction paper to cut out a moon, the fish and even the flames of our fire,” she says. “Christmas lights were perfect for the stars around our tent. We brought out all our real camping gear, opened the windows to listen to the rain and played cricket sounds on our laptop. It wasn’t the real thing but we had a blast setting it up.”
Apparently, scores of Canadians agree.
Social media feeds are full of pictures of families who are lamping (camping in living rooms), pamping (on patios) and bamping (in their backyards). There are photos of folks snuggled into sleeping bags in the back of SUVs in their driveways and snapshots of kids dangling fishing poles into swimming pools.
Tina White, a digital media specialist and nature enthusiast in Tors Cove, N.L., took a minimalist approach. She grabbed a hammock, her sleeping bag and spent the night “hanging” in a nearby forest between two trees. (She had a tarp for protection when it got dark.) “I was a bit nervous my first time, but it was heaven to wake up to the sound of birds, to hear the ocean, and smell the fresh air,” she says.
With “normal” on hiatus, COVID camping has taken off. It gives mom and dad a break, and the kids a project to work on. And, it gives everyone a chance to challenge themselves to find new ways to switch up routines and try something new.
“People are dying to have a bit of an adventure and so they are challenging themselves to be creative about constructing a change of scenery as well as a change of mind set,” says Jackie McKinley, community campaign specialist at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) in Vancouver.
Heeding the call, MEC launched a week-long campaign in mid-May called #TheBigCampIn that asked Canadians to get creative about camping at home and share photos of their handiwork. McKinley says the response was instantaneous – and judging from the posts – a lot of fun.
“We had almost 2,000 people share their COVID camping experience,” says McKinley, adding that the diversity of ideas was inspiring, and sometimes, hilarious.
People made forests in their homes by assembling house plants. They blew up photos of their favourite lake or mountain views and pitched tents nearby. They roasted s’mores in fireplaces, on backyard barbecues or nuked them in microwaves. They brewed camp coffee on Coleman stoves and ate dehydrated food.
Some dressed in full camp garb, including wearing headlamps. Others built miniature camps out of Lego. One particularly enterprising couple in Banff, Alta., constructed a campsite for their pet lizard and took a photo of him lounging in a mini-hammock with a blown-up image of the glacially fed Moraine Lake as the backdrop.
“We were stunned by people’s ingenuity,” McKinley says. “Obviously camping is different this year given the circumstances we’re living in, but people can enjoy camping anyway. The pandemic, and all the restrictions, have tested everyone but there is a positive. Now they’re able to say, ‘Remember when we camped out in the living room for the May long weekend? It’s still a wonderful camp memory – just different.”
Vancouver-based Alison Hodgins agrees. She and her roommate recently set up camp on their 250-square-foot balcony. They decorated it with fairy lights, stuck a pink flamingo in a pot to represent wildlife, cooked five different flavours of s’mores over a small propane fire pit, and watched a rom-com under an electric blanket in their tent.
Hodgins, a 28-year-old online editor with Explore magazine, says it was the best night she’d had in months. “Across British Columbia, parks and camps are reopening for business, but reservation sites keep crashing due to demand. We’d love to camp outdoors but we’re not sure if this year we’ll get the chance,” she says. “The patio was the next best thing. Camping, after all, is about spending quality time with people you love. And having fun.”
Setting up camp at home
The beauty of quarantine camping is the only thing you need is a good imagination, though a few twinkly lights thrown in don’t hurt. Here are some tips for making the most out of a camp experience in – or close to – your home.
- Pack everything you would need for a real overnight trip. Grab a tent, sleeping bags or bed rolls, PJs, canteens, a cooler and flashlights. If you normally have a bug net, bring that too. They key is to make everything as authentic as possible.
- Build a fire. If you’ve got a fire pit, spark that up and roast marshmallows. If not, make one out of red construction paper or tissue paper. Use a light source to back light it to create a warm glow.
- Bring some games, or tell ghost stories, play cards, have a scavenger hunt. The key is to unplug and immerse yourself in an entirely different head space.
- Challenge friends to make their own campsite at home and Zoom or call them to create a new camp memory.
- Pay attention to the little things. You might not be in a national park but try to appreciate nature that is around you. Watch the birds. Smell the grass. Gaze at the stars. Appreciate beauty wherever you find it.