The many faces of camping

Paul Smith
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Outdoor adventures have evolved from tents to RV monstrosities

What exactly is implied these days by the word camping? This past winter I did quite a bit of winter camping.

We roughed it out 10 kilometres from the nearest road with absolutely zero heat in our tiny pack tent. Everything needed to survive in sub-zero temperatures had to be snowshoed in on our backs.

It was lots of fun and a wonderful experience in resourcefulness and cold weather survival, but for sure and certain, winter camping isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are folks who go camping in 30-foot travel trailers and gigantic fifth wheels, sporting pretty much all the conveniences of the 21st-century home.

There’s invariably a microwave oven, stand up shower and tub, high-fidelity sound, double- or queen-size bed, refrigerator, hot and cold running water; the works. Many have one or two slide outs that make the interior space less trailer-like and very spacious.

I sat on the couch in one a couple of days ago. It felt like home in my living room. Some of these well-equipped monstrosities even have big, comfy, swivel leather chairs for relaxing and watching satellite TV. There’s a convenient table between the chairs to situate your beer or drink, along with a few grog bits.

I haven’t got the good life life this wrapped up at home, let alone on the road. This sort of camping is the cup of tea for many, but not I. Actually this away-from-the-castle experience is best described as RVing, or trailering and not camping. Camps don’t have microwaves and surround sound. My days of trailering I think are over; nowadays I prefer to be sheltered under canvas or nylon far from the beaten path.

Although, there was a time when the kids were small, that we loved our trailer. The kids, now grown and living on their own, have the fondest recollections of summer camping trips. When all the family gathers, we often talk about time spent at Jack’s Pond, Square Pond, Terra Nova, Gros Morne, and Sir Richard Squires.

I had an 18-foot, tandem-axle travel trailer that I towed behind my pickup truck. It was a shack compared to modern RVs, but much easier to tow I think. We wandered all over the province, usually ending up somewhere near a salmon river. Daddy needed his fun, too.

That’s the joy of trailering around Newfoundland and Labrador. There’s something for everyone. You can go salmon fishing, canoeing, trouting, hiking, mountain climbing and tons more. I didn’t do a whole lot of mountain climbing, but my brother-in-law and I did climb Gros Morne one summer, while on a camping adventure with the kids.

The camping parks in Newfoundland have lost much of their outdoorsy appeal in my opinion. Privatization has over time very much changed the atmosphere and mood of our province’s camping grounds.

When they were provincial parks, the campsites were spread along waterways amongst the trees and natural landscapes. There weren’t as many sites, but they were so much more in harmony with the natural environment, lovely places to set a tent or camper trailer and enjoy a picnic-table cookup and evening campfire with family and friends.

The karma of privatization, the motive of profitable venture, has for a large part evolved woodsy havens into modern parking lots for huge RV’s, complete with sewer hook ups and electricity.

The modern 30-foot trailer couldn’t even fit in many of those old campsites. I suppose, for many, this is considered a good thing. I, for one, miss the rustic old provincial parks. There are a few left, but not many.

I think that our government should have kept the parks and ran them not for profit, but for the people to enjoy. If entrepreneurs wanted to build modern RV parks, they would have certainly been free to do just that, on private or purchased land.

Instead, our provincial parks were purchased cheaply and transformed in a direction that I think many Newfoundlanders disapprove of. We should be cautious and thoughtful when privileges and services we enjoy, and often take for granted are privatized.

No matter how the politicians spin their tales of efficiency and economics; some things are better run by the people for the people.

There’s a broad spectrum of camping in the space between long shiny RVs racing down the highway, and a tent tucked away in a droke of spruce. Actually I think I will distinguish between RVing and camping with a definition of my own.

Let’s define camping has spending a night under cloth. The only wheeled rigs that qualify are canvas hardtop campers. Everything else on wheels is trailering or RVing.

Nowadays, my cushy camp outings are spent under cloth, in the famously well-known Labrador tent, or outfitter tent, as they are known outside the Big Land.

These definitely qualify as camps, but when compared to a backpacking tent provide luxury and comfort for extended outings in the most severe conditions.

For the past 15 years, I’ve been spending two weeks of my summer in Labrador, camped out in a warm, cozy Labrador tent. Lately we’re actually using two tents, one to cook, eat, smoke cigars, and socialize, and another tent of the same size for sleeping on comfy collapsible cots.

The cook tent has a wood-burning stove, propane stove, clothes-drying line, chairs and portable kitchen stand, while the sleeping quarters is bare and unheated. The woodstove is the absolute cat’s meow for drying wet fishing clothes, spinning yarns, and sipping black rum.

We have cold-rated sleeping bags, fortified by the grog, to stay warm at night. It logistically works perfectly and stows nicely in the back of a full-size pickup truck.

I’ll tell you how having a proper tent sewn came about. It was around the year 2000 and Rod Hale, Chris Fowler, Frank Samson and myself had made our first trip to the Pinware River in Labrador. The first day we arrived it was cold, barely above freezing, and a gale-force wind pushed a downpour of rain sideways.

All we had for accommodation was a nylon tent of the department store variety. Can you imagine fishing all day in that sort of weather and then returning in the dark to a pup tent with no heat and little room to sit, rejuvenate, or socialize?

This would not be fun.

We ended up renting a cabin for that year, and we were darn lucky to find a place on short notice in peak salmon fishing season. That winter we commissioned a Labrador tent from United Sail Works in Pleasantville.

We fitted it out with a homemade wood-burning stove and we’ve have been fishing in relative comfort ever since.  

One the boys pushed for propane heat in the sleep tent, but got severely ridiculed. No one would dare suggest a microwave or TV for fear of a lifetime eviction.

We are giving due consideration to a hot-water tank for the woodstove.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity.

He can be contacted  at

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Terra Nova, Pinware River

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