The Non-Romantic’s Romantic Guide to Camping

A couple years back, I stayed at the Glacier Point Ski Hut over New Year’s Eve with my wife and a few of our friends. A pleasant ten-mile cross-country ski to the hut, some celebratory NYE champagne from a couple splits of bubbly we carted in, a great starry-skied view of Half Dome at night—what could be more romantic?

Well, the couple we met the next morning who’d pitched a snow tent nearby, built a cool ice shelf in front of their shelter, lined it with LED lights, and turned it into a makeshift bar for two while they toasted the new year with the bottle(s) of wine they skied in, all in exquisite privacy, rather than retiring to bunk beds with 15 strangers like my little hut group did—that setup was far more romantic.

The next winter, my wife and I did another hut trip, this time at a high-elevation hut in Colorado that was a major ass-kicker to reach. The evening we’d arrived, a bit shaken from the stressful climb to the place, a German couple came skiing in by headlamp. They’d come in completely off trail, from another hut nearby, just sort of winging it, hoping to get to our hut by dark. They were exhausted as they unloaded their massive packs—which they claimed slowed them down so much they feared they’d need to build a snow cave and sleep outside—pulling out a couple bottles of wine, a gorgeous quilt, and candles. Before I knew it, they’d set up a cozy spot by the fire with quilt spread out, wine opened, candles lit, as they stared out at a softly falling snow.

Last summer, my wife and I joined a couple friends for a truck camping/fishing trip to the Sierra. We loaded up our truck with our regular camping supplies, picked for utility more than anything else, met up with our friends in their truck, and headed for the trail. After bouncing down a sketchy fire road for a few miles, we pulled our trucks next to each other and set up for the next couple days. My wife and I unrolled our sleeping bags, tossed them above a thin mattress pad, and we were pretty much done. Or friends, meanwhile, had a much thicker mattress, down comforter, stylish curtains for privacy, a beautiful Mexican blanket tacked to the roof of their camper, and, so help me god, a small vase with flowers. I looked at our austere setup and hung my head in shame.

Valuable lessons have been learned from all these trips, especially including not off-trailing it in a snowstorm above 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, optimistically hoping to arrive at a hut before you freeze to death. But as far as romance goes, well, you need to jettison weight concerns when romance is the goal. Even regular creature comforts feel luxurious in the backcountry and they make all the difference if you’re trying to make magic under the stars.

So now, if the romance mood strikes, I make sure to bring the following:

• Mexican blanket. Seriously. Throw it over a picnic table as a runner or spread it around on the ground in front of a tent. Adds a little flair, a little decor, and, a little elegance.

• Flowers. A little vessel to hold water and just a couple flowers stood up inside and, voilà, you’ve classed up a camping moment.

LED string lights. I know these are very popular in tents now, even in backpacking tents, but normally I hate the idea of adding more light to a backcountry experience. But if the point is an adventure-y weekend away with your partner, adding a little string of lights to the tent, tarp, truck bed, whatever, adds a touch of romance. You can pretend you’re dining outside at a charming Parisian cafe or something.

• Actual bottle of wine. Forget filling a water bladder with wine. The extra weight of a wine bottle is worth it for the cork popping elegance. Again, this is a rare, special occasion thing, but it makes a big difference. If that German couple I mentioned earlier could ski with 50 pound packs full of wine, you can hump a bottle on a ten-mile hike to a favored meadow, no problem. Bonus tip: bring unbreakable wine cups too. Nothing classy about drinking wine out of your coffee mug.

• Extra sleeping pad. Might seem ridiculous, but just stacking two inflatable pads together is an unbelievable luxury if you haven’t tried it. Toss an article of clothing or two between the pads to keep them from sliding off each other, but hoo boy, are two pads better than one. Again, you’re going for luxury here, so don’t worry about the weight. I also love the Klymit 2-person insulated pad—warm, comfortable, easy to inflate.

I always thought that regular ole’ backpacking in a beautiful place was plenty romantic enough. But now, I’ll sacrifice weight concerns for the little things. Or big things like wine bottles. Whatever. You get the idea.

Top photo by Liam Matthews

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