Before our first family camping excursion when I was around 10 or so years old, my brother Brendan set up the canvas tent my parents were given for their wedding in our backyard. As Chicago kids, my siblings and I were all very excited to sleep outside in the “wild,” a KOA in southern Illinois. At the time, I think we’d slept out in some neighborhood back lawns, pool decks, and cabin porches in Michigan and Wisconsin. But we had never experienced real camping.
Breaking out and dusting off the gear my parents had almost forgotten about was our own Indiana Jones adventure. Everything was old, dusty, beautifully foreign, really, really cool, and mildly dangerous (the timeworn gas lantern lit up with the fire of the sun and was almost definitely a small A-bomb, and the 10,000-pound canvas tent was the size of an arena football stadium). Directing us like circus elephants pulling up the big top, Brendan erected the canvas Taj Mahal behind our house. It was a gigantic portable fort and it made me smile something fierce. I have been hooked on camping since that first experience.
This past Fourth of July weekend, because Denver didn’t have a fire and fireworks ban like my small mountain hometown did (does) and because I had a date in the big city (bow chicka wow wow…sorry, I am twelve), I prepared for an urban camping assault. According to the Google-machine, guerrilla urban camping is a real and actual thing. Even Wiki-How has a how to/to do list. News to me, I took it all into consideration but knew that the point break of couch curling was in my future.
Though there was no real need to bring gear of any kind, I brought a ton of gear, an absurd amount in fact. Ya never know, bro! Because maybe I’ll stop at Rollins or Independence Pass for a quick ski on snow peppered with cavernous sun pox, if there’s skiable snow at all. Or what if the hundred-year storm hits and the deepness of a surprise July-uary becomes a reality? I’m not gonna be the only skier bro not getting radical. It should be noted that Denver was and still is hotter than Hades, like scratching triple digits hot. Snow does not seem likely any time soon.
Weather and rational thought be damned! Along with my ski boots, beacon-probe-shovel, skis, and poles, I also brought my 6-degree sleeping bag (I can’t find my summer bag and going bagless seems silly), a full camp kitchen and some dried food, two pocketknives, two headlamps, a RinseKit, water jugs, my Spiderman pillow (Spidey comes with me everywhere), and my paco pad. I used none of it, not even close to needing it, any of it, not a thing. But, even if I’m heading for urban camping, I just can’t seem to leave home without at least a few pieces of gear. Driving my Subi gear-free, with the back seats up, feels like leaving the house without pants on. Ya just don’t do it.
My trail running gear came in handy for a run around a Sloan’s Lake and a “let’s eat a huge breakfast after this” run up and down Mount Falcon. And my hand-crank coffee grinder was a savior when my date revealed she didn’t have one (red flag?). I wish I brought more Zyrtec, Flonase, and Claritin because I am apparently allergic to city dust and bros in True Religion jeans and Affliction t-shirts. And I could have used some hair gel schmeff and a comb to de-mountain my melon. But everything I truly needed could have fit into one duffle bag.
If you’re planning an urban camping adventure, there’s probably no need to bring out-of-season gear like I did. Plus, I wouldn’t recommend actually setting up your tent within city limits, unless you’re reliving some childhood adventures in someone’s backyard…which come to think of it would be pretty awesome actually. Bring some coffee as a gift and your own towel and toiletries so the person whose couch you are surfing doesn’t need to do laundry. Ice cream is another great gift, as is TP. But if you’re bringing toilet paper, you might as well bring your entire poop kit. And come to think of it, skis make sense. And probably your tent and stove, too. Oh hell, bring it all. Remember the umbrella rule: ya need it most when ya don’t have it. The same is true for camp gear, so bring it to the city. Urban camping, yeah, it’s a thing.
Adventure Journal relies on reader support. Please subscribe to our amazing printed quarterly or pick up an issue here.