Between a rock and a soft place: Glamping sinks its fancy tent poles into WNC

INSIDE OUT: Glamping promises the great outdoors with most of the comforts of home. Sarah Merrell poses with gear from Diamond Brand. Photo by Tim Robison
INSIDE OUT: Glamping promises the great outdoors with most of the comforts of home. Sarah Merrell poses with gear from Diamond Brand. Photo by Tim Robison

by Elspeth St. Paul

Camping is wonderful. Except when it’s not. The stars in the night sky, the roar of the campfire, the birdsong at sunrise — all memorable. But then, too, there are the nagging mosquitoes, the potentially disease-bearing ticks, the ache of sleeping on the ground. For a novice, setting up the dreaded tent can feel like origami.

Enter glamping (an elision of “glamorous camping”), which brings the comforts of modern life into the wilderness. This means soft beds, climate control, even stylish décor. The idea isn’t to replace the scrappy world of musty sleeping bags and soggy matches — for hard-core campers, that’s part of the beauty — but to offer an alternative for people who want to experience the woods without the hassle.

Glamping through the Ages

This ultratrendy concept traces its lineage to the African safaris that wealthy Americans like President Theodore Roosevelt embarked upon in the early 1900s. These extravagant trips, sometimes known as “champagne safaris,” included electric lights, dozens of porters and chefs, plush armchairs and beautifully decorated tents that spanned up to an acre.

Twenty-first-century glamping is a modern take on this philosophy of bringing indoor luxuries outside. Campfire Lodgings in Asheville offers glamping accommodations in cabin or yurt — the latter a type of conical fabric tent originally used by Eastern European and Asian nomads. These yurts boast stylish bedding, dimmable halogen lights, indoor gas fireplaces and microwaves. “You’re in the woods and it feels like camping in the wild, but there is air conditioning and cable TV,” says Campfire Lodgings’ manager Ande Rappaport.

Asheville-based artists and mother-and-daughter team Darlene and Amber Hatchett are currently developing a line of glamping accessories for young girls. Some of Hatchett Designs’ pieces, slated for the Screen Door, include a pink-and-white fabric-draped tent, a chandelier made from tree branches, a chalkboard with a wilderness scene and a tea table (with matching kettle) made from a sliced tree stump. “It kind of gives girls a pre-camping experience until they’re old enough to get out there,” says Amber.

“Glamping is like camping for a lot of people who wouldn’t do it otherwise,” adds Darlene.

HAPPY CAMPERS: Moses and Lulu try out the kid's play tent, chalkboard and tea table from Hatchett Designs. Photo by Tim Robison
HAPPY CAMPERS: Moses and Lulu try out the kids play tent, chalkboard and tea table from Hatchett Designs. Photo by Tim Robison

Roughing it, just a little

Although it still equips true adventurers with needed supplies, Diamond Brand Outdoors also offers luxury backpacking pillows, camping wine glasses and Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads at its retail location in Arden. The products are geared toward people who don’t mind pitching a tent but who also value a good night’s sleep. “It’s been a trend in the outdoor industry as a whole that people aren’t going on those hard-core backcountry backpacking trips as much,” says Diamond Brand’s marketing manager Sarah Merrell. “A majority of our customers are looking for a camping trip that’s easy. They want to be able to pack everything in their car and just drive right up to the campsite.”

Michelle Helms is a seasoned backcountry camper adept in wilderness survival skills, including food foraging and land navigation. “One of the greatest attractions of camping is getting away from people,” she says. “I like to pack a bag, spend some time alone in the woods and return to humanity with more patience.”

But while she’ll always favor roughing it, Helms also admits she doesn’t mind a little luxury now and then. In fact, she recently accepted an invitation for a ladies’ summer glamping trip on top of Mount LeConte in East Tennessee. “They have llamas carry up wine and gourmet meals to a cabin,” she says. “I’m not opposed to a little glamping, if someone else wants to foot the bill.”

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