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Surf N’ Save

May 1, 2003
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Almost 40 percent (111 million) of Americans have now been on-line and more than 20 percent log on daily. Most Internet activity is e-mail, of course, but after e-mail, and searching for an answer to a specific question, an increasing number use the Internet to get information on hobbies or recreational pursuits — such as camping, for instance. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (pewinternet.org), more than 83 million went on-line in 2001 to get information on hobbies, 30 percent more than the year before — making hobby research the third most popular Internet activity.

The amount of information about a popular activity like camping that’s available on-line is bedazzling. However, the sheer task of locating and finding what you want can be overwhelming. Before heading out to explore the Internet’s best campsites, the complete camp surfer first needs to stow a few basic tools in his on-line gearbox.

CAMP SURFING TOOLS

Search Engines — An Internet search engine is a website that acts like a private investigator. You feed it word clues about your subject or query and it goes “out there” to find the best answer. While there are at least a dozen good search engines, the real key to Web search mastery is finding one you like, then learning its query tricks and nuances. My favorite is the advanced search mode of Google (google.com). Dogpile (dogpile.com) is another good one.

Browsers— Your browser is like your personal taxicab. Give your browser a Web address (URL) and you’ll be driven there in a matter of seconds (no tip required). Today’s main browsers are Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Just like a search engine, the more time you invest in learning your browser’s capabilities, the better Web surfer you’ll be.

Bookmarks and Favorites — Think of these as a sort of Rolodex that files away names and addresses for instant recall later. My Internet browser (Internet Explorer) has two buttons in its

Favorites tab – One allows me to add any website to my list of favorite sites. The second lets me organize my favorites into folders and subfolders. My favorites list includes a main folder named “Camping.” Within the Camping folder are subfolders for: Gear, Food, Places, Activities, Portals and, of course, Miscellaneous. Filed inside each subfolder are the Internet websites I like best for each area.

DESTINATION/RESERVATION WEBSITES

While there are numerous Internet listings for private campgrounds and RV parks, the Internet doesn’t yet have a best single source for all public campgrounds. Nevertheless, good individual, and some combination websites exist for the national parks and forests, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, and state parks and forests.

National Parks: (nps.gov). This is the home website for the gems of our country and serves as your personal escort for all the
National Park Service offers. From here you can search the national park service by interests, find a link to a favorite park, or go immediately into the N.P.S. on-line reservation service.

U.S. Forest Service/Army Corps of Engineers: (reserveusa.com). The National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) is a joint program of the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. With over 49,500 camping facilities to choose from — at more than 1700 locations — it’s the largest camping reservation service in North America and one of the largest lists of public campgrounds.

The website offers convenient, round-the-clock access to its on-line reservation system. Through the site you can specify a campground by name, or simply select the state where you plan to camp. You specify arrival and departure dates, and type of site required, then include your name, address, phone number and a method of payment.

About.Com: (camping.about.com/cs/campgrounds). This may be one of the Web’s best all-around campground directories for both public and private sites. If you can tolerate its advertising bombardment, you’ll likely find this site worthwhile.

State Parks: (llbean.com/parksearch). Try this site hosted by L.L. Bean for a directory of state and national park campgrounds without all the ads. Click on a country and state, and then choose from a list of preferred activities to find campgrounds just right for your outdoor interests. Click on a park or national forest and get a brief description including location, fees and a photograph of the location.

GEAR SITES

REI: (rei.com). A comprehensive and well-organized site for equipment and clothing for camping, climbing, hiking, cycling and paddling. For just browsing, or actually buying and purchasing, this website is easy to navigate.

Campmor: (campmor.com). The digest-sized catalog that comes quarterly to your mailbox has a companion Internet website that’s jam-packed with gear.

Planet Outdoors: (planetoutdoors.com). You’ll find more gear at other websites, but Planet Outdoors deserves mention for one reason: their on-line chat help. Just click the “Need Help” icon and you’ll be doing a real-time instant-messaging chat with a trained Planet Outdoors representative.

Eastern Mountain Sports: (ems.com). The EMS home page quickly lets you search the website for your specific interest. “Quick Click” buttons take you to your choice of apparel, gear or specific outdoor activity. The site offers a good selection of camping gear from backpacking to family tent camping.

Bass Pro Shops: (basspro.com). Go to the camping section of this website for tents, sleeping bags, beds, lanterns, stoves, camp furniture, cookware, coolers and virtually any other piece of camping gear.

Cabela’s: (cabelas.com). The family-owned company now employs over 5000 and calls itself “The World’s Foremost Outfitter.” This is one for which you’ll want to use a bookmark to capture and save. The Cabela’s camping section is filled with traditional camp gear. Another Cabela’s plus: Like Planet Outdoors, Cabela’s offers on-line, real-time chat help.

Camping World: (campingworld.com). Quite likely the best on the Internet for RVers, this company is now offering a good selection of tent camping gear, too. It offers easy-to-navigate categories, so finding what you want is not a challenge.

Blue Sky Kitchen: (blueskykitchen.com). This relatively obscure, but fun website is a place to find a family of amazing camping kitchen products including work-top boxes, camp tables and chuck boxes.

PORTAL WEBSITES

As the name implies, portals are entryways. On-line portals are websites composed of links to more websites. Some portals are specialized and focus on just one subject. Camping now has a growing number of portal websites. Here are a few examples.

The Camping Source: (thecamping source.com). This handy website is a good one for RVers. It’s packed with links that are well organized by topic. The website even offers a place to list your used camping equipment for sale — a great place to browse for both used camping gear and trailers.

Nanana: (nanana.com/campinglinks.html). This site appears to be linked mainly to the Internet’s largest on-line merchant, Amazon.com. Nanana’s camping links include a range of products and gear links, but an even better set of links to different books, reference tools and “how to” resources.

About.com: (camping.about.com). This is, in my opinion, one of the Internet’s best portals for all subjects great and small. The camping section is, for my money, probably the Internet’s best virtual camping experience.

These Internet websites, whether they are for research, reservations or retail, can help you find what you’re looking for quickly and efficiently. You can spend time browsing through hundreds of destinations before securing your campsite far in advance. Best of all, you can find the gear you need at the prices you want — quite literally letting your fingers do the shopping.

5 More Ways to Save Money on Gear

Buy off-season. Shop for summer gear in the winter when it’s on the clearance racks, rather than in spring or summer when it’s in demand and marked up.

Buy store demos or discontinued items. Stores frequently have floor models (especially tents) or discontinued items on sale. Ask the store manager.

Shop discount. Although you don’t always find high-quality gear in discount stores, you can find deals on hard goods such as lanterns and ice chests.

Check catalogs. Companies such as Cabela’s, Campmor, L.L. Bean and REI (many also have websites) often offer deals exclusive to their catalogs.

Shop around. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people buy gear at the first store they walk into. Camping equipment should not be an “impulse” buy.

Other Web Resources

Don Gleason’s Camping Supply — gleasoncamping.com.
Adventure Sports Online — adventuresports.com.
Moosineer Outdoor Gear and Supplies —moosineer.com.
Gorp — gorp.com.

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