PAT NEAL: The blue-tarp campers

THE BLUE-TARP CAMPER is named for a particular shade of inexpensive, blue plastic tarp that comes in various shapes and sizes. Blue-tarp campers celebrate our pioneer heritage, where less trouble means more enjoyment of outdoor adventures — no matter what the weather.

Last weekend, it rained in the rainforest.

The blue-tarp campers thumbed their noses at the rain and the ostentatious displays of wanton materialism clogging our highways and campgrounds with monster McMotorhomes, fifth-wheels, trailers, campers and that other aberration of the pioneer spirit, the rooftop tents.

The manufacturers of these monstrosities advertise them as “Part treehouse and part glamping tent, rooftop tents are an intriguing alternative to traditional tents that you see pitched at most car campgrounds. You can find models to fit on top of your car or truck.”

This summer the rooftop tents were all the rage among the motor campers, although I cannot imagine why. If climbing a skinny ladder up to the top of your vehicle to get into your rooftop tent sounds “intriguing,” then climbing back out of the tent and down the ladder in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature sounds like a real outdoor adventure.

Manufacturers of the rooftop tents stress that it’s a good idea to take down and secure the rooftop tent on top of your vehicle before driving away from your campsite. Duh.

It was a sound piece of advice that was obviously ignored by a certain rooftop tent camper seen motoring down U.S. Highway 101 last weekend with their rooftop tent still set up, spewing personal belongings on the roadway — while providing amusement, shock and awe to their fellow motorists.

To their credit, the rooftop tent was almost still standing at the speed limit, which is good to know if you ever want to camp in a typhoon.

Blue-tarp campers don’t have that problem.

Our camps fold up into tight little bundles. We don’t have to climb a ladder to hit the hay, either.

The blue-tarp camper wouldn’t want to.

We prefer the simple things in life.

You can’t sit by a campfire inside your rooftop tent or motor home. You can watch a video of a campfire on your phone or big screen TV, but it’s just not the same.

You’re missing the essential elements of camping — such as being outside with the campfire smoke, bugs and sparks burning holes in your clothes.

A real blue-tarp camper doesn’t need one of those sissy tents, either. The typical camper’s tent is a complicated device that was designed by someone with a sadistic sense of humor.

Every summer, countless hours are spent in various attempts to set the tents up. Often, in a fit of frustration over broken poles, missing parts and self-medication, the tent campers are forced to wrap the tent around them and sleep in a sort of a three-season cocoon that’s anything but comfortable.

A blue-tarp camper doesn’t need any of that stuff.

We hearken back to a simpler time, when you camped by your wits and a woodsman’s skill. With nothing but a bungee cord and a blue tarp, you could rig a lean-to that reflected the light of the fire into the far corners of the shelter.

There in the stillness of the wilderness, you can listen to the night sounds of the summer rain, creatures stalking the camp and voices of the river sliding slowly by.

You can keep your rooftop tent and fancy tin boxes. We’ll camp in the blue tarp any day.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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