J.D. Simkins
Zion’s Virgin River winding its way towards The Watchman at sunset—one of many views made sweeter by a built-in refrigerator and coffee maker

After years of roughing it, WildLands editor J.D. Simkins feels the call of the mild.

J.D. Simkins  – June 16, 2021

Individual perception of camping is prone to vary as much as the gear, clothing, or food that outdoors enthusiasts lug along. For some reason, most of my camping experience has been spent under the assumption that it should remain as inherently primitive as possible. Even when I finally accepted the concept of car camping, an activity I dove into with the purchase of a 17-year-old Nissan Xterra, I remained under the impression it should be unrefined in its nature. 

So, I explored boondocking (a.k.a. parking your vehicle overnight wherever you can get away with it), a camping method I perceived as utter luxury in comparison to frozen hands hammering tent stakes into a frigid mountainside. After all, keeping dry during a torrential downpour the first few nights of my inaugural car-camping road trip was sheer bliss. 

Of course, boondocking didn’t come without its headaches—notably, the continually evolving conundrum of finding a place to park. Graduate-level research was often required to decipher exactly which Walmart parking lots allowed overnight parking and which did not. Once I found a lot perceived as permissible, the “What if they just haven’t updated the listing?” paranoia would seize, a concern intensified by the slow pass of an occasional police car. And while a blue tarp draped across the windows did little to shield against the anxiety, it still felt like a step up from a tradition of self-inflicted misery. So, when a recent camping adventure through southern Utah arose courtesy of the Las Vegas–based Pacific Overlander, it presented a significant adjustment. 

Poring over the list of the off-road, camping-modified Toyota 4Runner’s amenities was like reading an inventory of Ariel’s human artifacts in The Little Mermaid. The Toyota had gadgets and gizmos aplenty. It had whozits and whatzits galore. Thingamabobs? It had 20. And still, it had more. The Toyota was a Waldorf Astoria compared to my now-shameful Xterra, a vehicle that touted a suspension so comically shot that a minor bump on a highway would send the vehicle into a side-to-side lurch like a tattered canoe on rough seas. 

In addition to the 4Runner’s Alu-Cab pop-up tent, which assembled in roughly 10 seconds and came equipped with a 3.5-inch memory foam mattress, the vehicle was outfitted with myriad creature comforts that, with my primitive background, were more akin to glamping. Among them, it boasted: 

Camping chairs and table, an all-weather awning, refrigerator-freezer combo, dual-burner stove and propane tank. A full complement of cookware, silverware, plates, coffee press, kettle, mugs, and cleaning materials. Camp lantern, solar shower bag, first-aid kit, LTE mobile WiFi hotspot. The list continues, but you get the gist. 

J.D. Simkins in Utah
The (unusually refreshed) author in Utah

J.D. Simkins

Galivanting around Utah was a breeze in this opulent chariot. Temperatures dipping into the low 20s in the Zion National Park region, meanwhile, were a non-factor in the toasty confines of the thick-walled tent. (Spooning helped, too. My cousin Shaun is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother, and our spoonthusiasm traces its roots from family camping trips and four years in the Marine Corps to—now, in our mid-30s—a diminishing tolerance for the cold.) 

The combination of age and exposure to lavishness—at least compared to my conventional methods—also began to diminish my tolerance for previously held camping preferences. “Is this what I’ve been missing out on all these years?” I found myself wondering. 

While I have no doubt that I’ll continue to embark on camping treks deficient of modern comforts, the aforementioned amenities on my trip through Utah did indeed yield an evolution of sorts. Camping, for me, no longer has to be primordial for me to consider it worthwhile. In fact, I wouldn’t mind making this approach my new norm. If someone would just be willing to donate an off-road-modified 4Runner… 


Read the 2021 Harvest Issue Right Here

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!