The Great White Outdoors, Ctd

Sep 11 2013 @ 9:31am

A reader writes:

There might be something interesting about the ethnic makeup of outdoors participants, but it’s certainly not, as Ryan Kearney puts it, that “White people love hiking. Minorities don’t.” The first chart in his article does show that outdoor participants are 70% white and 11% black. But the US as a whole is 72.4% white and 12.6% black, so all this shows is that, by and large, whites and blacks are equally likely to be outdoor participants.

One potentially interesting story is that while 16.3% of Americans identify as Hispanic, only 7% of outdoor participants do (though there might be some ambiguity depending on how the Outdoor Foundation calculated the Other category). But most interesting to me is that, while Asians/Pacific Islanders are 5% of the population, they are 7% of outdoors participants. In other words, they are 40% more likely than whites to be outdoors participants! The article should really be titled, “Why do Asians love the outdoors so much?”

A few readers assess the costs of camping:

The New York Times article isn’t about the aversion of non-whites to camping; it’s about visiting national parks. Thus, Kearney’s talk about the expense involved in camping makes little sense.

I’ve been to a number of national parks but have never camped in any of them. Furthermore, someone in either Denver or Washington DC – cities both mentioned in Kearney’s piece – could rent a car (assuming they don’t own one) and drive to Shenandoah or Rocky Mountain National Parks, go hike, and then return home. Total cost would be car rental (I have rented cars in both places within the last 12 months for under $30/day) plus gas and and any park entrance fees. If you want to spend the night nearby, a Red Roof Inn or Days Inn typically runs around $50/night (I know this because I stayed in both over the last two weeks). While obviously there are some people who cannot afford this, this is no way constitutes a huge economic barrier.

Another agrees:

I’ve got a serious beef with Kearney’s suggestion that “a backpack, tent, and the necessary gear will run you $1,000.” If he’s looking at doing some serious multi-day backpacking treks, then that’s entirely possible (although still excessive). But if you’re talking about a weekend trip to a state park, all you really need is a tent and some sleeping bags. Just looking at Wal-Mart and Target, you can find a decent tent for $40 and sleeping bags for $20 or less each. A family of four could be set up with brand new gear for well under $150. Look around at garage sales or inherit some hand-me-downs from friends and you can get set up for substantially cheaper than that.

Sure, a camping stove, lantern, camping chairs, etc. would be nice, but that’s stuff you can always add later, and there’s no need to get any of the high-end ultralight backpacking gear for the vast majority of campers. I understand that $150 is still pretty high for a lot of families, but if the alternative is staying at a cushy hotel, you’re probably already ahead.