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These Health Benefits of Camping Will Turn You Into an Outdoor Person

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Photo: simona pilolla 2/Shutterstock

Thanks to a miniboom in outdoor services, the whole camping experience is fast becoming as turnkey as renting an Airbnb. For example, with Hipcamp, you can book a campsite on private land based on the amenities you want—say, a tricked-out tree house in the woods. Tentrr takes it one step further, allowing you to rent a fully furnished and setup campsite. Bring a change of clothes and some food, and you’re ready to kick back under the stars.

These businesses are in response to the fact that “more and more people have a desire to go camping,” says Hope Oldham, a senior REI Outdoor School instructor in Atlanta. Indeed, the number of Americans who camp has been steadily trending upward for the past five years, with 40.4 million people now overnighting in the wild sometime during the year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. People crave nature, especially when the world feels intense and chaotic, explains Oldham. All the dreamy outdoor pics on Instagram may also be drawing newbies in.

Can’t rub two sticks together? “There are classes that teach beginners the basics, services that help campers find campsites, and gear rental programs,” says Oldham. You can pick up some skills at outdoor retailers like REI, which hosts camping classes at stores around the country. The company also offers women-only REI Outessa adventure retreats. (Skip the tent building altogether at one of these gorgeous glamping destinations.)

Then, of course, there’s also innovative new camping gear to take the grunt work out of pitching a tent, packing a bag, and cooking a meal outdoors. We’ve got all the latest picks here, plus some enthralling new science on why taking a rustic time-out will reboot you.

1. You've Never Felt So Chill

If you’re hoping for a mental detox, mission accomplished. (See: Science-Backed Ways That Getting In Touch with Nature Boosts Your Health.) According to a new study from Chiba University in Japan, walking around a forested area can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, slow pulse rate, and reduce blood pressure. That’s after just 15 minutes, so imagine what 36 or more hours could do. “Camping is like a mental massage,” says Oldham. “Even on the trips where everything goes wrong, you come home feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.”

2. You'll Sleep Like a Baby

A single weekend sleeping outdoors can reset your body clock, letting you drift off earlier and wake up less groggy, according to research in the journal Current Biology. It all comes down to light exposure, says study author Kenneth P. Wright Jr., Ph.D. “The brain’s master clock uses light to determine the time of day,” he explains. When you’re indoors most of the time, you’re exposed to very little natural sunlight during the day and lots of artificial light at night—a combo that can confuse your body clock and delay the flipping of your inner bedtime switch by an hour or more. During a camping trip, you’re exposed to 13 times brighter daytime light and much less light at night, and your sleep reaps the rewards, says Wright.

3. It Bolsters Your Immunity

The Zen you get from being around nature gives your body a chance to build up your immune system, found scientists at the University of Illinois, who reviewed existing research on the health effects of nature. When you’re relaxed, your body is able to put energy toward the systems that offer long-term health benefits, like immunity. Plus, says study author Ming Kuo, Ph.D., being outdoors exposes you to healthy bacteria in the soil, antimicrobial compounds released by plants (called phytoncides), and vitamin D–productive sunlight, all of which improve health. (BTW, eating carbs may also help boost your immune system.)

4. A Walk In the Woods Feels Like Less Work

If you plan to go on a day hike or a trail run while camping, you can expect a more enjoyable and effective workout. Compared with hitting the gym, exercising outside makes people even more energized and happier, Environmental Science and Technology reports. Other research from the University of Innsbruck in Austria found that while you may push yourself harder during outdoor activities, you actually feel as if you’re putting in less effort, possibly because you’re having a better time.

 

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Getaway Gear: Easy Pieces for a Comfy Campout

  • GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist serves up utensils, a cooking pot, bowls, mugs, a “sink” sack, and a strainer lid—everything you need for a camp re-cooked feast. ($55, gsioutdoors.com)
  • Coleman 2-Person Pop-Up Tent is the perfect starter tent. Preassembled poles mean it takes just 10 seconds to set it up. It also has taped floor seams that will keep out rainwater and interior pockets for holding gear. Plus, it's a steal. ($75; coleman.com)
  • Therm-a-Rest Parsec 20F, a new bag, clocks in at just one pound, 12 ounces. It’s stuffed with ultralight hydrophobic down—which dries three times faster than untreated down—and it strategically packs more of it in the top of the bag to maximize warmth. (From $380; thermarest.com)
 

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