Jennifer Bardsley’s new shirt from REI has so many special features that even mean girls from Sixth Grade Camp would be impressed. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Jennifer Bardsley’s new shirt from REI has so many special features that even mean girls from Sixth Grade Camp would be impressed. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Camping in style: This camper just ditched the hobo look

Now 40, Jennifer Bardsley doesn’t have to camp in hand-me-downs anymore. So she went shopping at REI.

I’ll never forget the week I spent at Sixth Grade Camp. All the girls in my cabin brought curling irons and Aqua Net hairspray so they could tease their bangs into 1980s bubbles.

Meanwhile, I packed the oldest, rattiest clothes in my closet. To me, an experienced Girl Scout, camping meant roughing it. I came to sixth grade camp prepared to be messy. The other girls came ready to bully the worst-dressed girl at camp. Guess who that was.

Flash forward to now. I’m 40 years old and still have a section in my closet designated for “camping clothes.” Old jeans, pilled fleeces, flannel shirts I bought at Costco that never really fit; instead of donating clothes to the rag bag, I save them for vacation. Then, when the REI catalog comes in the mail, I feel irritated.

“Nobody looks this good camping,” I tell my husband as I flip through the pages. “These people wear clothes that match.”

My husband nods his head in agreement. “And they look so young, too. What 20-year-old can afford a $500 sleeping bag?”

“Yeah. In our 20s we camped with your parents’ hand-me-down gear.”

I look back at the catalog and reconsider. I’m not in my 20s anymore, and we no longer camp with hand-me-downs. This summer we are taking our tent-trailer on an epic road trip all the way to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. So why dress in a mismatched wardrobe of leftovers?

“You know,” I tell my husband, “maybe I should go to REI and buy some hiking pants.”

“Sure,” he shrugs. “Don’t forget to type in our co-op number.”

A few days later I visit Alderwood mall and blow close to $200 on one outfit. One outfit! How did that happen? Convertible pants are 80 bucks. The long sleeve SPF shirt with pit vents is $50. Wool socks cost $20, and a straw-brimmed hat plus tax pushes the total cost higher.

But the steep pricetag seems worth it the first time I go hiking in my new outfit. Hidden pockets conceal my driver’s license. Venting zippers keep me cool. When I get back to the car, I zip off the bottoms of my pants and have insta-shorts. No wonder those REI models look so happy. They’re not hiking in uncomfortable jeans. Sure, jeans were a good choice when I was a Girl Scout in San Diego and needed rattlesnake protection, but up here in the Pacific Northwest they’re annoying.

Still, my inner sixth-grader feels guilty. Do I still get to say I’m roughing it if I’m not one tin can of beans away from looking like a hobo? I check myself out in the mirror. I look like I could climb Wallace Falls — or go out for margaritas afterward. I do a quick smell test. Thanks to the high-tech fabrics, I don’t stink. I’m prepared for anything, even judgy mean girls.

Mother Nature doesn’t care what we look like, so long as we’re dressed for the outdoors. But, just between you and me, I bet she thinks 1980s bubble bangs are ridiculous.

Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.

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