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.