The minimum land requirement for a Hipcamp site is generally just two acres. Some listings look like ordinary suburban back yards, but there are also off-grid plots, Airstreams, and tree houses.
In Northern California, booking a public campsite is a blood sport. The Bay Area overflows with young people who have R.E.I. Co-op memberships and drawers full of sweat-wicking apparel—people who spend Friday and Sunday nights packing and unpacking their Subarus, who own cat-hole trowels, who love to live here because it’s easy to leave in pursuit of the sublime. From Big Sur to Mendocino, many public campgrounds are booked months in advance; Yosemite is a lost cause. It’s common practice to wake at five in the morning to hover over a computer, poised to nab a site as soon as it becomes available. This is both a regional issue and not. Across the country, America’s national parks are overcrowded and overbooked. The reservation system is riddled with bots. A cottage industry of apps and services has emerged to monitor campsite availability and, in some cases, provide alternatives.
Around 2016, I began to notice that friends were passing around listings from Hipcamp, a platform for campsite booking. People shared the listings with some suspicion: life in the Bay Area encourages a wariness of V.C.-subsidized services, and the campsites in question were all hosted on private, not public, land—a vague affront to the more hardcore among us. Still, the Hipcamp Web site was clean and cheerful, with a millennial-friendly user-experience flow reminiscent of Airbnb’s. Filters selected for swimming holes and rest rooms; aspirational, high-res photographs featured serape blankets and speckled tin mugs. For the neurotic planner who likes to know what she’s getting into, Hipcamp was reassuring. Most important, it had nothing but open sites in areas where even minimally desirable public campgrounds were booked solid for months.
Camping, on Hipcamp, is loosely defined. The company’s mission is simple—“Get more people outside”—and its marketing tends to take a gentle, inclusive tone. Posts on its blog, Journal, include “All the Animals You Can Meet at a Hipcamp Farm Stay” and “9 Fresh Ideas to Repurpose Your Old Wooden Pallets”; its target audience isn’t intrepid backcountry survivalists but families, mixed-athleticism friend groups, and the adventure-curious. In total, the site lists about three hundred thousand campsites. Around eighty per cent are on government land, and can’t be booked directly, but the other twenty per cent are privately owned and often available. The minimum land requirement for a Hipcamp site is generally just two acres, and some listings look like ordinary suburban back yards. There are also off-grid plots, R.V. hookups, Airstreams, yurts, ski huts, farmhouses, tepees, tiny homes, tree houses, cabins, and cottages. Many listings have electricity and plumbing and would not be out of place on Vrbo or Airbnb. Some hosts offer vineyard tours or cheese-making tutorials; others, directions and a padlock combination.
Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp’s founder and C.E.O., is not a purist. For her, camping is a leisure activity, an escape valve, a business opportunity, a wealth-redistribution system, and a political strategy: an avenue to environmental awareness, engagement, even activism. Exposure to the outdoors, she hopes, will catalyze interest in efforts like rebuilding the agricultural system, increasing biodiversity and soil health, and providing cleaner water. “I want people to remember they’re part of nature,” she told me. “I want to fundamentally shift our relationship with the natural world and start to respect the animals and the plants and the water and the soil, and to see ourselves as part of that whole. I want people to stop being so afraid of climate change. I want people to stop being depressed and sad and overwhelmed and anxious. I want people to get curious and excited about what they can do and start to see themselves as the solution and not the problem. Geologists have decided we’re in the Anthropocene now: our impact on the earth is what defines the era. I want people to get over their shame of that fact. This is where we are. Let’s make the Anthropocene a good one.”
On a warm afternoon earlier this fall, I visited Hipcamp’s headquarters, in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. The office felt like a workspace set up in the loft apartment of a Greenpeace activist with family money. Braided wicker love seats with plump salmon cushions were arranged around a well-worn rug scattered with meditation pillows. On the walls were photographs of sun-flooded landscapes, taken at Hipcamp properties, and a poster with a quote from Walt Whitman: “Resist Much. Obey Little.” In a conference room verdant with potted plants, Ravasio pointed out the window, toward a gigantic mural of a monarch butterfly that had gone up on the front of a building a few blocks away. “I think the monarch butterfly is this super amazing symbol,” she said. “If we can get people excited about butterflies, we’ll be good, do you know what I mean? The butterfly, to me, is the litmus test.”
Ravasio is thirty-one years old, with cyan eyes, wavy brown hair, and the unblemished skin of a young person diligent about hydration and sunscreen. She is earnest and calm, with an air of self-possession, and transitions smoothly between startup-speak and the sort of mellow, New Age lexical habits of longtime Californians. While she’s talking, her hands often look as if they’re rehearsing a card trick; on both middle fingers are small, lettered tattoos, which, during our first conversation, I struggled to read surreptitiously. Hipcamp had recently raised a Series B of twenty-five million dollars, but Ravasio—dressed in black yoga pants and a teal T-shirt bearing the logo for Touristenverein die Naturfreunde, a nonprofit outdoors club on Mount Tamalpais—was more excited to talk about a meeting she’d had, in 2016, with Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a professor at Chiba University known for coining the term “forest bathing.” She was particularly taken with Miyazaki’s scientific approach to studying the somatic and psychological effects of time outdoors. “When we look at the rise of chronic illness and depression and anxiety—but also cancer and autoimmune and heart disease, all these things that are so high in America right now—going outside can be huge,” she said. “Just giving your body time to calm down. We don’t calm down anymore. We’re always on, always on, always on, always on. I really think the trend of people getting outside is more of a movement that will continue to grow and build—and so it’s also a growth market.”
Hipcamp’s core key performance indicator, or K.P.I., is “nights outside.” Broadly speaking, nights outside are on the rise. Camping has always been a popular American pastime, in part because it is relatively affordable, but it has seen a surge in popularity in the past few years. According to the latest edition of an annual survey conducted by Kampgrounds of America, in 2018, about seven million new households in the U.S. and Canada have started camping at least once a year since 2014. (The total number is now just under eighty million.) Ravasio chalks the rising popularity of camping up to two main factors: the “pressure cooker” of contemporary life, and Instagram. “To use an annoying Silicon Valley growth term, I see a growth loop there,” she said. “As more people go outside, they post on social media. And they create moments of inspiration, where people are, like”—she gave a small, theatrical gasp—“ ‘I can go outside. And it’ll feel great!’ And then more people go outside.”
She pointed to a decorative loft bed in the open-plan office, where she sometimes meditates, or tries to. “Self-care,” she said, sighing. “Have I meditated, have I done yoga, and do I have a killer executive team that I’ve delegated to effectively?”
Outdoorsy self-care is part of Hipcamp’s appeal, but in conversation Ravasio tends to emphasize the moral theory behind the platform. “We’re not accounting for time in capitalism,” she said. “If I buy a piece of land and I own it, I’m allowed to clear-cut that forest and sell that lumber, and I don’t have to pay for, or recognize, that these trees maybe took hundreds or thousands of years to grow. They’re just worth what they’re worth today, on today’s market. Basically, I think our price equation is missing really important variables.” By connecting people to nature and incentivizing landowners to keep and maintain their properties, she argues, Hipcamp encourages long-term thinking. She cited, as an example of that kind of thinking, the creation of “wilderness corridors” for migratory animals. “The only way to do that is for public and private land to work together,” she said. “We need a lot more land that animals and plants can move across, not less.”
By the door I noticed a small library, organized by color. The titles were a study in Silicon Valley idealism: “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” and “Van Life” shared shelf space with “The Lean Startup” and “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.” Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” sat snugly beside “100 Ways to Save the World” and “Pathways to Bliss.” Atop the bookcases were a handful of leafy plants and various memorabilia, including a bottle of cedarwood-and-tobacco room spray and a small log carved with what was cited as an Apache blessing—“May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night”—but is in fact a version of a line from the 1950 Western “Broken Arrow.” I glimpsed a faded copy of the “Whole Earth Catalog” and suddenly recognized Ravasio’s finger tattoos. They were its infamous sign-off, popularized by Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford commencement speech: “STAY HUNGRY” on one hand, “STAY FOOLISH” on the other.
For Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp’s founder, camping is an avenue to environmental awareness, engagement, even activism.
Ravasio grew up in Corte Madera, an affluent town of about ten thousand people just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Both of her parents are real-estate agents, and her father, Robert, recently served as the town’s mayor; in 2017, her mother, Patricia, published a memoir, “The Girl from Spaceship Earth,” about two days she spent with Buckminster Fuller when she was in her twenties and his subsequent influence on her world view. The memoir paints an endearing picture of Northern Californian family life: global warming is a typical dinner-table conversation, and teen Alyssa, the oldest of three daughters, is depicted as a sincere, bookish pacifist. (“ ‘War is not the answer, Dad.’ ”)
Ravasio graduated from U.C.L.A. in 2011, with a bachelor’s degree in digital democracy, a major she designed herself, focussing on the Internet’s effect on society. She interned at the State Department, then at a couple of tech companies. In 2012, she planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Big Sur; she found the process of booking a campsite maddening. She finally managed to land one but discovered, when she arrived, that it was a perfect surf spot—a frustrating fact, since she hadn’t known to bring her board. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in a local ten-week full-stack development course and began building Hipcamp. Ravasio wrote code; her sisters sourced campground photographs; her best friend wrote enticing campground descriptions.
At first, Hipcamp was more like a guidebook than a marketplace. It listed only public campgrounds. They had to be booked separately, mostly through ReserveAmerica, a Web site owned by the software company Aspira, which managed reservations for the federal government. State campgrounds were also managed by a small handful of private contractors. With the Sierra Club, Code for America, and R.E.I., in addition to several dozens of other organizations, Hipcamp formed the Access Land coalition, which protested private monopolies on bookings and agitated for open data. To a degree, it succeeded: Hipcamp and other sites can now display real-time availability for campsites on federal land, and also in California state parks, but it still cannot offer bookings directly. (Booz Allen Hamilton took over Aspira’s duties for federal campgrounds in October, 2018.)
And yet Ravasio realized that breaking Aspira’s monopoly would only get Hipcamp so far. Public campsites were overbooked. America didn’t just need a better way of booking campgrounds—it needed more of them. Hipcamp, meanwhile, needed a revenue model: the company had taken on venture funding in 2014. In 2015, Hipcamp launched its land-sharing program, opening the platform to private landowners. Oz Farm, a former commune in Mendocino County, was one of the first private properties to be listed on the site. It had been founded in the nineteen-seventies, by a math professor at U.C. Davis, as an “ecotopian” experiment and later became an apple farm; recently, it had been purchased by a collective of younger owners, who aimed to turn it into a working, organic farm. They began renting the original structures—a smattering of quirky, charming cottages and cabins, and also two large geodesic domes—on Hipcamp.
Oz Farm would turn out to be typical of a certain kind of Hipcamp property. Small farms have found an additional revenue stream through the site; so have people who own seasonal properties, such as summer camps, or properties whose social functions are in eclipse. Huntington Open Women’s Land (HOWL) is a fifty-acre women’s commune in Vermont; it was founded in 1986, as one of dozens of separatist communities created by the Womyn’s land movement. As its members aged, it began encountering financial difficulties. In August, the Times reported that it now offers seven campsites for women and nonbinary people on Hipcamp, at thirty dollars a night. According to the company’s marketing for landowners, “What knits all Hipcamp hosts together is simple: an interest in sharing your slice of heaven with others, and the desire to protect your land for future generations.” Some of the ranches and farms listed on Hipcamp have been in the same families for decades; owners sometimes tell Ravasio that repurposing the properties as campsites has prevented them from having to sell.
Airbnb was founded in 2008, after two roommates began listing an air mattress in their San Francisco apartment as a bed-and-breakfast in hopes of offsetting their rising rent. Although the platform is associated mainly with cities, many rural homeowners have found that they can make money through it, too. And yet Hipcamp takes this model further, monetizing not just rural homes but open space. Younger Americans are flowing into cities; the percentage of the United States population living in rural areas has dropped below fifteen per cent. Accelerated urbanization has made the future of the countryside increasingly uncertain. Hipcamp, like Airbnb, is a response to, or a symptom of, this broader trend.
Reinstein Ranch, a wheat farm in Livermore, California, about fifty miles from San Francisco, is operated by a thirty-two-year-old yoga instructor named Christianna Kohler. The property has been in her family for five generations, since 1884; she and her husband, Albrecht Köhler, thought to put it on Hipcamp after returning from Burning Man with an extra canvas bell tent. The Hipcamp listing for the property, which goes by Whiskey Ranch on the site, features lush hills dotted with cows and horses; photographs taken in warmer months have the familiar palette of Californian drought, the landscape shrouded moodily in the shadows of passing clouds. Köhler has done graduate work in physics; Tent Pauli, named for the theoretical physicist, is photographed from the outside, its entrance flaps lined with a string of paper lanterns. Another tent is furnished with a painted chess set, stacks of old hardcovers, vintage rugs, and fringed lamps.
This spring, Hipcamp decided to organize a summit for around a hundred of its top hosts at Reinstein Ranch. Origin stories are important to Ravasio: whenever Hipcamp holds an event at a campsite, she researches its history, often contacting the Native American tribe for whom it is ancestral land. She’d requested and received approval for the host summit from the council of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area; she’d also invited a member of the tribe, Vincent Medina, to offer some opening remarks, along with Louis Trevino, of the Rumsen Ohlone community, whose ancestral land is nearby. Ravasio expected them to talk about connecting to and protecting the land. Instead, they delivered passionate speeches about colonization. (The Muwekma Ohlone tribe, Ravasio told me later, had been expelled from the land in the mid-nineteenth century—just a few years before Kohler’s family settled there. Medina says that his people were disenfranchised but have remained in the area.) Medina also explained that he was already a Hipcamper. His tribe had booked land in the area to gather and cook some of their ancestral foods.
The summit was a success—one of the attendees, Andrew Chen, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, ended up leading Hipcamp’s Series B—and Reinstein Ranch has since become a favorite spot of Ravasio’s. On a recent Thursday afternoon, she and several of her friends, half of them female entrepreneurs, headed there for a midweek pick-me-up camping trip. After a quick lunch at Café Ohlone—a pop-up restaurant in downtown Berkeley, co-owned by Medina and Trevino, that serves traditional and contemporary Ohlone cuisine—the group caravanned through rush-hour traffic to the campsite. It was a generous property, with rolling hills and crooked wooden buildings, including a cabin that had allegedly been used by workers who constructed the Hetch Hetchy dam in the early nineteen-hundreds. There were horses, as advertised, because Reinstein Ranch offers horse boarding. An old barn, which serves as a backdrop for weddings and retreats, leaned into the landscape; three canvas bell tents stood like plump meringues against the hills.
Kohler had invited the group to attend a yoga class she was teaching that evening. The class was at a nearby vineyard; Ravasio climbed into her van, a gray 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper that she calls Betty. (A sticker on the rear bumper reads “I brake for wildflowers.”) “I didn’t want to have something too fancy, like a Sprinter or something,” she explained, pulling onto the road. “I can’t drive up on a farmer’s land and be, like, ‘Check out my Mercedes.’ ” She recounted a call she’d had with a host earlier that day that had blown her mind. She had told Ravasio that, because Hipcamp’s listings show how often a host responds within twenty-four hours, she felt pressured to be on her phone all the time. Ravasio was disturbed. Contributing to the demands of the attention economy, she said, was the opposite of what she was trying to do.
The class was held on a manicured lawn shaded with pepper trees and carved into yawning fields of organic grapes. Because of a previous injury, I didn’t participate; instead, I sat in a pergola, with my phone tethered to my laptop, answering work e-mails. Afterward, the yogis drifted toward a wine tasting. Ravasio pitched Hipcamp to one of the vineyard’s owners. Kohler, meanwhile, encouraged the group to gather on the other side of the lawn, where a drum circle was forming, hosted by a music therapist named Phil Didlake.
“My name is Phil,” Phil said, rhythmically. “And this is my sound.” He gave his drum a series of gentle pats. I looked around the circle. Many of the participants looked like my own therapist: white and middle-aged, with a vaguely countercultural tint. Hipcamp’s communications manager, sitting beside me, took a sip of her wine and percussed enthusiastically. I stroked a chime tree for a few minutes, then realized that Ravasio had disappeared. I spotted her by an oversized Adirondack chair on the main lawn, speaking softly into her cell phone.
On the drive back to Reinstein Ranch, Ravasio apologized profusely for bailing on the drum circle. She explained that a friend of hers, also a startup founder, had recently been experiencing some professional trouble. Ravasio had been trying to talk her through it over the phone. As we pulled into the parking lot of the ranch, she looked at her text messages in dismay. “You guys, my friend,” she said with a small moan of despair.
The next morning, the landscape seemed a little ominous. Fog obscured the hills, and the air was wet and cold. The group gathered in the farmhouse kitchen, standing around the counter, eating muffins made from zucchini, homemade nut flours, and chia seeds. Nineteenth-century maps of the property hung in the dining area; a chalkboard displayed the Wi-Fi password. Kohler suggested a quick morning yoga session. Ravasio, who had slept in the camper van alongside her communications manager, looked serene as she drank a cup of maca cacao. She expressed her disappointment that we hadn’t spent more time on the farm the previous evening. “I woke up really excited to work on my pitch deck,” she said, smiling. “I feel really inspired by the outdoors.”
On Hipcamp, a hand picks blackberries. A woman in a canoe brandishes a six-pound bass. A damp dog with world-weary posture gazes at a lake. A “grand tipi” in the Mojave Desert with brick floors, a heated bathroom, a couch, a king-size bed, a red Malm fireplace, and an outdoor bar and kitchen costs a hundred and forty-nine dollars a night; an empty clearing on an organic heirloom-vegetable-seed farm in Michigan, where you can build a bonfire, forage for mushrooms, and swim in a pond stocked with bluegill and bass, costs forty-two.
A Hipcamper can spend the weekend in a “gothic pod”—a cabin that looks like a split acorn—beneath snow-laden boughs, in Kansas, for sixty-five dollars a night. She can pitch a tent on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, within view of the burial site of Sitting Bull, for sixty dollars, or have breakfast in a bamboo grove on the site of Connecticut’s first Buddhist peace monument, for forty. Sitting in my apartment in San Francisco, browsing listings, I wondered whether these neatly packaged experiences could instill the feelings of awe and humility created by backcountry camping in expansive wilderness. My sense of superiority passed as soon as I saw a listing for an open-air gazebo, made of salvaged redwood, nestled in the trees in Big Sur. I, too, wanted to wear leggings and a floppy-brimmed hat and lie on a picnic blanket by a pond. I also wanted to burn sausages on a camping grill in Texas, and star-gaze in New Mexico, and go bird-watching in an apple orchard in Vermont. I felt the undeniable magnetism of life-style content.
Among the investors in Hipcamp are Max Levchin, a member of the “PayPal Mafia”; Dick Costolo, the former C.E.O. of Twitter; Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners; and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC. (In its Series B, Hipcamp raised twenty-five million dollars, at a valuation of a hundred and twenty-seven million.) Marc Andreessen, Ravasio told me, had expressed a deep interest in creating economic opportunities in rural communities, having grown up in one himself. (In a 2015 profile by Tad Friend, Andreessen painted a bleak portrait of his youth in rural Wisconsin.) Andrew Chen explained his firm’s interest more concretely. “There’s no company that we think of that’s the new tech-enabled outdoors company,” he said. He suggested that a few of the things Hipcamp is doing to grow its business—urging hosts to upgrade their properties by building rentable structures, like small A-frames or cabins, and to offer add-ons, such as firewood or guided hikes—could, in the long term, help the company evolve into more of a one-stop shop. He was excited about the prospect of an online “Hipcamp school” that would help hosts create experiences for customers that feel “magical and amazing.” “The number of households that go camping is extremely high,” Chen said. “You have tons of dollars being spent on outdoor activities, so, if you can just organize that whole ecosystem—we know from Expedia, or Booking, or whatever, if you’re part of the flow of people making decisions about where to stay, there’s other things to do in the ecosystem. If we can scale that globally, into more services and experiences, then that’s going to be awesome.” (Chen led Uber’s growth team under Travis Kalanick; one wonders if surge pricing could come to camping, too.)
Ravasio insists that public land is the backbone of Hipcamp; the company’s expansion into private land is intended to augment, rather than compete with, the park system. Arguably, though, Hipcamp benefits from the fact that public parks are embattled. Earlier this fall, the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, an advisory panel to the Department of the Interior which was created by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, published a memo proposing to privatize national-park campgrounds. (The committee was disbanded earlier this month.) “Unfortunately, as a culture, we’re not building a bunch of parks and campgrounds right now,” Ravasio told me. “There’s just not the funding, or, I guess, the political will.” (As of last September, the National Park System has a nearly twelve-billion-dollar “deferred maintenance” backlog.) “We don’t value plants, animals, water, soil, and air anywhere near enough. We take them all for granted.” She paused. “I oscillate on thinking that we need to place a value on these things to protect them. Sometimes I really think that we have to do that. In some ways, Hipcamp is doing that.”
Listening to Ravasio, I found myself resistant. Could commodification really be activism? Why should the most viable path for an idealistic young person consist of coding boot camp and venture funding? Would promoting outdoor experiences on private land backfire and normalize the idea of the wilderness as a privately owned space? I was skeptical of the Silicon Valley ethos, in which institutional erosion is framed as entrepreneurial opportunity.
Camping Backpacking Bowl Pot Pan High Quality Supplier
On the trip to Reinstein Ranch, Ravasio and her friends gathered for dinner at an airy, pastel New American restaurant in downtown Livermore. We sat in the back yard, wrapped in the restaurant’s serape blankets, eating house-made bread with cultured butter. Ravasio brought up Hipcamp’s core company value: “Leave it better.” She said that she and a high-school friend, an ecologist, were planning to co-author a pamphlet about living through climate change. “We’re inspired by Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense,’ ” Ravasio said. “We think we need a similar size and scale of revolution.” The first chapter will probably be about composting, the second about regenerative agriculture. They were still sketching it out—Ravasio had some notes on her phone. She was playing with titles. She thought it might be called “The Good Human’s Guide to Leaving It Better in the Early Anthropocene.”
Anna Wiener is a contributing writer to The New Yorker, covering Silicon Valley, startup culture, and technology. Her first book, “Uncanny Valley,” a memoir of her time in the tech industry, is forthcoming in January.
The comedians Jo Firestone and Aparna Nancherla try out “Animate Objects,” a new augmented-reality feature in the New Yorker Today app that explores the secret thoughts of everyday objects, as drawn by the New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck.
Camping Tents, Sleeping Bags, Travel Bags, Outdoor Camp Table - Zhengxu,https://www.zxzoutdoor.com/