By Claire Barber

With a similarly remarkable platform, Hipcamp seems to be the Airbnb version of camping. It’s a relatively simple idea — I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think of it.

Hipcamp’s website is aesthetically pleasing with pastel, Instagram-esque photos that demarcate sections titled “Camp Tonight,” “Beach Camping,” “Tent Camping Near Me,” “Yosemite,” and more.

The idea is for landowners to host campsites, ranging from “glamping” bookings with pre-erected tents or rustic cabins to primitive sites where campers erect their own tents and have no running water or restroom.

Prices vary accordingly, but Hipcamp properties are a pretty affordable option for lodging, especially if you camp in a group. Some tent sites I have seen go for as low as $10 per night.

On top of their funky campsites and aesthetic marketing, Hipcamp’s model may open the outdoor space to a wider audience who may not know how to find or properly maintain free campsites.

Hipcamp’s website states, “for the public to care about protecting nature, they have to experience it. To experience it, they must be able to access it. 54% of American schoolchildren under the age of nine have never spent a night outside. Hipcamp is changing these odds by unlocking new ways to get outside, especially for families who are new to camping.”

So, maybe Hipcamp is more than “the Airbnb for camping.” Maybe it’s an opportunity to tune into the rising demand for outdoor recreation, while creating an accessible avenue for novel campers.

While looking for similar services to Hipcamp, I came across the app BoonDocking. BoonDocking is the practice of camping for free, usually in the middle of nowhere. The app allows users to geotag locations with free camping. Posting about, creating a list of, and marking free campsites isn’t a new phenomenon, but with more people getting out and into the outdoors, there comes more consequences.

Leave No Trace has produced their own “Social Media Guidance” in the wake of overpopulated and vandalized natural areas. Their guidance suggests not geotagging the photos that you post in order to help keep those areas pristine.

Hipcamp owners maintain and monitor their sites, and while it may seem odd for people to have to make reservations to sleep under the stars, such a model may help curb what could be influxes of wild camping among those who may not properly respect and maintain the land.

Not only does Hipcamp organize campsites on private property, but you can also search for campsites in public parks. While you peruse sites on public land, Hipcamp gives you bookings on private properties nearby, which are often cheaper. This feature streamlines your search, although if you proceed to book campsites in public parks, you are redirected to the proper government channel to make the booking. All other listings on the site can be booked directly as you would on Airbnb.

Hipcamp is a promising business model. But who will it serve? Who does it serve? Does it currently, or will it get a wider audience outside in the future? Will it simply perpetuate photo-fueled tourism? Will it help keep lands maintained, or do just the opposite? These are all questions to keep in mind as we observe Hipcamp’s development in the years to come.   

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