Times are changing and Hipcamp is one of the few outdoor companies changing along with them.
While there are plenty of websites out there that will help you book a great hotel anywhere in the world, campsite booking online can be extremely hit or miss. I've had spots that were great and others that were anything but.
A unique website called Hipcamp seems to be changing the way we book campsites. In fact, planning our camping trips may never be the same again.
What is Hipcamp?
Some of you have probably never heard of it before. The short explanation is that it is basically the same service as Airbnb, but for camping.
People are opening their own private land to campers and the site and Hipcamp app have both proven to be a huge hit.
Don't believe us? The company was founded in 2013 by CEO Alyssa Ravasio, and in just six years, they've garnered thousands of listings of private campsites across the United States.
It isn't just people opening their side yard for RV camping or their backyard for tent camping, either. The site is loaded with unique camping experiences to fit anyone's tastes.
People are renting out their hunting cabins, tiny houses and more. A quick glance around my home state of Michigan revealed a series of yurts for rent on Bois Blanc Island for just $65 a night.
There are also some public campgrounds listed on the site, but for the most part you'll find unique listings, such as a series of modern treehouses nestled in the gorgeous Pacific Northwestern woods outside of Seattle.
The concept of private campsites rented out with technology's help is right in line with what's proven successful in other niches. In fact, the Hipcamp company is valued at $127 million right now! It just saw an influx of new investment money from companies tied to Jay-Z and Will Smith to the tune of an additional $41 million.
The outdoor industry has seen its share of struggles in the past decade or so, but perhaps Hipcamp is showing industry experts just aren't thinking outside the box enough?
The hosting concept of Hipcamp
You know those ideas that are so simple that they leave you wishing you had thought of it? It's hard not to have those same thoughts about Hipcamp. The concept is unbelievably basic.
It is free for private landowners to list a property on the site and the property owners set their own rates. Campers book directly through the site and landowners keep 90% of the booking costs. Hipcamp takes a 10% commission.
In order to encourage good behavior by tenants, Hipcamp has a single strike policy in place; misbehaving campers are swiftly banned if deemed an issue. In order to protect property owners, they offer a few different insurance options, including a $1 million liability insurance policy.
The site itself is incredibly clean, simple, and easily navigable. Just search a location and you'll get a whole bunch of listings that can be refined even more to narrow down your results.
The listings themselves typically include tons of photos of each campsite or cabin and a full list of amenities provided at the bottom. That list tells you vital information like the presence of things like hiking trails, swimming holes, WiFi, fire pits, showers, toilets and picnic tables. It also tells you at a glance how pet-friendly a property is and the proximity to nature preserves and other natural areas.
I've always enjoyed Michigan's system for booking state-run campsites online. After surfing around Hipcamp for a bit, I must admit, Hipcamp makes it feel a bit old and outdated. I'm also appreciative of the user reviews at the bottom of each listing, where you can read about other people's experiences.
The website doesn't feel like an afterthought, something you can't say about most campground websites. This is a quick and easy way to book a campsite in a way that hasn't really been done in the past. Or at the very least, it hasn't been done this well, with such a modern look and feel.
A plethora of options
What Hipcamp really does better than any previous online camping booking site is provide lots of info about countless options at, and here's the kicker, reasonable prices. As much as we love our State Parks and National Parks, we don't care for the crowds, or the way many campgrounds price gouge just because they're situated next to a popular place like Yosemite.
Hipcamp gives you off-the-beaten-path options that crowds flocking to the popular places might not know about, and they're almost always less expensive.
Speaking of Yosemite, I decided to give a quick look at search results from the area just to see what options were near this popular National Park. I quickly found rustic tent camping under the stars on private property for just $20 a night. No showers, but there were toilets and potable water available.
The owner of the same property also offers a rustic cabin for $40 a night. Still another listing nearby offered tent camping with full amenities plus the FREE use of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for only $34 a night. It's hard to beat bargains that provide an experience like that, especially when a Google search reveals hotels in the area going for $100-300 a night!
More than anything else, it would appear this site offers an alternative from the typical, crowded camping experience. Sure, there are some commercial campgrounds on here, but there are just as many people who are simply offering up a bit of free space near their home.
Even then, they might only cater to one group of guests at a time. Who wouldn't want their own private, quiet camping spot where your hosts are catering to you and only you? We're betting that opportunity for a more secluded and private experience is a one major part of what's driving Hipcamp's growth.
Hipcamp embraces the unusual in camping
Another part of what's driving the growth of Hipcamp is obvious once you start browsing options close to big cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Many seasoned and hardened backcountry campers might not like hearing it, but the rise of "glamping" has helped Hipcamp and camping in general.
Some may think it's ridiculous to spend $600 a night on a glamping tent which is just a real bed setup in a canvas tent (Seriously, I found a listing like that!), but let's face it: money talks.
People ARE actively searching out these experiences, and they finally found a camping website that embraces it. In some ways, the more traditional camping industry is missing out a bit by not rolling with the punches on some of these new trends.
I'm not saying campgrounds and companies must abandon the old and embrace the new if they want to survive, but some places might be leaving money on the table if they're brushing off some trends as a fad or unauthentic.
While I personally think it's ridiculous to spend $600 a night to sleep in a canvas tent, or $140 a night to camp in yurts in a "clothing optional" resort, I'm not going to trash anything that could potentially foster a love of the outdoors.
Maybe that first glamping trip in an Airstream trailer outside Los Angeles will inspire someone new to the outdoors to take on a backpacking trip to the redwoods in Northern California their second time around. They've got to get their feet wet in the outdoors somehow!
A better experience booking camping
Booking a campsite in advance used to be a crapshoot. Before the internet, you had to rely on guidebooks with little to no details about where you were camping. A phone call reservation, and reliance on the competence and honesty of the person on the other line, was the only real way to get more info.
In a lot of cases, you wouldn't find out your site was next to the dumpsters or a busy highway until it was too late.
Hipcamp is helping change that. Now we'll be able to view and learn about our campsites in advance and find the perfect one to suit our tastes.
I suspect one of the reasons many younger people are embracing Hipcamp is the mobile app. The Hipcamp app operates like a familiar friend for those who grew up in the smart phone world. You can book a last-minute campsite from the comfort of your couch or the middle of a crowded bus, it doesn't matter.
You know far more about what what you are getting.
Convenience and ease of use is important to younger campers, and many older campgrounds and state agencies are getting left in the dust.
But the good news is that competition will only force other companies to get better. Campers have been ignored for far too long in favor of people who stay at big resort hotels.
I am looking forward to being able to book a campsite, either private or public, and plan to use Hipcamp for my next reservation. I'll let you know how the experience goes, and whether or not Hipcamp truly is the wave of the outdoor future.