2 new startups search to make California tenting, backpacking journeys simpler to plan

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If you’ve ever tried to get your hands on a Half Dome hiking permit or state park campground, you know that reserving getaways in California’s overpopular outdoor areas is practically a competitive sport. In many cases, campsites and wilderness permits in sought-after locations that are made available online six months in advance are debited within seconds of being posted.

It’s only gotten tougher in the last 17 months, and the coronavirus pandemic is causing more Californians to explore the great outdoors closer to home for a second straight summer. Parks and campsites across the state, not to mention adventure travel companies and guides, have reported record interest and sales.

Demand has penalized budding but inexperienced outdoor enthusiasts. Two new startups have recognized this problem and want to streamline the sometimes tedious logistics that come with simply going away for a weekend in California.

Somewhere out there: Kendra Cobourn, 28, quit her San Francisco job last year managing supply chains and operations for lifestyle brands to start Somewhere Outside, which offers bespoke backpacking, hiking and camping itineraries on commission. For example, a two-day weekend camping trip for two to four people in Lake Tahoe costs $ 200. This includes planning before the trip: an itinerary, maps, equipment recommendations, and permit information.

California’s dizzying network of approval lotteries and state park and national park reservation websites, which should lower the bar on access, has in some cases sparked a booking race that is discouraging people from planning weekend getaways.

“These are barriers that can keep people from exploring nature,” said Cobourn. “There are so many people who want to go on these excursions without a guide. They don’t want to pay a massive premium, they just want to know how to start. “

Cobourn, a former snowboard instructor, has spent the last five years doing weekend backpacking trips through the Sierra and says she learned the tricks to make great weekend trips to both beautiful, remote destinations and some of the iconic parks .

Top inquiries to Somewhere Outside include car camping and backpacking trips in the Lake Tahoe region, two-day Yosemite itineraries, overnight stays on the John Muir Trail, and trips to the Inyo National Forest, she said.

Planning individual trips is time-consuming and arduous – a factor that has kept the field of adventure concierge services relatively sparse – but Cobourn hopes to lay a foundation for itineraries that will serve her for years to come.

Confuse: Yvonne Leow has a similar story. She quit her job as a consultant for journalism organizations in San Francisco last year, moved to the quaint town of June Lake in the eastern Sierra, and started a company called Bewilder. In its first iteration, it offered personalized camping and backpacking trips to California destinations.

One of the immediate challenges was keeping the information up to date as forest fires ripped through the state, forcing trails, campsites, and parks to be closed.

“There is a need when information is so scarce and changing so quickly,” she said. “And the reality is that so many people don’t have the time to find out.”

But Leow says she quickly learned that planning one-off trips didn’t make economic sense, and turned to publishing entry-level trips for first-time campers and backpackers, as well as families with young children. Bewilder now acts as a free newsletter that encourages the uninitiated to take their first excursions into nature.

“My goal at the moment is to make this information more transparent and understandable,” said Leow. “I want to get people excited about nature and show them these incredible places.”

Their website features illustrated travel guides for “A Romantic Camping Getaway In Big Sur” and “A Backpacking Paradise In Point Reyes National Seashore” with expert tips on the history and ecology of the places that make for a richer vacation.

Leow and Cobourn did not know each other when they started their respective services, but met online after they met. In June they went on a hike together near June Lake and exchanged ideas. A cooperation could be planned in the future. But at the moment they are trying to get their individual ventures off the ground.

“I think we can both appreciate that we took a leap of faith in making nature more accessible,” said Leow. “We’re just getting out of the COVID era and we’re both excited to see how it looks.”

Gregory Thomas is the editor of Lifestyle & Outdoor at the Sn Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @GregRThomas