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How Not to Camp

How Not To Camp A Walk In the Woods

A Walk in the Woods inspires a Top 10 cinematic list of the wrong ways to pitch a tent, roll up a sleeping bag, and hold a flashlight

But it may be the special hell of camping ... that made A Walk in the Woods so popular. 

Fans of humorist Bill Bryson weren’t fooled by the pleasant title of his bestselling book A Walk in the Woods.

The misanthropic Bryson’s specialty is the hilarious cautionary travel tale. He takes potential bucket-list experiences and fairly shouts: DON’T DO IT!

Bryson has whinged his way backpacking through Europe (Neither Here nor There), relived a youthful journey through England (Notes from a Small Island), driven a Chevette around America (The Lost Continent), and attempted a 3,380-kilometre hike along the Appalachian Trail in snow and heat (A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail).

But it may be the special hell of camping — on a trail trapped with unbearable chatterboxes, know-it-alls and weirdos — that made A Walk in the Woods so popular. It inspired a movie, with Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz, the annoying travel companion of multiple Bryson misadventures.

But Bryson might have hit a special vein with A Walk in the Woods. “Don’t do it” is a theme shared by most camping movies — whether a broad comedy like The Great Outdoors or Troop Beverly Hills or Without a Paddle, a drama like The Edge or Deliverance, or a horror movie like The Blair Witch Project or The Forest.

Here’s our list of Top 10 Camping Movies. And a special shout-out to the contestants on Survivor, who in 16 years have yet to figure out that they should learn how to make fire BEFORE they get there.

1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999):

Forget that it ignited the awful “found-footage” movie genre. The fact that almost nothing happens tells us that all you need to ignite primordial fear are a tent, a dark forest, and weird noises. Nothing much scares us anymore. Terrorists and camping, that’s about it.

2. DELIVERANCE (1972):

Oh, and banjo music. That’s pretty scary, thanks to John Boorman’s Oscar-nominated movie about a trip into the Georgia forest by four Atlanta businessmen. One of them (Burt Reynolds) is an experienced outdoorsman. Another (Ned Beatty) would eventually squeal like a pig and wouldn’t even get an Oscar nom for it.

3. INTO THE WILD (2007):

Yes, it’s a true story and a tragedy. But seriously, what was a trust-fund baby like Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) thinking, to divest himself of all possessions and head to Alaska, living off limited life skills and potentially poisonous vegetation? He was no more equipped than the average Survivor contestant, but all they suffer is embarrassment.

4. THE FOREST (2016):

Spending a night in a tent hoping to encounter your presumed-dead twin. In a dark forest. In Japan. With weird noises and mysterious footsteps all about. And the place is nicknamed the Suicide Forest. What could go wrong?

5. TROOP BEVERLY HILLS (1989):

Shelley Long and company may have been the only movie-comedy campers with less tolerance for hardship than Bryson. As divorcee Phyllis, trying to earn her daughter’s respect, Long cuts short a camping trip in “the wilds of Beverly Hills” on account of rain and instead books everybody into the Beverly Hills Hotel. That’s my kind of camper.

6. THE EDGE (1997):

A great performance by the late, great Bart the Bear (Legends of the Fall). He stalks photographer Alec Baldwin and billionaire Anthony Hopkins (who’s armed with a survival book) after their pontoon plane crashes in the Alaska wilderness. Mistrust over whether Baldwin is sleeping with Hopkins’ wife notwithstanding, they must bond, camp, keep moving, and eventually face the relentless tame bear.

7. THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988):

Bart the Bear definitely had range. Here he is being menacing in a John Candy/Dan Aykroyd comedy. Years after his lake-cabin honeymoon, when he encountered the “Bald-Headed Bear of Claire County,” John Candy’s Chet Ripley returns to the now presumably safe lake with his family and his annoying in-laws (Aykroyd and Annette Bening). Some other stuff happens, but rest assured, Bart is waiting to spice up the last act.

8. WITHOUT A PADDLE (2004):

Sadly, Bart the Bear died in 2000. But Bart the Bear 2 picked up his legacy to menace Dax Shepard, Matthew Lillard, and Seth Green in this comedy about three guys who go on a disastrous river trip to honour a dead friend and find the lost loot of hijacker D.B. Cooper.

9. MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012):

A rare movie where camping is actually fun and romantic (even with a hurricane looming). The sweetest of Wes Anderson’s quirkfests, it involves Sam and Suzy: two New England 12-year-olds in the 1960s who fall in love. They run away to elope, tenting and leaning on Sam’s scouting skills, with Sam’s troop on their trail. Rhode Island never looked like a nicer place to pitch a tent.

10. THE REVENANT (2015):

And finally, helpful advice for campers. If you’re ever in the woods and it turns cold, simply gut a dead horse, crawl inside it, and sleep there for warmth. It may also work with moose.

Jim Slotek is a writer and columnist with the Toronto Sun.