Chris Santella says he wasn’t raised by “outdoorsy” parents. But as a young man growing up in Connecticut, with grandparents who lived in Maine, he developed a kinship with nature — in particular, a love for standing knee-deep in rivers and fly-fishing. The East Coaster ultimately moved West, settling in Portland, Ore., and put aside a corporate career in marketing to write about his outdoor adventures, including trips to at least a dozen national parks.
His new book, “Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die” (Abrams Books), showcases some of the world’s most beautiful campsites. More than half of the book is devoted to American national parks, including Denali in Alaska, Big Bend in Texas and Crater Lake in Oregon.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Santella, 53, conducted just before he was heading out on his next camping adventure in Oregon.
Q. What do you love about camping, particularly in the national parks?
A. When I’m out camping, and visiting places such as the national parks, my system slows down. I spend a lot of time sitting and observing rather than just doing. It just wakes you up — in a different way.
Is that why you love taking your two teenage daughters camping as well?
Yes, young people today are so engrossed in their digital networks. And taking them out of it is a process. The first day, it’s a bit rough. But they need that jolt. I love going to spots where there’s limited cell coverage — and there’s plenty of them in our national parks.
Why visit a national park now?
To begin with, it’s worth seeing certain natural phenomena — glaciers, endangered flora/fauna — before they are gone, or so isolated and distant that encountering them would require an expedition. A more hopeful answer would be that being in nature is good for you; there have been studies that illustrate that time in nature can reduce stress and depression. We also can’t hope to preserve precious elements of nature if people don’t love them. And we can’t get people to love them if they don’t get exposure to nature.
Are there protected areas that are overlooked?
Yes, Redfish Lake in Idaho, which is part of Sawtooth National Forest, is a gem. It’s perfect for first-time campers who aren’t ready to take the plunge and want some creature comforts. On one side of the lake, there’s a beautiful lodge. On the other side of the lake is open wilderness. You can go on day hikes, or go on a three-day hike and be in very primitive country.
Do you have any tips for first-time adventurers?
Take as little as possible — just what you need. I’m not a big gear guy. The basics for me are: a good rain jacket made of fleece rather than down, a durable sleeping bag or a collapsible cot (if you’re not keen on sleeping on the floor) and a one-pot meal, prepared and frozen. And lastly, a small portable light so you can find your way out of the tent at night if nature calls.
One thing you take on every trip?
Aside from my family? My favorite sleeping bag, a Sierra Designs Backcountry 600. It doesn’t have zippers, and provides for a more comfortable sleeping experience.