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Going Camping? Find out How it Started

by Hunter Miller

Across the United States, more than 42 million families go camping during the summer. While camping is now a summer pastime for some, how exactly did it become a way of life?

Dating back to the 1860’s, individuals trekked to the wilderness for recreational purposes. The earliest camping organizations include the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Adirondack Mountain Club founded in 1876 and 1922, respectively, according to Britannica. However, large scale camping didn’t develop until after World War II.

The use of motorized vehicles caused a major surge in the popularity of camping. Companies like Coleman and Winnebago made camping far more affordable by offering motorhomes and other supplies at lower costs following WWII. Additionally, getting to remote locations became easier with the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1960’s.

Organized youth camping was also instrumental in increasing popularity. Boy Scouts of America and Girl Guides, both formed in 1910, made camping a major part of their respective programs. Other youth development organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA implemented camping as a primary activity.

Origins of Essential Camping Items

Many of today’s essential outdoor items date back to the start of leisurely camping. A U.S. Army officer first modeled a tent after Native American teepees in 1855, according to Reserve America. The officer opted to use canvas for cover instead of buffalo hides.

Arguably, the sleeping bag is the most important item for campers. The first sleeping bags were used back in the 1800’s. Later in 1942, the U.S. Army began issuing purpose-designed sleeping bags for soldiers. Today’s sleeping bags are primarily made with lighter weight synthetic materials. However, they remain similar in design to the originals.

Currently, camping is a booming industry. Growth in popularity is highest in the United States, Canada, and western Europe. While camping in 2020 may look different than it did in the 1860’s, the opportunity to enjoy nature remains the same.