100 Years of Camping: A Timeline of America’s Love of the Outdoors

Categories:Appalachian Trail | Backpacking | Camping | Hiking

Camping began in the early 1900s, inspired by education and recreation clubs like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Soon camping became a popular pastime for the general public, which inspired continuous improvement of camping tools and practices. Over the years, recreation companies have continued to invent and manufacture items that enable us to enjoy nature without sacrificing all the amenities of home. Here is a history of camping and its evolution, socially and technologically, over the past 100 years:


The invention of the automobile granted the middle class the opportunity to leave the bustling city for countryside recreation. Families could now pack their cars with camping gear and go to the woods. The first official Boy Scout Handbook was published in 1910, which carried instructional essays that addressed tent-making. In the 1920s, the United States Forest Service began funding campground development and created automobile-accessible public campsites. One of America’s favorite campfire treat — the s’more — appeared in the Girl Scout manual, Tramping and Trailing with the Girls Scouts, in 1927.


The invention of the camping trailer occurred in 1936, when the Airstream luxury trailer was introduced. The luxury model, dubbed the “Clipper”, had accommodations that featured dry ice air conditioning, water tanks, electric lighting and a kitchenette. In the 1940s, sleep bags evolved from sheepskin and wool sleeping rolls, to the down feather version we are accustomed to today. These bags, however, weighed heavier than those we use today, averaging around 8 pounds. In comparison, modern sleeping bags weigh around 3 pounds and have compression-optimized fill that eliminates excess insulation.


Camping products were manufactured at a greater rate as a camping craze came about in the 1950s. The promotion of the nuclear, All-American family included the encouragement of outdoor, wholesome recreational activities. Camping products were created to aid a convenient experience such as fold-out dining tables, Igloo plastic cooler chests and the Coleman fold-up stove. The self-inflating sleeping pad, pop-up trailers and Winnebago motorhomes were a few notable camping tools that debuted in the 1960s.


Tents underwent major improvements in design in the 1970s. Thick, burlap tents were replaced by synthetic nylon and aluminum poles, which resulted in a more compact and portable tent design. The integration of nylon was also a breakthrough for its weather-resistant properties, as it could repel rain far more efficiently than canvas. The first internal frame backpack was released by Kelty in 1973, which is still used as the basic design for today’s backpacks. As the sport of mountaineering and backpacking increased in popularity, demand for compact camping gear grew. In 1984, the multi-fuel camping stove, the Whisperlite, became available to the public.


In the 1990s, tent innovation grew to include the first truck-tent, which allows the tent to be pitched in the bed of a pickup truck. Overall, camping has reached record numbers in recent years — more than 40 million Americans went camping in 2013, the Outdoor Foundation reports. Camping and recreation stores have grown and flourished immensely over the past 20 years. Camping gear has grown to accommodate many forms of camping, from minimalist backpacking to comfortable car-camping to the luxurious glamping.

Adam Nutting relishes being an avid backpacker, hiker, and all-around adventure junkie. While he currently spends his time hiking in the backcountry of southern Arizona, he grew up in Missouri, where he was naturally inclined to spend as much time as he could outdoors. Adam’s passion for the outdoors grew as he climbed the ranks of the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

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