Modern Camping: The Evolution of Camping From Necessity to High-Tech

Campfire on Honeymoon Beach, Isla Danzante The first camper’s handbook was written in 1908 by Thomas Hiram Holding, whom many consider the grandfather of camping as a recreational activity. Holding learned his camping skills during a 1200-mile trip across America in a wagon train in 1853. Back in those days, canvas tents and wood-burning cook fires were the norm.

Today’s camping expedition looks very different. Indeed, camping technology and campers’ habits have evolved so quickly in the last decade or so that even the mountaineering pioneers of the 1970s would be shocked.

Plugged in, Even in the Wild

Just a decade ago, most people purposefully abandoned societal ties when they went camping. The family camping trip was a chance to reconnect with each other, escape from the daily routine and get a fresh perspective on life. No more.

Today’s camper is likely to ask the campground host, “What’s the code for the Wi-Fi?” Plumbing and electrical hookups are commonplace for trailers and RVs, and wireless internet connections are becoming more and more common. Apparently, the idea of going even a weekend without access to social media is now unthinkable. Campers no longer want to “drop out” of society – they’re likely to give a play-by-play description of the family camping trip in real time via Tweets or Facebook updates. Some campers even bring a portable satellite dish so they can hook into their direct TV after a hike.

Camping Gear Goes High-Tech

Today’s kids would have a hard time imagining what yesterday’s camping shelter looked like. Nearly everyone slept in tents – and not lightweight polyester and aluminum Taj Mahals, like the ones today’s REI junkies drool over. In the 1970s, lightweight materials became more widely available, and tent manufacturers switched from making heavy canvas and metal behemoths to creating sleek, light-as-a-feather models.

Likewise, there’s been a big shift in portable illumination devices, such as flashlights. Gone are the incandescent bulbs; gone is the need to bring plenty of extra batteries. A modern camper is much more likely to pack an LED flashlight, or perhaps LED headlamps for everyone in their crew. Even a traditionalist can’t deny the superiority of the modern LED flashlight, with its extremely long-lasting bulb and incredible energy efficiency. A single LED bulb can last for hundreds of thousands of hours – unheard of for yesterday’s incandescent bulbs. Moreover, it’s not unusual for a modern LED flashlight to have several different color options, as well. Some tactical LED flashlight models can deliver green, red, blue or white light. Like the modern LED flashlight, today’s LED headlamps deliver extremely bright, pure light.

Nearly every piece of camping equipment, from sleeping bags to backpacks, has undergone a shift as dramatic as that of the LED flashlight.

From Charades and Campfire Songs to Portable DVD Players and Laptops

In the old days, Dad might bring a sheet for “movie night,” which consisted of shadow puppets and charades played by the light of an LED flashlight. (OK, admittedly most campers used lanterns or incandescent bulbs, not LED-powered torches.) Now movie night in the campground looks a lot like movie night at home – stick in the latest Pixar or Disney flick, toss the popcorn into the microwave (or pop it over the fire if you’re old-school) and press play on the laptop or portable DVD player.

Yesterday’s camper kids used to sing camping songs, listen to ghost stories complete with a flashlight-lit visage and spend lots of time exploring the area around the campfire. If you were lucky, the campground might even have a ranger program in the evening! Now kid campers plug into their mp3 player or iPad once camp chores are done. Rather than selecting a campground based on its proximity to natural features or its peaceful, quiet atmosphere, today’s parents are just as likely to choose a camping spot based solely on whether it boasts electrical, Wi-Fi and sewage hookups. My, how times have changed.

Pathfinder’s Progress: Navigation over the Years

Yesterday’s Boy and Girl Scouts had the importance of good navigation skills drilled into them. They spent painful hours understanding how to use a compass and comparing paper maps to local topography. If you didn’t learn how to find your way back to civilization, you might get lost and never make it back home! This threat was frightening enough to spur even the most directionally challenged scouts to study. The result? An improved sense of direction, which is a handy skill in any age.

Today’s navigation skills look very different. Just learn how to harness the dual-core processor and simultaneous three-axis compass readings from your GPS, and you’re all set. (Of course, if your GPS happens to run out of batteries, you’d better hope you brought that old paper map and compass!)

If Holding could somehow step out of the past and into a modern campground, his jaw would drop in wonder. From navigation gadgets that can map the entire globe to dimmable LED headlamps, camping equipment has come a long way since its early days more than a century ago.


[ Photo by: lowjumpingfrog, on Flickr via CC License 2.0 ]

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