Millions of people get out of their comfy homes and drive to the wilderness just to be able to cook over a fire, sleep in a tent and get away from the stress of modern life every year. But of course, camping wasn’t always a recreational activity. In fact, it was the default way of living for a lot of different societies throughout history. But how and when camping became a fun activity for the family? Let’s check it out.
It is important to make the distinction between modern recreational camping and the camping of the hunter-gatherers and armies. If we include the second category in this article, we will have to talk about an endless number of tribes, societies and armies throughout the history of mankind. But to find the roots of the modern recreational camping, we only have to go back 100 years.
The Father of Camping and Camping in Europe
Thomas Hiram Holding is widely accepted as the father of modern camping. He wrote one of the first and most famous written guides for modern camping in 1908: The Camper’s Handbook.
As a 9 years old child in 1853, Holding travelled across the prairies of the United States with his parents in a wagon train. During this trip with hundreds of other people, Holding got to experience camping firsthand and developed a familiarity with it. When he went back to his country, England, he became a tailor. In 1877, he went to Scotland for a cruise with his canoe, and he camped. After going to a similar trip next year, he wrote 2 books about these adventures.
Holding also loved cycling. Him and his friends would often cycle in rural areas away from the city to escape the urban life. In 1897, him, his son and 2 of his friends planned a bicycle camping trip in Ireland. Holding designed a portable tent that could be carried on a bicycle for the trip. Next year, he wrote a book called “Cycle and Camp in Connemara” about this adventure. This book also had an invitation for the camping enthusiasts. In 1901, this led to the formation of Association of Cycle Campers. This group grew and eventually became The Camping and Caravanning Club we know today, which is “the world's oldest and largest club for all forms of camping”. In 1908, Holding wrote the famous first version of The Camper’s Handbook.
Robert Falcon Scott, famous for his South Pole expeditions, became the Camping Club’s first president until his unfortunate death in 1912 during his second expedition. In 1908, Robert Baden Powell founded the Boy Scout Association in England, which quickly expanded to the United States with Boy Scouts of America in 1910 and Girl Scouts of America in 1912. Outdoor exploring, hiking and camping were the main activities of the scouting movement. In 1919, the Camping Club became The Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, and Powell became its president after World War I in 1919. This led to the birth of many different camping organizations in Europe.
In North America, there were a couple of different camping clubs such as the Sierra Club and the Adirondack Mountain Club. The Scout movement also introduced many American families to camping.
During Great Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal also included the founding of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Core) which employed hundreds of thousands of young men. They planted more than 3 billion trees, developed many state and national parks, and improved nearly 800 parks with shelters, roads and campgrounds. This led more American citizens to recreational outdoor activities. Also, in 1932, the world’s first international camping organization, International Federation of Camping and Caravanning was formed.
But it wasn’t after World War II that camping truly rose in popularity. Wider availability of cars, economic relief after the war and the development of better camping equipment made camping an important American vacation and made Europeans quit boarding houses for holidays and led them to camping, which was cheaper and more fun.
After that, the popularity of camping as a recreation only rose more. Nowadays, camping is more popular than ever. With recreational vehicles, advanced camping equipment, and the increasing stress of our daily, modern lives, more and more people are looking to escape into the arms of the nature every day. In 2017, more than 40 million Americans camped. Each year, more than 1.2 million people in Britain go camping as their preferred method of holiday.
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