| August 3, 2017


Podcast #327: Heading Out — The History of Camping

Camping is one of America’s favorite pastimes. About 50 million Americans head out into the wilderness each year to refresh and reinvigorate themselves. 

While it may seem like camping as a recreational activity has always been around, camping as we know it today is actually relatively new. For most of human history, camping is what you did during war or on a hunting or fishing expedition. It wasn’t something you just did for fun in and of itself. So how did camping become a modern pastime?

My guest today explores the answer to this question in his latest book. His name is Terence Young and he’s the author of Heading Out: A History of American CampingTerry and I begin the show discussing how camping got its start as an anti-modern revolt after the Civil War, and the New England minister who wrote a book that would kickstart the camping craze in America in the 19th century. Terry then shares how businesses responded to the growing number of campers in America by creating and marketing products and goods to make camping easier, and how these products began a debate about which sort of camper is the most authentic camper — a debate which remains today. We end our conversation talking about the rituals of camping, why all campsites in America look exactly the same, and the state of camping today

This is a great episode to listen to on your way to a weekend camp trip, or when you’re dreaming of your next outing on the way to work.

Show Highlights

  • When did camping become a recreational activity? (It’s later than you probably think!)
  • Why did people start camping for its own sake?
  • How camping fit into the broader arts and crafts movement
  • The book that kickstarted the camping craze
  • What camping was like in the 19th century
  • How the conservation movement — including John Muir — reacted to camping
  • How the camping gear industry was born
  • The everlasting debate about “real” camping
  • The ritual of the campfire
  • How the automobile poured gas on the American camping flame
  • The genesis of America’s campsite infrastructure, and how the modern campground was designed
  • The long trail movement (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail) and the rise of backpacking
  • How American camping is unique from other countries
  • The state of camping in America today

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

If you’re a camper, you’ll definitely enjoy Heading OutYou’ll never look at this activity the same way again. It’s great to read in conjunction with On Trails by Robert Moor.

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