Camping is an outdoor activity involving overnight stays away from home in a shelter, such as a tent. Typically participants leave developed areas to spend time outdoors in more natural ones in pursuit of activities providing them enjoyment. To be regarded as “camping” a minimum of one night is spent outdoors, distinguishing it from day-tripping, picnicking, and other similarly short-term recreational activities. Camping can be enjoyed through all four seasons.
Luxury may be an element, as in early 20th century African safaris, but including accommodations in fully equipped fixed structures such as high-end sporting camps under the banner of “camping” blurs the line.
Camping as a recreational activity became popular among elites in the early 20th century. With time, it grew more democratic, and varied. Modern campers frequent publicly owned natural resources such as national and state parks, wilderness areas, and commercial campgrounds. Camping is a key part of many youth organizations around the world, such as Scouting, which use it to teach both self-reliance and teamwork.
Camping describes a range of activities and approaches to outdoor accommodation. Survivalist campers set off with as little as possible to get by, whereas recreational vehicle travelers arrive equipped with their own electricity, heat, and patio furniture. Camping may be combined with hiking, as in backpacking, and is often enjoyed in conjunction with other outdoor activities such as canoeing, climbing, fishing, and hunting. Fastpacking involves both running and camping.
There is no universally held definition of what is and what is not camping. Just as with motels which serve both recreational and business guests, the same campground may serve recreational campers, migrant workers, and homeless at the same time. Fundamentally, it reflects a combination of intent and the nature of activities involved. A children’s summer camp with dining hall meals and bunkhouse accommodations may have “camp” in its name but fails to reflect the spirit and form of “camping” as it is broadly understood. Similarly, a homeless person’s lifestyle may involve many common camping activities, such as sleeping out and preparing meals over a fire, but fails to reflect the elective nature and pursuit of spirit rejuvenation that are integral aspect of camping. Likewise, cultures with itinerant lifestyles or lack of permanent dwellings cannot be said to be “camping”, it is just their way of life.
The history of recreational camping is often traced back to Thomas Hiram Holding, a British travelling tailor, but it was actually first popularised in the UK on the river Thames. By the 1880s large numbers of visitors took part in the pastime, which was connected to the late Victorian craze for pleasure boating. The early camping equipment...