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The Evolution of Camping Gear: From Basic to High-Tech

Camping as we know it today traces back to the early 20th Century. Since its inception as a recreational activity, camping gear has evolved from necessities to the high-tech and innovative gear we see today.

This post will walk you through a timeline of the evolution of camping gear, beginning with the basics and ending with the newest high-tech gear we see today. Keep reading to see how camping has changed over the last few centuries!

A pile of various camping gear on a table

The Camping Gear Revolution

Before camping was the recreational activity we love today, it was a means of survival. North American Indigenous tribes lived in Tipis, and army men lived out of canvas tents as early as the Revolutionary War.

Hammocks trace back a thousand years to the Mayan civilization when they were used to protect groups from dangerous animals.

Recreational camping roots go back to the mid-to-late 1800s, popularizing in 1908 when British tailor Thomas Hiram Holding published The Camper’s Handbook. Modern tents were patented in the 1850s.

Over the years, new inventions have improved recreational campers’ lives, making camping a more comfortable experience for everyone.

Today, you don’t need to be a professional survivalist to enjoy a night outdoors surrounded by nature.

Pre-1800s and Early 1800s

Camping was a survival tactic before the mid-1800s. Indigenous people and soldiers used canvas tents and tipis as shelter. These tents were also used by explorers and anyone who needed a temporary place to sleep.

Early explorers stuck to the most basic gear, using materials made from leather, wool, or fur to stay warm during colder temperatures.

Other essential gear during this time:

  • Compasses
  • Lighters (invented in 1823)

Mid-1800s to Early 1900s

The first campgrounds were established in 1894. Cabins were built for short-term getaways. Boats were used to transport gear, and some people camped on their boats.

What we know today as “horse camping” was also popular during this timeframe.

Early recreational gear during this time was still basic, emphasizing food, clothing, and shelter. However, many innovations occurred during this timeframe that would shape the future of camping.

According to a 1902 issue of a Western lifestyle magazine called Sunset, women were advised to pack the following for month-long camping trips:

  • two short skirts
  • a warm jacket
  • a shawl
  • leggings and bloomers
  • a sun hat
  • a few dark shirts
  • gloves
  • a nightgown
  • two pairs of underwear
  • comfortable shoes
  • a sturdy pair of shoes
A pile of camping gear, with focus on a compass and map


Sleeping Bags

Invented in 1876 and first sold in 1890, down (or feathers) filled the first sleeping bags.


Henry Merriam received a patent for his Knapsack in 1878. The backpack used a metal frame instead of shoulder straps.

Camp Stoves

Swedish-based company, Primus, launched the first portable camp stove in 1892.

Electric Lantern

Acme Electric Lamp Company released the first electric lantern in 1896.

Portable Flashlight

David Misell patented the first portable flashlight in January 1899


An RV was built on top of an automobile in 1904.

The first modern RV was built in 1915 (after several inventors attempted to launch the idea). Roland and Mary Conklin launched the Gypsy Van. The family’s travels in their new invention were documented in the New York Times.

1930 to 1960: More Improvements to Camping Gear

Material Camping Gear Innovations

Two new synthetic fibers would soon become the main fibers used in camping gear. In 1952, Dick and Nina Kelty used leftover synthetic materials from World War II to create large backpacks with lightweight frames.


First used in toothbrushes in 1938 and implemented into clothing in the 1940s.


First developed in 1941, but it took a backseat to Nylon until the early 1950s

Cooking Camping Gear Innovations

Small Camp Stove

Kansas-based Coleman Company got its big break during World War II when soldiers used its small, classic camp stove. This camp stove would continue to rise in popularity and make campers’ lives easier.

Portable Gas Grill

The first portable gas grill, released by Chicago Combustion Corporation, followed in 1954

A closeup of a small camping stove

1960-1970: Modern Comforts in Camping Gear

This era was all about increasing campers’ comfort.

Sleeping Bags

Fibers developed in the 30s and 40s–nylon and polyester–filled sleeping bags created in the 1960s. These sleeping bags gained popularity because they did not absorb moisture like feather-filled sleeping bags.

Portable Generators

Honda released the first portable generator in 1965


Backpacks were becoming more popular, and the first internal-frame backpack was released in 1967 by Greg Lowe.

RV Air Conditioner

The first RV air conditioner was introduced in 1967.

Late 20th Century (1970-2000): Technology Beginnings

The technology revolution started during the last third of the 20th Century. This time frame saw some gear innovations that would change the camping experience forever.


The US Department of Defense began the process of developing what we now know as GPS in the 70s, by using satellites to support the navigation system. By 1993, 24 satellite systems were fully functional.

The first handheld GPS devices were sold in 1989 by Magellan Navigation Inc. for $2,900 each.

Waterproof Flashlights

Energizer released the first waterproof flashlight in 1970.

Inflatable Tents

Dutch company, Karsten Tenten, released an innovative tent in 1981. This unique “inflatable” tent allowed a tent to be ready in five minutes without the need for tent poles.

LED Lights

Although LED lights were originally invented in 1927, they were not widely used until much later. The later part of the 20th Century saw an evolution in LED lights, as engineers invented high-quality LED lights as well as yellow, green, and blue LEDs.

LED lights would soon be instrumental for camping and hunting.

several LED headlamps

2000-2020: The Early 21st Century

The first 20 years of the 21st Century saw technology start to take over the world, which made camping easier and more accessible for everyone. People also became more concerned with the environment, so inventors became focused on developing environmentally-friendly gear.

LED Lighting

Since 2002, LED lighting has begun to take over the world. Maglite released one of the first LED flashlights in 2006.

LED lights are more energy efficient and last longer than other types of lighting. They are also brighter, which allows campers to see farther in the dark.


The first iPhone launched in 2007, and this began the smartphone revolution. The Android was released the following year, in 2008.

Now, campers have a device with maps, a camera, and the ability to stay connected at their fingertips (as long as they have a cell signal). GPS wasn’t available on Apple phones until the iPhone 3G was released in 2008, although the Benefon Esc! came out in 2000 with GPS features.

Portable Chargers

Smartphones were battery suckers, so portable chargers were needed. The first portable charger was in 2013. The first wireless charging pad was released in 2013. Campers can now stay connected to the outside world for longer!

Solar Generators

Jackery pioneered the popularity of solar generators, releasing its first in 2012.


Wi-fi became widely accessible at campgrounds during the early 21st century. Hotspot technology, which allows travelers to stay connected to the internet on the go, has become more affordable. Many campers are now able to live and work from their RVs full-time with a laptop and a hotspot!

2020 and Beyond

Modern camping gear allows us to spend more time outdoors, and it continues to evolve. As the world continues to innovate, so does the modern camper. From smart tents to inflatable hot tents, the world of camping continues to evolve.

Thanks to these cutting-edge innovations, camping has shifted from a rugged night in the woods into a luxury getaway.

A hot tent in the middle of a snowy wilderness

Wrapping up the Evolution of Camping Gear

We’re excited to see what the future of camping gear will look like. In the meantime, check out our comprehensive list of cool camping gear!