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5 Adventurous Facts About Camping

Getting outside to see, hike, and sleep in the great outdoors is a classic summer activity, one that’s been popular among wilderness enthusiasts and nature novices for nearly 200 years. While camping has waxed and waned in popularity over the decades, the call of the wild beckoned more than 50 million Americans outdoors in 2020 and 2021, a pandemic-inspired trend that hasn’t let up. And with more than 130 national parks filled with campgrounds — plus thousands of state and local parks with their own overnight accommodations — there’s ample space to park an RV or set up a tent just about anywhere. Read on for five more facts about camping.

The Civil War Helped Popularize Camping in the U.S.

For Union and Confederate soldiers, camping wasn’t the fun activity we consider it today — it was a necessity of the conflict. Troop movements required soldiers on both sides to move long distances, carrying everything they needed to eat and sleep until they reached their next encampment (one possible origin for the word “camping”). While many Civil War conscripts did settle for longer periods of time in cabins and forts (especially during the freezing winter months), camping was a common occurrence.

At the time, sleeping under the stars wasn’t seen as glamorous, but that changed after the war’s end. In the years following the Civil War, camping slowly transformed from being a primitive military necessity to a romanticized activity. According to historian Phoebe S. K. Young, the idea of sitting around a campfire with friends, just like soldiers had, was one way the country tried to reframe the war’s impactduring the tumultuous time of reconstruction. (In other words, maybe parts of the war hadn’t been that bad, or so the idea went.) Campers of the later Victorian era set off into nature to test their survival skills, looking to get away from the creature comforts of (then) modern society, and promoting camping as a vacation from the rigidity of daily life — an idea that’s stuck around ever since.

Early Sleeping Bags Had a Different Name

Bed rolls and other camp bedding have been around as long as humans have been trying to get comfortable z’s while dozing on the ground; some of the oldest surviving sleep sacks were made from warm animal hides. But in 1876, Welsh inventor Pryce Jones rolled out his version of the sleeping bag, which most closely resembles the ones we pack on our camping trips today. It had a different name, though: the Euklisia Rug.

Made from wool, the Euklisia Rug was essentially a blanket that could be folded over its occupant and fastened closed to keep them warm; the original design even included a pocket for an inflatable pillow. Jones’ invention was initially picked up by the Russian army, which bought his design in bulk; 60,000 of his so-called rugs were purchased for troops during the Russo-Turkish War, though not all would be delivered. The inventor was stuck with 17,000 after Russia canceled its order during the conflict. He sold them through his mail-order business, which helped the product catch on.

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