How a 1869 book turned camping into a widespread hobby

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Camping

Camping can be an amazing trip, but some people just can’t see the appeal. Lying down on the dirt beneath a flap of nylon? You work hard to pay rent so you don’t have to sleep outside, and now when you get a little free time, you’re supposed to go and … sleep outside? You’re not even going on some crazy safari adventure, hoping to see some lions or something. You’re just shivering in the woods. We built houses because we didn’t like that sort of thing.

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Now imagine how hard a tough of a sell it was for someone who’d never heard of it before.

In the mid-19th century, camping wasn’t really a thing. People knew the word, but camps were traditionally something the military set up out of necessity when at war. You also had pioneers and explorers making camp but that’s because they were venturing into the unknown long-term. Going into the outdoors for a couple days then returning home wasn’t many people’s idea of a sane leisure activity.

One book turned camping into a widespread hobby in America and the world at large: 1869’s Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks by William Murray, a Connecticut minister. Murray first experienced the outdoors as a kid hunting and fishing, but he also came to appreciate spending days out there just chilling. He wrote about his experiences in a series of humorous essays, which turned into a guide book. It sold loads, possibly hundreds of thousands of copies. The handful of hunters and fishermen in the Adirondacks were soon swarmed by thousands of first-time campers, and the hobby spread from there to the rest of the country — and the world.

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