Traveling and Camping 1800’s Style

Most people like to travel at least occasionally, while some of us would prefer to travel most of the time. The only trouble with traveling is that it can get expensive quickly. Traveling and camping is a great way to cut costs!

There have always been people who traveled while skipping the luxury of hotels or inns, sleeping rough or in primitive tents along their journeys (and saving money along the way). However, it wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that camping for recreation started to become common. The growing popularity of motor vehicles suddenly allowed people to travel away from home while easily carrying camping gear for a weekend vacation at the lake or in the mountains.

Modern camping options have evolved considerably from camping in the late 19th century or early 20th century. Camping may still involve dirt, bugs, and being at the mercy of the weather, but the gear has improved considerably. Modern camping gear is often lighter than that used in years past, and can also be waterproof and bugproof. Canvas wall tents like those used years ago were spacious and durable, but they can weigh more than 100 pounds and take several people to set up. Modern tents made of synthetic materials can weigh as little as a few pounds and many are easy for one person to erect. Lightweight fabric, waterproofing, and screening used in modern tents can provide a dry, bug-free night of sleep in the great outdoors.

Kenneth Kramm provides a good idea of what camping looked like 100 – 150 years ago in his video mini-series “Camping With Only a Bedroll and Haversack.” (The entire series is available on YouTube.) Unless you were camping next to your car in the early part of the last century, the style of camping that Kramm demonstrates was pretty much how it was done.

Buying gear if you are new to camping can put a dent in your bank balance, but good gear should last for many years and can save you a lot of money on traveling and camping in the long run. Lightweight and waterproof gear tends to cost more so if you don’t plan on hiking miles from your car to camp you can save money by buying gear that is a bit heavier or less waterproof.

How much gear you need to camp, and just how fancy (and expensive) that gear needs to be, is really a matter of preference. Some people like most of the comforts of home, while other thrill to live with just the bare minimum. It’s easy to forget that people like the great naturalist John Muir and naturalist/philosopher Henry David Thoreau traveled and camped on both coasts of the United States without any of the fancy gear we now consider essential for survival.

No matter which style of traveling and camping you enjoy it can still provide the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world while saving money. A camping vacation can be as simple and cheap or as fancy and expensive as you like.


Is camping part of your vacation plans for this year? Have you ever tried camping 1800s-style or do you prefer a more modern camping experience?

Additional images: Flickr



Robert Witham
Robert Witham
A freelance writer and journalist, I am also a wandering minimalist. I never sit still for too long in one place. When I am not writing I can be found reading, enjoying a good cup of coffee, hiking, fishing, installing a new OS on my laptop, or building a website.