Camping Survey: How Do People Really Feel?

Camping is one of the most popular hobbies in America and across much of Europe and Australia. While there are a lot of similarities in how we approach the outdoors, camping is also deeply personal, and motivations can vary drastically from person to person.

We wanted to gain deeper insight into camping behavior, so we surveyed 534 campers to find out what motivates them to get outside, how willing they are to camp during the off season, their confidence in performing certain tasks, and much more.

Our goal was simple: Learn as much as possible about individual camping experiences in order to provide more valuable information for you, our readers. At the same time, we believe that much of the data listed below demonstrates areas where all of us can improve as outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Key Takeaways From This Survey

Here’s a summary of the key statistics:

  • We asked campers to share what motivates them to go camping. The most popular response, at 28%, was family bonding.

  • Though it was pretty balanced, 38% of campers prefer to go car camping, when compared with other camping modalities.

  • However, the majority of campers said that they prioritize scenery when choosing a campsite, regardless of whether they’re car camping, backpacking, or glamping.
  • 71% of female respondents said that they would not feel comfortable camping alone. This is compared to 41% of men who wouldn’t be open to camping alone.
  • The winter camping debate is pretty even, with 53% of campers saying they’d be open to camping in the winter. However, of those 53%, only 4% have actually gone camping in the winter.
  • When it comes to wildlife in general, 49% of campers said they’re confident in their ability to manage encounters with dangerous animals. But when asked about how they’d handle a run in with a bear specifically, 68% said they knew what to do.

  • Campers were asked to indicate what feature they valued the most in a sleeping bag. The overwhelming majority (51%) said they valued comfort the most. This is compared to other important sleeping bag features, like weight, durability, and temperature rating.

About This Survey

We interviewed 534 campers to get an insight into their desires and behaviors while camping. Of those 534 campers, 326 (61%) were female while the remaining 208 (39%) were male.

We also wanted to get a sense for the age range of the participants, as different generations tend to value different things when it comes to camping. While many of the participants fell inside the “young adult” and “early middle age” groups, we had a fair number of older campers join in as well.

Most People Want To Go Camping To Bond With Their Family

It should come as no surprise that family bonding and stress relief are the primary reasons why people camp. Time in nature away from the hustle and bustle of daily life provides the perfect environment to decompress and focus on loved ones.

However, we were a little surprised to find exercise come in third place. From our experience, many traditional campgrounds do have trails nearby, but they’re often accessible by car and can be hiked in one day. Which is to say, there’s no reason to go camping just to access these trails… Or is there?

We’ll touch on that shortly.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, backpackers exercise all day, so of course they would choose that answer.” And while it’s a fair thought, it’s worth noting that only 36% of respondents who chose “exercise” identified as backpackers. That means the other 64% of participants were either car campers or glampers, and neither of these modalities require much effort in getting to the campsite.

Now, here’s our two cents. Almost all of us at Untamed Space are avid rock climbers, and while we will go to the gym on occasion, we almost exclusively climb outside. Some of our most frequented haunts (Sandstone, MN and Lemon Reservoir, CO) have campsites within walking distance of the routes. So, what do we do if we want to spend a weekend climbing? We camp at the location, ultimately for the purpose of exercise.

While rock climbing is our preferred method of exercise, you could swap that out without almost any other heart pounding adventure.

38% of Campers Prefer to Go Car Camping

Going into this survey, we assumed that car camping would take the number one spot here. It’s more accessible than backpacking and cheaper than glamping, so we weren’t too surprised that a large percentage of people idealize it.

However, we were surprised to see how tight of a race it was. Backpacking makes sense, though it was still more popular than expected. But glamping coming in at 28%? It really goes to show how popular this form of camping has become in recent years.

So, who’s glamping? Well, based on our survey, 49% of glampers land between the ages of 30-44 years old. This parallels a survey conducted by Grandview Research, which forecasted a large increase of 32-50 year olds getting into glamping in upcoming years. The need for escape from a hectic lifestyle and a higher disposable income are thought to be key factors in this increase. And while that’s probably true, we believe that children are an even bigger factor here. Many people in this age range are starting to have kids, and regular camping can be taxing for the littles. Glamping is a nice middle ground between rugged wilderness adventure and comfortable home life, making it ideal for children.

It Was No Contest: Scenery Is What People Look For

What do you value the most in a campsite? That’s the question we asked, and honestly, we expected a little more competition here.

Scenery won out in a landslide, easily taking 39% of the vote. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, few things really matter when you’ve got a good view. Not even bathrooms, playgrounds, affordability, or privacy hold a candle in this regard.

We believe this enhances our previous chart, where we demonstrated that family bonding and stress relief are key motivators to help get people out into the wild. Gorgeous landscapes and stunning vistas elicit deep feelings of awe and wonder that create a sense of time dilation while anchoring a person in the present moment. In simpler terms, being exposed to natural beauty will make you feel like time is slowing down. This phenomenon is effective at reducing stress, while providing “extra time” and experiences that encourage family bonding.

Study Limitations: We only asked participants to choose a campsite feature based on their desires. This should not replace other important factors to consider when choosing a campsite, like safety, proximity to water, and shelter from the elements (like a windbreak).

Most People Aren’t Interested In Camping Alone

As it turns out, the majority of campers aren’t too keen on roughing it by themselves. For some, it defeats the purpose of camping (it’s hard to bond with family when you’re alone), while for others, fear keeps them from solo camping.

But, while it’s easy to take the data at face value, let’s dive a little deeper and break it down by gender.

71% of female campers said that they wouldn’t feel comfortable camping alone, compared with 41% of men who indicated the same. While that is a reasonably large number of men who would prefer to camp in groups, it’s clear that women feel far less comfortable camping alone than their male counterparts.

Solo camping boasts a number of benefits, such as reconnecting with yourself and nature, boosting confidence, and getting a healthy dose of peace and quiet (which can facilitate stress relief). Generally speaking, we believe that both men and women recognize the value of camping alone, but there are two factors that keep women from acting on it:

1. Women tend to be more social than men. We know that women often desire interpersonal contact more than men do, so it’s not surprising that they would prefer to camp with their friends and family, instead of alone. However, we would still encourage them to pursue the benefits of solo camping every once in awhile, regardless of how social they are.

2. Women tend to be more perceptive of potential dangers. There are predators in the wild, both animal and human, which can pose a threat to female campers. And while we haven’t heard too many reports of assault in the camping community, the possibility is still there.

If you’re a woman who wants to camp alone but you’re hesitant because of the risks, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Hang boys’ clothes in a visible location, and place boys’ shoes outside your tent.
  • Have bear spray nearby and don’t be afraid to use it.
  • When inside your tent, connect the door zippers together using an S-biner as a lock.
  • Bring a whistle or air horn.
  • If you have dogs, consider bringing them along with you.

And of course, don’t forget to let a trusted friend or family member know where you’re going and how long you plan to be gone. If you follow these tips, it’s unlikely that you’ll run into any serious trouble.

Only 4% Of Campers Go Camping In The Winter

We all know that the summer season is the most popular time for campers to get out (particularly July and August). But winter camping is also a viable option, as long as you’ve got the proper gear and know-how. Even so, the stats were looking pretty dismal:

A mere 4% of campers actually pack their bags and brave the cold during the winter season. This complements data from the Great Britain Tourism Survey (2015) which indicated that 2% of campers planned to camp in January.

And really, this information isn’t too surprising. A few of us at Untamed Space prefer camping in colder temperatures (it’s easier to warm up than cool down while camping, in our opinion), but even so, single-digit temperatures aren’t very appealing.

What is surprising is the sheer number of people who said, “Yes, I would be open to camping in the winter.” While we don’t know the details, it’s probably safe to assume that the Great Britain survey mentioned above had similar stats. That means that for almost a decade (or longer), people have wanted to camp in colder temperatures, but only a small handful actually follow through.

So, why the dramatic disconnect? What’s preventing people from acting on their desire to camp during the winter?

One potential reason is that many campsites close for the winter; however, this feels inadequate since other viable locations do exist. Another thought is that campers aren’t considering how uncomfortable it will be to camp in the cold. We conducted our survey during the summer, so the participants might have a harder time imagining what it would feel like to crawl out of their sleeping bags into the icy cold. But during the winter, people are cold enough, even with modern conveniences. The thought of leaving any warmth behind sounds magical during the summer, but can feel like pure torture in the winter.

In general, our theory is that campers like the idea of winter camping, but they’re either too afraid or they lack the know-how to pull it off.

Many Campers Lack Confidence In Their Ability To Manage Wildlife Encounters

A significant number of campers expressed uncertainty about their ability to handle unwanted wildlife encounters (including, but not limited to, bears, mountain lions, and coyotes). The question was asked in relation to both safety and food management.

A small number of participants felt very confident in their skills when it came to managing wildlife. And beyond that, 35% of campers were at least somewhat confident in their abilities to mitigate unwanted encounters with animals. Still, that’s only half of the people surveyed – the other half was a lot more uncertain in their ability to ward off unwanted visitors.

That being said, we decided to go a little further and ask participants if they’d feel more confident when encountering a bear, specifically. For us, the results were pretty telling:

A full two thirds of respondents said they’d know what to do when faced with a bear encounter. That’s quite a bit higher than the 51% who expressed some confidence in managing wildlife in general.

If you want our two cents, we believe campers feel more confident dealing with bears because of all the resources available around bear safety. A simple Google search on “bear safety” will generate a whole host of articles that extend well past the first page. However, if you search for something like “mountain lion safety,” results are a lot more limited.

Of course, bears tend to be a common threat across much of the United States, whereas mountain lions are a little more obscure. Fortunately, many of the tactics we’ve been taught to use against bears will work against other predatory animals as well, though there can be some major differences.

Needless to say, it would do us all some good to escape this narrow sightedness we’ve developed over the years. Bear safety is important, to be sure, but let’s not forget that there are other animals in the wild too.

More Than Anything Else, Campers Value A Solid Shelter

You may have heard of “The Big 3” when it comes to camping gear: shelter, sleeping bag, and backpack. These are often considered the most essential items for making sure a camping trip goes off without a hitch.

Even so, we were curious to see what piece of gear campers actually valued the most:

Shelter won this contest in a landslide, picking up over half the vote. While we weren’t surprised that it ranked so highly, we were surprised by how far it pulled ahead compared to the other items.

The fact that only 14% of participants chose sleeping bags was probably the most shocking revelation. As mentioned above, many of us at Untamed Space prefer to camp in colder temperatures, so we highly value our sleeping bags. In fact, we’d be utterly lost without them.

At the same time, we recognize that the majority of people go camping during the summer, when sleeping bags are used more for comfort than warmth. If temperatures dip into the 60s at night and you don’t have a sleeping bag, you might be uncomfortable, but your life isn’t in any real danger.

On the other hand, a shelter is necessary for all campers during all seasons of the year (unless you enjoy cowboy camping). It acts as the first line of defense against bad weather and any critters trying to invade your personal space. Since it’s so important, we were curious to know what features were most sought after in a tent:

Results were fairly balanced, though ease of use was still a clear winner. It seems like, more than anything, campers don’t want to struggle when it comes to pitching their tent. The shelter should be intuitive to piece together (or at least have great directions), and a single person should be able to pitch it without too much issue. In the pursuit of simplicity, we believe that most campers would be more than willing to compromise on other components, like durability and weight.

Now the most surprising aspect of this data is how little concern campers have for the weight of their shelter. Only 8% of respondents chose that feature, and most of them weren’t even backpackers. A grand total of 6 backpackers said that they prioritized weight above all else – the rest were car campers.

Our longstanding theory is that ultralight backpackers are the only ones who really value weight more than any other feature. While it’s true that other campers and backpackers care about poundage to an extent, they’re also willing to go for something a little heavier if it means the tent is easy to use and weatherproof.

Shifting gears a little, we also asked participants to indicate their most valued sleeping bag feature:

The answers here were even more extreme. Over half of all campers prioritized comfort, even if it meant compromising on warmth, weight, durability, and/or price.

In fact, price seems to be of little concern for both tents and sleeping bags. Respondents come from many different socio-economic backgrounds, so it’s not that they all can afford to be more flippant regarding gear prices. Instead, we believe that the age-old adage is true that “you get what you pay for.” Generally speaking, campers agree, and they’re willing to spend a little extra upfront to get a high-quality product that will last them for many years to come.

Study Limitations: Time of year, location, the style of camping, and plenty of other features contribute to what people appreciate the most about their gear. Our questions were more generally focused, without taking these factors into account, so the results may not be indicative of the opinions of certain sub-niches in the camping sphere.

Over To You

We hope that the results of our survey were both helpful and insightful for your own camping journey. If there’s any question you’d like us to ask in next year’s survey, feel free to send it to [email protected], and we’ll consider including it.

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

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