After five years of surveying North American campers, the 2019 North American Camping Report from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) shows the camping landscape is strong – new and life-long campers are committed to the outdoor camping lifestyle, as demonstrated by their diversity, camping more frequently and enthusiasm for using camping as a conduit to active outdoor lifestyles.

Since last year, about one million new camper households were added to those who consider themselves annual campers, with an estimated 7 million new camper households in the U.S. since 2014, according to the study. Since 2014, the percentage of campers who camp three or more times annually has increased by 72 percent.

Camping experienced aggressive growth from 2014 through 2017 in terms of the sheer number of new camper households, and has been impacted most by the influx of younger and more diverse campers. KOA wrote in the report, “As this new group of campers has continued camping, they’ve brought with them a greater deal of enthusiasm, annually taking more trips and spending more nights camping.”

The 2019 report found that the underlying trends identified in the survey’s previous four years are ongoing:

  • Close to home: Campers continue to increasingly camp closer to home. In 2014, about 13 percent of camping trips were under 50 miles from home. By 2018, that number had risen to 31 percent. While the ethnic and generational diversity of campers continues to grow, the differences between the groups, in regard to what they seek from the camping experience, continue to lessen.
  • Frequency: Campers continue to camp more. The number of campers who intend to camp three or more times each year continues to grow.
  • Families: More families are adopting the camping lifestyle, and they too intend to camp more than ever before.
  • Life stages: Campers are making decisions about their camping based on their life stage, not just their ethnicity or generation. Families with young children, for instance, have much in common, regardless if the parents are millennials or from Generation X.
  • Like other outdoor recreation activities: Campers are increasingly seeing camping and other forms of outdoor recreation (hiking, biking, fishing, etc.) as one and the same. This is being driven primarily by younger campers.
  • Experimentation: Campers are increasingly open to trying new and different methods of camping, including full-service cabins, “glamping” tents and van camping. Their enthusiasm has spawned new and expanding extensions of the outdoor industry.

Although a leveling off of intent to camp was found this year, the report didn’t see any decrease. Even among those who say that they do not intend to change their camping in 2019, their frequency of camping is higher than what was observed in previous years. Of all campers, Hispanic campers are the group most likely to increase their camping this year.

Half of all campers identified their “love of the outdoors” for sparking their interest in camping, which is consistent to results of the first report and has remained the leading reason over its five years of research.

Campers are sharing this love with others. In 2018, 48 percent of new campers reported that other people got them interested in camping, while younger campers, not surprisingly, were introduced to camping by their families.

Camping momentum can also be seen in the growth of campers self-identifying as “lifelong” campers. One-third of all campers now self-identify as life-long campers, which is also the highest among all years of the report. Although young, both millennials (ages 22-37) and Gen Xers (ages 38-53) are more likely to identify themselves as lifelong campers when compared to past years. Both Asian (15 percent in 2015, 21 percent in 2018) and African American/Black campers
(23 percent in 2015, 34 percent in 2018) campers overall were more likely to identify as lifelong campers.

Fifty percent of millennials say life events (such as having children and increased income) enables them to camp more often. Among younger campers the significant life shift of becoming a parent can be attributed to shifts in camping behavior, including increased frequency of camping and camping accommodation preferences. Camping families (campers with children under the age of 18 in the household) are the most devoted group of campers and, with children in the household, see increased desire to own their camping gear, whether a tent or RV. Camping families are most likely to say that their camping trips increased in 2018, and two-thirds say that their camping will increase in 2019.

A particularly encouraging finding was that for the first time in the survey’s five-year history, the percentage of new campers from multicultural groups (51 percent) outpaced the percentage of new caucasian campers (49 percent). New campers remain more diverse than the overall U.S. population. In 2018, Hispanic campers exceeded what would be expected in the overall population (22 percent versus 16 percent against U.S. Census figures). Asian American campers are still represented at a rate three times higher than U.S. Census figures.

Campers are also continuing to make strong connections between camping and other outdoor recreation activities, considering them to be one and the same.

While hiking/backpacking and fishing continue to be the most popular recreation activities among campers, more active recreation continues to grow in popularity. Fishing dropped by 2 percentage points since 2014, yet the participation in hiking or backpacking has increased by 14 percentage points since 2014. In fact, the rates of African American campers’ interest in hiking/backpacking have almost doubled since last year. Canoeing and kayaking have grown by 11 points since 2014.

Other findings from the report:

  • On-site recreation: The importance of on-site recreation to campers increased in 2018 with a full 40 percent of campers selecting campgrounds around it, yet that can fluctuate based on campers’ stages in life. About 40 percent of millennials and Gen Xers listed on-site recreation as an important factor in their camping experience, with 37 percent of Baby Boomers and 34 percent of Mature campers in agreement.
  • Glamping/van life: Glamping, or camping with amenities mimicking the luxuries of home, and van life were not included in the inaugural North American Camping Report in 2015 because they didn’t exist as a camping category at that time. But KOA the practices have grown quickly likely via high rates of sharing on social media. In the most recent results, close to half of all campers surveyed said that they would like to experience glamping in the coming year, a rate that has more than doubled over the past 12 months. And while the rate is much lower, there is still a large increase in the percentage of campers who would like to experience van life from 2017 to 2018. It is interesting to note that there are essentially no differences in age among those who want to experience van life, however interest is higher among Hispanic campers and families.
  • Peer-to-peer RV rentals: Receptiveness toward peer-to-peer RV rentals is also robust. The establishment and growth among companies offering peer-to-peer rental services has grown exponentially since the start of the report. Today, 60 percent of non-RV owners are likely to consider this approach when renting with high rates of use among millennials and Gen Xers, as well as Hispanic (70 percent) and African American campers (about 66 percent).
  • RV ownership: In 2018 RV ownership has increased over borrowing or renting, as has interest in luxury cabins. Sixty-one percent of RVers indicate ownership of the RV they use most – a five-point improvement over 2017 results and likely being driven by Gen Xers who indicated an increase in ownership in 2018. Campers of all ages seek to have a luxury cabin experience in 2018, outpacing other accommodation options.
  • Canadian campers: Canadian campers appear to be more satisfied with their camping experiences than their U.S. counterparts, based on lower rates of accommodation changes, trial of new accommodations or changes to camping trips. Canadian campers continue to reflect the highest rate of RV ownership at 64 percent. Yet, while Canadian campers show the most enthusiasm for a more-of-the-same-type of approach to camping, still close to half of Canadian camper households (46 percent) are interested in a glamping experience.

The study, conducted by Cairn Consulting Group is based on a total of 2,900 surveys completed among a random sample of U.S. (n=2,400) and Canadian (n=500) residents.

The full report is available at here.

Photo courtesy Kampgrounds of America