Though you might not think it, camping as a recreational activity had to be invented. We campers in the New World, especially in the States and Canada, tend to assume that modern camping is sort of a cultural hand-me-down, a continuation of the traditions of the Indians, the pioneers and the cowboys on the trail. It’s something we do because people here have pretty much always done it.
That’s all true to an extent, though camping as we know it today had to be invented. The man who did so was a English tailor by the name of Thomas Hirman Holding. Holding was born in 1844 and when he was nine his family attempted, unsuccessfully, to emigrate to America. Over the year or so the family spent in the States, they traveled by horse and cart (since there were no trains) from the Mississippi River to Salt Lake City and back. Over that period Holding camped, saw buffalo and antelope and got run over by a wagon. In time he would come to romanticize those experiences (except maybe the last one) and seek to replicate some of them back home.
At that time no one in Britain camped unless they were in the military. The thought of doing it for fun was, well…odd. Still, in 1877 Holding bought a canoe and began adventuring (when he wasn’t tailoring) around the British Isles, especially Scotland and Ireland, pitching camp wherever he went. A prolific author of short books on clothes-making (Ladies’ Cutting Made Easy, Coats: How to Cut and Try Them On, Trousers, Vests, Breeches and Gaiters and Cutting for Stout Men), Holding eventually began writing travelogues.
By the turn of the 20th century Holding had become something of a trend-setter. Britain was wealthy as a result of the Industrial Revolution. A large middle class had been created, many of whom, tired of the dirt and density of cities and inspired by pastoral and transcendentalist writings, wanted to get away from it all. Camping was just the ticket.
In 1908, prompted by friends who sought Holding’s advice on sleeping successfully out-of-doors, he wrote The Camper’s Handbook, the first-ever non-military camping manual. That same year, evidently fed up with canoes, he founded the Association of Cycle Campers, a club which would eventually evolve into the British Camping and Caravanning Club, which now boasts some half a million members. Holding, by virtue of his considerable skills as a tailor, also designed tents and other gear that could fold neatly and fit on a bicycler’s back.
Holding died in 1930 at the age of 86, having spent much of his life outdoors. It clearly did him good.