Millennials, more diverse campers driving growing popularity of camping

02 May 2019 4 min. read
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A new report from Cairn Consulting Group, commissioned by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), has found that the percentage of North Americans who camp three or more times per year has increased 72% since 2014, reaching a high of 78.8 million households in the US. The key factors driving growth are more millennials starting families, an influx of younger and more diverse campers, and “love of the outdoors."

The fifth annual North America Camping Report surveyed a representative sample of 2,400 US households, and 500 Canadian households. The report was conducted by Cairn Consulting Group, a market research consultancy which also offers advisory services in branding, consumer behaviour, and product development.

One of the major factors driving the growing popularity of camping in North America, according to the report, has been an influx of younger and more diverse campers. Of the 1.4 million new camping households in 2018, 56% were millennials, while 51% were from non-white groups. Millennials make up the largest segment of campers (41%), up 7% from 2014, while Gen Xers make up 36% (up 9%).

Growth in Annual Camper Households in the U.S

The report found that the percentage of non-white camping households has increased from 12% to 29% since 2012. What’s more, for the first time since measurement began in 2014, the percentage of new non-white campers (51%) outpaced the percentage of new Caucasian campers (49%) in 2018.

Millennials starting families (a less likely and later occurrence than previous generations) is also fueling the growth of camping. Fifty-four percent of millennials are now camping with children, and when they were queried about the key factor that got them to camp more, the majority answer was “having kids.” According to the report, 63% of millennials with kids camp more than seven nights per year.

Overall, families with children in the household are the most avid campers, taking the most camping trips and spending the most nights camping in 2018.

Active Camper Households by Ethnicity

Younger campers are likely to drive growth into the future, with 61% of millennials and 56% of Gen Xers saying they will camp more in 2019. Fifty-six percent of camping households said they plan to camp more this year, continuing an upward trend noted since 2014.

In terms of what sparked respondents’ interest in camping, half said it was “love of the outdoors” – the consistent top response over the past five years. Campers increasingly view the activity as the same thing other outdoor recreation, such as hiking or fishing, and this perspective is being driven by younger generations.

“Since we started measuring the North American camping market five years ago, we’ve seen increasing diversification of age, life stage, ethnicity and even sexual orientation among campers, yet what remains consistent is a shared connection through a passion to immerse themselves in the outdoors through camping,” Toby O’Rourke, KOA president and CEO, said. “We ultimately believe that the fundamental reason why people camp – to connect with each other and with nature – will not change, but how they camp may.”

Camp-glamp evolution

New trends like “glamping” and “van life” are also driving interest in camping, with the mentioned non-traditional avenues predictably most popular among younger generations. Millennials (56%) and Gen Xers (46%) were the most likely groups to have tried new lodging in 2018.

Luxury camping and van life is nonetheless an appealing trend to the overall respondent base. Half of all campers said they would like to try out luxury cabin camping, more than double the proportion of 2017 respondents. Van life, though much less popular than glamping, saw a 6% increase in those wanting to try it between 2017 and 2018.

Tent camping, however, remains the most popular camping method for North Americans, at 59%. RVing represented 24% of the market, while cabin camping accounted for 16%.

The Canadian perspective

Canadian campers seem to be more satisfied with traditional camping avenues, noting lower accommodation changes and trial of new accommodations. Compared to the overall response of approximately 50%, only one-third of Canadians said they would like to try out luxury cabin camping in 2019.

Canadians are also less likely to change their habits in terms of the number of camping trips they will take, as well as the nights spent camping. Canadian campers also tend to travel longer distances for their camping trips than Americans.