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The Camping Tent’s History


Tents have been a part of the human fiber for thousands of years. They have served as homes to many people in various areas of the world, have played a huge role in camping activities in modern days and have always offered a place for protection from many environmental elements. Tents have been used in many forms throughout the agricultural world for protecting crops and plants and have housed armies as well as nomadic people.

The designs of tents have drastically changed over the years from those of the plains Native Americans’ teepees to constructed shelters used as far back as Ancient Egypt. The modern tent’s design and structure is somewhat the same, but with modern improvements. A piece of fabric or animal skin draped over poles and secured, one way or another, to the ground. This very simple design has offered shade from blazing sun to warmth and comfort during storms.

The First Tents

The submission of a young maharaja the the British empire in 1846 (Sikh War)

Archeologists have unearthed some rather sophisticated tent designs that date back to B.C. Recently, a tent ruin was discovered in Russia that is believed to date back to 40,000 B.C., making this the oldest tent ever found, to date.

Tents have been mentioned in the Bible:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations: spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes.” – Isaiah 54:2

Tents were one of the most common homes throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa in B.C. All ancient tents were constructed with wooden supports and stakes, ropes, animal hides, leather and other materials. Their structures were not much different from the tents people use for camping today.

The first 50,000 years of human history, the tent has stayed pretty consistent in its appearance. Many civilizations lived in tents for thousands of years before building permanent structures such as huts.

The Military Tent

Pharaoh, going to battle, would set tents up along the way. The Romans were notorious for innovative designs for traveling from one city to another. They used larger tents like ridge tents and marquee tents where soldiers and their military leaders could meet to discuss battle plans or just socialize. They used calf skins for the tent covers and were described by Pliny, the Elder as “sub pellibus”, meaning “under pelts.”

Thanks to the Army, innovation and design in tent technology has forever been on the rise. The military has relied on and needed tents to house soldiers to keep them safe while being able to pick up stakes and move to a new location. Tents kept Washington’s troops out of critical weather environments, found on the frigid East Coast while fighting for American freedom from England. They also invented camouflage to hide from the British and commit guerrilla warfare along the way. These tents were made from hemp and traveled easily with the army. These tactics were modernized warfare while playing a major role in our eventual victory. The Civil War lined fields with tents in the bloodiest point of history in the United States. Generals met in large marquee tents to discuss battle strategies. Soldiers used smaller tents to sleep and thus came the name Pup Tents because they were small enough to house a family’s dog.

Tents And MASH Units

Tents were the most convenient way for hospital units to move from one area of a war zone to another and provide medical treatment for soldiers. Mash stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which was Army medical units serving as fully functional hospitals in combat areas. These units were first developed in August of 1945 and were first deployed during the Korean War. Tents allowed for these groups to set up shop and pull up stakes, quickly, to move to another area at the drop of a hat. These units became immortalized in the 1970 American Movie M*A*S*H, directed by Robert Altman and the television series that ran from 1972 to 1983.

Barnum & Bailey

Circuses have been using tents to travel from town to town forever! Barnum & Bailey simply took this concept to a whole new level with enormous tents for large shows. This began in the 19th century developing colossal tents to protect performers and audiences from various elements. Even though these tents ranged in size, the basic structure remained the same. These tents consisted of guy ropes to stakes that allowed for setting up tents that would hold up to strong winds, but could also be taken down quickly. The term Guy Rope is a British term for ropes that secure a tent or other structure to the ground. This construction would eventually lead to the future recreational and festival tents of today, with some changes.

The Modern Tent For Recreational Purposes

During the first half of the 20th century, Americans had more money and time to explore the great outdoors. During the Industrial Revolution, these tents were referred to “survival tents” for an ever so popular national pastime. The two leading manufacturers were Coleman and MSR, offering tents for the everyday person or family.

During this time, tent design took on some drastic changes. Support poles were no longer made from wood; instead, they were a light metal element. Eventually, manufacturers went from metal to plastic for easier transportation. These lightweight poles became enormously popular with campers. Some of the more modern tents can be set up in a matter of seconds and offer materials like nylon that are better protection against environmental elements.

Camping absolutely exploded in the 1960s with millions of people heading out to campsites and other rural areas for a weekend. Manufacturers jumped on the challenge to create poles made from fiberglass or aluminum alloys. These materials allowed for greater ranges of shapes and a much lighter transportation. At one point, zippered tent doors were to replace the traditional flap opening.

Over the years, manufacturers have sought to find more convenient, more ease of setting up and better design for the avid campers whose numbers are continually on the increase. Tent designs have constantly adjusted over the past decade creating significant changes to the original survival tent. More on modern tent designs!

Some of these designs have included

Tunnel Tents:

As the name implies, these tents are literally shaped like tunnels. It allows for better interior space than the standard pole tent and are extremely popular.

Inflatable Tents:

These amazing tents offer inflatable beams and are easy to transport because they are extremely lightweight.
Note: it is strongly recommended that you have an air compressor on hand when camping.

Geodesic Tents:

This design has a crisscross beam design, making them extremely sturdy and exceptional for use in snow, sleet and even hail.

Pop-Up Tents:

For those campers who do not want to spend time driving stakes into the ground, these tents have a series of hoops that will set up almost instantly.

Ridge Tent:

Two flexible poles crossing in the center giving a square dome and three poles a hexagon. The sides are more vertical allowing for greater headroom and more floor space.

Marquee Tent:

Are very large tent used, today, for shelter at events such as shows or festivals. The design has not altered in thousands of years. The roof canopy is supported by very tall center poles with side lines connected to ground pins.

Learn more on how to chose your tent here!

The Camping Experience

Occupy protesters in London – Credits The Guardian

Camping and the design of tents have come a very long way from the time of the Pharaohs and the Romans. What has been used for dwelling, protection and being removed from nature’s elements, has also brought people back to enjoy nature. Modern tents allow campers to enjoy their surroundings, connect with nature and feel safe and warm in the cold, crisp night air. Building a campfire, at night, is an amazing experience while allowing family members to reconnect with each other and does not require cell phones and social media.
Tents were also used in the 60s for peaceful demonstrations against social inequality by setting up tents, having cooking abilities and creating peaceful barriers. They are also often used during protests (example of the Occupy Movement, against social and economic inequality around the world that always set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades when protesting.) where protesters often use camping tents to build camps in public places where they can form communities of protesters of open discussion and start democratic action. Tents are often used when massive events happen like a release of a new Apple product where people often camps for days in front of the stores!

Tents have been in the lives of people for thousands of years and will be here for thousands more to come.

Tents have drastically improved since the beginning and the good news – you do not need WI-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities! Tents allow you to reconnect with nature, venture out into areas that offer the most spectacular surroundings and discover your own state parks or national reserves. Camp by an amazing waterfall, a magnificent landscape of huge, magical mountain ranges and just spend some time realizing how majestic nature truly is!

Tents provide wonderful fundamentally basic needs and safety for all your camping needs. You will experience some of the same feelings that your ancestors experienced when tents were their homes. If you have never experienced the soft sounds of the evening hours while drifting off to sleep, the gentle sound of light rain, tapping on the tent top, to cradle you off to sleep or the glorious awakening of a perfect sunrise – you have no idea what you are missing!

Get with family and friends, find a beautiful campground and spend a weekend in total relaxation while soaking in what nature is all about. You will come away being one of the millions of people that have discovered a whole new, exciting way to explore the great outdoors while capturing life-long memories.

The Time-line Of The Tent
  • The first true ancestor of today’s tent was constructed in 1855. A U.S. Army officer modeled his Bell-Shaped Tent after the Native American’s Teepee. Instead of using buffalo hides, he chose to use canvas.
  • The first Boy Scout Handbook was published in 1911 and illustrated ten different styles or types of tents.
  • World War II had ended, it’s 1945 and with the huge economic boom taking place across America, people were running off to retailers and surplus stores to purchase tents for great outdoor adventures. There were thousands of tents being purchased of all shapes, sizes and designs every week.
  • Tentmaker Eureka introduced the first Fast-Set-Up Free Standing Tent on to the market, in 1959.
  • Metal, lightweight poles were being mass produced, replacing wooden frames. Allowing for easier setup and much lighter for moving around, this took place in the 1960s.
  • Tentmaker Eureka comes out with another design for backpack storage, in the 1970s, selling over one million units in less than ten years.
  • The first truck-tent was developed in 1990 allowing campers to pitch this tent on the bed of their pickup truck.
  • Even though technology and custom designing brought about the RV, for comfort away from home, 3.2 million American opted for camping with tents instead. This spike in popularity hit an all-time high in 2011 and shows no signs of slowing down.

The timeline of tents is far from over. More and more people are discovering the simple, relaxing beauty of purchasing a tent and entering the outside world with gusto. There’s a reason why, since the 1960s, millions of people have become addicted to camping.
Instead of fighting it, learn all you can about camping, the dos and don’ts and have the best time of your life!
You will not be disappointed and will more than likely become addicted yourself!



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The Camping Tent’s History
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Mark Jonson
Mark Jonson
Outdoor enthusiast and rafting addict. From Cleveland Ohio born and raised (GO CAVS). Working for a professional kayaking company located in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ohio. I am a huge NBA fan and spend the rest of my spare time djing as a hobby.

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