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One industry millennials aren’t killing: Camping

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Millennials make up 41 percent of all campers

A glamping tent in the Philadelphia South / Clarksboro KOA.
Courtesy of KOA

Whether it’s because they spend too much on avocado toast to afford real estate or not enough on American cheese and threatening the pantry staple, millennials have been the scapegoat for “killing” a plethora of industries. A new report, however, shows that there’s one industry that millennials are, in fact, boosting: The camping industry. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.

The 2019 North American Camping Report is an annual independent study supported by KOA, or Kampgrounds of America, Inc. As the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds, KOA consists of more than 500 campgrounds in almost every state and in many Canadian provinces. We recently met up with KOA at RVX, the new RV Industry Association trade show, and toured its vision for the campground of the future.

But in many ways, the 2019 report shows that the future of camping is already here. The report tells us that camping is more popular than ever, fueled by a more diverse, younger (read: millennial) population that wants to get outside and explore in new ways.

More than 78.8 million households camped at least once in 2018, marking a new all-time high. This means that in total, around 62 percent of U.S. households includes someone who camps at least occasionally. What does it all mean? Camping is hotter than ever, and you can thank millennials. Below, we’ve rounded up five key takeaways on the current state of camping in North America.

New campers are younger and more diverse

Maybe it’s the allure of Instagram or perhaps it’s just the popularity of the outdoors, but more than 1.4 million households started camping for the first time in 2018. Of these people, 56 percent are millennials and 51 percent identify as nonwhite.

The diversity of campers is increasing at a rapid pace; for the first time since the study began measuring new campers in 2014, the percentage of new nonwhite campers in 2018 (51 percent) outpaced the percentage of new campers who identify as Caucasian.

As a whole, the report says that Hispanic campers represent 11 percent of all camping households, while African American campers now represent 9 percent of camping households. African American campers are also the youngest demographic of campers with 64 percent millennial representation.

Millennials are the largest group of campers

It’s a tired cliche that campers or RVers are older snowbirds avoiding poor weather, and the data argues against it. Millennials currently make up the largest segment of campers at 41 percent—up 7 percentage points since 2014—while Gen Xers make up 36 percent. In 2015, Baby Boomers consisted of 28 percent of campers, but now that number is down to 18 percent.

This suggests that camping gear companies and RV manufacturers need to pay attention to millennial buyers. More than any other group, millennials will determine the trends and factors that push camping and RVing into the future.

It’s all about the kids

It might be hard to conceive, but the older sector of the millennial generation has been having kids for a few years now, and this is driving camping, too. Fifty four percent of millennials camp with their kids, and when asked about the key trigger that prompted their adventures, the majority said having kids.

Millennials with children also camp more than older generations; 63 percent of millennial parents camp more than seven nights per year, and two-thirds of this group plans to camp even more in 2019.

Everyone wants to glamp

Tent camping is still the most popular way that Americans stay overnight in the wild, but the big news has to do with glamping. Instead of the hard ground and too-cold sleeping bags, glamping usually includes feather beds, comfy blankets, and yes, sometimes a flushing toilet. When you glamp in tents or yurts, you get all the amenities of high-end hotels set in a natural environment that’s literally miles away from any city. Half of all campers surveyed said that they would also like to experience glamping in the coming year, a rate that has more than doubled since 2017.

New campers are also less likely to stay in tents, with nearly 60 percent of new campers in 2018 preferring cabins, RVs, or glamping-type accommodations. This makes sense, especially because non-tent lodging can ease someone into learning how to camp while still enjoying the benefits of the outdoors.

The allure of van life

If it seems like camper vans are everywhere, that’s because it’s a hot sector of the camping market. Overall about 14 percent of the camping population has the desire to hit the road in a van. And while that figure might seem small compared to, say, the 24 percent of campers who would like to try out a motorhome, it’s a much larger proportion than the current market share of camper vans.

RV Industry Association data shows that manufacturers remain largely focused on conventional travel trailers. In 2018, the industry shipped 327,101 conventional travel trailers and 88,570 “fifth wheel” trailers. But only 5,881 Class B camper vans were produced last year.

With so many millennials interested in camper vans, in the future you can expect more manufacturers to look to Class B vans to attract younger buyers.