Camping Is Way Safer (and Less Radioactive) Than It Used to Be

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Sparking a fire in the wilderness allowed humanity to explore the Earth. But what began as a literal survival strategy eventually turned into a hobby: camping. The time-honored pastime continues to gain popularity, but it sure doesn't look like it did in the early 1900s. Good thing too — unless lugging around a bulky, clanky, smoke-billowing, literally radioactive lantern sounds appealing. We'll stick with the pocket-sized, Duracell-powered LED ones, thanks.

Early Camping: Batteries Not Included

The first accounts of camping as a hobby — and not just, you know, a necessity — date back to around 1860. Those early campsites were about as rough as they get. Comparing those — or even camping digs of your childhood — to contemporary campgrounds is like night and day. (And we're not even talking about the indulgence of glamping. That's another story.) Though camping is all about getting closer to Mother Earth, the portable, practical tech of today makes it a whole lot easier to go rogue in the woods without interfering with the integrity of nature. Don't believe us? Well ...

Camping Gear, Then And Now


  • Then: The mantles of some of the earliest camping lanterns were soaked in radioactive thorium. When the cloth burned away, it produced a bright glow. Besides the whole radioactive thing, these early lanterns were cumbersome and weighty. (Careful! Some lanterns may still contain thorium.)
  • Now: The Black Diamond Moji charging station lantern is a bright, lightweight light source that can also charge your smartphone. Two-in-one, baby. Just pop in a few AA Duracell batteries, and you're set.


  • Then: One of the earliest tent designs came from a U.S. Army officer in 1855. It used canvas, which is durable, but also heavy.
  • Now: Millennials have become the wanderlust generation, and maybe it's because the Tentsile makes for the perfect Instagram pic. Tentsile is a super lightweight, portable tree tent that can literally suspend you over cool views as you sleep. Grounded campsites are so 1990 — er, 1855.


  • Then: Strangely enough, the design of the air mattress hasn't changed since its debut. But camping pre-1960 meant you were sleeping on the cold, hard earth.
  • Now: There are so many mattresses to choose from, but this one has a surprise feature. The Coleman Quickbed stays firm through the night, and even boasts built-in speakers. A separate speaker is now one less thing to pack.


  • Then: Ever hear of a bonfire? While the classic fire pit is still a campsite staple, it's not a quick or reliable way to keep your area illuminated. And, oh yeah, open flames can get kind of dangerous.
  • Now: While your small, portable lantern is great when you're on the move, rope lights are a smart solution for home base. More than just an adorable name, the Luminoodle is a waterproof, battery-powered rope light that can be strung up just about anywhere. (Yes, even slung around a hanging Tentsile.) Drape it on some branches, and voilà, you have outdoor overhead lighting.


  • Then: The only way to stay warm in the past while outside was by getting cozy with an open flame. Hope you're not wearing anything flammable!
  • Now: There are plenty of heated blankets, space heaters, and apparel to keep you toasty in your tent. But let's talk about heated socks. You can have toasty tootsies throughout your whole camping trip with ActionTech AA-battery heated socks. The best part? You don't need to suffer through stuffing a hiking boot with your multiple-sock-bundled feet.


  • Then: Imagine strapping on a heavy hard hat equipped with a carbide lamp before working in a cave. Around the 1920s, this was normal for miners and cave explorers.
  • Now: The Black Diamond Storm Headlamp isn't just a bulb on your forehead — it's a lightweight, powerful light on a comfortable and lightweight elastic band. It's waterproof, dust-proof, and has touch-sensitive controls. There's even a night-vision mode for making your way through darkness without disrupting your surroundings. A few AAA Duracell batteries will light your way for hours.


  • Then: Before electricity, campers relied on fuel to get their light sources and grills going. In the early 19th century, whale oil was popular for powering lanterns, as well as fats from other animals and seeds. We don't have to tell you that carrying gallons of flammable liquids was exhausting and dangerous. Oh, and because these oils powered lanterns that burned an open flame, you were out of luck if rainy weather got your wick soaked.
  • Now: Today, power sources for your campsite are lightweight, quick, and reliable. There's a huge variety of Duracell batteries that can power everything on your campsite, from your lantern to your Bluetooth speakers. Sorry whale oil: This is what convenience looks like.
Written by Joanie Faletto June 15, 2017
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