Innovative Spirit

Ten Inventive Attempts to Make Camping More Comfortable

Making a stay in the great outdoors more luxe isn’t new—even if glamping and #vanlife are

Monon and Ottily Bayer, the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Bayer of Costamesa, California, pose in a small, "bunk bed" trailer at their campground in the Shasta National Forest. California, August 1953. (Corbis via Getty Images)
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“Home is where you park it,” one now-famous Instagram influencer Foster Huntington—a former New York designer at Ralph Lauren—titled his Kickstarter campaign when he traded his fast-paced, high-pressure life behind for days on the road in a suped-up Volkswagon camper in 2013. Now, #vanlife on Instagram has racked up nearly 6 million posts of folks chronicling their adventures in conversion vans, retrofitted school buses and other motorhomes.

Part of glamping—or glamorous camping—is staying in decked out airstreams and trailers in gorgeous places without sacrficing amenities. As advertised on Glamping.com, some of these vehicles can run for more than $300 per night depending on the location. These amped up recreational vehicles have perks like TVs, air conditioning, multiple queen-sized beds, luxurious slide-out additions for more space, mini-kitchens, electricity and so much more.

But downsizing and escaping to the great outdoors is certainly not a new phenomenon—even if trending topics on Instagram make it seem that way. A browse through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives shows that inventors have been trying to figure out ways to take beds and kitchens on the road with them for a long time. In honor of this human pursuit, we’ve pulled a few of the more quirky patents from the last century that have paved the way for today’s car campers.

Folding Camp Bed and Tent, 1917

An early iteration of the pop-up camper looked and opened more like a book, folding at a hinged pivot point not unlike the spine of a hardcover novel. Inventor George Chapman of Fort Collins, Colorado, describes the contraption in his 1917 patent: “[The] objects of my improvement are to provide a simple, roomy, combination of folding tent and beds of substantial build yet relatively light in weight, capable of being very quickly set up or folded.” He goes on to explain that the beds would automatically unfold and a tented roof would rise when opened; then, the whole thing would automatically reverse itself when closing.

About Rachael Lallensack

Rachael Lallensack is the assistant web editor for science and innovation at Smithsonian.

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