Camping is such a great experience! But why? It’s hard to explain it to someone who doesn’t enjoy the outdoors. Dealing with heat, bugs, physical exertion, lack of WiFi, etc., isn’t very appealing to many folks.
Is camping actually good for us? Multiple studies conclude that nature and outdoor experiences improve our emotional and physical health, by providing opportunities for good exercise, and by improving focus, self-esteem, and general happiness, while reducing depression, anxiety, anger, and other negative feelings. Camping promotes all of these benefits through outdoor activities.
If you need to help someone find a reason to go camping, perhaps you can use one of these reasons in this article. I too wondered this question if camping is good for us (and why), and I like to find scientific evidence to understand things. So I’ve compiled the research for you so you can convince your unbelieving teenager to go camping! 🙂
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
- Nature Improves Self-Perceived General Health
- Time Spent In Forests Reduces Blood Pressure
- Being Around Nature Improves Focus
- Time Spent In Nature Can Prevent Depression
- Being Outdoors Reduces Stress
- Outdoor Exercise Improves Self-esteem
- Being Connected to Nature Could Help You Be More Happy
- Dramatic Scenery Improves Mood More Than Plain Scenery
- Outdoor Activities Are Great Exercise
1. Nature Improves Self-Perceived General Health
Data are scarce on whether exercising in nature vs. exercising in a gym brings better physical results.
However, even if there isn’t a lot of evidence showing an advantage to exercising outdoors as opposed to exercising indoors, there are plenty of results showing a significant positive emotional difference from spending time outside, according to this study published in The Environmental Science Journal in 2011.
An aggregate study from BMC Public Health found improvement in energy, anxiety, anger, depression or sadness while finding inconclusive results with physical benefits.
In another study from the Environment International journal, participants self-reported higher general and mental health who had more access to parks and nature areas ~900 feet from their residence than those who did not.
Perception is reality. Whether we lose weight, or gain muscle, or improve our heart strength, being around nature improves our perception of our well-being.
How Camping Helps Your General Health
While camping you are not just in sight of nature, but you are outside experiencing it. A safe assumption is that immersive exposure to nature brings the same if not even more intense benefits of being around nature shown in these studies.
In addition, one huge benefit of camping is that usually where there’s camping, there’s hiking, and other outdoor activities. All of these activities are fantastic exercise. Checkout the chart below to see the calories burned for different outdoor activities commonly accessible from many campgrounds.
You can wake up, and without having to drive for hours, you can go on a hike and get the benefit of exercise while also getting the emotional benefits of being in nature. Thus improving your general health.
2. Time Spent In Forests Reduces Blood Pressure
Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing, or experiencing a forest environment) is a common health restorative practice in Japan and China. Practicing Shinrin-Yoku simply involves being surrounded by nature and the forest for a period of time.
Although there are lots of studies with inconclusive results regarding physical exercise indoors vs outdoors, a meta-analysis of Shinrin-Yoku participants found that just being out in the forest reduces blood pressure.
How Camping Can Help You Practice Shinrin-Yoku
Even if you are camping at a campground, which is most typical of car campers, you may see others around the campground, but you are also going to see many more trees, other plants, and natural features like rivers and lakes.
Usually campgrounds are near locations where there are good reasons to come and explore. Forests, lakes, rivers, canyons, and coastlines all have campgrounds because that’s where, us humans, want to go. Camping unlocks the door to the forest!
3. Being Around Nature Improves Focus
One of the leading theories about the connection between our ability to focus and nature is “Attention Restoration Theory” (ART). To summarize the theory, many urban features (buildings, cars, billboards) grab our attention and require intense focus, while nature features can gain our attention, but they do not require intense focus.
Because we are so busy focusing on urban features that demand our attention, our mind is not able to relax and focus on the problems in our lives or that are in our heads.
Our direct attention, it turns out, is a inner-resource according to further ART studies. Just like any resource, we can run out of our inner-resource if we constantly are exposed to things that require our direct attention.
Focus and the Inner-Resource
The basis for ART is related to this study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Participants were given a challenge requiring self-discipline, and then were asked to solve a problem. The people who did not have to perform the challenge were more patient and persistent with the problem-solving portion.
The study’s conclusion was that unconnected tasks all draw on an inner-resource that can be depleted as we use it during our day.
ART builds on this theory by suggesting that high-distraction things drain us, and that we can restore this inner-resource if we surround ourselves with nature, which doesn’t demand as much attention but is still pleasing to our minds.
When we disconnect from high-distraction things such as household tasks, jobs, news, social media, etc., and surround ourselves with nature, then our minds have space to think.
Thus, the key to maintaining this inner-resource is to simplify.
How Camping Improves Focus
Camping is not just being around nature, like in a city park. Rather,you’re immersed in nature.
When you’re camping, you wake up and can instantly see the sky, the clouds, the woods, or even the ocean. Because all of these environments are interesting yet don’t demand our attention, our minds can focus in on the problems we’re experiencing (or not, if we choose not to) in our lives.
Camping without WiFi or cellular signals has an additional benefit, because we won’t receive notifications, another consumer of our direct attention. Our brains can wake up from the burden of having so much to think about.
Not all camping trips are relaxing and healing, though. Let’s talk about how to help our camping trip be more successful.
How To Simplify While Camping
There is no right way to go camping, necessarily, but there are more stressful ways to camp.
Bustling out the door on a Friday night, getting to your campsite late at night, eating and pitching your tent in darkness, and then leaving a few hours after you wake up in the morning doesn’t make for a “simple” experience.
A well-planned trip approached with a flexible attitude with plenty of down-time can absolutely simplify and reduce the demands on your attention. When all you have for your plans for the day are a hike and a swim, and if you are prepared, then your trip will be a success and you’ll get that benefit of some extra mental energy for solving the problems you may have going on in your life.
Even if you don’t have a lot of extra time to spare, it’s possible to have a great camping trip even if you are staying for one night. See my article for some simple tips to help you have a great time even if you’re camping for a short time.
4. Time Spent In Nature Can Prevent Depression
Depression is very complex, and it isn’t always straightforward what causes depression in some than others. One link to depression, however, that is documented, is “rumination.” Rumination is when we dwell on our emotions and thoughts excessively, which can lead us into a negative downward spiral.
An amazing study about being in nature and rumination and sadness showed that those who walked through a route with nature vs. an urban route ruminated less, and the portion of our brains that show activity when we are sad were less active.
Being in nature helped the study participants to overthink less about their emotions! An incredible find.
Another Shinrin-Yoku study showed that depression was reduced for those who spent a day in a forest. Something about the ambiance of nature helps us feel better and to not get wrapped up in our own thoughts.
How Camping Helps Us Ruminate Less
On the surface, camping helps us ruminate less (which means that we are less likely to experience depressive episodes) because we are in nature while we’re camping, and nature has a calming effect as we’ve noted in the above studies.
Additionally, however, when you’re camping, you have more physical actions you have to perform than you do normally. You typically don’t have a fridge stocked full of food ready to eat and you can’t just spend a couple hours watching TV, and then jump into bed. Your bedding needs preparation, your food needs preparation, and in general, there’s more walking and busyness to just live.
With these important but non-critical demands, it can help our thoughts move away from negative thought spirals and instead focus on current experiences.
5. Being Outdoors Reduces Stress
Stress is a gateway to many other emotional problems. Finding ways to reduce stress will help in all aspects of emotional health.
Many of the studies mentioned already talk about reduction in stress, but another study observed a significantly reduced stress response in participants who spent time in a forest. Amazingly, participants only spent two hours within a forest to see these effects, which is consistent with other studies in this article.
How Camping Can Reduce Stress
As mentioned, camping can be more or less stressful, depending on your preparation and experience. Your first-time camping may not be as stress-free as later excursions. You can always offset first-camping stress by going with a more experienced group that can help with cooking and other aspects of camping.
Also, pro-tip, make sure to bring a hammock. Every time we’ve set up the hammock and have had the time to use it, a hammock is an excellent de-stresser.
6. Outdoor Exercise Improves Self-esteem
Another study published from the university at Essex shows that self-esteem improved for all age groups for those who exercised outside, with effects strongest for the youngest participants, and those with mental illnesses.
These data are an exciting prospect for many who may be struggling with emotional and mental difficulties.
How Camping Improves Self-esteem
The study from Essex focused on exercise (ranging from low to high intensity) in green (natural scenery) and in blue spaces (water, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans). The mere presence of nature made an impact on self-esteem.
Many campsites are in or adjacent to forests, or in view of water, so camping works really well for creating opportunities to experience green or blue spaces.
Aside from that, competence is a huge help to self-esteem. According to Dr. Nicole Beurkens,
A strong sense of personal competence is necessary for children to persevere in the face of challenges, to step out of their comfort zones, and have positive self-esteem.Competence: The Key to Improving Self-Esteem, Reducing Resistance, Instilling Responsibility, and Promoting a Positive Mood in Children
Camping has abundant sources of manageable challenges. A list of tasks that range in complexity are here:
- Carrying things from one place to another: Not glamorous, but a huge part of car camping where kids can be a great help with.
- Tying knots: I’m in my 30’s at the time of writing this article, and I get a huge satisfaction from learning and tying knots. You’d think I’d be too old to get a kick out tying knots, but it’s very satisfying to find the right knot for the job and tying it successfully. Tying a truckers hitch makes you feel like you know what you’re doing.
- Cooking over a campfire: Cooking over a campfire ranges in difficulty from roasting marshmallows to dutch oven peach cobbler, to a stir fry and more. It’s more difficult cooking over an open fire than on a range in your kitchen, but it’s very satisfying and makes you feel very capable.
- Identifying nature: Knowing the difference between an oak and an ash tree, or between poison ivy and … not poison ivy, is an important outdoor skill that brings a huge feeling of competence (especially when you get to show it off to your friends)
- Setting up a tent or a hammock: Some tents are easier to set up than others, but you always feel good when you can do it (especially without help or instructions).
This is just a few of the tasks that you’ll run into while camping. They are great, and manageable challenges that make you feel proficient and competent, even as you’re learning. This is true of adults, and children. If you want to improve your child’s self-esteem (or your own), set up some camping reservations for a few weekends in the next couple months.
7. Being Connected to Nature Could Help You Be More Happy
A thorough study from Carleton University that analyzes data from multiple other studies (a meta-study) considers much of what research is available out there about the correlation between connection to nature and happiness.
As the study mentions, there are multiple types of happiness. The stronger a person reports a connection to nature, the stronger their feelings of vitality (feeling of well-being, and liveliness), positive affect (positive initial reactions) and life satisfaction.
The conclusion from the study was that the link between the connection to nature and happiness was significant. People are more likely to be happy if they have a higher connection to nature.
How Camping Can Make You More Happy
As you can expect, none of these studies are perfect, and it’s impossible to know if spending time outdoors is the solution for everyone’s problems. What the data shows is that there is a correlation between time spent in nature with happiness, and that’s about as good as we will have.
Camping isn’t a one and done kind of deal–you have to experience it often to get the benefits so you are less concerned about the process and able to be more attentive to the scenery and the experience.
When you’re camping, you are learning, exploring, experiencing, and simplifying.
I can chip in with my own life experiences here: Some of my favorite experiences of my life have been camping, hiking, swimming, and exploring. Camping–both wilderness and car camping–has given me experiences that I love to reminisce about! Not only is the nature on this planet beautiful and memorable, but the human connections I’ve felt as I’ve wandered the planet with friends and family are some of the deepest and important to me.
Me and my wife have spent many a short weekend camping at nearby state parks, and even if we only have a few hours of unstructured time away from home, I often feel rejuvenated and energized, and able to live life a little more richly.
So let’s go camping!
8. Dramatic Scenery Improves Mood More Than Plain Scenery
A very interesting study from the University of Groningen compared mood surveys from individuals who saw plain nature (such as a garden, or a city park), to dramatic nature views (such as gigantic waterfalls, the grand canyon, or mountains). The study showed that more dramatic pictures had a more positive impact on mood than the plainer pictures of nature.
How Camping Helps You See Dramatic Scenery
City parks are amazing, but when you’re camping, you have the opportunity to submerse yourself in nature and see more than what you’d see in a city park.
A short personal experience: We visited a State Natural Area that is only a 45 minute drive from our house, and in the morning, we took our camp chairs to a field that was next to our campsite.
Even though it wasn’t comparable to the Grand Canyon–the field was gorgeous with wildflowers, and the wind swept along the grass calmly. It felt invigorating to just be there to watch and listen.
Camping gives the opportunity to find views more dramatic and awe-inspiring than what you could find in a typical suburban backyard.
The truly breathtaking views are often deep in wilderness areas and are difficult to get to. Setting out for a location where you can make a base camp and subsequently exploring and seeing the sights is a great experience.
9. Outdoor Activities Are Great Exercise
As with any exercise, care should be taken to only participate in stuff that you are capable and qualified to do. The following chart has data available from FitWatch.com.
All calorie amounts assume 60 minutes of activity:
125 lb person
185 lb Person
|Backpacking (with light to moderate load)
|Camping (cooking, light housekeeping)
How Camping Helps You Get Fit
Camping itself is low on the calorie burn list above, but usually hiking trails are usually available close by, which is an awesome exercise. Many campgrounds have water features for kayaking, and some have or are close to rock walls for climbing.
If you are wilderness camping then you may be riding horseback, or backpacking. Many of these activities are within reach if you go out of your way to go camping in the right places.
Camping is awesome! Even though there are a lot of good reasons to go, it’s hard to get out sometimes. Here are a couple of suggestions to make camping happen.
- Buy reservations in advance: I find the easiest way to make camping happen is to buy the camping reservations now for trips in the future (even months ahead), so you can plan accordingly as time goes on. If it’s on the calendar, it’s easier to make it happen!
- Buy a pass, (if possible): It’s easier to balk at a camping trip because you have to pay entrance fees. If you are getting serious about making camping more a part of your life, if many of your parks are owned by the state government, buy a state parks pass, or a national parks pass so you can increase the obligation to go slightly and remove some excuses.