Recently, I stumbled across an old photo of me taken during a solo canoe trip down the Missinaibi River when I was in my twenties. I had a mullet, canvas sneakers and wore John Denver glasses. In the background there was a dome-style tent; a new design back in the day.

 photoKevin Callan

Things change. My hairstyle is no longer “business in the front and a party in the back,” and I’ve seen a lot more alterations in camp gear technology since my river trip.

Time for a throwback. Here are a few examples of camp items right up to the year I floated down the Missinaibi:

1884 – Carl Elsener invents a pocketknife which was approved by the Swiss Army and became an instant success. Thirteen years later, Elsener patented another pocketknife that opened on both ends, containing six separate blades and required only two springs. Elsener called it “Officer’s Knife” but we know it today as the Swiss Army Knife.

photoJames Case Flickr cc by 2.0

1907 – Primus stoves, originally developed in 1884, were mass produced in North America and replaced the inefficient wick-type stoves.

1910 – The zipper, first invented by Whitecomb l. Judson in 1893, was used on outdoor clothing and not long after on tents, packs and sleeping bags.

1923 – William C. Coleman introduces his first camp stove, a two-burner design which features a hot blast starter, eliminating the need for priming.

1925 – Government surveys begin for the development of the National Topographic Mapping System.

1933 – The Silva Company is established and produced the first navigational instrument which combines a compass and protractor.

1939 – Nylon becomes a hot item, especially for making climbing rope, light-weight tents, packs and clothing.

1945 – The Grumman Aircraft Company replaces the traditional heavy wood and canvas canoe with aluminum to construct a new light weight model.

photoPaul Comstock Flickr cc by 2.0

1948 – Velcro is invented, inspired from seed-burrs caught on wool socks.

1967 – Lowe Company revolutionizes the use of internal frames for back packs.

1968 – Uniroyal begins the development of Royalex ABS plastic hulls for canoes.

1974 – The first effective polyester synthetic insulation (Polarguard) is used for sleeping bags, replacing the old-style down-fill bags. 

1975 – North Face comes out with a lightweight geodesic dome tent, the first tent to have flexible aluminum poles.

1975 – Lifa polypropylene long underwear takes over classic cotton.

1976 – W.L. Gore company introduces a new breathable rain-wear fabric called Gore-Tex.  

1977 – Therm-A-Rest mattresses begin relieving camper’s bad backs across North America.

1980 – Alex Tilley begins to sell his prototype sailing hat at Toronto outdoor shows.

1987– A bear repellent product called “Bear-Off” is invented by Ed Cesar, consisting of a red-pepper based powder stored in a resealable plastic bag. The idea is to throw the powder in the face of the attacking bear, impairing its sense of smell and sight long enough for the victim to escape. Not long after, a spray replaced the powder in the bag.

1994 – Global Positioning System (GPS), first conceived by the USAF in 1960, becomes available for outdoor enthusiasts. 

More from The Happy Camper:

Want new gear four times a year?

Plan your next great adventure with explore!
Off the beaten path locations, tips and tricks, interviews with intrepid explorers and more.