Plugged-In In the Great Outdoors: Gadgets Come Camping

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Even when Americans are roasting s’mores out by a lakeside campfire, they still can't put down their gadgets and devices.

A new study commissioned by Kampgrounds of America and conducted by Cairn Consulting Group found that 70 percent of campers go online at least once during their getaway -- and half go online at least once a day.

The trend could be driven by the age and ethnic demographics of today’s campers, the study said. Although 86 percent of campers under the age of 25 bring their phones with them, it’s hardly only the young tech-savvy generation that can’t bear to be separated from their gadgets: More than three-quarters of older campers bring cell phones too.

Older campers also are more likely to bring tablets or even laptops into the woods. Almost 30 percent of campers over the age of 25 bring their laptops, compared to just over 20 percent of younger campers. More than a quarter of those in the 25-to-44 year-old age bracket pack their tablets, compared to about 20 percent of campers under 25.

Even campers over the age of 65 are addicted: 15 percent of those older campers bring iPads or similar devices.

A majority of campers said they use their devices mostly to check email or take pictures, and more than 30 percent are active on social media sites while camping. This attachment to technology affects campers’ priorities when it comes to amenities: More than 40 percent of respondents said whether or not a campground had free Wi-Fi would factor into their decision to stay there. Free Wi-Fi was ranked higher than all other amenities except clean bathrooms and kid-friendly features.

The study’s findings suggest that the preference to stay plugged in could be driven by an increasingly multi-ethnic interest in camping. Latino, African-American and Asian campers are all likelier than their Caucasian counterparts to use cell and Internet service, cable and satellite TV, and even video games while camping.

"Multicultural campers tend to be much more connected and reliant on technology," the report said.

A surprising number of campers would rather have a digital device than more basic essentials. When surveyors asked, "What could you not survive without when camping or what one essential item would you have to have in your camping survival kit?" About 34 percent named toilet paper ... and 28 percent said their smartphone.

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