HomeTop StoriesOff-the-grid camping is becoming increasingly difficult. But admit it: you don't...

Off-the-grid camping is becoming increasingly difficult. But admit it: you don’t mind.

What makes a happy camper this summer? S’mores, sing-alongs and – lately – streaming.

The pandemic has driven millions of people to take outdoor trips and experiences, and many are now hooked. But they increasingly demand a decent Wi-Fi connection wherever they pitch their tents or park their campers, and campsites offer it.

Wi-Fi at campsites has become “the fourth largest utility after water, sewer and electricity,” says Tim Rout, founder and chief solutions officer at AccessParks, a San Diego-based broadband provider for RV parks and campgrounds.

“Six or seven years ago it was a ‘nice to have’ service so people could load their email or check their bank account,” Rout said. “Now people expect the same quality of service at RV parks as they do at home.”

About 40% of campers say Wi-Fi availability affects where they decide to camp, said David Basler, chief strategy officer for the Outdoor Hospitality Industry trade group. “Overall, this rises to 65% among Gen Z and millennials and 45% among Gen X campers,” he said.

Searches for Wi-Fi-equipped U.S. properties on camping booking platform Hipcamp are up 110% year over year, according to founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio, who said the number of such sites has grown 30% in the past year. Most Hipcamp hosts that offer Wi-Fi don’t charge extra for it, Ravasio added.

Wi-Fi is now offered at 82% of U.S. campgrounds, OHI estimates, slightly more than laundry and even shower facilities. It was the most commonly offered amenity last year among privately operated camping properties recently surveyed by The Dyrt. The camp information app shows that Wi-Fi is being added at a faster rate (nearly 16% of campgrounds added it between 2022 and 2023) than pickleball courts (12%), dog parks or kayaks and canoes (each at 10%).

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“Good, solid WiFi at the campsite is priority number 1,” says Catherine Stifter, 67, citing her wife’s love of movies and streaming services.

But Stifter also needs a good connection. The couple lives and travels full-time in their van, and when Stifter, a fitness instructor, leads her biweekly online Qigong exercise group, reliable service is a must-have.

Catherine Stifter and her wife live and travel in their van full time.  (Courtesy of Catherine Stifter)

Catherine Stifter and her wife live and travel in their van full time. (Courtesy of Catherine Stifter)

If it’s not available, she said, “Maybe I’ll use the signal at the lodge.”

The Dyrt found that 29% of campers worked while camping last year, up from less than 24% in 2022 and 2021, even as more employers mandated a return to in-person work. Some campers may have been “quietly vacationing,” working from a remote destination rather than heading out to completely unplug.

Rout said AccessParks’ business was already growing before the pandemic. “But since more people started getting outdoors and RV sales accelerated, there is a younger, more professional demographic at campgrounds — more families, more Zoom calls with work, distance learning, etc.,” he said. “Since then, our growth has increased dramatically thanks to the demand for high-speed broadband Wi-Fi.”

At least one campground in Montana relies on Wi-Fi for a camera system that monitors the area for grizzly bears, Rout added.

Marley Behnke said Wi-Fi was already installed at the campground in Grayling, Michigan, which she bought in late 2022. In addition to allowing guests to stay connected and share details of their adventures with loved ones, “there are apps that facilitate real-time activity updates, food delivery, organize scavenger hunts and enable interactive games,” she said.

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The campground, which is part of the Jellystone Park network, currently pays about $700 per month for Wi-Fi. Behnke said she wants to add fiber optic services this fall.

Wiring a campsite for high-speed broadband comes with challenges, such as ensuring the signal can travel through uneven terrain, trees and metal camper bodies and withstand extreme weather conditions. Depending on the size of the property and the type of service offered, installation can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000, Rout said, although campgrounds can typically recoup costs by lowering prices by just over $1 per night. to increase.

One factor that could drive demand for wilderness Wi-Fi: the influx of first-timers and higher-end campers who may prefer a less rustic experience.

The share of new campers and less experienced campers was 32% this year, down from a peak of 41% in 2022, but much higher than before the pandemic – when that percentage did not exceed 18% between 2015 and 2019, according to the camping operator KOA.

While middle- and lower-income travelers are especially eager to camp this summer, Deloitte researchers say, demand for camping is up 7% in a year when high-income travelers make up a larger share of this season’s total vacationers . According to Arizton market research, the “glamping” (glamorous camping) industry is expected to grow more than 15% every year through 2029.

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“I have kids who didn’t grow up camping consistently, so I definitely need a more upscale camping experience,” says Sommer Nyte, 46, a real estate agent from Bellingham, Washington, who recently purchased a new pop-up trailer tent. Wi-Fi is on her wish list, along with swimming pools, boat rentals and programming for families with children.

However, an internet connection is not available at every campsite. It’s available to 65% of those listed on Airbnb, a spokesperson said, only a modest increase from 61% in 2019. That’s despite sharper increases in bookings for camping vehicles (up 22% from last summer) and camping accommodations (an increase of 10%).

However, Hipcamp’s Ravasio noted: “There are an increasing number of campers – especially with RVs, adventure vehicles and overlanding rigs – who are equipped with their own Wi-Fi self-sufficient devices, such as Starlink or hotspots.”

And then there are people who still go camping to get away from it all.

“There used to be a curtain of isolation between campers and the outside world,” says John Stark, a 73-year-old retired broadcaster from Tucson who has just returned from camping at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico – which does not offer public television. WiFi. “Campsites are now an extension of our living rooms.”

“I blame the cell towers,” he added.

One way analog campers like Stark can stay offline is by sticking to public campsites. While the RV Industry Association found that about 60% of private sites offered WiFi by 2022, only 3% of public sites did so.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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