“The rich man buys once, the poor man buys twice.”
In other words, the rich man can afford to buy quality gear that performs its intended function and lasts a long time; the poor many buys cheap gear that either breaks or does not work and needs to be replaced after a short period.
I see/hear this saying touted around the camping scene quite regularly. Quite frankly, it annoys me. If we all waited until we could afford the best camping gear before we went camping, the camp grounds would be very empty. And wouldn’t that mean we are all camping in Oztent, Southern Cross or Black Wolf tents? This is obviously not the case as I rarely see these brands of tents in camping grounds. What is everyone else using? DMH Outdoors, OZtrail, BCF-brand, Spinifex (Anaconda brand), Jackaroo (KMart brand) and similar tents!
Besides, how can you know what is the best gear for your needs until you have camped a few times? And you can’t camp until you have gear. Buy budget gear, make do, improvise, make it yourself or perhaps even do without just to get out there. If people can go hiking and camp with only what they are carrying on their backs, why do you need a car and trailer stacked high with the most expensive gear available to have an enjoyable weekend?
Get out there and do it. Scrimp, save, do your research and buy smart. If the best gear you can afford is at the budget end of the range, still go for it. Just be aware of its limitations. It may only last you two years instead of 10; but if that means that you have had two years of enjoying camping instead of three years saving for the ultimate tent go for it anyway!
You should still expect cheap gear to perform adequately. If you have bought a cheap tent, it should be water proof; you should be able to sit on a chair without it collapsing; and a sleeping bag should still perform within its temperature rating. However, the cheaper tent may take a little longer to set up; the chair may not be as comfortable; and the sleeping bag bulkier.
The thing that often strikes me is that the people who have been regularly camping for the last 20 years have the small tent and the minimalist setup. It is the new campers who have the massive top-of-the-range tent. The experienced campers know that you do not need all the modern gadgets to have a great time — less is better!
When we started out, we set ourselves a budget of $1,000 to purchase everything for our first camping trip, including a tent, gas stove, lantern, table, sleeping bags and matresses for a family of four. We had a couple of things already like an esky, torches and camping chairs. We also made do without a tarp or kitchen bench. In retrospect, we could have done it cheaper.
We figured $1,000 was a fair budget because we would have easily spent more than that on renting a holiday appartment anyway. It turns out it was money well spent, despite buying mostly cheap gear from KMart. It was one of the best family holidays we have had.
We have used the gear on three camping trips now, although we have added a tarp to the basic kit, a folding bench and bought different mattresses (the old ones were expensive high density foam, but we prefer self-inflating 4WD mats that cost the same price).
We are getting a better idea of how we like to set up our camp site, and what things are important to us. Things like fast setup are important to me, meaning a quick pitch tent. My wife likes to have a large shaded space, meaning a tarp is a priority.
Over the next few trips we will probably replace the gas stove with a low pressure regulated stove and our chairs that we had before starting camping also need updating. I also want to update to a quick-pitch canvas touring tent.
While it is easy in retrospect to identify the important factors, it is much harder to identify appropriate gear that will fulfill those needs. Only experience, research, talking with other campers and seeing other people’s set-ups can help you with that choice.
My recommendations for your first camping trip are:
- choose a time of year when mild weather is forecast — it will minimise the amount of gear you will need and even cheap gear will usually perform adequately
- select a tent that is recommended for approximately double the number of people you intend to sleep — that is, if you have a family of four, choose a tent recommended to sleep 6 to 10 people to allow additional room to store bags and move around in the tent, but not so huge as to take forever to set up
- prioritise sleeping comfort — a good night’s sleep is essential
- use your gear within its limitations — don’t go camping in sub-sero temperatures with gear intended for summer!
- treat your gear well — take the time to set up and pack up properly, particularly ensuring the gear is dry before extended storage after your trip; even cheap gear will last longer if it is looked after
- make do with gear that you already have — bring a pot and pan from home, raid the picnic basket for some plastic cups and plates, and bring sheets and an old doona for sleeping.
And remember to enjoy yourself!