The rich man buys once, the poor man buys twice — camping wisdom, or not?

“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!

Set-up on our first camping trip

Set-up on our first camping trip

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!

10 thoughts on “The rich man buys once, the poor man buys twice — camping wisdom, or not?

  1. Mark

    Well written and well said. We have been avid campers for over 30 years and as you do it you get better at it. You learn not to spend money on items that are not needed. There are plenty of gagets out there that end up not even being used. It is a good idea to tailor the trip towards the type of camping your going to do. Focused on the other activities like hiking, swimming, and climbing. I have seen some campsites where they have all the bells and whistles and they cant even make a simple camp fire. Its not about what you have, it is about how you use it. Like the last sentence. Always take time to relax and enjoy.

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  2. Doug

    Hey, great pragmatic post. We’ve heard all the talk of canvas being best but you don’t see that on Everest. Plus canvass is so expensive people keep the investment too long and so they leak and/or tear during the eventual summer cyclonic winds (often typical of NZ north of Auckland). In the good weather you certainly don’t need an expensive tent. We purchased KMart Jakaroo 8 person (NZD 350) to see how cheap we could go camping as unsure how long our young son would be keen, it performed so well we got another the same after 2 years so we had two – one for sleeping 4 people and one for living. (Found that to be much more convenient than the layout of a single large 9 person tent). 10 day stays through three instances of offshore cyclones and wet days/nights saw no trouble in 35 knot winds/gusts – any tent fly inc. these will wear on the sprung poles in those or lesser conditions – after 5 years use we have re-spray sealed only the 4 tags that hold the side doors when rolled up. This 2103/14 summer I lazily left the internal door and external side panel open – and unattended for two hours – 35 to 45 knot wind gusts eventually separated that shock-cord sprung pole and a single tear in the roof resulted – stopped at the seams (!) – could be repaired still – not a fault of the tent or its construction. A Kathmandu Retreat 270 V2 tent at twice the price was flattened sideways in the same winds. The canvass followers were as worried during the night about take-off as well. So we’ve witnessed no real advantage spending more – apart from personal preference of course, which is important.
    Recommendation – don’t overspend as dome style tents are generally the same construction type/quality and very similar fabric weight/waterproofing. That means you can replace when you NEED to and your life-cycle cost for camping is at least the same (or more likely less, as we have found and more satisfying as you can get a new one more often for the same ultimate outlay) as the more expensive purchase. We don’t believe in canvas – we’ve used it – heavy, clumsy, out-dated technology, which still needs a tarp over the top (!) Although large families do seem to like the house-envelope style but it gets bashed in the wind as much as any other type. Now we just need noise-less zips to avoid waking those sleeping when I need those mid-sleep toilet stops. Have fun – we’re off to buy another Jakaroo on sale . . . no snobs here . . . 5 years @ $350 purchase is a cheap $70 a year or $7 per night . . . and it could have been cheaper but for my lazy zipper use!

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  3. Bronwyn

    Good read. Just bought a 10 person Kmart Jackaroo tent and was suddenly concerned about how waterproof it would be during the predicted wet Easter weekend. Tent cost $217 on sale to replace a 4 man tent we’ve been using for 10 years which cost me R300 (approximately $50).

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  4. Mark

    Great post! We just spent 2weeks in Exmouth and Karijinni with another family. Their camper set up was worth about $30 000 more than ours and while they were obviously more comfortable than us, once we left the camp to see the sights etc the experience was the same. Best to get what you can afford or you’ll miss out altogether.

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  5. Shaz

    Really appreciate your posts and agree whole-heartedly, the Jackaroo 10 person 3 room dome tent is ideal for our family of 3 adults & 1 child. It’s light, packs down easily, takes less room in the boot than my other family tent which cost 3 x the price, was more time-consuming to erect and pack-down, and didn’t even have continuous flooring, which was a pain. This Christmas hols, we are camping around the South Island NZ, looking forward to it.

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  6. David d

    I have done one trip of aust, and four other major adventures using an 8 man kmart tent. After 12 years, it is only just starting to break down.

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  7. Cathy

    Great to read. Just purchased a second hand Jackeroo. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that!! 🙂

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  8. Jo Burton

    We bought our first Jackeroo tent from Kmart in NZ eleven years ago. Toured and camped all over the North and South islands for three months as well as holidays and weekends away in it throughout the year we were in NZ. Only paid 240 NZ dollars so were really impressed as this was cheap as chips for us and the quality was surprisingly good for the money and really well designed! We posted it back to the UK we were that attached to it and have used it every year without fail for holidays and weekends away in all weathers. It’s never let us down staying bone dry in some horrendous storms that have flattened other peoples tents. When we bought it there were three of us, two adults and our young son two years old. Well as our boy got bigger the Jackeroo started to feel a little cramped then twenty months ago we had another son so it was time, reluctantly, to move on and purchase something bigger.We tried a couple of tents from the Vango range and settled on a samara 800. Now this is a very spacious tent, easily big enough for us with our two boys but it doesn’t feel right and the quality and set out aren’t anywhere near as good as our little old two room Jackeroo. I decided to have a scope around on ebay, as I have done occasionally over the past few years, in the hopes of finding another, bigger, Jackeroo so I couldn’t believe it when there was one up for auction in London with a low start price and cheap postage to the successful bidder. I won it for £100 and £10 postage so paid about the same as the first one we had. It was advertised as never being used and when it arrived this was the case, even the red strings were still tied as new in the little storage bag and not yet been attached to the tent. So now we cant wait for next spring/summer to try out our new three room Jackeroo. I’m sure it will be great as the only reason for the change was the family getting bigger and our need for more space. Wont get rid of the smaller one as we’re too attached to it and have some fantastic memories of our travels around NZ and our many family holidays. It even came in as the honeymoon suite when we got married in New Zealand at Taylors mistake in Christchurch. Anyone thinking about buying one needn’t worry as ours has lasted and is still almost as new after eleven years hard labour! Always look after your gear and make sure it gets packed away clean and dry even if it means having it draped out in your house if it’s had a wet time of it! Happy camping people and buy the best you can afford but do it now and get the bug sooner rather than later. You wont be sorry!

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