Camping can be an expensive endeavor. When we started out, we had hand-me-down sleeping bags and a used tent. That was 2008. Since then, we have upgraded our tent and have purchased a new air mattress, among other gear, but we’re still using the same old sleeping bags. Purchasing used equipment has allowed us to affordably experiment with gear without a heavy upfront investment.
We have found gently used items at yard sales, on community listservs, and at thrift shops.
This year’s haul included five folding chairs ($5), several tarps ($10), a spare tent ($20), several hiking and outdoors books, and the soup pot ($1) that saved us in New York. Last weekend, we purchased a lightly used kayak ($250).
That kayak purchase was from a neighbor up the road, Joanne. We found a notice that she posted on Front Porch Forum, and responded with interest. When we examined the kayak, she pointed out its features, how you could hook up to another kayaker and have lunch together, how the cushioned seat was much more comfortable than anything you could rent at a state park, and how versatile the accompanying paddle was. She had us dreaming of all the future ripples we’d make gliding through Vermont’s clear blue waters. Of course, it took us many years of renting at camp sites to get us to want our own vessel.
As someone who prefers to buy used to save the environment and to save money, making camp gear a priority when we go “summer shopping” has helped me to try out items I might have thought too extravagant to pay full price for. Below are my top five items to look for at your next estate sale.
1. Table cloths: Flannel-flocked vinyl is the way to go. They repel water, are durable, and give your picnic table a special touch. I found several for less than a dollar at my local reuse store.
2. Tarps: These simple rectangles are the workhorses of the camp set up. Use as ground cloth, rain fly, wood cover, or privacy wall. I found a square of tarp once in the woods, as I was foraging for wood. We’ve found them for $5+ at local discount shops.
3. Ice packs: These have been essential in keeping our food cold for long camping trips. They are reusable, and leave no watery melted mess the way ice cubes do. I got two dozen pieces for free from a friend. She was using a mail order food service and didn’t know what to do with them.
4. Bags: Whether it’s a picnic for the mountain top, a receptacle for dirty laundry, or a waterproof pouch for your phone, make sure you have the carry-all that works for you. I’ve found Army sacks for $5 at yard sales, and reuse plastic linen bags as meal pouches.
5. First Aid items: Tweezer, multi-tool, blade, magnifying glass. I’ve found these components for a dollar or less. Don’t forget to sanitize the tools before use, and regularly thereafter. Refresh your kit annually with travel sized packages of band-aids, hand sanitizers, and ointments from the local drug store.
The other way I’ve gotten around paying full-fare for camping equipment is to add them to my Christmas wish list. But then that requires making nice with Santa.