Top 5 Camp Items To Look For Used

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).

Our new-to-us kayak

Our new-to-us kayak

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.

Reusable ice packs, given to us by a friend.

Reusable ice packs, given to us by a friend.

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.

Camp chairs also make great impromptu seating for backyard fires, too!

Camp chairs also make great impromptu seating for backyard fires, too!

Bacon S’mores

I’m sure this *never* happens to you, but during our trip to Little River, I found myself with an excess of bacon. Don’t ask. I was either overly prepared or overly ambitious. Thankfully I was camping with an adventurous group of fire-loving enthusiasts who made short order of my predicament.

We’d been roasting marshmallows, making traditional s’mores, then changing it up with gourmet chocolate, Newman-Os, giant-sized marshmallows, and dreams of Nutella. But when I broke into the bacon, the tenor of our experiments changed.

Instantly, we bacon loves salivated and forgot that anything else was possible. Photo by Tim Wessel.

Instantly, we bacon lovers salivated and forgot that anything else was possible. Photo by Tim Wessel.

In case you want to likewise combine breakfast and dessert over the fire, here’s how:

Bacon S’mores

1. Place a marshmallow on top of a chocolate square on top of a graham cracker.
2. Thread a slice of bacon on your roasting stick.
3. Carefully cook over the fire, rotating for evenness.
4. When done to likeness, carefully slide bacon off stick with a cracker, creating a sandwich.

The hot bacon will melt the marshmallow and chocolate. But there’s no need to wait that long. Bite into it. Share it. Let bacon grease sizzle down your chins. Do it again.

Bacon on a stick by Sarah Adam 2015

Little Rascals

When I was 17, a bunch of us were able to escape camp counselor duty one evening and drove past the Canadian border to wander around the streets of Quebec only to wind up in the waning post-midnight hours along the shores of Lake Willoughby. 

Exhausted, energized from all we’d seen, and dreading the day’s regiment of duties, we settled around a smoky fire passing around our bottle of cheap wine. We had broken into a package of Oreos, but abandoned them as we tucked into our sandy sleeping bags for what dreams we could capture.

This memory I still carry with me: stirring to the overhead chatter of animals, hazy in my understanding of my surroundings, and watching as one by one, the Oreo cookies were taken by deft furry paws. Squirrels scrambled from limb to limb, predacious and intent on the vellum-wrapped package at the center of our circle. Within minutes of our waking, we’d found the cookies completely gone, and the rodents that had eaten them berserk from the sugar they’d consumed.

I remember this every time I encounter a “Do Not Feed The Animals” notice. Those squirrels did not need any sugar, surely. They did not intend to wake me and my compatriots with their adrenaline-fueled activity. But that morning they were as rowdy as the children we’d taken a break from, as cute and precious, as cumbersome and hard to ignore. We roused one another, dumped our gear into the trunk, and drove back to base camp without much conversation.

My lesson from this was to never pack Oreos on a camping trip. Instead I pack the hippie version, Newman-Os, which provides just the right amount of chocolate cookie flavor and not too much of the sugar. Best of all, the animals tend not to go for the stuff.

Newman-Os, not quite a sugary as Oreos.

Of course, I have not learned my lesson entirely. Lately, this is what I have discovered that camp critters love to shove into their mouths:

1. M&Ms. Especially the peanut/peanut butter flavored ones. Especially if they happen to be loose in your makeup bag on top of the picnic table. Believe me, camp animals have figured out zippers!

2. Sunflower seeds. They may not like them, but they will try their best to get a taste of them. Hard plastic containers are no match for jaws of determined beasts. If they’ve left any seeds behind, it’s probably because they don’t like the flavor.
No sunflowers for you!

No sunflowers for you!

3. Snickerdoodles. Especially if they’re homemade and especially if you have brought them for the group to share, and you happen to leave them by the fire as you drunkenly and regrettably crawl into your tent without them.

What are you to do when the critters just waddle up to you and do their squeaky best to part you from your bread crumbs? Muster up your best Snow White/Tarzan/Beastman and remind them what happens to Mogwais after midnight.
The cuteness!!

The cuteness!!

Camp Make-Do

The Perc

  1. Pack your kitchen bag days in advance.
  2.  Make sure you remember the batteries you forgot last trip.
  3. Forget that the percolator is still in the dishwasher.
  4. Drive 4.5 hours to the Adirondacks to set up camp for 4 days.

You know this story—and if you live on coffee, you will never forget it. The moment you paw through the food locker looking for something in the tote of tools, you realize that the coffee pot that should be there is not there. Your mind plays a sideshow of all the last places it has been. You’ll need a good excuse to tell that person wrestling with the tent poles because You know what? Let’s not do coffee this weekend is just not going to cut it.

4:30 pm in Vermont rural parlance means “closed” or “closing”. We need to get to a general store fast. We drive to a nearby gas station, but they do not have emergency coffee makers for sale. The clerk suggests the Ace Hardware* in downtown Inlet. We choose the cheaper option of a Melita cup filter over a replacement pot and head back to camp.


I bought this pot at a yard sale for $1. Fortunately, I also remembered to bring it with me

Turns out, boiling a pot of water is easier than boiling a pot of coffee. And seriously, who washes a pot that just boils water?


  1. Pack your kitchen bag days in advance.
  2. Agree on the necessary menu and kitchen items.
  3. Assume he’s packed the griddle you ALWAYS use to cook on.
  4. Sleep to a lullaby of loon calls and wake knowing there’ll soon be hot coffee.

When you rouse, you wander around to the food locker to bring about breakfast. But you discover this too—the griddle is not in the trunk. Nor is the cast iron skillet anywhere in sight. And there is not enough coffee on hand to make this situation right.

Ours is not a stick and foil operation. We are gas stove chefs.

“Why don’t we go into town and buy a fry pan,” he suggests. You catalog the weekend’s menu, and the cost/benefit of an additional expense and decide against it.

“I’ll cook everything in this,” you say, pointing to the 2 qt pot that now boils water for coffee. “I can do eggs and bacon in this.”

“But what about pancakes?” We only eat pancakes when we camp.

“I’ll use the dutch oven lid,” you say. “We’re camping…we’ll make do.”

He brought the dutch oven for a dish he was making. I convinced him that the lid was meant to double as a griddle.

He brought the dutch oven for a dish he was making. I convinced him that the lid was meant to double as a griddle.

You love the craft of making-do that you just might camp this way forever.

*This store is an amazing amalgam of tourist, homeowner, and outdoorsy merchandise. It is a true lifesaver, minus the life jackets.


Camping Around the Web May 2015

Of course we’re not the only WordPress bloggers writing about our camping experiences. Here’s a short list of some folks who, like us, really enjoy this type of recreation and the many memorable moments it can provide. If we can’t convince you to go camping this summer, then perhaps one of them will.

A Twelve Year Journey Starts with a Single Tent

It’s about being together as a family, away from the distractions, just being us. And creating this habit before there are teenagers who want technology to argue with.  It’s about exploring nature together. We also want to see the kids really understand their home state. I love Iowa and Scott has learned to love it to. There is so much to do and see here, and this journey will help them discover that. The main reason, however, for this crazy scheme, is that I selfishly want to suck up all the time with them I can while I have it.

Mother’s Day ~ Full of Camping Memories

 My Love language is “Quality Time.”  So, every year I tell my husband not to buy me anything because I truly feel like going camping with the family is my gift (he never listens and always buys me something anyway).

Poetry at the Tent: Five Things I Learned From Camping at Goose Island State Park, Texas

Goose Island offers camping, fishing and birding along  the St. Charles and Aransas bays, north of Corpus Christi, Texas. A three-hour drive from Austin makes this an easy weekend destination–although to avoid the crowds, mid week is better.

Ashuelot River Campground

Ashuelot River Campground is 22 acres of space, with sites for everything from big rigs to tents (and Alto Campers in between). Access to the sites is easy, and there’s plenty of open space for playing baseball, football, or picnicking; and there’s a rec room with foosball, ping-pong, pool and plenty of other evening or rainy day pass times.

Hanna Flats Camping

Most of Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing around camp in various forms. Several people napped, a group of us played card and dice games, we gathered firewood for that evening, a group played bocce around the sites, some read books, and we were all serenaded by a guitar. The beauty of a group that large was that there always seemed to be someone else interested in what you wanted to do, and you didn’t have to feel bad for breaking off from the herd.

Not Real Adults

When our youngest, Jenny, graduated from High School she was 18 years old and my son, Ben was already in college and was 20. The two of them and one of Ben’s friends, who had been at our house on and off for years, came to us with a plan for an adventure of their own.

Downtown Poultney

The last time I was in Poultney, I was at a conference at Green Mountain College, and didn’t get a chance to wander the downtown, though I eagerly wanted to. I was pleased that our visit to Lake St. Catherine included a Saturday lunch in town so we could explore the area. It’s not big, so park anywhere and walk everywhere. Here are a few of our highlights:

Hermit Hill Books – A wonderfully stocked and must-free shop that lives up to the promise of antiquarian, rare, and used books. Local Vermontania, coffee table art books, along with sheet music and other ephemera were among the trove of unexpected finds.
Miss Maisie, one of the shop's four-legged keepers.

Miss Maisie, one of the shop’s four-legged keepers.

Tot’s Diner – A comfortable eatery with a menu to satisfy hungry campers. The front room includes a counter and tables and booths. There’s also an attached dining room that holds the overflow. Home to locals and visitors, the staff was very friendly–giving the old regular a bit of lip, and us a tip that about the town-wide yard sale in nearby Fair Haven. The Saturday lunch menu does not include fried foods, so our sandwiches came with chips instead of fries. I ordered the mushroom burger and Daniel ordered the tuna melt.
Matching curtains, napkins, and table cloths, even.

Matching curtains, napkins, and table cloths, even.

Poultney Town Cemetery – From the street it looks like a tiny hillock of crumbling stones, but once inside the gates, it goes on for quite a while. A downed tree blocked a part of the drive, and as we turned around, we got turned around and exited a block from the entrance.
We also went to East Poultney Cemetery, too.

We also went to East Poultney Cemetery, too.

The Memorial Day Parade – We left camp on Monday and decided to take a pit stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts before making the 2-hour drive home. With our coffees in hand, we watched as the Memorial Day parade marched down Route 30, past the cemetery, to end up at the town municipal offices. It lasted all of 5 minutes. The townsfolk gathered at the intersection only had to turn around after the procession to take part in the ceremony.
The Stateline Band played the national anthem as we left town.

The Stateline Band played the national anthem as we left town.

The DD is part of a gas station, where even this guy doesn't get a break.

The DD is part of a gas station, where even this guy doesn’t get a break.

2015 Plans

The 2015 camping season is underway–we’ve already booked a Memorial Day trip to St. Catherine State Park and are planning a group camping in July. More to come, very soon! Meanwhile, here’s something to help you stay warm.