Our family started tent camping, Summer of 2021. At that time, MBP was 4 and AHP was 17 months. Just like the rest of the world, I was eager to start traveling, but still cautious. Adults in the household were vaccinated at the time, but our kids were not. Camping was a great option, being outdoors 100% of the time.
Camping with kids is very different from camping without kids. Actually camping with a toddler and a preschooler is entirely different itself. After two years of camping we are still learning and accumulating gears that works best for us. This year was better than last year, mainly because we started with nothing.
Our First Year Camping
I’m not really sure what I was thinking when I booked our first camping trip. I’m pretty sure I saw a lot of pictures of the beach or the mountains, with kids as young as mine and thought, hey we could do it too. I read some articles about camping with kids and decided that a State Park with flushed toilet and running water is the best way to start. Plus points if there is a playground. I then remember that I really enjoyed Lake Chelan the last time I went. It didn’t matter that I went there sans kids and stayed in a 2 bedroom air-conditioned airbnb condo. I found an availability for two nights at Lake Chelan State Park and felt that I won a lottery. Apparently, this state park is booked way in advance and it is hard to get a reservation during the summer. I told my husband my plan after booking the site. There were some questions about the location, but ultimately he tagged along.
Once we have our reservation, I decided to rent our gear. I’m not entirely sure if we will like camping, so I went to Arrive Outdoor and reserved everything I thought I would need. It included a top of the line tent that sleeps 6, 3 sleeping pads, 1 men’s sleeping bag, 4 headlamps, a lantern, a power bank, a grill kit, Jetboil basecamp stove and pan and an MSR Alpine 4 pot set. The total cost for 2 nights was $178, but I have a great discount code and I only have to pay $87. Score!! The problem is that the gear never arrived on time. Instead of arriving the day before we leave, it arrived on the day we were leaving. Arrive Outdoor was nice enough to refund me the money.
Since I was tracking the rental order, I knew that the gear will not arrive on time. So how did we do this? Well, we purchased the “necessary” gear from Costco and Walmart. I bought a 6 person Core Block Out tent from Costco and purchased Campstove, Twin Air Mattress and Propane from Walmart. We brought our pack and play. I have a sleeping bag and my husband’s old Air Mattress and some really thin sheets which we used as blankets. For cooking, we borrowed a cooler from my parents and used our pots and pans at home. Our sleeping set up had some issues. First, the old air mattress didn’t inflate, so my husband and I were basically on the ground. The sheets didn’t work as a blanket, and it got cold at night, so we are sharing one sleeping bag. Our cooking set up was fine and we didn’t starve.
Despite some initial problems, we enjoyed the trip and followed it with 4 more camping trips for 6 nights in total.
Our Second Year Camping
After the camping season in 2021, I kept an eye on some camping gears on facebook marketplace and sales at REI. So far our total cost is $583.98. There are some items that are not necessary. There are some items that are optional and very specific to our family.
We purchased a Core 6 Person Block Out Tent from Costco. It was originally priced for $99.99. After we got back camping, it was on sale for $69.99. Costco refunded me the difference. I was actually really glad that I purchased this tent. It works for us because we are a good weather camper. This is not a 3 season tent, it is basically just a summer tent. The only good thing about it is that it is block out – and for us that is enough benefit that we are still using it. AHP still naps and it is easier for him to nap in this tent. He napped more last year and once this year. At night, we can go to bed at 8PM even when the sun is out and the kids can sleep until 7AM without the sun waking them up at 5 or 6AM.
Now, that is the only benefit of this tent. As I said, this is not a 3 season tent. We had a rainy day this year, and there were puddles inside the tent. I was diligent and made sure there were towels in the corner. This tent also doesn’t have a good ventilation. If the rainfly is on, expect to have condensation in your tent. If the rainfly is not on and you have a dog, there will still be condensation even if you open all the “windows”. I figure out that I can open the roof window and door window once the kids are in bed and it’s already dark to get more airflow. I will usually wake up when the sun is out and at that time, I’ll close it again to keep the tent “dark”. Once, AHP woke up at 6AM before I was able to close the windows and he insisted that it is day time. Also, one of the pole broke this year and I have to purchase a replacement. The pole is only $10, but there is a flat shipping rate of $7 so bought 2, for a total of $27.
Anyway, if you like dark, do not have a dog and will only camp during the summer, then buy this tent.
Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bags
I know that we will need a sleep system that will work for me. I already have a hard time sleeping in a hotel, so I know that I will have a hard time sleeping in a tent without a bed. I’m also a side sleeper so I need a sleeping pad that will feel like an actual bed. It took trying out some sleeping pads. First we bought 3 Klymit Static V Luxe Sleeping Pads. Costco was selling it for $69.99 and the sales guy was able to convince us to buy it. Well, it’s better than sleeping on the ground, but it was loud. I was not comfortable. Then I found 2 Large Therm-a-rest Luxury Sleeping Pad in Facebook Market Place. The seller was selling it for $30 each. I bought 2 for $50. It was advertised as used and have some stains, but was always stored correctly. I purchased it the day before our camping trip. Once I got home, I tested it and made sure it inflated. I wiped it and did some sniff test and we were good to go. The cost of this pad, if I buy new is $189.95 each. Yup I got it for a bargain. We were now using 2 Klymits and 2 Therm-a-Rest and I was more comfortable. Fast forward to June 2022 and one of my neighbor posted 2 Therm-a-Rest XXL MondoKing mattress. It was not the latest edition, but she was only selling it for $75 each. I offered to pay $100 for both and she accepted. The new version of this mattress sells for $259.95 each. It will cost just as much as a real mattress if I buy this new. So , I got another bargain. I tested it at home and realize that one of the mattress have a tear. I searched the internet and was able to repair it using the Permanent Home Repair Kit from Therm-a-Rest. I ordered it on Amazon for $16.36. I used an existing gift card, received from my sister, so my cost is $0. My husband and MBP now uses the MondoKing. AHP uses the LuxuryMat and I sleep between MBP and AHP so I used both the MondoKing and Luxury Mat. What happened to our Klymit’s mattress? Well, I kept the receipt and returned it to Costco just under a year after we purchased it. Thank you, Costco!
Sleeping bags are also necessary for us. We live and camp here in the Pacific Northwest and it gets cold at night. I have a Northface Cat Meows Sleeping Bag. I got this back in 2010 when I went backpacking and can’t recall the price. I also bought MBP a Teton toddler sleeping bag from my neighborhood page for $5. MBP used it last year and outgrown it. AHP is now using the Teton and we bought MBP a REI Co-op Kindercone 25 Sleeping Bag. It was on sale for $48.49 and currently listed at $69.95. I bought it with a gift card I got from my birthday 3 years ago and paid $26.38 for the remaining balance. For my husband, we got him a CORE Sleeping Bag from Costco for $27.99.
For cooking, we kept it very basic. The Coleman Classic Propane Gas Camping Stove is still working for us. We got it from Walmart for $43.88. It is still being sold from Walmart at $48. We still uses our pots and pans and silverware from our kitchen. I try to minimize the time washing the dishes. We uses disposable as much as we can. Sometimes, we book a campsite that has an outdoor kitchen. My husband uses this and most of our food are grilled.
For lights, we bought 3 headlamps for $14.99 and 3 lanterns for $12.99 from Costco. I also purchased camping chairs for $20.58, tarp for $14.99 and an air mattress for $16.97 from Walmart. We uses the tarp as a footprint for our tent. We rarely use our camping chairs because with kids, we are really rarely in our campsite. The air mattress was used once for our first camping trip. Sadly, Walmart do not have a good return policy and the air mattress is just in our garage. I also got a solar charger for our phones from Amazon during Prime Day for $39.99.
Other Other Gears
Our “new to us” car came with a hitch and a bike carrier. We haven’t had a chance to use the bike carrier, but we decided to purchase a Cargo Rack. We drive a 2010 Toyota Prius. Storage is ok when our dog doesn’t come with us, but there were several camping trips where she joined us and we needed a way to store our gear. Since our car already have a hitch, it is cheaper to buy a cargo rack than a rooftop box. It is also better for fuel efficiency and we didn’t notice any difference on our gas consumption when using the cargo carrier. We purchased a Curt Tray Hitch Cargo Carrier for $117.99. We used partial points and paid $103.19. We also bought a cargo bag for the carrier for $43.41
Tips on Getting Your Gear on a Budget
Try Rental or Borrow Things
Even though renting didn’t worked for us, I still recommend going this route if you are a beginner, or starting from scratch. This will give you an idea of items that are a must have for you vs items that are just good to have. For us, we don’t use the camp chairs much, so there’s no point of buying a good one. I used (or at least tried) to used Arrive Outdoor, but I also used REI in the past when I was just starting backpacking many many years ago. When renting, look for discount codes. My first rental only cost $87. On our second camping trip, my parents and my sister came with us. We lent my sister our 2 person tent (that we got as a wedding present) and my parents borrowed my brother’s 3 person tent.
There are also some non-profit organization that lends gear. In Washington State, the Washington Trail Association (WTA) have a lending library. The Mountaineers also lends gear for a fee.
Don’t forget your local buy nothing group or local neighborhood page. You can ask your neighbor to borrow some of the gear, and folks usually lend it. Just make sure to take care of the items you borrowed and return it on time.
Get Used Gear
Things will inevitably get dirty when you are camping, so there’s really no need to buy items that are new. Also, a lot of people try camping and will either realize that they don’t like it or they like it so much that they are upgrading their gears. This is how I found our sleeping pads. I highly doubt that the MondoKing Pad got a lot of used. It was so clean when I got it. The previous owner of the LuxuryMat is upgrading their gear.
Speaking of used gear, don’t be afraid to buy a gear that has some flaw. Most items can be repaired and reputable brands will even repair it for you for a small fee. I opted to repair my MondoKing by myself, but I could have also send it to Therm-a-Rest and they will repair the pad for a fee. I know that Nemo will also repair your gear for a fee.
I used my neighborhood FB page quite a bit, but I still see items on Craigslist.
Don’t but more than what you need
If you will only camp during the summer, there is no need to buy a 4 season tent. Really, there is no need to buy a tent that will cost over $500. REI is my go to store for outdoor things, but buying a $500 tent will not make sense if you will only camp once or twice during the summer. Same with sleeping bags or really any gear. Costco usually sells tents and camping gear during the camping season and most of their items are good enough. This is where we got our lantern and headlamps. Bonus point is that Costco have a really good return policy!
Shop on Sale or Outlet Store and don’t forget to use coupons/ coupon code
If you can’t find used gear and really need to get something new, wait to shop on sales. REI has a big memorial day sale or usually have member only sale. This is where I got MBP’s sleeping bag. I bought some items on steepandcheap.com. I subscribed to the site and won $200 gift card. I didn’t buy any camping gear, but I bought an Altra running shoes.
We have already camped 18 nights for 2 years and have put the gears to test. We may add more items like a Thermacell for mosquito repellant or a Camping Grill, but so far we are pretty happy with our gear. The more you packed in, the more you will need to pack out, so I try to minimize our gears as much as I can.
Per my calculation the total cost of our gear if I bought everything new is $1,464.4. We paid $583.93 and saved $880.47, by buying items pre-loved, buying from Costco and waiting for discounts.
|Year Bought||Camping Item/s||Original Cost||Our Cost|
|2021||Nick's Sleeping Bag||27.99||27.99|
|2021||Adam Sleeping Bag||20||5|
|2021||Thermarest LuxuryMap Sleeping Bag||379.9||50|
|2022||Max Sleeping Bag||48.49||26.38|
|2022||Hitch Cargo Rack||117.99||103.19|
|2022||Thermarest MondoKing Sleeping Bag (x2)||519.9||100|
|2022||Thermarest Camping Mattress Repair Kit||16.36||0|
|2022||Tent Pole Replacement||27||27|