What do I need to know about buying a tent?
December 10, 2013 6:52 PM   Subscribe

I would like to try camping, but I am an absolute beginner, and don't know a thing about roughing it outdoors. I guess the first thing I need to organize is shelter, so please help me: what do I need to know about buying a tent for one person?
posted by paleyellowwithorange to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to try before you buy.

Do you live near an REI store (or similar place)? They offer rentals and classes.

Another option are (completely outfitted) guided trips (example).
posted by oceano at 7:06 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where do you plan on camping? Will you be camping from your car, or backpacking? In what kind of weather?

These are all important questions wrt the tent you buy. The one thing you want to make sure of, though, is that the tent you buy can be easily set up by one person. That's not true for all of them.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:08 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

A vestibule is a must! Lightweight is good if you want to hike with it. Get one size bigger than you think you need. A three person tent can really only fit two people.
Make sure it has a lot of ventilation unless you want condensation collecting on the inside while you sleep. You probably want a three season tent.
posted by way_out_west at 7:10 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

- Seasons: there are 2/3/4 season tents. How cold will it be where you will be camping?
- Weatherproofing: Some tents come with full-coverage flies (outer canopy), which give you better rainproofing. Some cheaper ones have marginal flies or no flies, and are more likely to take on water in the rain. A full-coverage fly also gives you a "vestibule", a weatherproof(ish) place outside your tent to put your boots.
- Pole: Expensive tents have aluminum poles, which are lighter and more likely to bend than break. Cheap ones are fiberglass—these tents are intended for car-camping.
- Structure: Most tents these days are "freestanding," which means they'll stand up without being staked down. Some need to be staked down before they can be fully pitched (funnily enough, these tend to be both the lightest and the heaviest kinds of tents). You should always stake your tent though.
- Groundcloth aka tarp: you want one, but it may cost extra.
- Size: usually rated for the number of people they'll hold. This number is usually optimistic by at least 1. That goes for 1-man tents too.

I've seen car-camping tents for less than $50 but a good backpacking tent will probably cost a minimum of $150 (US$).

If you go to an outdoor equipment type store, ask to put up the tent in the store. Good freestanding tents are pretty easy to put up these days.
posted by adamrice at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


* Do a practice setup in your yard or in a park before you ever go camping.
* Buy some seam sealer and apply it during your practice setup.
* Buy some spray-on waterproofing and apply it during your practice run.

And, I've had several Coleman tents, and have never been disappointed in any of them. They're also much more affordable than REI's.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:12 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

How serious are you about roughing it outdoors? If you aren't sure you want to invest quite yet, some universities (etc.) offer equipment for rent. If that is not an option, I recommend going to REI or a similar store and saying you are looking for a beginner's tent.

Since you are an absolute beginner, I wouldn't worry too much about things like the weight of the tent. That is more important if you are backpacking out to your camping destination as you would want to have as little gear as possible.

I do not recommend getting a tent at Walmart, as I have experience with their brand of tent. When my friends used it, their tent flooded and the poles broke. That was their first ever camping experience, and I doubt I will ever get them to go again.

You should try it out in the backyard before you take it off on a grand adventure just to get ahead of problems. Some places will let you return it if you aren't satisfied with your backyard experience for a legit reason.

When you try it out, remember that there are tons of modifications you can do when you are car camping, which is what I am assuming you are doing. So, if you are uncomfortable, there is probably a relatively easy solution (for instance if the ground feels hard and you can't sleep, you can get an air mattress! Even if you are backpacking, sleeping bag pads are commonly used).
posted by tweedle at 7:14 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take a guided trip then rent from REI a few times. So many variables and you'll not know what you want or need until you do. Even then, I would want one of about three tents in any given situation you've described depending on some other variables.
posted by kcm at 7:18 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should rent equipment or go camping with more experienced campers the first time just to see what you like. That said, when I camp alone, I use a hammock system like this because it is light, comfortable and easy to set up. Not everyone is a huge fan of hammock camping, but I think it's awesome for 1 person and can significantly cut down on the amount of gear you need.
posted by mjcon at 7:27 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

A "three man" tent is just about the right size for one person or at most two very close friends.

They are generally much easier to put up than they used to be, though.
posted by ook at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

How tall are you? How wide are you? Are you buying a tent for 2 people or 4 people? Are you fitting a pet in it? Will you be looking to backpack with it, or car camp only? Would you camp in the rain? Would you camp in the fall or winter? Do you like camping? How frequently will you be camping? Do you have the space to store it? Do you want to carry it? How many poles is it? Is it self standing? Does it require staking? How long do I want it to last, how many trips do yo intend to take by that time? What is your cost per day? Is it cheaper to rent?

These are the questions I start with. Some of those you'll want to find out, some of those you'll have to consider.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:45 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you just want to"try"camping, in the summer, out of a car, i got a two person tent from kmart a couple of years ago for $50. I've used it probably a total of 20 nights car camping, it's been fine and is not showing any signs of falling apart yet. I do make sure I also bring some kind of ground cloth for it because the built in one sucks. (since I'm just car camping, I use one of those blue plastic tarps.)

It wasn't super great in the nights of steady drenching rain/thunderstorms, but I've been in more expensive tents in those conditions and I don't remember that being too much fun either.

If you're interested in backpacking or more serious camping, you'll need a better tent, or if money isn't an issue you'll be more comfortable in bad weather in a more expensive one. But if you just want to try it out, it's a cheaper option. I think the best option is to rent if possible though.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:54 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider a lightweight tarp and some cordage, stakes and trekking pole as a beginner shelter , spend money on comfortable sleeping bag, cover, and pad.
posted by hortense at 8:04 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not so much buying advice as just general putting-your-mind-at-ease, but I've slept in a variety of different tents from fancy expensive ones to cheap ones, brand new ones to worn out ones. They are not all that different from one another and I have never found one to be significantly warmer or drier than another, really. Now, I'm not climbing Everest or camping in Alaska in the winter, but if you're going to be camping in above-freezing temperatures, then as long as the tent is a reasonable size for you, I don't think you can screw up so badly as to ruin your camping experience with a poor tent choice. It is not currently the best season to try camping for the first time in the Northern Hemisphere, generally.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:25 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All good advice, so far; thanks.

Might be worth mentioning:
  • I'm in South Australia.
  • I'll likely be camping in national parks in south-eastern South Australia or in Victoria.
  • No particular time of the year in mind - but probably when it's temperate (i.e. not too hot, not too cold, not too wet).
  • At this point, I envision driving to a campsite.

posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:44 PM on December 10, 2013

I have my own tent but I will often borrow tents from friends if I am going camping with people who don't have their own tents. Do you have any friends with tents? They would likely be happy to let you borrow theirs for a weekend or two. My tent is pretty much only useful for car or canoe camping as it is quite bulky and heavy. But it sleeps 4 comfortably and has a vestibule you can attach to it. If I were to go hiking I would probably borrow a more portable tent from a friend.

Depending on the weather and how long you will be camping for you may not even need a tent at all.

While I am sure it is doable to go camping on your own as a beginner, it is much easier to go with a friend or friends the first couple of times so you'll get a feel for what other gear you need, and even if you like camping at all.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:44 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi, fellow Australian here! My advice:

1. Don't spend a bomb on a tent when you don't know how much you'll be camping yet. Camping three times a year for a weekend does not require a fancy expensive tent.
2. Don't worry about weather zones etc - nowhere in Australia really has a need for them.
3. Anaconda sell colemans which are cheap and perfectly fine.
4. Kathmandu have some decent specials on their tents, which are also fine for casual camping.
5. Don't get a one-man "Swag" style tent. You will never be able to share. A larger tent doesn't take up much more space folded. Anaconda typically have a few constructed tents so you can see.
6. Any other adventure store (paddy pallin, mountain designs, etc) will likely only have much much more expensive tents, and you do not need to spend the money, yet.
posted by smoke at 9:43 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

We (Victorians) got ours from Kathmandu (on sale-- don't ever pay full price there) and are pretty happy with it. It is quite heavy but very spacious (2 rooms for 2 ppl). Unless money is not an issue at all you will need to decide if you are going to hike with it or not. Hiking with a tent requires that you consider weight and size, both of which make purchasing a tent much more expensive, and usually leaves you with a considerably less comfortable tent. They can still be comfortable, but not in the sense that you can stand up in them, spread out, take a camp kitchen etc.

Unless you decide to go snow camping at some point I agree that weather is not a major issue, but do get something reasonably tough if you, like most people, intend to camp near a beach (i.e somewhere exposed) at some point. I have camped with ppl whose Kmart tents blew to pieces in those circumstances.
posted by jojobobo at 10:44 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fellow Australian here. Macpac makes excellent tents and they have a sale on right now. I have the Nautilus; it's toward the bottom of their range but I can recommend it if you're on a budget. It has seen me through plenty of cycle touring adventures with no problems at all. They also have lighter, stronger options if you can afford to spend more. Don't get a one-person tent unless you plan to carry it long distances and you're particularly concerned about weight. It will be cramped inside with all your stuff.

Other things helpful to know:

- Check the Country Fire Service (South Australia) or the Country Fire Authority (Victoria website before you go. You need to know a) if there are any bushfires burning nearby and b) whether there are any fire bans which may restrict your use of a camp stove.

- Get a tent with a good insect screen and keep it zipped at all times (unless you like sharing your tent with mosquitos and ants). On a related note, don't eat messy food inside your tent - the ants will find it!

- Consider getting a self-inflating sleeping mat, especially if you're driving to the campsite and weight isn't an issue. A good night's sleep is priceless. Both Kathmandu and Macpac have them heavily discounted at the moment.

- Basically, don't buy anything full price - both Macpac and Kathmandu have sales several times a year where they discount stock by 50 - 60%. Right now is an excellent time to stock up on things you might need. In my opinion Macpac gear is better quality and value, but Kathmandu is fine for the basics.

- If you're camping in a drought-affected area, you might need a hammer for the tent pegs. Otherwise your shoe will work just fine.
posted by embrangled at 10:50 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

"At this point, I envision driving to a campsite."

- Go ahead and get at least a two person tent, cheap tents are generally fine.
- A tarp with a larger footprint than your tent is nice so that you can have a "front porch" [you don't have to avoid kneeling to enter the tent and you can take your shoes off outside and leave them there to avoid tracking dirt into your tent].
- The real secret to comfort, moreso than the tent, is an air mattress. Unless you have the lungs of Aeolus you will want one of those manual air pumps that you actuate with your foot to inflate the air mattress.
- There will be bugs. You'll want some sort of insect repellent.
- A flashlight or battery powered lantern [preferably LED] is a necessity.
- Instead of buying ice to keep any perishable foods or your favorite beverage cold buy bottled water, or juice, and freeze it a couple days before you depart. You will get the benefit of the cooling effect without wasting space.

Now I want to go camping dammit. I used to build trails for our government and would live out of a tent ten days at a time so I love these questions.
posted by vapidave at 11:37 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had good experience with Kathmandu tents for vehicle based camping. I have an older version of what is now the Retreat 60. It's three person, though as someone noted above, it's really only good for two people unless you're all very close. They're on special at the moment for $150, but they get a bit cheaper sometimes.

Mine has survived strong winds and a fair bit of rain without difficulty. If the weather is fine and you like waking up early you can leave the fly off as the inner skin is almost all mesh. It has vestibules both ends, but if you're one or two you can store a lot inside anyway. Quick to set up & pack up. Good tent.

I've had hiking (ultra light) tents too, but they're much more expensive and not as durable. I would get one if I was going to be putting it in a backpack and walking long distances, but not otherwise.
posted by mewsic at 12:39 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

*ground cloth
*seam sealer

Tents get damp from condensation/breath. Make sure you air out the tent when you get back. Putting away a damp tent means mildew.
posted by plinth at 3:28 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: what do I need to know about buying a tent for one person?

Mainly, that putting up the tent and taking down the tent are always going to be a pain in the arse so you want a tent that makes both processes quick and easy. That means as few poles as possible, as few pegs as possible, and a nice simple shape that's easy to work out how the hell you are supposed to roll up so it fits back in the #$@#$% bag.

You won't have a good time if your tent collapses in the first puff of wind, so you won't want one that's too tall. You don't want it to let in the rain, so you want one where the fly isn't going to sag and touch the inner wall. And you don't want to drown in condensation from your own breath, so you want good ventilation without too much freezy breeziness.

I have a Eureka "Bike & Hike" tent I bought twenty years ago that hits a sweet spot on all these criteria - one arch pole (this is super rare) and six pegs - but I can't find the same design on Eureka's site any more. Pity. This Macpac Microlight Trek tent seems to be a quite similar design though, and Macpac does indeed have a well justified reputation for getting these things right.

The main difference is that the Macpac design has a big door in one side, while the Eureka one has a smaller triangular door in each end that enables really good cross-ventilation when conditions allow for that. On the other hand, the Macpac one is 600g lighter.

Eureka described the Bike & Hike as suitable for two people, and I have slept two people in it but it's a squeeze; really comfortable with just me (and I'm six foot tall and quite fat). The Microlight Trek looks to be almost exactly the same size and is rated to sleep one.

There's lots of well considered advice upthread about not buying a specifically lightweight tent if you're only going to be car touring anyway. However, I've car camped both with my Eureka tent and with much larger three-pole dome designs, and I far prefer the experience with the smaller tent - mainly because putting it up and taking it down is just easier. Also, if you get good lightweight gear to begin with, there's every chance you'll find the camping experience fun enough that you'll want to do it in places you can't get to by car. Get meh gear and it will mostly be kind of irritating. Get a cheap tent with fibreglass poles that shatter the third time you put the thing up and you'll not want to go camping again.

Car camping in fact makes it easier to cope with a smaller tent, because most of your gear can just stay in the car which means there's no need at all to share your sleeping space with a pack full of stuff.

Don't set yourself up to toss and turn and ache and bump with a hard closed-cell foam sleeping mat, and don't set yourself up to freeze in your sleep on a standard inflatable air mattress. Get a nice full-length self-inflating sleeping mat from Therm-a-Rest. You'll pay about three times as much money for a Therm-a-Rest as for the cheap Chinese knock-off and sleep about three times better.

Down-filled sleeping bags are a Good Thing: they're about half the weight, and pack down to about half the size, of a polyester filled bag of equivalent warmth. If you prefer to sleep nude, get a nice cotton bag liner. Washing a down-filled sleeping bag is a Not Good Thing.

Do not attempt to sleep in a bag on a mat in a tent without a pillow. Just don't. You might be comfortable for the first half hour but you will wake up very sore and very cranky. For car camping, you can take your favourite pillow from home; when you're hiking, use your softest piece of warm clothing rolled up and stuffed deep inside one of its own sleeves (you do not want to be dealing with a determinedly unfolding improvised pillow in the middle of the night).

For cooking, the two standard solutions are the Trangia alcohol stove (make your own!) and the MSR or Coleman pressurized white spirit stove, but I am completely in love with my BioLite Camp Stove which runs on twigs and charges my phone at the same time.

For lighting: mostly, don't. That's what the sun is for. If it's getting dark, go to sleep. As soon as the sun hits the tent in the morning, it will warm up like you wouldn't believe and cook you out, and if you haven't taken advantage of all the dark hours beforehand then that day is just going to suck.

When you arrive at your camp site: first thing you should do is unroll your sleeping mat so it can self-inflate while you set up your tent. Put all your sleeping gear and only your sleeping gear inside the tent, and then zip it all shut tight. Your tent is not your living room, unless it's raining - your tent is your refuge from all the tiny things that want to find out what your lovely blood tastes like while you sleep, and you really, really don't want to give them the opportunity.

Inside your tent you will need a small torch, or a phone with a nice bright backlight. Because the very last thing you're going to do before going to sleep is make sure your insect screen zip is all the way closed, then wait for a minute or two in the dark, then illuminate the interior and go over every square inch looking for lurking mosquitoes. Once you've killed them all, drop your light into one of those useless looking but surprisingly excellent side pockets so it doesn't end up underneath you.

The last-thing mosquito search-and-destroy is absolutely necessary because you will hear them in the night and they will be quite disturbingly close to your head. But as long as you know for sure that none of them are in there with you, and that no part of your body is pressed against the tent wall, you can just lie in there all warm and snug and mock their hunger.

Have the best time! And don't set your tent up under a eucalypt tree, even if it's the only shade available. Nothing ruins a good night's sleep like being crushed to death by a falling limb.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

One more thing: Car camping means you can easily take a tarpaulin with you to use for a ground sheet under your tent. Do that, even if your tent has a really tough bottom of its own. Having put down the tarp, lie on it and roll around, then reach underneath and find the last three sticks you missed while you were clearing your site.

Fold the tarp's edges and corners under after putting up the tent, so that none of it sticks out past the tent fly: that way, when it rains in the middle of the night you won't end up occupying an efficiently engineered paddling pool.
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing about camping is that you can spend heaps of money - there's always something more you can get. I think camping for some people is really just another vector for a shopping addiction. My advice is to not rush out and buy everything in a camping store because really you don't need it - you can have just as good a time out there with fairly little. Also, different types of camping requires radically different types of gear. For example, if you're planning on car camping, you definitely don't need an expensive lightweight hiking tent or sleeping bag. Since you'll be in Aus, you don't need a bear canister (which you would definitely need in the Pacific Northwest of the US). I think non-extreme weather car camping is a great place to begin. It requires the cheapest and most generic gear so you can decide if you like camping and then think about getting more expensive and more specialised gear depending on what you want to do.

I've done a fair amount of car camping with a tent here is Australia, from one or two night weekenders in Victoria, one or two weeks away in SA and NSW all the way up to a six month road trip including Qld, WA and NT. I love it.

Here's what I recommend to get you out and camping with as little fuss and initial expenditure as possible:
  • Get a cheap dome tent. Definitely no more than $100. Things to look for: plastic lining on the floor to prevent moisture from seeping in underneath you (most tents here have this unlike most tents I've seen in Europe and North America which then requires the addition of a plastic ground sheet or tarp), an inside fly screen and a separate outer rain shell "fly" (this will give you more protection from rain dripping inside the tent), 2 to 4 person capacity (a one person tent is really no fun and only useful if you're carrying it on your back for miles a day), no fancy porches or separate rooms (this adds cost and makes it much more complex to set up on your own). That's pretty much it. Here are a couple that fit this description: Rays Outdoors, Kathmandu. I've slept in a $50 Rays tent in all sorts weather. The only time I was conquered was in 80kph winds off the west coast of WA. Yes, these tents are cheap, but they will most likely be totally fine for most car camping. I have a more expensive tent now but that's because I knew exactly what I wanted and I knew I would use it regularly. Also, here's some explanation of the parts of a tent.
  • Your tent will come with poles, pegs and ropes so you won't need to buy any of this extra. The only extra thing you may consider is some sort of mallet for hammering the tent pegs into the ground. This is especially handy if the ground is hard (definitely necessary in the Flinders Ranges, not so much in Tanunda). Sometimes I can get away with my hiking boot, other times I'm grateful for my $6 Bunnings hatchet. You probably have something in your shed that can already fill this role.
  • Bedding. The floor of your tent will be waterproof but not soft. What you sleep on depends on your back and tolerance for hard ground. Can you happily take a nap on the floor in front of the tv without screwing up your back and hips? Awesome. All you'll need is two duvets, a top sheet and a pillow. Put one duvet on the ground and then sleep under your sheet and second duvet. Done. You might want a bit of extra padding (I do!). Often people will buy "self inflating mats" otherwise known as Thermarests. They look something like this. This can be handy if space is limited but I don't think they're worth the money for occasional or new car campers. I use these - they're sold as floor mats but I think they add just enough cushion under my bottom duvet that I can happily sleep through the night. It's not as comfortable as my bed at home, but hey. If you need more cushion than that, you can try something like a four wheel drive mat or an air bed. If you have a sleeping bag that's fine and you can bring it along in lieu of one of your duvets, but you really don't need one. Although, if you don't have any extra duvets lying around you can definitely buy a cheap or on sale sleeping bag as it may be cheaper than buying a new duvet. Depends on what you already have at home.
  • A head torch and led lantern or handheld torch. If you already have a torch at home just bring that. Although I do really recommend a head torch especially if there's any chance or setting up or cooking in the dark.
That's it, really. That's all you actually need. Everything else is gravy and comfort. For example, you can bring a bag of muesli, bananas and some orange juice and have that for every meal without worrying about cooking. Or you can buy practically an entire kitchen including camping sink, camping stove and camping fridge along with a generator to run the whole setup. There's a happy medium but that's going to be slightly different for everyone. I'd recommend starting basic and cheap and then adding bits as you figure out how you like to camp. For me it's an esky and one of those $12 butane canister stoves and a few plastic plates and mugs I got in a picnic set from Kmart for a fiver and then I raid my kitchen for pots and cutlery. I also like to cook over an open fire when they're allowed so I have stuff to make, tend and cook on a fire. I also bring a rain jacket, a book, my hiking boots and a printed map of the park (they often don't have them on hand when you get there). Check the water situation and maybe bring some drinking water if the park doesn't have drinking water available (this is rare). Also maybe a loo roll as sometimes the drop toilets will run out. Maybe some dish washing liquid.

But now we get to my final piece of advice: if at all possible, go with someone who's camped before for your first time. This can be a friend or perhaps some folks from the Adelaide meetup camping group. This has two main benefits: they can help you set up your tent the first time and hopefully they'll remember that thing that you didn't. Setting up a tent is weird for someone who hasn't done it before. Definitely go to a store and ask them to walk you through how to set up a simple dome tent. Definitely watch a video and maybe try it out at home (though it's never the same if you're not putting the pegs in). But having someone there who's done it before is amazingly helpful. Also, I forget something almost every camping trip. Oil, soap, paper towels, tea. Plus there's all sorts of little things you may not think of until you've been camping once or twice. Having someone there with you means more chance of having the things you'll need. Although if you'd prefer to go by yourself, that's totally fine, too. Many campers are awesome and will be happy to help out a neighbour.

So that's way more than what tent to buy! But I really wanted to emphasise that it doesn't have to be a massively expensive hobby and that's it's fine to start with bare bones stuff and work your way up once you decide what your needs are and what really matters to you. We're coming into great camping weather so I hope you have an awesome time!

posted by mosessis at 5:14 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Plus there's all sorts of little things you may not think of until you've been camping once or twice.

OH, yes.

So one of the thing you should definitely have in your glove box is a little notebook and a pen that works, so that when you find yourself really wishing you'd brought a whatever-it-is-this-time, you can add it to your checklist.

One of the things on my own car camping checklist is a small pair of locking pliers and a couple of wire coat hangers. It's astounding how many other things you can get away with forgetting if you have those.
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

We lived in Australia for a year and we couldn't bring our camping gear over because of luggage restrictions so we went to Anaconda in Victoria and outfitted ourselves for car camping. Over the course of the year we were there, we camped at least 1 weekend a month and we did 3 1-week long trips.

We got the Spinifex 4 person Long Reach Vestibule Tent and we loved it so much that we actually got rid of stuff so we could bring it back to the US with us!

Also the Spinifex deluxe single burner stove (butane) is awesome. It's the easiest camp stove I've ever used. I have a much fancier and more expensive camp stove here in the US but I miss the simplicity and ease of making coffee when I'm half awake of that stove.

The 12mm hiker matts are a dirt cheap way to get off the ground a bit.

Anaconda has great prices, the quality is decent, and the staff is nice. Katmandu is pricier and the quality is higher but they have killer sales on gear and clothing. Trolling their discount racks is totally worth it -- my husband's favorite bike shorts are from there.
posted by LittleMy at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2013

I love camping. I got a 3 - 4 person dome tent at a thrift shop - great condition with all the poles and the rain fly. Check craigslist or other online classifieds, or try freecycle.org, if it's available. Most of my camping gear is from thrift stores.

Some kind of pad under your sleeping bag -for warmth as well as comfort. Headlamp is really useful, plus extra batteries, plus a spare flashlight that lives in the car. I have a fleece sleeping bag that can go over my regular sleeping bag for warmth, or act as an extra cushion. You don't need the extra-super-technical down bag to start. A cooler because, beer. Will you be able to build a fire? Consider a 1 burner butane stove for cooking, even if you can build a fire, because camping makes you hungry. Cooking in camp is part of the fun, so don't just bring ready-made food. Google camping list and read what other people bring.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 PM on December 11, 2013

Some cheap tents aren't very good at keeping rain out, but if you are car camping it's easy enough to bring a tarp and rig it up a bit above the tent. If it's hot out this will also keep the tent much cooler in the shade.

Set it up so the water runs off the tarp downhill of the tent.
posted by yohko at 10:34 PM on December 11, 2013

Also, if you wear glasses those little side pockets on the inside of the tent will be very important. Bring a glasses case.

Most of the tents sold as being for one person are extremely small and designed to be very lightweight for backpacking, you will probably spend less on a larger tent and be more comfortable.
posted by yohko at 10:40 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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