The casual car camper doesn’t need a lot of expensive gear to have a good time on a weekend camping trip. Great food, cold drinks, fun friends and a restful night’s sleep are all you need for a good time. But since you are away from the comforts of home—i.e. electricity, running water and the microwave—you will need a few things to accomplish the list above. Before heading out, you are going to need to drop a little coin on the basics. The minimum amount of camping equipment required is: tent, cooler, flashlight, sleeping bag and a camp chair—the camp chair for sitting around the fire, a tent to get some shut-eye, the cooler to keep your burgers and beer cold, a flashlight to find your way to the latrine and a sleeping bag to keep cozy.
There are plenty of reasons why people love to camp—one of them is because being outdoors is a rejuvenating experience. Being in nature is good for us, not only mentally, but physically, as well. Another popular reason why people love to camp is because of the low-cost. Park fees are tens of dollars, not hundreds and cooking over an open fire is not only much cheaper than going to a restaurant but usually a lot tastier, as well. Sure, there are plenty of high-end camping supplies you can invest in, however; it’s not necessary to spend an arm and a leg on gear you can depend on.
We searched the most Amazon based on price and user reviews to give you an easy-to-read discount camping equipment checklist.
Included in this list:
- Sleeping Bag
- Air Mattress
- Camp Chair
- Coffee Percolator
What to Look for When Buying a Tent
Your tent is an important part of your camping experience. Get the wrong one and you may get leaked on, be too cold or way too hot. Tents come in quite a few different shapes and sizes. There are super lightweight tents made for mountaineering and huge cabin-style, multi-room tents made for large families or groups. They also are rated for different climates and seasons. For example, a 3-season tent is good for summer, fall and spring, while a 4-season tent is rated to be comfortable and withstand the harsh cold and wind of winter. Dome and A-frame tents are common for car camping. Dome tents are good for windy areas, while A-frames are easy to set up, offer nice ventilation for hotter climates, but don’t do very well in rain. Size is very important. Generally, you want a tent that sleeps more people than you are going to put in there. For example, a four-person tent will comfortably sleep two people with a queen-size air mattress with plenty of room left over for duffle bags or backpacks—even the dog—and a little room to move around. Look for a tent with a tub floor, which helps keep condensation out.
For someone with bad experiences with tents, it’s legit to be wary of anything that sells for less than $50, but for $15, the Wakeman Outdoor Happy Camper is surprisingly a decent tent! Built for mild weather, this dome-style tent includes one zippered door, mesh top and includes a rainfly. Set-up is quick and simple with the fiberglass poles. Though you don’t want to use it in harsh terrain or climate, it is light enough for light hikes or walk-in primitive camping. It stays dry with light rain and packs up compactly. If you like to get cozy, it technically fits two people, but one person under 6’ tall is way more comfortable. Our conclusion? What a steal!
- Pros: lightweight, stays dry, easy set-up, compact
- Cons: small, not much ventilation, small rain fly
- Price: $14.96
How to Buy a Sleeping Bag
Like tents, sleeping bags come in a large variety of styles, shapes and seasons. There are high-quality, incredibly expensive mummy bags rated to keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures and there are super cheap children’s bags with hardly any insulation. There are three main types of sleeping bags—rectangle, mummy and semi-rectangular. The two rectangle bags are the roomiest, while some might feel claustrophobic in a mummy bag. Sleeping bags also come in a variety of materials. Most casual campers choose synthetic insulation which dries quickly, is durable and provides a good mix between keeping you cool and warm when needed. There are also down insulated bags and waterproof down insulated bags. Also, like tents, sleeping bags are designed for certain seasons by their temperature ratings. Look for a 3-season sleeping bag which is rated for 0° F to 35° F. This bag will keep you comfortable in summer, spring and fall. A full-length zipper allows you to control the amount of ventilation. Whichever type you choose depends on the type of camping you do. Since this article is specifically for the casual camper who won’t be putting their gear through the ringer, a regular rectangular sleeping bag will do the job.
One of the most trusted camping brands, Coleman’s rectangular sleeping bag will comfortably fit someone who is 5’ 11” or shorter. Made of soft polyester, there is plenty of room to spread out in the bag and it keeps you warm down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pros: durable
- Cons: tricot lining
- Price: $19.97
An air mattress isn’t necessarily an essential piece of gear when camping; however, it certainly makes for a better night’s sleep.
Made of a durable plastic bottom with a softer top, this queen-sized mattress fits in a six-person tent with room left over and sleeps two people comfortably. It measures 60-inches wide, 8.75-inches tall and 80-inches long. It is rated to hold 600 pounds. It inflates quickly and holds air all weekend long.
- Pros: keeps air, easily packs up
- Cons: low to the ground
- Price: $14.97
Though the ambiance created and the variety in adjustments from a classic gas-powered lantern can’t be beaten, they just add bulk to your gear. You need to make sure you bring enough kerosene for the duration of the trip, as well as a battery-powered flashlight for your tent. For beginners and few-and-far-between campers, battery-powered lights and lanterns are the way to go.
Lanterns are preferred to flashlights when camping because they illuminate a wider area for playing games, cooking and walking around the campsite. They also have handles and other ways to hang them.
This LED camping lantern is one of the best buys of the bunch! Lightweight and compact, the Etekcity lantern boasts 30 separate LEDs for a total of 60 lumens—plenty of light to play games, cook and navigate safely through camp. For storage and protection, the lantern is collapsible. When collapsed, it stands 4.9 inches tall. When fully upright with handles up, it measures 10 inches tall. The bright white light provides 360-degrees of directional lighting either placed on the tabletop or when hung. An automatic battery-saver feature dims but prolongs your light. When dimmed, you still get 12 hours’ worth of useable light. The lantern requires six AA batteries. Included is a 10-year warranty. This camping lantern also doubles as emergency lighting during blackouts due to storms and hurricanes.
Pros: price, run time, compact
Cons: not waterproof, light isn’t adjustable
Ozark Trail provides an affordable, quality alternative to more expensive camping brands. This basic camp chair folds up for easy transporting, includes a carrying case and one cup holder. It is constructed of a steel frame and a polyester and mesh chair. Camp chairs are one of the most versatile pieces of camping gear for tailgating, camping, the lake, picnics, sports events, concerts and parties. Though a little smaller than a more expensive camp chair, it works just fine!
Pros: price, easy set-up/take-down
Cons: basic, no extra features
For short trips, the Coleman Excursion cooler keeps a bag of ice and 12 cans or bottles cold for one day. It is sturdy and has a big, easy to grab handle. Coleman is a trusted brand and this cooler in Made in the U.S.A. Use it for drinks on your camping trip, tailgating, parties or day excursions. You will need to put ice in it once a day, especially when it’s really hot outside, but it is durable and worth the price. When you aren’t camping, the Coleman Excursion cooler is great for those who need a bigger-sized lunchbox.
Pros: made in the U.S.A., durability
Cons: heavy to carry when filled
A nice, steaming cup of strong cowboy coffee will get you going in the morning and the best way to get it is by percolating your coffee over an open flame. This coffee percolator from popular camping brand Stansport is made of durable enamel and includes four coffee mugs. Everything you need comes with this coffee percolator except the coffee! It is very durable with a scratch- and chip-resistant finish. The handles on the cups stay cool to the touch. The percolator is easily removed to use the pitcher to boil water for tea, soup or washing dishes. It is easy to use, looks nostalgic and lasts a long time.
Pros: durability, lightweight, use over open flame
Cons: learning curve to use, takes up significant room in the chuck box
If you follow this affordable camping gear list, you will have all you need for a weekend of camping for less than $125!
What are some of the best affordable camping deals you’ve come across? Tell us about it in the comment section.
Prices here reflect what was listed at the time of original publication and are subject to change.