Pennies On The Dollar – Equip Yourself On The Cheap

Have you ever taken a look at the gear that the average tent camper has? I mean really taken an inventory of what they have? More than likely, they have a lot of stuff! Of course they have the obvious equipment in a tent, sleeping bags, maybe a camp stove and a lantern, plus a few other things. But what about the smaller, less obvious gear. You know, things like cutlery, cooking equipment, fire starters, etc. When you think about all of it, that adds up to a lot of money!

But does it have to? What I mean is, do you really think they paid full blown retail for all of those things? I’m betting that they did not, and that means that they either were provided those items from someone, or more likely they ended up buying them at a substantially reduced price, perhaps from a garage sale or Goodwill or another similar place. Personally I think these are great ways to start or add to your gear selection for tent camping, but you may disagree. First, we need to establish a working philosophy about what is okay to purchase second-hand for our tent camping trips.

Pennies On The Dollar


Okay, for some people, it will feel creepy to sleep in a sleeping bag someone else once slept in who you do not know. I get that, and you need to establish your “creep” factor on some of these items. But many other items shouldn’t give you a shudder but instead are just good deals. For me, I’m up for nearly anything as long as I can wash it to “make it my own”. Some people draw the line at tents and need to have them be new so that they don’t need to worry about missing/damaged pieces, etc. Some are the same with sleeping bags and not having to worry about the fill in them not being up to snuff. So, you just need to determine where your level lies, and then go from there.

Now that we have that established, let’s hit up places to get equipment on the cheap. I’ll start from the most expensive to the least expensive, generally. Of course, exceptions abound, but for the most part this list is correct for average prices I’ve experienced on things that I add to my tent camping setup.



Really? Retail stores? Yup! I say that because every year, usually after the first third of summer, retail stores start to mark down their summer inventory, including some camping equipment. They need to make room for the Fall inventory that is sitting in their warehouses, plus the big slate of holiday inventory that they will be receiving soon, so the sooner they can get rid of the summer stuff, the better. Seeing 10% and 20% off sales of camping equipment isn’t unusual come early July, and you may decide that this is about the best deal you can get, especially if the item is one of those that you MUST have new and not used. Also great for those items that you just can’t seem to find used but would like, now is the time to pick one up on sale.

You may be tempted to hold out a bit longer on some items, hoping for prices to drop even more. And they might. But they also might simply pack up everything else that didn’t sell at the small sale prices and then sell it all in bulk to a company that buys unsold seasonable merchandise by the pallet full. Those places then take on the task of finding second-hand stores and other places to sell the items, or perhaps they end up being listed on as new items but sold by a third party. So just be aware that holding out for a better deal might end up with you missing out on the opportunity to get any deal at all.

Pawn Shops

An often overlooked place to find used equipment is at pawn shops. Now you will most likely not be finding anything that is brand new, but if that’s okay then you might find some incredibly useful and interesting items at a pawn shop. The items present are things that people wanted to sell but didn’t want to go to the hassle of listing it themselves online or have a garage sale hoping to find a buyer. The pawn shop paid them a little bit of money for the item, then marked it up so that they get some margin to continue operating their store. Usually it will be less than brand new, so that’s a win for your budget.

Quality here can vary quite a bit, so be very thorough when you check out a piece of equipment. You may be able to haggle on the price, but often times not. The inventory tends to keep turning over with regularity, and they will often be “seasonal” as well, putting out the camping equipment in the Spring when people are looking for it so that it moves fast. And of course, they don’t have a steady supply of camping gear, so it could be hit-or-miss on finding good stuff.

Thrift Stores/Goodwill

Thrift StoresGoodwill

The next step down in prices would probably be the thrift stores in your area, even the well-known ones like Goodwill. Often people will use these outlets instead of a pawn shop because they want to be able to help out their local area, which many of these thrift stores support with jobs, job training, and other helpful activities. These are funded by the money they earn when they sell items that people donate to their store. Sometimes you can find items that are nearly new, the hidden gem that we all hope to find. Some equipment might not be found in these stores, as they have policies on what they can and cannot take in on donation.

Also at this level is a great opportunity to outfit your kitchen setup for very little. When it comes to cooking and serving, my mind is that I’m not out to impress anyone, so as long as it works for my needs, I’ll use it. That means we have mis-matched cooking pots/pans, odd cups and plates, and a smorgasbord of different utensils, none of which match. Name brands are also unimportant to me here, as I’m after function. For $25, you could get nearly everything you would need to have 4 people eat: silverware, cups, plates, mugs, and a few extra things.

Flea Markets

Flea markets are interesting places, as you never know what you’ll find. It isn’t unusual to find some way-off-brand item for incredibly cheap. For me, these items tend to break as soon as I leave the flea market, so I avoid most things at them, but sometimes I’ll find a classic piece of equipment that just begs to be added to my collection. If you are a vintage camping collector, flea markets can sometimes be a gold mine of gear.

Flea markets are VERY unique, as no two are ever the same. Some are a bit more established with a building or two, and some are much more transient, attracting different sellers each weekend they are open. But, you can sometimes find a great deal for cheap. Check one out and see what treasure you might run across.

Garage/Thrift Sales

GarageThrift Sales

Last but not least, and one of my personal favorites, is the garage sale. I have gotten incredible deals, and have heard of others doing the same (a friend of mine recently acquired a $300+ brand name dome tent for $20, and it was nearly brand new!). Both at the garage sales and the thrift stores you can find great deals on clothes that you might deem “camping only”. Older, stained sweatshirts, cargo shorts with a small tear, or other used garments that you don’t mind getting dirty are great finds, and are literally pennies on the dollar to acquire.

When buying any significant piece of tent camping equipment, such as a tent or kitchen camp setup, be sure to inspect everything. You need to know that all the parts and pieces are there, and if possible have the seller help you set it up so that you can verify that everything is there, plus you get a quick tutorial on how to set it up. Especially on tents, you can save hundreds of dollars if you run across the perfect deal.

Wrap Up

There really is no need to spend a lot of money on getting your tent camping gear assembled. Again, figure out what your non-negotiables are on your list, and then everything else is fair game to find a deal on. What about you, what sort of deals have you found?

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