Camping Essentials: That Time We Went Hard at REI

Camping Essentials: That Time We Went Hard at REI

Okay, time to fess up. During our Frugal August Challenge, we brainstormed ways to travel and spend time outdoors that didn’t cost too much money. We agreed that the best way to get our nature fix is to go camping. What better way to see the country and hike our favorite trails? This would unlock so many doors to adventure, and it was frugal to boot!

Of course, the minute we came to this realization we hopped in the car and made a bee-line to the nearest REI. We wanted to go camping this weekend. We needed this stuff right now. No time to shop around or borrow gear from friends. If we were going to do it, we wanted to buy everything upfront so we had no excuse to put our camping plans off.

Word of advice: don’t buy camping gear without knowing exactly what you need. It’s exciting to roll into REI and have the expert backcountry backpacker list off all the essentials you’ll need for your first camping trip. They will show you all kinds of gizmos and gadgets that you have to buy to be a real camper. They will convince you to spend extra on the ultra-light, packable gear for the six-day backpacking trip you aren’t planning. Don’t fall for it! We learned that lesson the hard way, but we ended up with some swag gear.

What camping essentials did we end up buying? According to the experts at REI, these items are the bare minimum needed for run-of-the-mill campground camping.

Camping Essentials:

  1. Tent (new)
  2. Sleeping Bags (new)
  3. Sleeping Pads (new)
  4. Backpacks (one new, one old)
  5. Lantern (new)
  6. Camping Stove (borrowed from family)
  7. Mess Kits and Utensils (new)
  8. Water Filtration and Water Bottles (new)


While we are glad our purchases are in the “buy once, cry once” category (and we appreciate less weight to haul around!) we let ourselves get carried away with buying more than we need. We don’t need artisan enamel mugs, individual mess kits, or sleeping bags built for sub-zero temperatures. We could get by just fine with silverware from home, our regular coffee mugs, and an entry-level sleeping bag. If we were super frugal, we could have hunted on Craig’s List for all these things!

Kara with From Frugal to Free said it best – borrow or improvise before buying anything for a trip. That includes camping! She is embarking on an extended roadtrip, but she didn’t rush to buy everything she needed like we did. Instead, she made a list of essentials and found as secondhand or alternatives items. If we had followed this principle, we could have gotten away with just a few small purchases rather than dropping serious cash.

In the end, we have everything we need for the ultimate frugal camping trip. And you know what, we’re happy with our set-up. Gadgets and all! Maybe we could have saved on lesser quality or entry-level gear. But our goal is to build up to backpacking and hardcore camping. It is worthwhile to invest now rather than upgrade everything down the road. We aren’t perfect in our frugality. We’re willing to invest in quality when it’s for something we love. If we suddenly decide to try kayaking, or fishing, or rock climbing, then maybe we will peruse Craig’s List first. The key is to differentiate a passing interest versus a lifestyle. For us, camping happens to be the latter.

Did we miss any camping essentials? What tips do you have for first hike-in camping trips? Any favorite camping spots? We’d love any and all suggestions!

~ Ms. RW

2 thoughts on “Camping Essentials: That Time We Went Hard at REI

  1. Usually when diving into a new hobby or venture I’ll grab the cheapest entry level stuff I can get (or rent if appropriate) even if I’m convinced it’s not something I’ll just end up dropping later on. As a beginner there’s just so much about the field I don’t even realize that I don’t know yet (the basic Dunning-Kruger effect really). Higher caliber equipment requires skill to appreciate or even use correctly, and lacking that skill, I really am not getting my worth out of it. Also equipment will tend to specialize at higher levels, I’ve found anything claiming to be the ‘best X’ in all circumstances is probably not and really just overpriced marketing. So I find it best to save the big purchasing decision until I’ve had enough experience to know what features or performance I really value. Also equipment usually needs maintenance and care, so if I’m going to be doing it myself, better to learn on the lower quality stuff so the inevitable mistakes are less of a hit.

    1. Absolutely agree with your philosophy on new hobbies. It’s better to hone your skills on the basics before you move on to more advanced stuff. The learning curve is less intimidating, and there’s more room to improve. We’ve started our hobbies with just the basics and then upgraded when we decided it was worth the time and money. However, lifestyle choices like camping or home improvement require specialized equipment that require investment at some point. For us it’s all about our priorities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *