If you’re new to camping you may well have been asking yourself whether it’s best to buy cheap or expensive camping gear when starting out. It’s a tough question to answer – in fact, it’s pretty much impossible to to give an answer that will suit everyone and every situation as it’s totally subjective.
Plus, how do you define ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’, anyway? It kinda depends who you ask. What some people call cheap may be expensive to someone else. Someone who is very wealthy might think a tent for £200 is really cheap but to someone who does not have much disposable income, £200 may be way too much for a tent.
To decide what gear you need to buy, you first have to decide what sort of camping you are going to do. For example, long distance backpacking needs very different equipment to car-camping. If you are planning to start out by tackling a long distance trail with a number of overnight stops (probably not a good idea if you’re a newbie!), then you will need some lightweight, comfortable gear, for sure. You’ll also need quality kit which is easy to pitch and can stand up to whatever the weather may throw at you – and good quality lightweight gear generally costs more. If your aim is to go car-camping, then cheaper gear will likely suffice, since you won’t have to worry about factors such as weight – your focus will probably lean more towards comfort.
Buying cheap camping gear
The big plus for buying cheap initially is, well… because it’s cheap. You don’t fork out a fortune up front plus if you don’t like camping then you’ve not wasted much cash. You can either sell the gear you are no longer going to use, or just keep it in case you fancy the odd camp in the future.
If you do go for the cheap option then look for cheap gear that is good quality – and there is a lot of it around. For example, check out our articles on the Trekology UL80 Camping Mat; Trekology Aluft 2.0 Inflatable Camping Pillow and on the 3F UL Lanshan 1 Pro and 3F UL Lanshan 2 Pro tents. Also, check out our budget 2 person wild-camping tents article. This gear is all really cheap when you consider the features and quality of what you get. There is cheap, but good quality gear that will do the job perfectly and there is cheap crap gear that simply won’t be up to much. We’d always recommend you get something that’s good quality and comfortable to use, even if it is at the cheap end of the scale.
There are people out there who like cheap gear because it means they can afford to buy a few different items, rather than one – e.g. they can afford four cheapish tents rather than just one expensive one – meaning they can swap and change their gear around. That’s totally cool. People that do this can perhaps be a little less precious about it all too, ultimately meaning they enjoy the camping experience more. If you overstretched your budget and bought a £1,100 tent you might be constantly worried about snagging it on a thorn, compared to if the tent cost £100.
Some people fall for the trap of buying stuff that doesn’t quite do the job for them, but rather than go out and buy what they want/need (providing they can afford it) they keep buying items that don’t quite cut it – often through worry about spending too much. These people end up with 6 backpacks, 5 tents, 7 stoves, etc., that they don’t actually like, leaving them wishing they’d just gone out and bought the exact items they really wanted, earlier on.
Buying expensive camping gear
Expensive stuff should be awesome straight off in terms of materials and build quality. It will be more likely to do what it says it will do, and providing you do your homework up front, should give you all the features you need for your chosen type of camping. It will probably give you peace of mind too – you’ve bought top spec kit, that’s it, you’re sorted; it should be reliable, do the job and last a long time (if looked after).
However, be careful. Just because it is expensive doesn’t mean it will suit you. You may get a certain type of tent, but then decide there are certain features you really want and don’t want. Camping is one of those hobbies where you actually won’t know what you want/need until you try it. So to go out and buy expensive stuff right away may not be the best thing to do.
Some will also argue that expensive gear will keep its price and may sell easier if you decide that camping isn’t for you. A Hilleberg tent, for example, will generally attract a good used price if you’ve looked after it. However, if you try and sell a used cheap tent, buyers may not be that interested because for a few quid more they can get the same one, for new.
We’ve gone around in circles a bit, but if you’re trying to decide whether to buy cheap or expensive camping gear when starting out, a sensible starting point is to first decide what type of camping you want to do. Next, research. Get on YouTube – there are loads of great camping gear channels to watch, and check out other articles on this website and other similar sites. Try and get an idea what gear other people are using for the type of camping you want to do.
You can then go out and buy decent, comfortable, but cheapish gear first. Once you’ve been out a few times and decided you like camping, you can then replace various items of gear over time, with more expensive items that perform better, or have the features you want/need.
It’s all about buying camping gear that functions well, lasts, is comfortable and suits you, at a price that’s affordable to you. It’s that simple really.
Remember too, that, in general, you’ll always want new stuff. Camping and hiking is the sort of pastime which often changes over time. You might start out car-camping, then try wild-camping, perhaps you’ll fancy trying a thru-hike – whatever it is, your gear requirements will change and evolve. New camping products are constantly coming on the market to tempt you too. Also, as you become more experienced, you’ll find yourself constantly discovering additional ‘must have’ bits of kit. Be warned, it can get addictive! We know people who have 30+ camping stoves – they don’t have a hoarding problem – they simply love camping stoves and they enjoy taking different stoves out in different situations.
Many campers successfully have a mix of cheap, mid-range and expensive stuff. So, for example, you might want to have a top quality tent, sleeping bag and backpack; then save money on other items such as a cheaper stove, cook set and pillow.
Ignore brand snobs and all that rubbish too: if you like cheap gear, use it; if you like some pieces of expensive kit then go for that. Ignore what other people think – it’s about you enjoying getting out and camping in the great outdoors.
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