Camping gear, like all outdoor gear, is expensive. Shocker. While I could justify shelling out half my paycheck on a lightweight pair of touring skis, ultra-high-tech ergonomic camp chairs and tables with carbon poles don’t get me quite as revved up.
Over the years I’ve purchased some of the crappiest camping stuff you can buy at places like Walmart and Smith’s in an effort to pinch pennies on summer excursions, and I can honestly say zero of those items have made it through a whole summer—I’ve broken at least four of those $10 foldable armchairs they sell outside every Kroger-owned grocery store, yet I somehow still think I’m saving money by buying them.
For years my camping box has been a long-standing junk show of semi-mangled “gear,” a stubborn declaration of elective and unnecessary dirtbaggery. It’s filled with three and a half-legged chairs, mismatched dinner plates from an old apartment, a dilapidated table that’s so slanted I have to set it up on a hill to be able to create a flat surface, and a gallon Ziploc bag filled with hundreds salt, pepper, and condiment packets swiped from fast-food joints.
I finally stumbled across Decathlon’s line of camping gear this summer, and I’m psyched to have found budget-friendly camping gear that’s actually durable. It’s not overly fancy or technical, but it’s well-engineered and more than enough for casual car camping weekends. Everything on this list costs less than $100. Altogether, a whole setup rings in at under $250.
In the meantime, if you need any single-serving Cholula packets from 2009, you know where to find me.
Decathlon’s 2-Second 2-Person Waterproof Camping Tent is ideal for those nights where you roll in late to the campground and are trying to get horizontal as quickly as possible. It comes together in an instant—all you have to do is unlatch the clips, pop it open and the whole thing springs together. The tent is self-supported so there’s no fumbling with poles or figuring out which side is which, and the fly and footprint are built-in. I can confirm it really is idiot-proof.
For $99, this tent is pretty impressive. The PU walls are waterproof and decently breathable—we had no morning condensation and everything inside stayed totally dry after an afternoon thunderstorm. The blackout tent wall construction is also a sweet touch. One morning this summer I didn’t roll out of bed until 9 a.m., which was almost four hours after the sun had come up. The downside to this design is that it’s pretty much the opposite of packable. When folded up, the tent is 25 inches by 2.5 inches, pretty much a huge flat circle that takes up a decent amount of space in the back of a car. It also takes a few tries to break it down, but once you’ve figured out the system (it’s the exact reverse of the set up) it’s pretty seamless.
I’m not going to say this sleeping bag totally blew my mind, but for a $50 bag, it far exceeded my expectations. It’s ideal for summers and those who run hot—I run cold and was the perfect temperature when it stayed above 50 degrees. Which, to be fair, is exactly what Decathlon claims as the intended use. I spent a couple of 40-45 degree nights in it and it was perfectly fine with a layer of long underwear. It packs down into a small stuff sack that’s 7 liters when packed, comparable in size and portability to most lightweight synthetic sleeping bags of this temperature rating. It also weighs just 2 pounds, making it a super reasonable bag to take along on a summer overnight.
The double zippers are great for easily getting in and out, and for those who like to sleep with various appendages outside the covers. The zippers also let you twin the bag with Decathlon’s other backpacking sleeping bags, which can up the warmth if you need a little extra.
This folding table is as good as any table I’ve ever used while car camping—and better than most. It provides a ton of surface area for cooking and eating, with enough room to use one side for food prep with a camp stove and kitchen supplies, while the other comfortably seats two. The laminated tabletop has stood up to a year of cooking, eating, and general camping mayhem with minimal signs of wear, and the steel frame is sturdy and reliable. The table withstood a few days out in a windstorm.
When I clear off all the junk that inevitably clutters up any camp table I use, the table can comfortably seat five or six people while eating or playing cards. The four stools nest inside the table so when folded, the whole set packs down flat and slides easily into the bed of a truck or trunk of a car. It’s a great platform to stack other gear on top of so it doesn’t feel like it takes up much space in a car. The table weighs under 20 pounds, which, combined with the carrying handles, makes it relatively easy to haul around camp. It’s easily the best value of anything I camp with, far cheaper and better than many flimsy overengineered tables on the market these days.
Like the rest of Decathlon’s camp gear, this cookset is durable and reliable, with all the features you need and none you don’t. The set comes with a medium saucepan, two plates, and two sets of cutlery, all of which nest together inside the pot. The folding handle of the pot locks the lid with everything inside. Everything stays neatly in place once packed.
The lid of the stainless steel saucepan has a built-in strainer, and it’s the perfect size to make pasta for three. The included plate/bowls are similar to basic plastic backpacking plates, and the deep construction allows them to be used for oatmeal or anything else that might need a bowl. Plus, the whole set is $20 which is, well, pretty hard to beat.