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tent / camping gear

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Joful, Apr 20, 2014.

  1. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    So, the 4-yo boy is starting to ask about camping out, which to him means, in our back yard. I used to do a good bit of camping and boy scouts when I was young, but pretty much dropped it for other pursuits in middle school, so my array of gear is almost non-existent at this point.

    No need to jump into this too big yet, though... he's only 4. I'm thinking a tent and two sleeping bags in the back yard might get us thru this summer. Maybe two mess kits and a water jug for cooking by the fire pit.

    I have no disillusions that whatever gear we buy him (or myself) now is going to carry us through him making Eagle Scout, so I'm just looking for some basic mid-grade gear. A tent that might last us five or six years of a half dozen uses per year, and adult and child summer sleeping bags, to start.

    Suggestions? I was at Walmart yesterday, and saw the Coleman and Ozark Trail tents, which are astoundingly inexpensive, but maybe good enough? I remember my father and I did our first several camping trips (Indian Guides and Cub Scouts) in a really crappy little nylon two-man pup-tent. Our feet would always get wet where they'd touch the edge of the tent, but even so... we had a lot of fun.

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  2. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    You would be surprised! A friend of mine is a pro mountain climber. He has summitted 4 of the 7 summits of the world. He still has a tent from 14 years ago! It all depends on what you pay for...

    What's your budget? Personally I have a backpacking tent for 3 (which means tight 2). SOmething like this may be of interest http://www.rei.com/product/777757/rei-camp-dome-4-tent and it would last several years. Especially for backyard camping. my advice: go big! What I mean: if the tent is for 4 people by the company standards, than it is really for 3. So if you want a 2 person tent, look at one that is for 4 people.

    In the camping department if you pay peanuts, you'll get monkeys. Right now he may just want to camp in the backyard but next year he may want to go to campgrounds. And wet/damp kids at a campground sucks.

    A
  3. midwestcoast

    midwestcoast Minister of Fire

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    What ever you do, get one with a full fly and not something 'astoundingly inexpensive'. Some disappointing features of cheap tents include:
    Condensation inside due to lack of ventilation;
    Rain wicking through body material wherever a sleeping bag, pillow or elbow is touching the wall;
    Water coming up through floors in heavy rain;
    Zippers hopelessly jammed when you NEED to get out in the middle of the night & take care of business;
    Flimsy poles that bend in a stiff breeze until your dome is flattened to a pancake.
    None of these make a boy (or man for that matter) want to sleep in a tent again. Spend a few bucks for something that'll stand a bit of weather.

    If you're not sure he'll be scouting/backpacking then a car camping tent will still be useful for family trips and will be cheaper. Without getting into the primo brands: Alps, Eureka, REI, Kelty are good brands to look for inexpensive but not cheap.
    Swedishchef likes this.
  4. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Thanks for the link, Andrew. Any specific models you like, midwest? Budget is $50 - $800, or put otherwise... TBD. I can afford a good tent, but having seen the garages of friends and neighbors filled with expensive toys barely used, usually like to avoid spending too much on anything until I have some assurance it will be used and appreciated. The one Andrew posted at $200 may fit the bill, but would still like to see a few other options!

    Thanks!
  5. johneh

    johneh Feeling the Heat

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  6. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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  7. bassJAM

    bassJAM Feeling the Heat

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    To just get a 4 year old through the summer in the back yard, I'd just get whatever's cheapest from Walmart. If you both decide you like it, you can move on to a better brand that will last. A cheap tent will keep the bugs out, and might even keep you dry in a light rain, but for hard use I'd invest in a good brand like midwestcoast mentioned. I've become a huge fan of Alps tents, I've picked 2 up from a website called Steepandcheap.com, which often has pretty good deals on outdoor type clearance items.

    Same with sleeping bags, a cheap version will get you through the summer, and if you both like it then spend some money on a decent one. It won't matter for summer, but if he does get into Scouts and camps year round (we'd often did most of our camping from October-March) remember that temp ratings are the temperature at which you won't freeze! Use about 10°-20° lower for actual comfort ratings.

    As far as cookware, I'd pass on those aluminum mess kits you see at Walmart or Dick's Sporting Goods. They are hard to cook in, and an absolute pain to clean. If I don't have to walk far from the car to set up camp, I find it's hard to beat a cast iron skillet and old metal spatula for cooking, and cheap plastic plates and cups and some old dinnerware work great to eat on. If I'm backpacking, I've got expensive camp/backpacking specific cookware, but it's not worth the money if you aren't backpacking.
  8. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Wish you were closer. Nice big tent in the basement that was used for one trip. Set up three times.
    Joful likes this.
  9. Fi-Q

    Fi-Q Feeling the Heat

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    I bought a somewhat cheap wal mart tent ( approx 100$ then, i think its a coleman) approx 6 years ago for a 2 weeks west coast trip. Our first night in Banff save us 200$, camping compare to hotels, so it paid for the whole camping kit. I still have the ten and have used it a few time thru the years. Same with sleeping bag, I have two of the same model/brand so you can zip them together, it can help to keep the kid warmer if he is in the same sleeping bag as you. I would say start with cheap and upgrade as needed. A cheap tent can also be left for a while as a play tent in the back yard.

    One thing, if you get a camping stove! I was wondering why coleman have the same looking stove at diffrent price tag. I have te cheap one and can't barely adjust the flame intensity, it all or nothing. Dad have a same looking stove that he paid double what I paid mine and he can really adjut it from simmering to full heat!! I should have paid the extra on the coleman stove!
  10. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    I could show you lots of models that cost more and are better but the fact is, you don't want to spend too much and not get your money out of it. The nice thing about tents by Kelty, REI, etc is that say you only use it a few times, you can take 25% off the price you paid and get your money back selling it used. nobody will buy a used wal mart tent.

    It all depends on your budget. Camping is AWESOME when people stay dry, warm and cozy.

    ANdrew
    aussiedog3 likes this.
  11. stoveguy2esw

    stoveguy2esw Minister of Fire

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    have an Ozark from walmart at home had for several years used a fair amount, its held up quite well and is quite easy to put up and take down to store. would buy another if i neeeded another tent probably without doing any other shopping around
  12. thinkxingu

    thinkxingu Minister of Fire

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    There are some things worth spending money on now and others that aren't. Here's my advice:

    1. Buy the absolute cheapest tent you can find now that will fit the two of you without hitting sides/ends (cheap here could mean a good deal on a used higher-end tent on craigslist or a Walmart special). That's because your needs for a tent will change through the years--I have a 3-person Coleman dome, 2-person Walrus, 2-person Mountain Hardware, 8-person 2-room Eureka and a 2-person custom TarpTent by Henry Shires--all of them serving different purposes, from car camping to winter camping, to ultra lightweight 1/2 night excursions, etc.

    2. Buy very good down sleeping bags. This is a personal choice, but I've just simply never been warm enough in a synthetic bag. Down bags with from a company with a good reputation will last forever and grow with your l'il buddy. Nothing's worse than being cold. And good sleeping bags can be used for sleepovers, car camping, backpacking, etc. Also, down settles nicely so I'm not sure I'd even buy a kid's bag--I think I'd go right to a small adult.

    3. Skip the crappy canteens and buy Nalgene water bottles. If you end up camping more, hiking, backpacking, or drinking water in your kitchen, Nalgenes are useful.

    4. If the cheap mess kits are cheap enough, buy a couple and be done for now--you'll probably only be cooking burgs or dogs for the moment. In the future, a rocket stove, titanium spork and pot, and freeze-dried foods might be in your future.

    Essentially, anything that you'll be able to use going forward, is flexible, or has good resale value I would spring the money for. There is no doubt that better camping gear equals a better camping experience, and this is a make-or-break opportunity with l'il buddy.

    Good luck!
    firefighterjake and Joful like this.
  13. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Great advice, guys! Keep it coming.

    However I will say that money spent on a tent is probably more about keeping dad happy, than the kid(s). Simply put, I don't think they're nearly as bothered by the stuff that keeps us awake in the woods at night. Any camping we do (for now) will be fair weather scheduled.

    Good points on the mess kits. I had several of those stamped aluminum kits as a kid... mostly one-time use. They're too difficult to clean, for any kid to bother. I'd usually bring them home to mom, burnt and dirty. My most successful camp cooking all took place in rolled-up tinfoil or on a stick.
  14. midwestcoast

    midwestcoast Minister of Fire

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    I agree with bassJAM that for backyard use, about anything will do. You'll be picking nice nights and can always bail if surprise weather blows in.
    I guess the point that I didn't make very well is that you can get a good family car camping tent for less than the latest/greatest backpacking tent and it can serve you for family outings for many years in much more comfort.
    Wait 'till you see if he (or you since it's been a few years...) like it before getting dedicated backcountry gear.

    Also, for summer back yard camping I don't see a need for sleeping bags. Sheets & comforters will do just fine down to 60::F or so. Some kind of foam or air matress is needed though, especially for you, so you can stand-up in the morning.

    I used to be into backcountry endeavors in a pretty big way & was admittedly a gear junky. I still have 5 tents, 3 sleeping bags, 5 stoves... even after giving some stuff away.
    Now with a toddler I have to stick closer to trailheads, but we still get out there a bit. She's been on half a dozen camping trips & went on her first multi-day canoe trip at 17 months. Had a blast!
    Joful likes this.
  15. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Impressive, with the toddler. I don't think I could talk my wife into that, but she thinks staying in a hotel is "roughing it."

    Interesting mention of the stoves. I don't think I ever owned a camp stove, having just always cooked on coals from a fire. My only camping gear was bag, tent, backpack, liquid fuel lantern (old skool), canteen and mess kit. If I were buying a new lantern for camping or backpacking today, I'd probably go propane, but I have two liquid fuel Coleman's in good working order.
  16. Fi-Q

    Fi-Q Feeling the Heat

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    As far as lantern goes, a good old propane or liquid fuel is a good thing to get the chill of a tent, but I find it dangerous with kids around. After a lot of online reading, I bought this LED lantern. Pretty compact and AA batteries, most of the compact one use AAA wich are a lot more expensive.

    http://www.amazon.com/Rayovac-Sport...id=1398124177&sr=8-5&keywords=rayovac lantern

    I did used it a few time and I like it. The kids are using it a lot as well, amd for the price, I think it´s a good investment !
  17. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    cool. I never even thought of putting a lantern IN a tent! Sounds very dangerous, kids or no. We always kept the liquid fuel lanterns outside the tent, in the gathering area / picnic table.
  18. Fi-Q

    Fi-Q Feeling the Heat

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    Hehe, yeah I guess it is not safe at all, but beleie me, 30 min with the lantern in the tens really help to take the chill out before going to sleep!!! But don't try this at home :p
  19. osagebow

    osagebow Minister of Fire

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    How's your back? Airbeds make that morning hike a lot easier. And make it easier to get the wife to go again.

    I've had a coleman sundome for 12 years, has held up to a lot. Have even seen it flipped over, used as a UFC cage, and even rolling across the yard with my 2 giant gerbils in it. (Had to replace 1 pole).

    Very impressed with the Eureka traditional style we use in scouts, also.

    Have a blast!
  20. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    FWIW, lanters in tents CAN be safe. Trust me, I use them all the time: http://www.rei.com/product/838879/uco-original-candle-lantern No open flame and they take the chill/dampness/dew out of the tent after 20-30 mins. And this beast can put out quite the heat http://www.rei.com/product/624320/uco-candlelier-candle-lantern

    For backyard camping air mattresses are great. But if you ever find yourself backpacking with your gear, check this out http://www.rei.com/product/848568/therm-a-rest-luxurymap-sleeping-pad- It has an R value of almost 7!
  21. FanMan

    FanMan Feeling the Heat

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    As others have said, don't waste your money buying crappy walmart gear. A Eureka dome tent with a rain fly is a good choice, though there are many other good brands. Some have screen mesh at the top of the dome, under the rain fly, lots better in hot weather.

    I will have to disagree with thinkxingu... you don't want down, unless you're camping in very cold weather or a very dry area. Once down gets wet, it has zero insulating value. When a synthetic bag gets wet, it's wet and miserable, but it retains much of its insulating value. But do buy bags rated colder than the coldest weather you expect until you know what suits you... most ratings are for survival, not comfort.

    Don't forget ground pads. The cheapest and most reliable are simple closed cell foam pads. Air mattresses may be more comfortable... until they spring a leak.

    Cooking on a fire can be fun, but also an exercise in frustration. If you're car or backyard camping, a cheap propane stove is probably your best bet. You can still cook on the fire if you want to, but having the stove to get water hot for your first cup of coffee (or hot chocolate) while you're getting the fire going in the morning can be priceless.

    A relatively cool night (think May or September) is a lot nicer than a hot sticky buggy July or August night. I almost never go camping in the summer any more.

    Probably one the best places for camping gear in the US is Campmor. They're mailorder... but also have a huge retail store in Paramus, NJ, not too far from you in Philly... with staff who know what they're talking about.

    Backpacking gear is a whole 'nother story. There, you pay more (sometimes lots more) for the weight you're not carrying. For me that means tarp and bivy sack, no tent, liquid fuel stove, titanium cookpot... there's all kinds of neat high tech gear to blow money on...

    Have fun, but take it easy. I took my oldest daughter camping (car camping at a campground, November in Connecticut) for the first time at age 10 months, first backpacking trip (about a half mile in the woods behind the house) at around age 3. First "real" backpacking trip with both girls, around age 5&6, we walked about a mile and a half from the car to a lake in the state forest (looping around so we actually camped only about 1/4 mile from the car, just in case). Now my daughters are 24 & 25, and still like to go backpacking either with me or with their boyfriends.
    Joful likes this.
  22. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Mixed feelings ... if you're just camping in decent weather with little to no chance of rain and want to save some money until you can decide if you want to do more camping the stuff at Wal-Mart is fine ... but if it rains prepare for a miserable experience. Had an Academy tent that I used for years and it was fine ... until the first time I got caught in the rain. Terrible sleep ... woke up cold and soaking wet.

    My sister bought me a Mountain Hardwear tent and I haven't looked back ... have weathered many a storm and have woke up dry every time. I did however forget my tent on Columbus Day weekend when I went to the Woodstock stove open house a few years back. Fortunately there was a LL Bean in Hanover ... where I realized my mistake ... for about $40 more than the Wal-Mart tent I picked up another decent back up tent.

    Sleeping bags ... some day I need to upgrade ... but for now I mostly camp in the summer so my cheap Coleman sleeping bags work fine for my needs.

    The rest of the gear ... depends on your level of involvement and what you plan to do. A buddy of mine loves to cook so he has cast iron pans, Dutch ovens and all kinds of other stuff ... me ... I'm often happy with some red hotdogs skewered on a stick and roasted over an open fire with some Poptarts for breakfast.
  23. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Good grief. We are talking about camping in the backyard with a four year old. Not summitting Everest. :rolleyes:
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  24. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Bro Bart nailed it. A major expedition, it is not!

    Coleman Sundome will do me just fine... just gotta decide 3- or 4-person. It'll probably get used mostly by me and one or two of the kids, but maybe the wife will join us for one or two excursions.

    Went to buy some summer weight sleeping bags, and ran into an unexpected issue. I'm just a hair over 5' 11" and weight 175 lb. Most of the sleeping bags are listed for folks "up to 5 feet 11 inches", which I'm apparently at or slightly above. Then all the bags beyond that are "big and tall", apparently more for fat folks than tall (they all jump from 33" wide to 39" wide). I did see one site that claimed a tall person of "below average weight" (I guess I am... only by American standards) would do well in a standard bag, but could find no other recommendations to corroborate.

    Any bag recommendations? I was mostly looking at the Coleman 40F - 60F (warm weather) bags. Again, no need for $150 sleeping bags for back-yard camping. In fact, I'd be fine with a blanket on our air mattress, but I know the kid wants to sleep in a sleeping bag. Besides, every house should have a few sleeping bags. We have none.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
  25. aussiedog3

    aussiedog3 Feeling the Heat

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    A good used or new Eureka or REI will get him through Eagle Scout. That could only be 10-11 years away.
    +1 on one with a good rain fly and get cheap blue tarp about the footprint of the tent to use as a ground cloth under the tent.
    Get a sleeping bag of synthetic material, generally easier to dry and you will be warmer in it if you do sweat or get wet.
    Outdoor survival tip #1. Cotton kills.

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