BBB Tip: Buying Camping Gear


Outdoor activities have become increasingly popular in the last year, as families look to activities like camping to get out and enjoy the fresh air. This means many people wanting to enjoy the great outdoors are now in the market for camping gear. With many options for tents, sleeping bags, and other camping essentials, choosing the right gear for your trip can easily become overwhelming.

The first step is to decide what your camping trip will look like. Are you car camping at a local state park? Are you hiking and carrying all your gear in a backpack? Will you camp out for a single night or for longer periods of time? Once you know the answers, you’re ready to start shopping for gear.

BBB recommends the following tips to help you purchase the camping gear that will best suit your personal needs.  

Choose the right tent

When it comes to choosing the right tent, there are three basic considerations you should keep in mind: size, weight, and seasonality.

If you’re car camping and weight is not an issue, go big. Tents are often listed by the number of people they will sleep. Even though a tent CAN sleep six, doesn’t mean you will be comfortable. Instead, consider getting a tent much bigger than what you need. This will give you plenty of space to move around in and lots of room for kids, pets, and gear. If you want to stand up in your tent, check the peak height, too. Even if you are backpacking and need to carry your tent, it’s still much more comfortable to go with a tent that is one person bigger than what you need.

On the other hand, if tent weight is an issue, plan on getting a backpacking-specific tent, which will give you enough room to sleep with minimal weight. For serious thru-hikers, nonfreestanding tents with guylines are a good ultralightweight option, though they may be a bit more challenging to set up.

Tent seasonality is determined by what kind of weather a tent can endure, so you’ll need to think about weather conditions where you plan on camping. Three-season tents are designed for relatively temperate conditions during spring, summer, and fall. They usually have plenty of mesh panels to give the tent good air flow and shield you from bugs. They also protect campers from rain. Three to four-season tents (or 3+ season) are a little sturdier with less or smaller mesh panels. They can be used in the summertime but are also a good choice for early spring or late fall when you might experience snow. Finally, 4-season tents are designed to protect campers in harsher conditions and can withstand substantial snow and wind. These tents can be used all year round but may be hot and stuffy in the summer heat.

Get a comfortable sleeping bag

There are a few things to think about when choosing a sleeping bag as well. Be sure to consider temperature ratings, size and shape, and materials.

Temperature ratings can vary pretty widely from one manufacturer to another but, generally speaking, winter sleeping bags are rated for below 10˚F, 3-season sleeping bags can range from 10˚F to 35˚F, and summer sleeping bags are rated for 35˚F and higher. You can also look at the bag’s EN (European Norm) ratings. This indicates the lowest temperature in which you’ll want to use the bag. Women’s bags use the rating “T-Comfort,” and men’s use “T-Limit.” Be warned that temperature ratings aren’t an exact science; much will depend on your personal tolerance.

As for size and shape, you have a few options there too. Women-specific sleeping bags tend to be a little shorter, wider in the hip area, and may include some extra insulation in the upper body area.

If you are purchasing a bag at a brick-and-mortar store, hop in and give the bag you are considering a try. You’ll want to make sure your feet don’t ram the bottom of the bag. This will compress the insulation and reduce its effectiveness, giving you cold feet at night. In addition, you’ll need to choose between mummy style or square sleeping bags. Mummy bags taper down towards the feet and fit snugly, which maximizes thermal efficiency. They are generally more compressible too, making them ideal for backpacking. Square sleeping bags aren’t as good at heat retention, but they give you a little extra room to roll around in. Square bags are better suited for summer weather and car camping.

Sleeping bags are generally made with either down or synthetic materials. Down sleeping bags have a much better warmth-to-weight ratio, but they aren’t good for moist climates. They quickly lose their insulating properties when wet. Down bags have fill power ratings of 600 to 900. The higher the number, the warmer the bag. Synthetic bags are much better at retaining warmth in humid or moist climates and they dry quickly, but they are much heavier and bulkier, making them tougher to tote on multi-day backpacking trips. A couple of drawbacks to synthetic bags are that they don’t last as long as down bags and tend to lose their insulating power if compressed for long period of time. That said, they are usually much cheaper than down sleeping bags.

Select your camp cookware

A basic camp kitchen includes a stove, cooler, pots, plates, cups, and utensils. A two-burner propane camp stove will let you cook your breakfast of choice while you boil water for your coffee. It’s a good idea to bring a couple extra canisters of propane to last for the duration of your trip. You’ll also need a lighter to get the fire burning.

Choose a cooler that has enough room for your perishable foods and drinks you want to keep cool and fill it with enough ice to keep everything cold.

As for pots and utensils, bring everything you’ll need for food preparation and consumption. You can buy camping specific utensils or bring them from home, just make sure whatever you bring is durable enough to withstand the trip and camp use. If you are staying a few days, be sure to bring a couple of wash tubs, biodegradable dish soap, a scrubber, and a drying towel to take care of the dirty dishes.

Don’t forget other camping essentials

Packing for a camping trip can be challenging; you can’t easily run to the corner store if you forget something. Be sure you bring your own toiletries. Even if you aren’t camping at a primitive site, you’ll need soap, shampoo, towels, and, in some cases, toilet paper.  Other supplies that might come in handy are a first aid kit, sunscreen and bug repellent, and hand sanitizer.

Other gear you’ll need for your trip includes lighting, which could be flashlights, headlamps, and electric lanterns, camp chairs (mesh chairs dry quickly if you expect rain or dew), and a folding table if your campsite doesn’t have a picnic table. Many campers invest in a tent footprint, which is a custom fitted groundcloth that will protect your tent floor from damage and moisture. Sleeping pads go under your sleeping bag and can give you added comfort and warmth. A Swiss Army knife or another multitool often comes in handy, too. A broom and dustpan and indoor/outdoor mats aren’t necessarily essential, but they can help you keep your tent clean during multi-day camping trips.

Other camping gear considerations

Buy good quality gear. Read reviews online and speak with sales representatives at sporting goods stores to find out about the quality of any gear you are considering purchasing. You can get plenty of camping gear for cheap, but it may only last for one camping trip or less, so it’s often a wiser choice to spend a little more and invest in quality gear that will last much longer.

Be careful when buying online. Buying camping gear online is super convenient, but be sure to buy from a reputable online seller. When making purchases, read customer reviews, gear descriptions, and return policies carefully before you click “buy.” In addition, it’s always best practice to make online purchases with your credit card, just in case you need to dispute charges later on. Read more tips for smart online shopping.

Practice using your gear before you head out. Always practice setting up your tent, using your camp stove and other camping gear, and packing and unpacking your backpack before you get to your campsite. Doing so will save you a lot of frustration and make your camping trip much more enjoyable.

For more information

Find camping equipment near you

Check out BBB campground ratings.

When purchasing camping gear, look to businesses that adhere to the BBB Standards for Trust. Read more about BBB’s Accreditation Standards.


Information courtesy of the Better Business Bureau

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