We all want to save a buck, but sometimes things are cheap for a reason. Kate’s made her fair share of purchases (and mistakes) and she’s here to share what’s worth investing in, and where you can save.

I was scrolling through Facebook recently and saw a post that made me smile. A woman posted on one of the local community groups asking if anyone had any camping gear that her family could borrow.

Nice! Camping is great fun! You get to spend time in our beautiful bush or alongside gorgeous beaches cooking marshmallows on sticks, marvelling at the stars above, waking to the sound of birds, and not showering for three days. Bliss.

Some of the answers, however, were less David Attenborough and more David Rose from Schitt’s Creek. (You know, before he became a less materialistic person. Gee, jokes are much funnier when you explain them, right?!)

‘Just buy some cheap shit from Kmart and upgrade once you know you like it.’

‘Don’t buy good stuff until you know you’ll go again.’

‘Buy ALDI stuff and bin it if it’s no good.’


Saphira Schroers, I Tested A Full Kit Of Cheap ALDI Hiking Gear Over Nearly 100km, trolley, shopping, Aldi, hiking gear, woman

Saphira Schroers tested a full kit of cheap ALDI hiking gear over nearly 100km and has some thoughts on the Aldi offering…


Look, I get it. When you start out camping, it can be daunting – and expensive – to gather all the gear you need to make it enjoyable.

You can’t just buy a tent and drive into the sunset; you need everything to be self-sustainable (and comfortable) for a couple of days, and the upfront cost for the essentials can be off-putting (not to mention figuring out where you’re going to store it all).

But, buying cheap-as-chips gear that isn’t designed to last – and will (very quickly) end up in landfill can’t be the answer, either. Just think of those images of festivals in the days after, where fields are mangled with blown over cheap tents that people have bought for next to nothing and just left behind.

It’s quite devastating to think of all the gear that simply ends up in the bin – and equally devastating to see many people recommend the buy-cheap-and-throw-away method on a public forum. Camping gear shouldn’t be single-use – it’s not dental floss.

Of course, it’s always worth considering the ethical considerations of how things are made too – the cheapest gear doesn’t usually come from happy, well-paid factory workers.

Read More: The Dark Side Of Cheap Gear

That said, it got me thinking about the plethora of items where a cheaper version is perfectly adequate, and the items I think absolutely need a bit of money invested in them.

Because if you’re testing the waters to see if you like camping, but your cheap tent leaks in the rain, your bargain mattress leaves you with aching bones, your cheap stove cooker blows out in every breeze, and your cut-price solar lights are dead by 10pm, you’re probably not going to be in a rush to go camping again.

Set yourself up for success.

Read more: Testing Everything Including The (Camp) Kitchen Sink From Kmart

Gear You Should Invest In

1. Camping Mattress

If you’re going to invest in one camping item, let it be a good quality camping mattress. I can’t stress this enough. Your mattress is the key to a good night’s sleep, so ditch the cheap yoga mats and invest in something comfortable.

Self-inflating is good – something thick enough to create distance between you and the cold ground, plus it means it can be rolled up and easily. Our mattress is the Wanderer Tourer Extreme 4×4 mattress, it’s the biggest, most cumbersome camping item we own, and it’s worth its weight in gold.


Should I have made the bed before I took a photo? Probably…

Other camping mattresses we love:

Darche Kozi self-inflating mattress – 100mm thick.

Nemo Quasar Insulated Double Sleeping Pad – not self-inflating, but lightweight.

2. Lanterns

I’m yet to find a cheap lantern that projects light downwards onto our food, rather than directly into my eyes. Having good lighting means being able to see when you’re cooking – especially useful in the months when daylight savings ends and you’re roving around in the dark.

Cheap lanterns often break and have harsh light – I’ve even been asked to turn one of mine off by a nearby camper because the light was ‘so annoying’ – she wasn’t wrong.

Get a lantern that projects light downwards for your tent and for camping, and ideally one that has a long battery life and can be easily recharged. The Hangdome is my favourite.

The same goes for solar lights – I tried the cheap ones from Kmart and they were fantastic… for precisely one camping trip. Sigh.

Other lanterns we love:

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini V2

UST LED 1.0 Tent Bulb

3. Gazebo / Pop-up Shelter

Picture this. You’ve popped up a gazebo to protect yourself from the elements. It’s drizzling. A gust of wind sweeps through your campground.

The gazebo is now flying towards your neighbour’s campsite, a la Mary Poppins in that iconic opening scene. It’s strewn over their gas-burner. The entire campground ignites.


Get a sturdy gazebo that can withstand winds – even better when it can double as a clothesline

Okay, hyperbole aside, if you are going to buy a gazebo for your camping trips (and they are definitely a nice-to-have, rather than an essential), get a good, heavy, sturdy one that can survive the wind.

Many cheap versions have reviews that say they won’t hold up in a breeze, so you’re better off getting a stainless-steel frame with a covering that can survive the elements. We use this one from King’s.

3. Mosquito Coils

I’m popping this one in here because while the scent of citronella sends me to a tropical paradise filled with summertime barbecues and warm breezes, the really cheap mosquito coils and candles smell like lemon-scented petrol. Ugh. Buy the non-home-brand stuff.

Read more: Insect Repellent Gear: Our Guide To Getting Them To Buzz Off

Gear That You Can Buy Cheap

1. Tent

I’ll caveat this buy saying don’t buy the cheapest tent available (gestures back to post-festival Armageddon photograph). But, you don’t need to fork out for blackout fabric and internal lighting for your first tent.

Our six-person pop-up tent cost around $129 and only sustained some damage during gale force winds one camping trip – and even then, it was a tiny, tiny tear in the corner. We’ve since upgraded to a Coleman, but we keep the old one on hand to lend to friends.

You can pick up the following 4-5 person tents for less than $300:

The Black Wolf Classic Dome 4-person tent

The Vango Tay 4-person tent

Oztrail Tasman 4-person tent

Naturehike Cloud Up 3 Person Ultralight Hiking Tent

2. Camp Tubs

Let me regale you a tale of when we went camping and safely secured all our food in reusable bags in our car – or so we thought.

We were surprised when we opened the boot to find our hamburger buns missing a big chunk from them, and horrified when we then found an even bigger chunk missing from our car seat…

Getting a cheap, plastic camp tub to put your food in keeps it (and your car’s upholstery) safe from pests (like hungry rats).

You can also create a ‘camping essentials’ tub which will house all the little things you need that are easy to forget – sponges, matches, cooking utensils, foil, dishwashing liquid, paper towel. These don’t need to be expensive, and they make packing for the weekend a breze. You can pick up an 18L storage tub from Officeworks for less than $16.

3. Chairs

Is it comfortable? Do you have good back support? Are there plenty of pockets and drink holders?

Even though the really cheap options are usually terrible, as long as camp chairs hit the above criteria, you can usually find some really affordable options.


Ample back support…. check

ALDI is hit and miss when it comes to camp gear, but their camping chairs are *chef’s kiss* (and only $30 each).

Side note, how cool is this? OzTent 3-in-1 Sidekick

Read more: Helinox vs Aldi – Lightweight Camping Chair Comparison

4. Camp Table

We have a fold-out table from Kmart and it’s great. A table just needs to be sturdy, hold the weight of a camp cooker, and survive when you play an especially violent game of Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza.


Needs to be sturdy for when card games get heated

It’s been on many a camp trip with us and we’ve never had an issue. It’s not the cheapest one available at $52 (some of the ultra cheap options look really, really flimsy) but you absolutely don’t need to spend hundreds on a special ‘camping’ table.

5. Camp Cooking Gear

Thrift stores can be a great option for camping gear in general but are an especially great place to pick up some cheap pots and pans for camp cooking, and op-shops are often heaving with pots and pans. It’s better than spending loads on the ‘camp cooking set’ you often find in camping stores for an eye-watering price.

Read more: Testing Everything Including The (Camp) Kitchen Sink From Kmart’s Camp Cooking Range

6. Ice

This is more of a hack, but don’t buy ice to fill your esky – it melts quickly and leaves everything in a gross post-camping lukewarm puddle. Instead, fill some old milk bottles with water and freeze them. They’ll take longer to melt, and keep the melted water contained.

Of course, the original intention of the Facebook post I saw is a great option for anyone who wants to try out camping, without buying everything first.

Ask friends and family if they have gear you can borrow, put the question on a (hopefully more helpful) community group, or see if your city has a ‘thing library’; basically a library but instead of books, it’s full of, well, things!

Camp gear, suitcases, party wares – they’re set up for people to borrow items that they only need short-term.

Camping doesn’t need to be really expensive upfront – but the better the gear you have, the more comfortable you’ll be, the more fun you’ll have, and the more likely you’ll make it a regular thing.

And if you need a six-person tent with a small hole in the corner, I’ll loan you mine!