Where to buy your camping gear
The popularity of camping in recent years means there’s now a multitude of retail outlets fighting for your hard-earned pounds and pennies.
As well as traditional High Street shops, independent retailers and out of town superstores, there are a number of retailers operating online, so it’s a really competitive marketplace out there.
Our advice is to do your own research into the sort of tent and accessories that best meet your individual needs and then shop around for a competitive price - but bear in mind that the cheapest deal isn’t always your best bet.
INDEPENDENT AND HIGH STREET RETAILERS
Most towns still have at least one camping and outdoor shop on the High Street – either a local independent set-up or one of the large chains like Blacks, Millets or Cotswold Outdoors.
There are also lots of large independent stores, based on the outskirts or just out of town, that have a wider range of equipment for sale and often combine their camping stock with garden centres. Many of these are family-run and boast staff who have worked there for many years and are extremely knowledgable. They can provide you with the sort of expert advice you might not find elsewhere.
The smaller independents in town may not carry the same choice of products as their out of town rivals and will struggle to compete on price, but they also have very knowledgeable staff with several years’ experience who should be able to help you select kit which is appropriate to your needs. It may not be the cheapest option, but building up a good relationship with your local retailer will pay dividends if something goes wrong and a piece of kit fails.
Over the last decade we’ve seen huge growth in the outdoor superstores like Go Outdoors and Decathlon – often based on retail parks and carrying a huge range of tents and accessories from a wide range of manufacturers at discount prices. Visit any of these retailers and as well as being able to touch and feel the products, you should also be able to sound out staff for help and advice.
The internet has extended the buying options open to would-be campers dramatically, but unless you know exactly what you are looking for, we’d advise a little caution before diving in with both feet.
The internet is a wonderful research tool, which allows browsers to compare dozens of tents online and it also gives an excellent indication of the most competitive prices for a specific tent or accessory.
But it’s difficult to gauge quality from pictures on websites and while the glossy brochure shots may look idyllic, until you’ve actually stepped inside a tent and wandered around in it, it’s almost impossible to work out whether it’s right for you and your family.
By all means make use of the many websites out there to narrow down your options to a shortlist, but we’d recommend seeing all the tents on your shortlist in the flesh before making a final decision.
You may then decide to buy a specific tent online to get a cheaper deal, but bear in mind that after sales service can vary significantly and if something does go wrong, getting it fixed or replaced can be much more complicated.
Buying accessories online is a little more straightforward – particularly relatively mundane items such as tent pegs or sleep mats – but with more complex items such as gas stoves or electrical products, don’t underestimate the value of a demonstration of how they work by someone who really knows their stuff at a specialist retailer.
The other online buying option is auction sites like eBay. There are doubtless bargains to be had and you may pick up some really good quality kit at a fraction of the price you’d pay new, but again we’d recommend exercising a little caution. It’s vitally important to know exactly what you are looking for and how much you’d expect to pay new. Many of the items up on the auction sites seem to be placed by unofficial outlets which may save you a few quid, but may not be interested in providing much in the way of after sales service. There are also genuine private vendors offering little-used second-hand equipment on eBay, but unless you can inspect it, how will you spot defects or damage? A broken zip or a stressed seam can transform an apparent bargain into a costly mistake.
Budget supermarkets Lidl and Aldi are a great source for picking up decent quality camping kit at bargain-basement prices. Both introduce a range of outdoor gear to their famous Middle Aisles a couple of times a year and generally speaking it’s good stuff. Some campers have recommended their cool boxes and other gear. We’d recommend that you don’t buy a super-budget piece of gear anywhere unless you are 100% certain it’s of a good standard.
CAMPING SHOWS AND EXHIBITIONS
Camping shows fall into three categories: the huge show at the NEC in February, where visitors will find a large selection of tents and accessories from leading manufacturers under one roof, smaller regional shows and retailer shows which tour the country over the summer.
These shows offer a one-stop shop at which you can compare a vast range of tents of various construction types from all the major manufacturers. Dozens of tents are erected – usually in the grounds of a garden centre or similar setting – and visitors are encouraged to wander in and out of the tents and have a good look at potential purchases. Experienced staff, who spend their entire summer putting up and taking down tents at these shows, are on hand to offer advice and there’s usually large marquee with a wide range of accessories on sale.
Prices tend to be keen and newcomers looking to buy a comprehensive camping kit – complete with all the accessories – should be able to strike an attractive deal.
Even if you aren’t quite ready to buy, visiting an outdoor camping show will give you an excellent overview of what’s available on the market, what you get for your money and how the competing brands compare.
It should also get you closer to deciding which of the many different designs and construction methods best suits your needs, so when you do decide to buy, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you’re looking for.