Updated: Dec 21, 2021
I used to be one of those people that worked at a camping store and received amazing discounts, like 50% off $300 backpacks kind of amazing. Now that I'm not working that store anymore and I realize I should've taken way more advantage of that system.
While I'm still always on the lookout for great deals on high-end gear, it is almost impossible for me to afford the gear I want anymore without saving for months. Luckily, while I wait for the big gear purchases there is always Walmart for starting out cheap and reliably.
Even if in the future you want to upgrade your gear, it's always best to start with what you can get your hands on. That's why I made this list of the best and worst camping items you can get at Walmart for cheap, so you can get started quickly without making some of the money-wasting mistakes I did.
These are the necessary items you need for camping that will last you a long time for a fair price.
I'm not going to lie, Ozark Trails (the Walmart camping brand) has some pretty great stuff if you keep an eye out. I've had one of their 2-person tents for 4 years and it's still going strong.
Their tents are very spacious, with mine have two large vestibules on either side of the tent, my tent can fit 2 people and my dog if needed. It's also very sturdy, I've camped in some minor winds and rain and this tent stood against these elements as if it wasn't just made of cloth and sticks.
If you're looking for an entry-level tent then look no further than the cheapest tent you can possibly get.
At Walmart, you'll find tons of options for lighting, and while non of them will light up a football field, they'll do just fine for either a late dinner on the picnic table or lighting up the inside of a tent.
I highly suggest this little lantern if you can find one, it costs $3.50, is surprisingly bright, and it even has a red light feature to protect your night vision. There is also this collapsable solar lantern that's not quite as bright, but a great backup option for emergencies.
For a tent light, this overhead click light works great, and it also has an amber night light feature for only $12.
3. Sleeping pad
While you could get a foam sleeping pad for around $15, it's only half an inch thick and will probably leave you with rocks sticking in your back all night.
If I wasn't worried about the weight I was bringing, I would opt for an inflatable mattress which you can grab for only $13, and a hand pump for just another $10. But if you want to get really spendy you can grab an electric pump for about $12, for those who don't want to spend 30 min inflating a mattress manually. Just make sure you'll have somewhere to plug it in when you get to the campsite.
Even the cheapest mattress should last you a long time as long as you take care of it. But since you're bringing it outdoors there is a likelihood of popping, luckily you can grab a new one for super cheap.
4. First Aid Kit
You can buy so many different types of first aid kits, from 5 bandaids to a complete EMT med-pack. For regular car camping, you most likely won't need the 150 piece kit, but I believe you can't really go without one either. So, for best practices, I suggest bringing at least the minimum:
-multiple different sizes of bandaids
-pain killer (ibuprofen)
-sterile gauze pads
-bandage roll with cloth tape
This way you'll have no worries about small infections, pains, or bleeding instances. Just don't go swinging an ax around like a mass murderer and you'll be alright.
While it's always best to use biodegradable soap when your wastewater goes onto the ground, but if you're staying in a campground with a complete indoor bathroom then you can use whatever cleaning products you want.
The cheapest biodegradable camp soap would be the Coghlan's camp soap you can find almost anywhere, but you can also find small bottles of Dr.Bronner's castile soap at Walmart as well for not much more. These soaps can be used for anything from washing dishes to washing your hair, I personally use them a lot because of their versatility.
It actually blew my mind looking at the Walmart travel-size toiletries section, they have everything from tiny shaving creams, to mosquito spray, to perfume, and in almost any big brand you can think of, it's crazy. This is also a great section to grab hand and body wipes to clean your hands and give yourself a quick wipe down at the end of the camping day (which is the best feeling ever).
So, don't forget to snag either some full travel bottles or some empty ones to fill up at home because you do not have to compromise if you don't want to.
Before you get too excited about grabbing your whole camping set up for next to nothing, here are a couple of items I urge you not to buy so cheap.
1. Sleeping Bag
I say not to buy this cheap because the lower-end sleeping bags offer about as much warmth as a throw blanket from your hallway closet. So no matter nice it looks, grabbing an old blanket from your house would be more worth your time and money. Simply layer up and get cozy under a few blankets and you'll be fine for summer camping.
2. Backpacking Bag
You should really avoid buying your large 60L backpacking bag at Walmart, for the cut and dry reason of weak internal support. These bags will wreck your back in minutes because of the lack of that superior rigid internal structure that normally holds most of the load for you instead of putting all of it on your shoulders. Unless you want to be hurting 2 miles into your hike, please avoid putting your trust into these bags.
I'm only saying this because I have seen people try to rely solely on off-brand $5 swiss army knives and they literally won't cut it. I'm not saying you need to spend $300 on a fancy Spyderco knife, just make sure you get a solid knife that is able to be sharpened and has solid hinges that won't fall apart once you get out in the field.
4. Camping Chair
While there are some great options for camping chairs at Walmart, I highly suggest spending a little more than the $7 Ozark Trails chair. While it may seem like a great deal, after one trip your ass will be falling through and smacking the ground. These chairs fall apart way too easily, and there are many better options for not much more, so if you plan on using this chair more than once, then I suggest spending above $10.
While it may seem like a good idea to buy some solid cast iron pans for camping or even a separate set of regular frying pans, I suggest simply bringing your own from your kitchen. The cheap cast iron pans from the camping section of Walmart are not coated (or seasoned) well, are made with random scrap metals that most likely aren't healthy to be cooking on, and are overall a waste of money. Bringing pans from home will save you money and keep you from having extra items in your home you simply do not need.
While there are tons of random items such as eating utensils and backpacking food that you can also get at Walmart for cheap, the items I listed are the things that I thought some people may overlook when shopping for gear their first time. And while I'm not the biggest fan of big box stores, I can't say I haven't bought a lot of gear there or regretted buying a more expensive version somewhere else for the same thing. But that's what these types of stores are there for, to get people to buy items cheaply and conveniently, so don't feel like you have to spend tons of money to get outdoors, just head to Walmart and start shopping.
Let me know what you think of my list of cheap Walmart camping items. Would you add to this list? Would you trust outdoor gear bought from Walmart? Let me know in the comments below, DM me on Instagram, or email me!
Until next time,