By JOSH TURNER
Go ahead and wince now. Yes, there are actually a lot of people who buy camping gear at Wal-Mart. Sources report that Wal-Mart sells a ton of gear annually in stores all over the world. Is any of this “cost-effective” gear worth having in your collection, or is this more of a place for beginners to shamefully dip their toe? To answer these questions, we went camping with nothing but the cheapest gear we could find at Wal-Mart. Here are a few of the highlights and lowlights from our trip.
Ozark Trail Two Person Dome Tent, $19. Sold only in Wal-Mart stores (not online), the Ozark Trail Two Person Dome tent was surprisingly a better all-around product than we had anticipated. It is plenty wide for two people with its 7 × 7-foot floor — rare for a tent that advertises itself as a two-person model. But its square dimension leaves little head or foot room.
The tent’s fabric and floor are fairly thin, and the fiberglass poles are skinny. Durability is not a strong feature. Don’t expect this tent to last forever, but it can function in certain situations like car camping or a backyard adventure.
During our camping trip, it did not rain. We were glad. After some inspection, I fear this tent would not hold up well in bad conditions. However, with the use of some tent waterproofer and seam sealer, you could turn the Ozark Trail into a suitable tent for one person or kids use. It’s only $19! Experimentation is encouraged.
Coleman 1 Burner Propane Stove, $18.96. This was the cheapest stove or cooking system available at Wal-Mart. At just under $20 (before the cost of a fuel canister), it comes in at a fraction of the cost of other similar systems offered by big-name competitors. Bottom line, we found that it didn’t compromise on quality, durability or ease of use. It sets up quickly and is a straightforward solution for many people who might not need the features of a more expensive cooking system. This product was the standout of everything we tested.
Ozark Trail Mini LED Lantern, $5. Clearly, the Ozark Trail Mini LED Lantern has never been used on any actual Ozark trails. Pretty much everything about the product renders it useless. Wal-Mart sells it only in stores, likely to avoid the scathing reviews that would clog up the web site. The lantern emits about as much light as a small night light, if that. The ambient glow produced by this worthless product is barely enough to even use in your tent. Then again, it was only $5. Not sure what we were expecting.
Coleman Focus Lantern, $6.88. Unlike the Ozark Trail lantern, the Coleman Focus proved to be much better for only a couple extra dollars. This lantern puts out a solid amount of yellow light, and its focusing feature allows it to be adjusted to your preference or used as an emergency flashlight if need be. This light won’t prove to be the most durable over time, but for the price I can’t complain.
Ozark Trail 3-Lb, 40-60 Degree Sleeping Bag, $9.88. The first thing we noticed about this sleeping bag is that it is 100% polyester. The outer shell, the fill, and the inner lining are all polyester. Having an inner lining made of polyester isn’t for everybody, let’s just say that. However, despite a couple faults, the sleeping bag performed well in the conditions. It was approximately 50 degrees during the night, and staying warm wasn’t an issue at all. For a $10 sleeping bag, it deserves a thumbs up.
Outdoor Products 5-Piece Mess Kit, $5.88. The food on the box looks delicious, but that’s where the fun ends with this cheap cooking and eating set. Included in the set are a fry pan, bowl, pot with handle and lid, cup, and a plate. The fry pan and pot are good for about one use. They did not hold up well to the heat, and cleaning them to a reusable condition was a daunting proposition. All of these products were very thin and flimsy. If you are looking for a mess kit to throw away after one use, this is the product for you. For everybody else, we definitely recommend that you invest in a more durable, non-stick cooking set.
—Josh Turner produces and hosts the web show CampingGearTV.com, featuring camping and backpacking gear reviews. The show is also known for actionable advice on fending off bears using unorthodox and impractical methods. For more on the “Cheap Wal-Mart Gear” experiment, visit CampingGearTV.com.