Camping Products You Need (to avoid)

They tempt you with pictures of happy campers, laughing and enjoying their new camping gadget that promises comfort and performance at an unbelievable price. It would be easy to blame a naive consumer for squandering their hard-earned money on this junk, but unfortunately a lot of it comes from name-brand companies.

Cheap Air Mattresses

Camping air mattress

These are really tempting, particularly if you are trying to convince your spouse that a night in the tent really can be just as comfortable as their favorite bed at home. After all, for less than $30, what’s the worst that could happen? The worst that can happen is that you and your spouse wake up on the ground, with only a flat piece of cheap PVC plastic between you and the hard surface. If your spouse was suspicious of camping before, they’re absolutely convinced, now. Here are some actual reviews of these “value” products:

I purchased this product and returned it 5 times for a replacement and every time it was the same thing….after a few days of sleeping on this mattress it would leak air. After inflating the mattress each night the air will slowly leak out and become flat by the time you wake up.

This air bed is horrible!! My husband and I woke at least 3 times every night we were camping to air it back up.

Thin material, no patch kit included. I think that says it all, I don’t expect this to last. It will be okay for company at the house but its too thin to expect it to survive camping trips.

Folding Picnic Tables

Folding picnic tables for camping

These actually look like a great idea, if you are car camping in the backcountry outside of established campgrounds. As with many of these products, the pictures can be deceiving, however. The table surface measures just 3-feet long by 2-feet wide which, if you have kids, is about the same size as their toy picnic table. Almost. The Step2 Naturally Playful Table with Umbrella (the one on the right, if you are wondering) is actually 44-inches long by 26-inches wide. Of course, size isn’t the only thing that matters, when it comes to camping gear – here are some actual reviews:

Got the table out of the box, set it up, sat down and it broke immediately in two places.

This table collapsed on its first outing. Nobody sitting at it was more than 150 lbs and yet the plastic supports under the seats all buckled. This is dangerous.

I read the reviews before I bought it but thought I would give it a chance. Please DO NOT buy this for adults. It may hold children but definitely NOT adults.

Cheap Aluminum Griddles

camping griddle

There’s a reason Hop Sing cooked with a cast iron pot, in the old Bonanza TV series. Campfires get hot and a thin piece of aluminum won’t disperse the heat and cook your food evenly, like a heavy slab of cast iron will. To make matters worse, these cheap griddles have an anti-stick coating applied to them. These coatings scratch off easily and end up in your food – yuck!

I was very disappointed with this grill. I liked the fact that it was enamel, but the underlying metal was so cheap the grill warped the first time I used it.

First use the non-stick coating started coming off the aluminum base. Guess it really is a non-stick coating.

Have had two of these griddles. They warped easily.

See also…

26 thoughts on “Camping Products You Need (to avoid)

  1. Can anyone suggest a quality camp sleeping pad for two tall adults? We’ve always used air mattresses but I’d be more than happy to ditch charging and packing our multiple air pumps for one good, comfortable pad!

  2. Actually, my family of 3 adults (my folks & I) have one of those fold-up camp tables. It’s actually aluminum and the benches are not attached. Yes, it’s small but three adults can eat there pretty comfortably.

    One of the things I really like is that it ISN’T plastic. I don’t think it’d work if you were HUGE though…

  3. I was thinking of you all last night at approximately 3:30 am as I was camping with my son’s Boy Scout toop at Warren Dunes State Park. (great park, BTW). I woke up in back pain to discover mny Coleman air mattress had lost all of it’s air. Time to investigate some better options!

  4. Love this posting thread, can anyone recommend a good camping mat for my husband & I? We’ve been through a number of air mattresses and I think he is going to start staying home if I don’t come up with a more reliable sleeping option soon!

  5. What about cheap Tripod grills? The ones you buy in the stores for about $20, and fall apart after a few years of use. I use the Tough Tripod Grill for cooking over the fire. It has a edge around the grate and a handle so you can lower and raise the grate.

    • Hi Shawn,

      I am looking at purchasing the Tough Tripod Grill. It’s kind of pricey. Just wondering if you are still happy with yours and if it’s holding up as well as they advertise that it will? Thanks for your time.

      • Hi Jen,

        Yes, I am still very happy with this tripod! It is pricey, but in my opinion worth every penny knowing I won’t have to buy another one or deal with the hassle of one of those poorly built China made tripods (this one is manufactured and assembled in Wisconsin). It is still holding up very well. Trust me you won’t be disappointed 🙂 .

  6. I have a bad back, so I like to use an air mattress. I have had so many cheap ones that didn’t live through one camp trip. My latest (a Coleman) has a small leak now. What’s a good brand?

    • A lot of people seem to swear by the Colemans, but I am suspicious of anything inflatable, that is made out of PVC. Aero makes products, like their EcoLite, out of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) – which is more expensive than polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and should be a more durable product.

  7. I know the problem with the cheap air mattresses. My parents used to have some, and they never lasted long. I’m sure you do get high quality ones that really work and last, but these will be expensive, of course. Although, it’s cheaper in the end because they last longer. If you want to get one for camping, it’s best to buy it at a special outdoor shop, and to make certain it’s suitable for the kind of trip you want to do. But I agree, a sleeping mat will certainly get damaged much less easy.

  8. I think the key on those air mattresses is the price. Those cheap ones like mentioned in the post are not durable at all. But those that cost a little more are made of a material that is tougher and less likely to get holes and leave you on the ground.

    • Tracy – right, I think it is the PVC material and how the manufacturers “weld” the seams together. What cracks me up is that even people who bought them for spare beds in the house are complaining!

  9. Yeah, I have a coleman air mattress too. So far so good, but we’ll see. In regards to the big ole tents, I have an 8-10 person tent and it’s too big for many sites as well as too big for my small family.

  10. I’ve used Coleman air matresses for 7 years now and have no complaints.Not for COLD weather. I lost 2, 1 due to a dog while it was at home and the other because of careless kids. I can’t say the same for other brands.

  11. Few years ago we discovered a) thermorests and b) fold up futons. If you are going in a car – and that is most of the time when camping! – why scrimp on comfort? I say no to old style camping and yes to full on ‘glamping’! Now we have a set of duvets and pillows, cushions and chairs and even solar powered fairy lights and garden candles. And we’ve just purchased a bell tent. Love being outdoors, but airbeds are just not part of the deal!! Still love my trangier though! Carry on camping…

  12. great post Roy! my wife insists on having an air mattress, one of those tall plushy ones. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to persuade her towards a sleeping mat.

    What about the huge complex multi room tents. I think those kind-of defeat the purpose…

    • In all these years of camping, I’ve never used one of those big cabin tents. I know some people who do, though, and they like them. They do have tons of room, but sometimes I have enough trouble finding a clear spot for our big dome tent 🙂