Well, perhaps it’s not all about being purely thrifty in outfitting, (more on that in a bit) but the title sounded rather cool! And it is good to be thrifty when you can.
Anyway, so the following are some observations and whatnot that I’ve mentally collected over the past couple years of purchasing camping equipment.
I guess that the level of camping equipment that you should look into purchasing for yourself should be something rather more in correlation with how much you’re going to be camping. If you’re going on your first trip, (most likely then with others who will be able to lend you what you don’t have), and aren’t sure you’ll like it enough to go again, I wouldn’t go out and spend a ton of money on things you might not use again. For my first trip, in September 2013, the only things I bought where a flashlight and water shoes, and the latter were the Wal-mart kind, (which surprisingly lasted me 5 trips, and gallantly died on the French River), so I was pretty much assured that I’d use these again, even if I didn’t go camping. I had an old sleeping bag, and a large enough backpack. I took comfortable clothes, but these included jeans and other bulkier items, and for shoes I had my running shoes. Looking back I sometimes shake my head at my camping ‘style’ that first trip, but it was my first trip after all!
In the summer of 2014, I went on my 2nd and 3rd trips. I had upgraded my equipment some over the summer- bought a better rain jacket from Value Village, borrowed, and then bought, a better pack, acquired a new hat, etc. Also at this point I had bought my own canoe- perhaps something of a gamble, except that I had been canoeing enough on shorter day trips to know I enjoyed it enough to merit the purchase. And it was an incredibly good canoe for a good price, perfect for the trips my friends and I wanted to do.
Anyway- while I knew that camping was definitely something that I wanted to get more into, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out and buy tons of really good equipment. What I bought was mainly Canadian Tire brands, so it worked, and to this day I still kind of miss my self-inflating Escort brand sleeping pad, even if my newer one is a ton more comfortable (but not self-inflating).
In 2015, when by this point I knew that camping was something I would be doing for a while, I decided it was time to invest in some more compact, light equipment. Paul and I attended a gear swap at the sporting goods store here in town, where we picked up my new sleeping pad for $90, instead of over $200 (I think) that I saw it going for online. I needed a new paddle as the one I had previously bought was too short, and I also invested in a dry bag that was also compression sacks. (Those things are awesome!) This year, I have begun to have a better preference for what I personally like, and also have observed how my own equipment works or doesn’t work, which you can’t really know until you’ve tried it out enough times to observe patterns of behaviour.
So one could argue that I’ve had to spend double, or more than needed, by buying over the years two of various things- one bulkier/cheaper brand, one a better quality, etc. This is true, though it also means that I’ve got extras, which come in handy for sleep overs, or even for lending it out to others who come but might not have gear of their own. And it’s still fairly reasonable quality.
Now, as a rule, I like to be wise, and really only feel good about spending a large amount of money on something if I know I’ll get enough out of it to to make it worth it. So if I can find something at Value Village or a used clothing store, I’m okay with getting that first. This hasn’t turned out too badly most of the time- you can normally find good prices on the softer polyester athletic shirts that make for great canoeing wear (they dry super fast on warmer days, plus pack pretty nicely too!), and those will normally last you enough to get your money’s worth. Where it hasn’t worked was on pants- especially the zip off ones. Normally the zippers don’t always hold out, so I get some nice shorts out of it, but if you need pants, you want pants. So in that case, this year I invested in a pair of pants, spending more than I have ever, but I know they should last me for a while.
And some gear you just can’t find at the used stores, or if you do, it’s just by luck. Or even things like hiking boots: I could have bought an okay pair used, but I bought a new pair and definitely have not regretted that one bit. (So if you’re going to do this a lot, hiking boots that properly fit are a must! No more running shoes for me.)
So I guess really, my advice is to examine your situation and own needs- it’s okay to not spend a fortune for your first trip out, maybe see if you can borrow stuff, too. If you really like camping and canoeing, slowly invest and outfit yourself. Take time and do research, save money where you can. And remember, you don’t need super fancy stuff to get out there and enjoy the great outdoors. (Though if you have to wear running shoes, make sure they are a pair you won’t really need again. They have a way of retaining a camping smell for a while after! :P)