A Response to Ryan Kearney’s Camping Idiocy

In a recent article that appeared in The New Republic Ryan Kearney writes at some length about why camping is only for white people, making the point that for something that is the opposite of luxurious, it is prohibitively expensive.  He claims “A backpack, tent, and the necessary gear will run you at least $1,000.”  That’s ridiculous, of course, and even though it’s sort of off the subject for this blog I’ve decided to call him out on his bullshit.  So, without any research, I’ll going to jump over to my favorite outdoor supply website, Campmor, and see what I can find….

For this, I’m assuming a typical greenhorn, dayhiking and car camping in moderate weather conditions.

1. Tent: Coleman Sundome, 9’x7′ sleeps 4.  $64.96

2. Sleeping Bags: Too many good deals to choose for under $40

3. Ground Cloth (buy a tarp from WalMart) <$10.00

4. Coleman-Style Stove For Car Camping: Century 20K BTU $44.99

5. Hiking Boots Hi-Tec Ocala Waterproof Boots $69.96.  A non-waterproof version of this old-school, simple and reliable boot is actually available for under $50,  Just saying.

6. Backpack.  Jansport Catalyst $49.97  A real hikers daypack with lots of straps, pockets, loops and adjustments adaptable to a lot of activities and a significant upgrade from the kind of backpack most kids already have, although in most cases a simple daypack works fine to carry water, snacks, and a rain jacket.

7. Rain Jacket.  You can spend anywhere from $30 to $300 for a variety of technical rain gear, but for most of my life I’ve employed a simple, $7 rain poncho that I bought at a Penn State football game in 1984.  It’s impermeable, but breathable, has a hood, dries quickly, and folds down to about the size of a Pop Tart box.  And unlike a regular rain jacket, the water doesn’t cascade down the jacket and soak your pants. Campmor can fix you up with something similar for $4.  That’s right.

8. Cookware. We have a bunch of old Boy Scout mess kits picked up for a quarter here, a dime there, at yard sales over the year.  Here’s a fancy new version, still a steal at under $8.00, that you can use to prepare, serve, and consume all your meals.

And that’s all you need.  It’s more than you need, really.  For one person, you’re in the woods and on the trail for $275.00. Add $170 three more sleeping bags and a second backpack for a family of four and you’re still under $500.  Most campsites in developed campgrounds cost less than $20 for tents–backcountry is usually free. Pack groceries from home and a fantastic vacation can be had for well under that $1000 Ryan wants you to spend on gear–although, fair warning: Ryan is going to look whole lot cooler than you with his fancy name-brand gear and gee-whiz tech.  On the other hand, show a little initiative, look at yard sales, Craig’s List, and similar outlets and you’ll find excellent gear for next to nothing–if you even need gear at all.  When I was younger I’d hit the woods in canvas sneakers, an old canteen, and a brown bag lunch.

4 responses to “A Response to Ryan Kearney’s Camping Idiocy”

  1. When I used to car camp, I’d just bring some blankets, there was no need for a sleeping bag. And, really, people don’t need to hike in boots unless they’re crossing a lot of snow or a glacier. I recently hiked across North Cascades National Park with a full pack and ten pounds of camera gear in a light weight pair of shoes; if you’re just going 200 yards from your car to a site, there’s no reason for boots. I think most people’s notion of a typical day hike isn’t more than a few miles, so again, the shoes you already own are fine. A lot of people are happy with cheap and ultralight home-made alcohol stoves. I’d be wary of cheap tents, though, they collect and drop so much condensation it’s like it’s raining on the inside.

    Now that almost all of my camping involves a long and difficult hike to some high altitude bivy, things are different. I have a great (which means pricy) down bag, it’s very warm and weighs almost nothing. A light-weight tent that sets up quickly in a storm and is strong in the wind. A water purifier because I don’t want giardia, etc. When you’re 10+ miles from the nearest road and sleeping on snow, these things are more important. On the other hand, most of the gear will last a lifetime, and it’s not very expensive considering how much use it gets.

    Anyway, there are some really fundamental problems with the article you linked to and rebutted. For one thing, it seems to be implying that only white people have disposable incomes. And for another, it complains that only 11 % of “outdoor participants” were African American, but 12 % of the USA public is African American; it says that a full 70 % of outdoors people are white, while 73 % of the public is white. If anything, that suggests that white people have a slight aversion to camping!


    1. I agree one hundred percent. I too used to camp solo with a tarp and a wool blanket, an army can opener and some cans of spaghetti-O’s and fresh apples. I added the boots because I didn’t want there to be a counter-argument that I was underestimating. I was 23 and regularly hiking in Wyoming when I bought my first pair of dedicated hiking boots after destroying my feet and ankles on a long hike up hanging canyon. My current pair is 8 years old and also gets used for yard work at home. I have bad ankles left over from scholastic sports, and need the support. The other choices were tailored for the casual camper who does a day hike and sleeps in a campground–most people I see use the Coleman-style propane stoves with the “green bomb” fuel cells, so that’s what I went with. And speaking of Coleman, they make some surprisingly solid tents for car camping–too heavy for backpackers, I’d think. I wasn’t outfitting these people for the Pac Crest, just a day of hiking.

      I have to admit that we have one expensive day pack–a sweet Mountainsmith with plenty of pockets, but our other packs are a jansport summit bag and a pair of his and hers externals, one a Kelty and the other an REI clone–all three are well over 30 years old.

      I think the article I referenced was ridiculous, too. Thanks for doing the math and responding.


  2. Wow, never realised camping was for rich people! Especially seeing as the reason we camp is *because* we’re skint! If we were better off, maybe we would go abroad and try hotels or something! That said, I think it is true to say that as popular interest in outdoors activities has increased in the past twenty years, the market for outdoorsy kit has boomed alongside it and consequently there’s more flashy expensive gear available to those who want it. When I was a kid, folk usually used Army Surplus and old Boy Scouts equipment, or they borrowed what they could from family and neighbours, in fact we still do that. I get lots of odds and sods secondhand at jumble sales, like camp stoves and chairs; someone’s always clearing out a garage or loft. If you want to keep up with the latest waterproof fabric technology, the latest in light-weight gear, and you need those top labels all over your clothing, then yes you can spend a thousand quid, in fact you can spend as much as you want to if you’ve got it, meanwhile us poor folk will continue to go camping on a shoestring!


  3. Love contrarians and debunkers – and totally agree with your assessment of above article (also camp with my Boy Scout son – and eBay is a great resource for cheap camping gear). Thanks for following me on Cold, btw.


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