We are all trying to save a penny or two here or there, but that’s not always possible when it comes to camping gear. While some types of products have new versions every year that push last year’s model to go on sale, camping gear, hiking gear, and outdoor gear in general don’t typically fall into that category. You’ll find that the same product will stay on the market for years without an updated version, and it’s hard to predict when the new version will come out.
That being said, it’s still possible to get great deals on camping gear, and there’s multiple times per year that we would consider the best time to buy a tent. We are going to cover all the different ways you can save money on the best camping tents, which includes end of season sales, REI annual sales, holiday sales, and some out of the box solutions that you may not have considered before.
End of Season Sales
There’s a peak season to camping, and the majority of people enjoy being outside during the spring, summer, and fall months. The peak is really summertime, when the kids are out of school and the temperature can be more ideal for being outdoors. We do love a good shoulder season though, which offers cooler temperatures and less people. Either way, camping equipment is mostly sold during these summer months, so we can take advantage of off-season sales to get a good deal.
Even though camping season goes well into the fall, you’ll start to see tent manufacturers offer discounts (or maybe even an annual sale) in late summer. They will start to think about winter gear, and look to clear some of their summer inventory in preparation. If you’re flexible with time, you could wait and see what kinds of sales start popping up in August and September, or perhaps even October.
On the reverse side, if you’re shopping for winter camping gear, you’ll find discounts in the spring at the end of your camping season, and during the fall or late summer, which is at the beginning of your camping season.
What Times of Year Does REI Have Sales?
REI is one of the leading outdoor retailers and we love shopping at their stores and easy-to-use website. Whether you’re camping, hiking, paddle boarding, climbing, or just spending time outside, they have something you’re sure to love. They have several seasonal sales that happen each year, so if you have your eye on one of their camping tents, these are some of the best times of year to shop.
In March, REI has a Member Sale, which is a member’s only event that happens right after the annual dividends come out. If you aren’t a member, it’s a one-time lifetime membership fee of $30 and it gets you some cool perks like free shipping on their website, 10% back in dividends on full-price purchases, exclusive coupons, and access to their REI Garage (more on that below) and member sales. Become an REI Member here!
In late May and early June, the Anniversary Sale involves some steep mark downs, as well as a 20% off one single item coupon for members. There’s also several times a year that they extend two 20% off coupons for members, which is one of the many reasons to join before making any big purchases. These coupons could be used for larger discounts on a car camping tent or any other camping gear you may need to upgrade.
Most major retailers and well known brands will have holiday sales multiple times a year. Here’s are the main dates to look out for:
- President’s Day (February): While it’s not the best time to buy camping gear, you could still find some retailers that will offer discounts on outdoor equipment.
- Memorial Day (May): Memorial Day is the beginning of camping season and can be one of the best times to buy a tent and other camping equipment.
- July 4th: Not only is July 4th a great holiday for getting outside but it’s also the kickoff for the true summer season.
Prime Day (July): in mid-July, Amazon prime members get some of the best deals on anything from camping gear to to household supplies and clothing.
Labor Day (September): Labor Day coincides with the beginning of the end of the season for camping, so you could find some great deals on discounted tents and camping gear.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday: The winter holiday season can be the best time to buy a tent and other camping gear because Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer some of the best deals with huge discounts. Retailers are taking advantage of the holiday shopping to clear out last season’s inventory, so you could store big.
Year Round Ways to Save on Camping Gear
While tent discounts can happen at specific times of the year, there are a few ways you can save on camping gear year-round.
You can find cheap tents at most retailers if you’re willing to cut back on extra features and size. We’ve assembled the best tents under $100 and best tents under $200 for those who are tight on a budget. They will be smaller and have less features, but ultimately they’re still tents that will get the job done. On the other hand, if you’re willing to spend the money on a more expensive tent, it would ultimately last longer and have more features that you may enjoy.
Used gear can be found at a variety of local places like neighborhood garage sales, Facebook marketplace, or sometimes even nearby thrift stores or discount stores. This is perfect for people who have more time than money, and are willing to put in the effort to find extremely discounted prices.
Some retailers have started offering used gear on their website too. People can trade in their lightly used tents and other camping gear (as well as clothing and hiking gear) for a discount on new products, then people can purchase their used items at a steep discount. The first retailers that come to mind are REI and Patagonia.
If used gear isn’t your thing but you still want a cheap tent that’s brand new, there are some stores where you could find good deals on a new tent. Our most recent new tent came from Sierra Trading Company, which is like TJ Maxx but focuses more on great deals on outdoor gear and clothing.
Another way to make sure it’s the right time to buy a tent is to compare prices from many stores. While retail price is fairly static, you could potentially come find tents that are on sale or have been discontinued. Discontinued tents can especially have huge discounts, but they aren’t easy to find.
REI Garage is basically their collection of close out gear from all their most popular categories, including camping tents. This program runs year-round, though they do have Garage Sales in their retail stores a couple times a year. When you buy tents here, you can get the perfect tent for up to 30% off. The products rotate frequently, so we wouldn’t recommend waiting to purchase if you see something you like.
Other Ways to Make Camping More Affordable
Buying vs. Renting Camping Gear
You could also rent camping gear from places like REI or a local outfitter. This allows you to just rent what you need for a few nights instead of having to purchase expensive products that you have to store most of the year. This would be great for someone who wants to try their hand at camping without the large price tag. It would also be a really cool option for someone who wants to ‘try before you buy’ and test out some of the more popular tents before having to buy a tent and commit.
Camping for Free and Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is where you don’t camp at a campground, and instead find your own primitive site somewhere off the beaten path. This requires more research and some planning (like how to use the bathroom with no bathroom nearby) but is free, making it more sustainable long term.
Where can you dispersed camp? In the United States alone, there’s 193 million acres of National Forest Land just begging to be camped on. National Forests are perfect places for dispersed camping, and you can typically camp along most USFS (US Forest Service) roads. Look for already ‘established’ campgrounds that have a rock fire ring and worn down earth that would be the perfect size for your tent. Before going, make sure you check local regulations for the specific forest you want to camp in.
Book Stocked Campsites
Tentrr is an up-and-coming booking site that allows you to reserve glamping campsites across the United States. They’ve even partnered with Coleman to offer sites that are stocked with Coleman gear like cooking utensils, coolers, lighting, and more. Essentially, they provide everything while you get to have the outdoor experience without worrying if you packed everything.
Ultimately, the best time to buy a tent is whenever you need or want it. If you’re close to an upcoming REI sale, major holiday, or are going into an off season, you could potentially wait and see if the item you want goes on sale, but huge discounts are not as easy to come by in the camping world.
If you time it right, you could at least pay less than full retail price by taking advantage of the tactics we’ve listed above. On the other hand, if you need a tent sooner rather than later, do your research and pick a great tent that’s perfect for your needs.