The big-box retailers, so popular in the Midwest and South, are ideal places to find inexpensive, durable camp gear
Earlier this month, Bass Pro Shops bought Cabela’s and its 85 locations across the United States and Canada for $5.5 billion. The news had me—an avid Pacific Northwest runner and kayaker—asking: What’s the best way to shop at these giant big-box retailers that dominate the Midwest and South? What should I buy? What should I avoid? To find out, I called two Outside editors who used to shop there all the time: Bryan Rogala, who grew up Arkansas, and Jonah Ogles, who grew up in Michigan. Then I spent hours perusing the shops’ websites looking for the best deals. Here’s what I learned.
Check Out the Aquarium
Both Bryan and Jonah suggested checking out Cabela’s in-store aquariums, which are stocked with local fish. If you’re new to the area, this is a great place to get a look at the kind of quarry you’ll be chasing.
Take Your Time
Both stores are huge, so don’t expect to rush through, especially if you’re looking for deals. Bryan recommends digging through the discount bins to find screaming deals on crucial items like camp chairs, tents, stoves, and jackets.
Purchase Rods and Reels, Skip the Flies
Bryan and Jonah both say the stores carry great fly rods and reels, and the employees don’t try to upsell you. “No one is going to talk you into a $900 rod when a $250 model is all most people need,” Jonah says. But heads up: do not buy the flies. “I can’t tell you how many times they’ve fallen apart on me,” says Jonah.
The Car-Camping Gear Is Gold
You’ll need to hit up a store like REI for fast and light backpacking gear, but if you’re spending the night near your car, these two stores have great deals on everything you need.
The Best Gear Deals
Bass Pro Shops Eclipse 6-Person Tent ($100)
Car camping with kids and dogs? This affordable tent has plenty of room for the whole family. I suggest stringing a $12 tarp above the tent as extra insurance in a rainstorm—the fly looks a little iffy—but otherwise this shelter should hold up just fine.
Bass Pro Shops 200 Lumen 3-Pack Flashlight Combo ($25)
Get three flashlights for the price of one headlamp. Put one in your glove compartment, one in your camp box, and another in your tent. The 200-lumen beam isn’t crazy powerful, but it’s enough to cook or read by.
Coleman Lassen 20-Degree Sleeping Bag ($50)
I wouldn’t trust this bag down to 20 degrees on its namesake Lassen Peak, but it’s certainly warm enough for summer and fall car-camping trips. The rectangular shape and cotton liner will make for a more comfortable night’s sleep than squeezing into a traditional mummy bag.
Reliance Aqua Tainer Jug ($20)
Get one of these jugs, then stow it in your car. Whether you use it to fill up a Nalgene at the trailhead or boil pasta at camp, it’s handy for always having plenty of water at hand.
Brunton TruArc 3 Base Plate Compass ($13)
Heading into the backcountry? Bring a compass. With a little know-how (get it free at learn-orienteering.org), this $13 investment might save your life, or at least the embarrassment of being pulled from the woods by the local search-and-rescue team.