Recession Math: Camping Gear vs. Disney

With the economy down, there’s been a lot of talk about summer "staycations" and families camping as an alternative to a big expensive trip. Last week at OR, I asked Kelty about this trend and heard, oh yes, we can outfit a family of four with sleeping bags and a tent for the price of one ticket to Disney World.

Now, this is an appealing concept, but I wanted to see if the math held up.

First I went to Expedia and checked Saturday-to-Saturday summer flights from Portland, Maine to, Orlando, Florida (obviously your mileage will vary on this point):


Flight: $400
(all but one option cost at least $400 per person with taxes and fees)

Checked bags: $60 round trip
(2 bags, $15 each way)

Flight Total: $460
(1 person, with bags)


Then I turned to Trailspace to choose some Kelty gear (after all, they made the claim).


Four-person tent: $160
(either the Trail Dome 4 or Grand Mesa 4)

2 adult sleeping bags: $220
(men’s and women’s Light Year XP 20, $110 each)

2 kids sleeping bags: $80
(Little Creek 30 Junior, $40 each)

Tent/Bags Total: $460
(family of 4)


Verdict: It worked! I found a tent and four sleeping bags for the same price as flying one person to Florida and back (having them exactly equal was an unintended fluke).

This is not meant to recommend a specific brand or products, and obviously, you can shop around for deals, but, I think this shows that the spirit of the example holds up.

Now, I think this family still needs some daypacks for hiking, so they'll go slightly over the one-plane-fare budget. However, since we've saved on the cost of three additional plane fares and Disney World accommodations, food, and entertainment, I think they can swing some new packs:

2 adult packs: $200
(women's Redwing 2500, and men's Redwing 2650)

They can even splurge on a bigger tent if they want.

So, before you book tickets for your next trip, you might consider what gear you could use closer to home, long after that overcrowded flight is over.


Filed under: Gear News, Kids


Bill S
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6,031 forum posts
July 31, 2009 at 9:44 p.m. (EDT)

Not long ago, a friend took his family to the Left Coast Disneyland. According to him, the meals for his family of 4 (2 adults, a 15yo and a 13yo) bought inside the park (lunches and dinners, since breakfast was included with the hotel room) added up to a bit over $600 for the 5 days inside the park. I thought $15 each for hamburgers was a bit high, but he said it was mostly the dinners that were expensive, with the burgers, fries, and drinks being about $10 each for the lunches. "Fast food" seems to equal "Fast Spending".

Tom D
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1,902 forum posts
July 31, 2009 at 9:49 p.m. (EDT)

Outfitting is only part of the cost. Plus to actually use this gear, you need clothes, stove, etc. and you need to do somewhere-by car or plane, bus, etc.

On the other hand, a ticket to Disney World or Disneyland is just one part of the cost-add in the cost of the park admission (around $180 for 3 days), hotel, food, parking, etc. souvenirs and it all ads up.

I think a full cost comparison would show that you probably could outfit a family of 4 and visit a park like Yosemite for less than a trip to Disneyland or World using the same mode of transportation. Plus, you'd have the gear for other trips. Probably true for a couple if you buy mid-priced gear. A couple of WM bags on the other hand, will set you back around a grand.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
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4,257 forum posts
August 1, 2009 at 10:01 a.m. (EDT)

Good points, Tom.

I think (but could be wrong) that many people have some combo of clothes and footwear that suffice for trying out some basic camping and easy day hikes. Yeah, I know having the right gear is important, but I think most people try to use what they've got when starting out on easy stuff, then go from there.

But, it would be interesting to do a cost-comparison for full trips including stove, fuel, food, etc. There would be a lot of variables, of course. I expect you'd come out ahead camping, especially if you're not set on having specific brands and are willing to hunt around on outlet sites and eBay and so on. And the bonus is that you've got gear you can use again and again, with little added cost, especially if you're choosing local trips.

5,349 reviewer rep
1,115 forum posts
August 1, 2009 at 1:54 p.m. (EDT)

I remember when a friend of mine took his kids to Disney World and idly wondering if I was somehow depriving my girls of some vital life experience by not doing the same. Of course, there was no way we could afford it and at that time we didn't even have a TV in the house. I'm sure it's a lot of fun, but it seems very artificial and controlled -- and ephemeral. Instead we had to make do with taking the kids on hikes in the Green and White Mountains and canoe trips in the Adirondacks. Now they are both veterans of many miles on foot and skis, still love getting outdoors, and don't seem to have any Disney-envy at all. When we went to France in 2006 it was to hike around Mt. Blanc and then visit the Louvre and other cool places in Paris. Euro-Disney (wherever it is -- somewhere in France) never even entered our minds, and if it had it would have been as a place to stay away from.

Makes me think of Bill McKibbens' book The Age of Missing Information, comparing the volume and quality of information you get by spending a day by an Adirondack Lake vs. the same amount of time watching TV.

Explorer Robby
141 reviewer rep
218 forum posts
August 1, 2009 at 11:16 p.m. (EDT)

When I started camping and hiking I had about $250 invested in the first trip. That trip was enjoyable for the entire family. We of course spent alot more as we got into car camping, and a tremendous amount more once we started backpacking. But the point is that we taken several big trips a year by car to camp and backpack, as well as many short trips (around 30 weekends per year are spent in the woods) and we do all of this for less than taking the kids to Disney World (I have checked the price, so I know its true).

Also, you dont have to go to some far destination to camp. Everyone in the country lives a short (2 hour) drive from a camping opportunity. May not be the best opportunity, but the average person doesnt ever go camping at all, so any trip that puts them in the woods is better than not ever going at all.

Tom D
38 reviewer rep
1,902 forum posts
August 2, 2009 at 3:09 p.m. (EDT)

One thing to consider is that for camping, you can often borrow from or share your gear with friends and split the cost of driving somewhere.

Disneyland is like a giant 3-D interactive television commercial. As far as the experience goes, I've been to Disneyland a couple of times and it is fun, but I think if that is the only kind of experience a kid gets, he or she is really missing out.

I was fortunate to go to Yosemite, Yellowstone and BC,Canada with my family as a kid. We traveled cross-country and went fishing at local lakes. We had a small travel trailer (before the days of RVs) for the camping and fishing trips.

One of my favorite movie lines-from David Mamet's "State and Main"--

...small town. I suppose. You have to
make your own fun.
Everybody makes their own fun.
(she answers another phone
F'you don't make it yourself, it ain't
fun, it's entertainment.

That's the difference between hiking/camping, cycling, etc. and going to Disneyland.

Tom D
38 reviewer rep
1,902 forum posts
August 2, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. (EDT)

Found this great column by Nicholas Kristof this afternoon-it goes with this topic rather well-

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
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4,257 forum posts
August 3, 2009 at 4:54 p.m. (EDT)

Tom, I like the difference between "fun" and "entertainmnent." Very true. Thanks for sharing the op-ed link. I find pieces like that encouraging, at least I know there are others like us out there.

BigRed, I read Bill McKibben's The Age of Missing Information as an incoming college freshman 16 years ago. It was the required book for everyone to read. I also found it very interesting. I should reread it and see what new stuff I get out of it this time around. I think your kids are lucky to have parents that take them on the trips you describe.

Explorer Robby also makes the excellent point that you don't always have to go far to go hiking/camping/backpacking. Yeah, it's fun to go different places, but you can still try to find nearby spots for the bulk of your travels. I think getting out regularly makes it more of a lifestyle anyway, versus relegating yourself only to a big trip or two per year.

3 reviewer rep
6 forum posts
August 4, 2009 at 2:56 p.m. (EDT)

I usually lurk. I am part of the new group of people trying camping for the first time. I solo car camp and day hike with my dog. I am working my way toward more adventerous outings. I can say I definitely spent less than a trip to Disney when I put together my gear.

In a sense, I am staycationing, since I found a great little campground situated in a nice county forest preserve about 30 minutes from home. There are some nice trails there for hiking. There is also a nice size lake for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.

I find myself bewildered by my fellow car campers at this campground. I'd say 90% of the folks are tent camping. Of that 90 %, 87% rush in around 5 or 6 pm at night. Struggle to put up a 10-12 man tent for their family of 4, which is outfitted with as many comforts of home as they can fit into their trucks. They do a campfire for the kids to roast marshmallows. Next morning by 9 am they are tearing everything down and heading for home--no hiking, no fishing, no nothing beyond their campsite.

Back on point, I'd say most of the people I see have spend less than a trip to disney. I suspect most of my fellow car campers are buying their gear from Walmart, Target or the local sports good stores. I see brands like Coleman or Field and Stream a lot. A few of us have gear from REI, Kelty, Eureka or Big Agnes, but this is definitely the minority of car campers.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
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August 5, 2009 at 9:56 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for coming out of lurkdom and weighing in, Babs! It's good to hear the perspective of other hikers and campers and what they see.

Good luck working your way toward more adventurous outings too.

12 reviewer rep
135 forum posts
August 6, 2009 at 11:02 a.m. (EDT)

I grew up looking forward to the mid-August camping trip in north-western Michigan. Since my parent's had already invested in the gear we needed for our 2 weeks of camping, the expense of each trip was minimal ... especially in comparison to a Disneyland vacation.

The funny thing was that my brother and I ended up having better experiences then our school mates who didn't venture into the woods for summer vacation. Most of our school friends would end up being envious of the stories & experiences that we would share, even if their family vacations were more expensive.

These trips laid the ground work for my brother and I to take up backpacking, rock-climbing and many other outdoor activities that we may have not otherwise been inclined to try. I also think that these camping experiences taught my brother and I things that are hard to learn (if not impossible) without venturing out into the woods.

Tom D
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1,902 forum posts
August 6, 2009 at 10:39 p.m. (EDT)

I've done different kinds of camping from Boy Scouts to family camping in a small travel trailer with a car-top boat, to backpacking, bike touring and a bit of winter solo camping. I even rented an RV once for a few days (a tiny one). Whatever you do, it's what you make of it, not necessarily how you get there or how fancy your gear is. I've seen people having plenty of fun with a minimum of gear, probably far more than some folks in a $100K motorhome where they just park it somewhere and never venture outside.

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