Reprising the Winter of My Discount Tent

People who tell you they troll the thrift shops for bargains are delusional. I suspect that most of them, present company included, are closet gambling addicts.

Kiley, sleeping during one or our camping trips in the office.

Kiley, sleeping during one or our camping trips in the office.

The only difference between this and the real thing is — with thrift store shopping — you’re not setting yourself up to lose your shirt. Even if you strike out, the only thing it costs you is the time invested. And a little gas money.

As with gambling, most of the time you come up empty. It’s the prospect of hitting the jackpot that keeps you coming back.

I recently had one of those Eureka! moments while looking for a tent at the Ashland Goodwill store. Actually, it wasn’t a Eureka! tent. Nothing quite that high-end. It was a Northwest Territory square dome tent made by the Jinwoong Company of China. (I’m sure you’ve heard of them.) It was the exact model and color of one I bought in the mid 1990s at Kmart.

Back then, I bought it because I needed a cheap standalone tent. I used it for base camp for canoe camping trips. Like all cheap imported tents, it leaked at the slightest provocation,  so I used it only when the weather forecast was favorable. It was easy to set up and kept the mosquitoes, the wind and dew at bay. A lot of times, on the first night of those trips, we’d meet at a campground, set up our shuttle and stay the night. I’d leave the cheap tent in whatever car happened to be left behind at our base camp.

Somewhere along the line, my cheap tent got “lost in the shuttle.” The poles and rainfly made it home with me, but the tent itself didn’t. It probably ended up going home with one of my canoeing buddies, who decided it had been abandoned and would make a good shower curtain.

Meanwhile, I replaced it with an MSR Hubba tent, which is lightweight, simple to pitch and has withstood monsoon rains without leaking a drop.

Regardless, I missed having my discount tent. Not for my own sake, but for Kiley, my 3-year-old granddaughter. When she stays overnight, we camp in the office. We spread our bedrolls on the floor — camping mattresses and blankets — and camp under the imaginary stars. As we lie there looking at the ceiling, we talk about the animal shapes in clouds passing overhead in the moonlight.

After Kiley’s last visit, I decided to look for a cheap, freestanding tent to enhance our office camping experiences.

That lead to my Eureka! moment at the Ashland Goodwill store. The tent set me back $12, which was $3 less than my original Jinwoong tent.

There’s a back-story here, one that bears repeating.

In the mid 1990s, when I started doing winter canoe camping, I was looking for a cheap base camp tent. In the Sunday edition of the Columbus Dispatch, Kmart was advertising tents for $15. I drove to the nearest Kmart and was the first person through the door when it opened. I went straight to the sports department, but there were no $15 tents to be found.

I tracked down the manager who told me they were out of them. I uttered the magic words “bait and switch.” So he offered me a $40 tent for $15.

That made owning the tent all the sweeter … and my recent Goodwill find sweeter still.

None of that will matter to Kiley. But it’s a safe bet she’ll get as much joy out of it as I have.

Northwest Territory tent from Jinwoong. Some assembly required. Children sold separately.

Northwest Territory tent from Jinwoong. Some assembly required. Children sold separately.


One thought on “Reprising the Winter of My Discount Tent

  1. Boy I enjoyed this post!! Your humor had me laughing out loud!! Oh if only all little girls had a grandpa who would camp out in the office and look up at the “stars” with them…… Kiley is a lucky little girl!


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