Dollar stores are great places to buy camping gear. They’re cheap and disposable. No one will get upset if the stuff breaks or gets forgotten at the last campsite you visited. In the spring these stores unload all their gardening and water sports merchandise on us. I visited two big box dollar stores: Dollarama and Dollar Tree. I found that Dollar Tree had less merchandise but was cheaper because their prices only went to $1.25CAD. Whereas Dollarama now sells more merchandise because their top price is $3, but the same item seems to cost more at Dollarama. Here is a list of stuff I found either store that I think would be great to have while camping.
- Water bottles and snack containers Plastic water bottles and stack containers are always useful. Make sure they’re BPA free (Recycling code #5 is best), and that they close properly so they won’t leak inside your backpack.
- Plastic Table Cloth A cheap table cloth is great for camping because you don’t have to worry if it gets damaged or dirty. Don’t forget to buy some pins as well.
- Polypropylene Rope (Bright yellow) The bright yellow rope is a great rope to tie to the bow and stern of your canoe to use as docking line or when you need to line your canoe instead of portaging it. This rope is waterproof and floats. I also found a braided rope that had a canoe on the packaging, so it must be great for camping.
- Thin rope, or twine Thin rope is very handy for hanging a clothes line to dry your swimsuits and towels, or to hang your tarp. If you find twine that is made of non-synthetic materials, you can use them as fire starter. (Note: Polypropylene is synthetic, so don’t burn it)
- Tarp Dollar stores sell tarps, but you have to make sure they are big enough for your needs. I like to bring a tarp that is at least 8 or 10 feet wide unless I am using it as a footprint for my tent. A tarp is a great cheap alternative to use as a tent footprint, and if you’re canoeing and it’s raining, you can use the same tarp to cover your gear. I see a lot of people who are camping who don’t have a good tent fly so they put up a tarp instead. That work, but it’s better to buy a seam sealer, and also get a tent whose fly goes to the ground over the windows.
- Shock Cords / Bungee cords Bungee cords have a lot of uses when you’re camping. They’re so great, it’s a good idea to have a few in the trunk of your car all the time.
- Foot Pumps This cheap foot pump is handy for inflating your sleeping mattress of pool inflatable toys. I don’t have one so I don’t know how well it works. There are also inflatable toys at the dollar store that are fun to use at the beach, but more on that later.
- Duct Tape There are small spools in bright colors so duct tape no longer can be boring. You can even buy a color to match the color of your canoe or your backpack.
- Dish cloths and Towels You’ll be doing dishes, and those dishes will be dirty so you want to buy a bunch of towels and dish cloths. Both stores had plenty of both.
You can also buy j-cloths, cleaning towns and gloves for washing dishes.
- Dust Pan and Brush Set In the cleaning section, there were a bunch of dust pans. I found one compact one that was $1.25, and this cute duck one.
- Oven Mitts You’ll want cheap oven mitts for camping because they get burned and dirty so you don’t have to worry about your good set. These oven mitts are relatively cheap. Some of them are sold as a pair, while others are sold as a single item.
- Zip lock bags The zip lock bags at the dollar store are cheaper than at the grocery store, though they may not be as good. The big ones are great for your snacks like raisons and peanuts (gorp), or for storing a photocopy of your map.
- Mesh laundry bags This is great to separate your clean and dirty clothing. Another option is to bring extra shopping bags to put all the dirty clothes into.
Notice that at the Dollar Tree, the white mesh bags had 3 in a bag, and the green only had one. It’s the little stuff you have to watch out for at these stores.
- Plastic cutlery, plates and cups You’ll need a set of plates, cups, spoons and fork for everyone. The plastic ones are great, though I don’t recommend putting hot liquids in them. I use my Ikea children’s bowls, but I find the plates are too small, so that’s where the dollar store plastic utensils come in handy.
- Travel size containers There are lots of travel size items like empty bottles and containers. These containers are useful for storing your cooking oils and spices. You can also use pill containers, storage canisters, old film canisters and even small Play-do containers.
- Travel Tooth Brushes These little tooth brushes are handy because they have a storage container for the brush section so it doesn’t get dirty.
- Rain Poncho Good rain gear is important, but you can bring a couple of cheap ponchos if you are bringing extra people who don’t have all the necessary rain gear. We never bring umbrellas when we’re camping.
- First Aid Kit Essentials The nice thing about a first aid kit from a dollar store is that it’s usually compact, and basic. You may want to add some stuff to it, like better band-aids and some good tweezers. Dollarama had a good selection of compact first aid kids, and some packages of replacement items like band-aids. I prefer the plastic waterproof band-aids for camping.
- Candles You can buy tea lights and emergency candles to light at night. Just don’t light them in your tent or near silly string, which is highly flammable.
- Flashlights Kids love flashlights and mini-lanterns. They have a lot of fun using them at night, and they’re also handy to have around your campsite when it gets dark.
- Lanterns These mini lanterns are great for kids. They are small and compact and fun to have at night. You can also hang it from a loop on your tent. If you’re not sure how good they are, you can bring your own batteries and try them out at the store before you buy.
- Headlamps Once you use a headlamp you’ll never go back to a flashlight when you go camping. Instead you’ll want one headlamp for each person camping with you. Luckily, headlamps are now being sold everywhere and they’re much cheaper than they used to be. Just make sure you don’t point them in the eyes of someone else when you’re using them, which will kill their night vision.
- Batteries While you’re there, you might as well get some cheap batteries for your flashlights and lanterns.
- Glow sticks Glow sticks are so much fun when you’re camping and it gets dark. Some of them will glow for a few days. They’re also handy if you have a bunch of people walking on a dark road between campsites at night. It makes it easier to see everyone if they’re carrying glow sticks. However, be careful as you don’t want someone to break one and get it on their hands or in their eyes. That could result in a trip to the hospital which may be far away.
One of my friends had to drive to the Huntsville hospital from Killbear after one of their kids got some of the glow stick goo in their eye.
- Bubbles Kids love to blow bubbles. They are especially fun when you are moving on a boat. You can use dish soap to refill your bubble containers when they are empty.
- Big Spoon or Ladle A big ladle or spoon is something I routinely forget to bring when I go camping. It’s very useful when you’re cooking. I once burnt a plastic camping spoon because I didn’t bring a big spoon.
Also, if you’re at a pond you can use a big spoon or ladle to lift water and plant life out of the pond to examine.
- Bug jar or box You can buy containers that will hold your bugs for a little while. The jars should have some holes in them so the bugs can breathe. My daughter loves to store plastic bugs in her bug jar when she’s at home.
- Butterfly nets Catching butterflies or daddies is a fun activity. It gets your family running around outside.
- Beach Bucket and Shovel We never go to the beach without a bucket and shovel. If you forget your bucket, you can use a red plastic glass or a yogurt container. However, you can’t replace a shovel, but it’s not as important as the bucket. The Dollar stores have plenty of buckets and shovels. At almost every trip I’ve been on where we’ve found ourselves at the beach without a bucket, I’ve had to go buy one.
- Pool Noodles Pool noodles are great for swimming and fun as well. Kids love to splash with them, and make water fountains in a pool using the pool’s jets.
- Squirt Toys Squirt toys are a lot of fun at the beach or at the pool.
- Floating Toys Anything that floats is great for the beach. You’ll want to buy a plastic bin for all your beach toys is a great idea so they’re easy to lug around.
- Kites Cheap kites that you can fly at the beach or an open field are a novelty for the kids. Just be careful you don’t burn your hands on the thin string they give you. Usually there is an open field near the comfort station at most provincial parks. The field probably holds their septic tanks.
- Crayons and Activity Books These are especially useful on the drive to the campground. Be careful not to leave crayon in the car during the day or they will melt into your upholstery.
- Canvas, sketchbook, paints and paintbrushes I found a great selection of artist material at the dollar stores. These are great to along for activities where the kids get to painting, or sketch nature.
- Fire Starter You may want to bring this along to help you start your campfire. They are cheaper than buying them at the park. You could also make your own with some candle wax and twine or egg cartons.
- Hula Hoops Kids love hula hoops. Sure they’re a bit big but they can be used for quite a few fun activities around the campground.
- Sun Hats The wide brim hats are the best if you’re on the beach or out on the water. You might also want some cute baseball hats for the kids.
- Sunglasses Before you buy any sunglasses make sure they have the proper UV protection. I found these sunglasses that have good UV protection and are made with a have a nice hard plastic lens. Given how often we lose sunglasses, this was a great deal.
- Marshmallows Even though I prefer not to buy food at the dollar store, you could buy marshmallows. Just don’t leave them on the picnic table for the raccoons!
- Ice packs Ice packs for your cooler are handy if you’re going on a weekend trip. I seem to lose mine all the time, so I picked up a few when I saw them for a dollar each. If you’re going for a longer trip, you should bring food that doesn’t need refrigeration after the first day. Cheese, hard boiled eggs, deli meat and frozen meat last longer, and benefit from being in a cooler.
- Knee pads I found these in the gardening section. They are very useful for kneeling on when you are canoeing. They are also handy seats you can put on a log if the ground is a bit wet. I am considering buying a few more, and permanently glueing them to the bottom of our canoe.