The $39 Tent

A few years back, when I had just gotten divorced and was looking at downsizing and living a (greatly welcomed) simpler life, I decided to splurge on one last luxury item before committing to my new budget. I wanted something that would create a lot of joy and happy memories for my daughters and me, despite the changes we were facing. And so it was that I purchased the 2-3 person $39 tent.

The girls were smaller then, of course, and we didn’t yet have our golden doodle, Trooper, so I went with the smallest, and least expensive, tent. The next size up, 3-4 people, was $64, and that was pushing it.

We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of those 39 bucks. My philosophy, and what I tell the daughters, is “if you have a vehicle and a tent, you can go anywhere.” It’s true. Campground fees are minimal, but even if you can’t afford that, you can usually find a spot to set up your tent for free.

Most of our nights in the tent have been spent right here in our backyard—the Colorado National Monument, Highline Lake, Glenwood Canyon, Ouray, the Moab area, and several repeat trips to the Crested Butte/Gunnison area. We have mastered the art of loading up in less than an hour and a knack for packing, driving, arriving, having a blast, returning, and unpacking, all in less than 24 hours, if that happens to be all the time we have to get away.

I wouldn’t call what we do with our tent camping per se, not in the sense of how a lot of families camp. We don’t get to our destination and set up the tent and then hang out there, cooking campfire meals and sitting around the fire. On the contrary, our tent is often just a base camp and a place to sleep and we’re usually off doing other activities—hiking, riding bikes, swimming, going to hot air balloon festivals, strolling the main streets of our little mountain towns.


Camping on the Monument in the $39 tent.

It’s hard to measure the effect that the $39 tent has had on us three over the years. It’s brought us together, physically, of course, but emotionally as well. It’s been the impetus behind our weekend plans and our ever-growing list of shared experiences. We Bergen girls know the power of the tent. We know when we need it, when we need to not get away, necessarily, but come together.

The $39 tent got a lot of use and is still in remarkably good shape, but, as the girls grew and we added a dog, we did eventually upgrade to the $64 tent. And now it serves to keep us three corralled and connected.

Amy, my 15-year-old, really wants an old SUV as her first vehicle, despite several intimations from me that one big gas guzzler per family is enough. “But, mom, I just want to grab a couple of friends and throw my tent and my dog in the back and go camping for a few days.” I do appreciate that line of thinking.

And Addy, my oldest, told me just the other day, “Mom, I don’t have to work this Friday. We should go camping.” She’s always off on Saturdays, so that gave us from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon, almost 48 hours. Just the right length of time.

A $39 tent. Get you one. The simple life. Get you some.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Connie Peterson
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:45:46

    How about a book or series of adventures under the title The $39 Tent?


    • Randee
      Jul 29, 2013 @ 11:13:36

      Hmmm, I like this idea. This is where Facebook comes in – every adventure is documented on my timeline. Thanks for thinking and for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Billybuc
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 10:16:27

    Love it! I was a single parent for quite some time, and my son and I bought a small tent and had loads of fun with it over the years….great memories, great experiences…and great bonding that will last a lifetime.


  3. theclocktowersunset
    Aug 31, 2013 @ 17:37:25

    Great story/post, my best friend and I are such accomplished campers, we have a protocol in place for the occasion. Of the many responsibilities, when we arrive, normally with a crew of neophytes in tow, I just wander off into the woods. Rod always corals the group and sets them to tasks around camp. First and foremost, setting up the tent(s). I’ll return and gather a couple of folk and go back for all the firewood I scouted. That’s my job scout out a couple of acres and get a lay of the land, I can scout a whole mountain in about an hour and return. One time I was getting on to somebody about helping out around camp, just little stuff that needed to be done. But everybody was kinda thinking Rod was the leader ’cause they spent the most time with and under his direction. So the fella starts in on me saying how I didn’t do anything, how I just disappeared earlier and needed to shut up and what not. When Rod comes out of the tent and lays into the dude, “who are you, what have you done? He’s already found all the wood for the weekend and not only that has chopped at least a cord of wood. He started the fire, and currently cooking your f-ing dinner with the food he brought for YOU!” It was great, that guy shut his mouth and didn’t say squat the rest of the weekend. He didn’t realize he was messing with the flow. Yeah, I can get you there and back in 24. A long post but short story to a fellow camping expert. Oh yeah, he got the small steak. 🙂


  4. Mary Strong-Spaid
    Jun 09, 2014 @ 17:43:01

    Tents and camping are what memories are made of!


    • randee
      Jun 10, 2014 @ 09:10:50

      I couldn’t agree more! And I love how getting away for one or two nights always feels like you’ve been gone for a week or more.


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