Must-have camping gear from REI for your next adventure reviewed

When the temperature hits the 90s in Denver, the easiest way to cool down is to head up into the mountains. I have a few go-to spots but one of my favorites is a lakeside campground with an abundance of sites as well as trails, but it books up quickly, normally months ahead of time. I was fortunate enough to snag a last minute cancellation this week, so I packed up the car with some of REI’s best camping essentials and spent a few days among the trees testing them out.

Here's my comprehensive review of our favorites, focusing on their performance, functionality, and overall value.

REI Co-op Half Dome SL 3+ Tent - A big backpacking tent loaded with lightweight features



  • Lightweight and compact for backpacking

  • Easy and quick setup with color-coded poles and attached footprint

  • Spacious interior with ample headroom

  • Excellent ventilation with large mesh panels

  • Dual doors and vestibules for easy access and gear storage

  • Limited space for gear inside the tent

  • Not as durable as heavier tents in extreme conditions

  • Not suitable for large groups

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When it comes to tents, there are many types: roof top tents, expedition tents, bivy sacks just to name a few. For this trip I used two different tents from REI, a lightweight backpacking tent and a much heavier 3-season dome tent, the Half Dome SL 3+ Tent with Footprint being the former.

As someone who has camped in all sorts of tents, trailers, vans, campers and hammocks, my favorite way to spend the night while still feeling like I’m lying out in nature has to be in a backpacking tent. Built to be packed in your backpack and carried with you on the trails, these tents are lighter weight than other tents and, in my experience, much easier to set up. 

Key Specs

  • Packaged Weight: 5 lbs. 11.7 oz.

  • Trail Weight (tent body, rainfly and poles only): 4 lbs. 13 oz.

  • Capacity: 3 people

  • Dimensions: 90 x 78 inches (floor); 44 inches (peak height)

  • Materials: Ripstop nylon rainfly; mesh canopy; polyester footprint

  • Features: Color-coded setup, double-wall construction, two doors and vestibules, included footprint for added protection

  • Ventilation: Large mesh panels for enhanced airflow

Speaking of setting up, it couldn’t be easier than it gets with the Half Dome, thanks to color coded poles and the clip system, which eliminates the need to slide the poles through sleeves. Also, the poles themselves all connect as one, so you aren’t searching around wondering which pole goes where. Even setting up the rainfly, which I used because of the thunderclouds overhead threatening to soak my campsite, was a simple process.

When it comes to size, for a backpacking tent the Half Dome SL 3+ does what it says it will do, which is fit three campers relatively comfortably. With some simple math, at 90 by 78 inches, each person gets roughly 30 by 78 inches of room if you divide things evenly which sounds like quite a bit. When you factor in room for your gear, things get a little bit tighter. That’s where the rainfly comes in handy. With the rainfly assembled the tent has not one but two exterior vestibules that will keep your boots and gear covered, allowing for even more space inside. 

Speaking of the room inside, it is important to note that this is a backpacking tent, which is lighter than your average car camping tent, which means that something had to go. Most backpacking tents aren’t as tall as regular car camping tents, and the Half Dome is no exception. Unless you are a child there will be no standing up in this tent, not even while hunched over. This makes it harder to get changed and move around easily, but saves a ton of weight and is something to note when looking at what type of tent you should buy. 

For most of the tents out there, the footprint, the piece of durable fabric that you place under your tent to help prevent wear and tear from rocks, roots, and moisture, is an item that you have to purchase separately. This not only adds to the cost of the tent but to the weight that you’re carrying as well. This isn’t the case with the Half Dome SL 3+. Included in the price and the total weight is a footprint that comes attached to the bottom of the tent, making for an easy setup and a more comfortable tent floor. Don’t want/need the footprint? No problem. It’s easily removable.

REI Co-op Base Camp 4 Tent - Spacious and sturdy car camping comfort



  • Spacious interior with a high peak height for comfort

  • Sturdy and durable construction with excellent weather resistance

  • Easy setup with color-coded poles

  • Large doors and vestibules for easy access and gear storage

  • Multiple interior storage pockets for organization

  • Heavier and bulkier compared to backpacking tents

  • Limited floor space per person compared to other four-person tents

  • Higher cost due to larger size and added features

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When it comes to car camping tents, the REI Co-op Base Camp 4 is a solid option for those who need a weather-proof tent and prefer a bit more space and don’t mind the added weight. This four-person tent offers a spacious interior with a peak height of 63 inches, making it comfortable for family camping trips or outings with friends.

Setting up the Base Camp 4 is straightforward, thanks to its 5-pole dome design. The poles are color-coded, which simplifies the process, and the reinforced structure ensures the tent stands up well to high winds. That said, this is a tent that is best set up by more than one person, and while it may be straightforward, it does take some time, especially compared to the Half Dome SL 3+, which makes sense considering the size and complexity compared to the latter. As a solo camper setup took much longer than it did when I was with others, and I found the stakes in particular to be a bit more aggravating to use than those in the Half Dome.

Key Specs

  • Packaged Weight: 17 lbs. 5.6 oz.

  • Capacity: 4 people

  • Dimensions: 100 x 86 inches (floor); 63 inches (peak height)

  • Materials: Polyester rainfly and floor

  • Features: 5-pole dome design, large doors and vestibules, multiple interior storage pockets

The interior of the Base Camp 4 is roomy and comfortable, with dimensions of 100 x 86 inches, providing plenty of space. The peak height of 63 inches allows for easier movement inside the tent, and most adults can stand up hunched over without feeling cramped. While it’s marketed as a four-person tent, it’s important to note that compared to the three-person Half Dome, you’re only getting about 22.5% more floor space, so each person will have slightly less room, making this tent perfect for a group of two or three who want a lot of space. 

One of the standout features of the Base Camp 4 is its large doors and vestibules. These provide easy access and ample storage for gear, helping to keep the interior clutter-free. The multiple interior storage pockets are a nice touch, allowing you to keep small items organized and within reach.

The Base Camp 4 is REI’s most weatherproof tent and its sturdy construction and five-pole dome design with a reinforced structure make it a reliable option in various weather conditions. The polyester rainfly and floor offer excellent protection against rain and moisture, and the tent performed well in high winds, providing a secure and stable shelter.

Good ventilation is crucial for a comfortable camping experience, and the Base Camp 4 delivers in this regard, even with the rainfly up. The tent features large mesh panels and multiple vents that allow for excellent airflow, reducing condensation and keeping the interior fresh. The vestibules can also be opened allowing for maximum airflow.

One of my favorite features of this tent were the interior storage options, of which there are plenty. These pockets provided convenient and easily accessible storage for small items like flashlights, phones, keys and camera gear, ensuring that everything had its place and was easy to find. This organization not only helped keep the tent clutter-free but also made my camping experience more enjoyable and efficient, as I didn’t have to rummage through our bags to locate essential items.

While the REI Co-op Base Camp 4 offers exceptional comfort and durability, it does come with a few drawbacks. One notable downside is its weight and bulkiness. At 17 lbs. 5.6 oz., this tent is significantly heavier than typical backpacking tents, making it less suitable for those looking to travel light or cover long distances on foot. Additionally, despite being marketed as a four-person tent, it provides less floor space per person compared to other three and four-person models, meaning that while the tent is spacious, the individual space allocation is relatively limited. This might make the tent feel a bit cramped, especially if all campers have a lot of gear. 

The Base Camp 4 is priced higher than smaller, simpler tents due to its larger size and numerous added features, such as multiple storage pockets and a reinforced structure. This higher cost might be a consideration for budget-conscious campers, though the investment can be justified by the tent’s enhanced comfort and durability.

But for those who prioritize comfort and space over weight, the REI Co-op Base Camp 4 is an excellent choice for car camping. Its sturdy construction, spacious interior, and thoughtful features make it a reliable and comfortable option for family camping trips or outings with friends. While it’s heavier and bulkier than backpacking tents, the added space and durability make it well worth the investment for car campers seeking a high-quality tent.

REI Co-op Magma 15-Degree Sleeping Bag



  • Lightweight and Packable: At around 1.5 lbs, it's easy to carry and compresses well for backpacking.

  • High-Quality Materials: Features 850-fill-power down, which provides excellent insulation and loft.

  • Fit: Nine different sizes to ensure correct and accurate fit

  • Fit: The mummy design can feel restrictive for some users.

  • Down Insulation drawbacks: Loses insulating properties when wet, requiring careful management in damp conditions.

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For solo campers, the REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag is an excellent choice. This ultralight down bag offers superior warmth with its 850-fill-power goose down insulation. The mummy shape and draft collar help to retain heat, making it perfect for cold-weather camping. The Magma 15 is incredibly compressible, making it easy to pack and carry. Despite its high performance, it remains reasonably priced compared to other premium down bags, making it a great investment for serious backpackers.

Key Specs

  • Temperature Rating: 15°F (-9°C)

  • Weight: Approximately 1.75 lbs (regular size)

  • Insulation Type: 850-fill-power goose down

  • Shell Fabric: 15-denier ripstop nylon with durable water repellent (DWR) finish


REI Co-op Nalgene Sustain Graphic Wide-Mouth Water Bottle



  • Durable: Made from tough, BPA-free Tritan plastic, which can withstand drops and impacts.

  • Wide-Mouth Design: Easy to fill, clean, and add ice cubes.

  • Eco-Friendly: Made with 50% recycled materials.

  • Weight: Heavier than some other water bottle options when full.

  • Bulkiness: Wide-mouth design can make it bulky to carry in smaller backpack pockets.

  • Non-Insulated: Doesn't keep drinks hot or cold for extended periods.

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Staying hydrated is crucial, and the REI Co-op Nalgene Sustain Graphic Wide-Mouth Water Bottle made it easy. Made from 50% recycled plastic, this bottle is both eco-friendly and durable. The wide mouth makes it easy to fill and clean, and it’s compatible with most water filters. The graphic design adds a bit of personality, and the reliable Nalgene quality means it can withstand drops and rough handling. This water bottle is a great companion for any outdoor adventure.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 32 fluid ounces (1 liter)

  • Material: BPA-free Tritan Renew plastic (50% recycled content)

  • Weight: 6.25 oz (177 g)

  • Dimensions: 8.25 x 3.5 inches (height x diameter)


REI Co-op Camp Mug



  • Durable Construction: Made from stainless steel, it's resistant to dents and rust.

  • Insulated: Keeps beverages hot or cold for longer periods.

  • Lightweight: Easy to carry around on camping trips.

  • Capacity: Smaller capacity compared to other camping mugs, might require frequent refills.

  • Heat Retention: Doesn't retain heat as well as its competition.

  • Price: Slightly more expensive than basic camping mugs.

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Every camper needs a good mug, and the REI Co-op Camp Mug is a top choice. Made from stainless steel, this mug is durable and keeps beverages hot or cold for extended periods. The lid fits securely, preventing spills, and the handle is comfortable to hold. Whether you’re sipping coffee by the campfire or enjoying a cold drink after a hike, this mug is a versatile and reliable addition to your camping gear.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 12 fluid ounces (354 ml)

  • Material: Stainless steel with double-wall vacuum insulation

  • Weight: 8 oz (227 g)

  • Dimensions: 4 x 3.5 inches (height x diameter)


Black Diamond Spot 400-R Rechargeable Headlamp



  • Rechargeable: Comes with a rechargeable battery, reducing waste and long-term costs.

  • Bright Output: Provides up to 400 lumens, suitable for a variety of nighttime activities.

  • Compact and Lightweight: Easy to pack and wear without feeling cumbersome.

  • Battery Life: Limited battery life on high settings compared to headlamps with disposable batteries.

  • Cost: Higher initial investment due to rechargeable technology.

  • Complexity: Multiple modes and buttons can be confusing for some users.

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When the sun goes down, having a reliable light source is essential. The Black Diamond Spot 400-R Rechargeable Headlamp is a powerful and versatile option. With 400 lumens of brightness and multiple lighting modes, it provides excellent visibility in all conditions. The rechargeable battery is convenient and eco-friendly, eliminating the need for disposable batteries. The headlamp is lightweight and comfortable to wear, making it perfect for nighttime hikes, setting up camp after dark, or reading in your tent.

Key Specs

  • Lumens: Up to 400 lumens

  • Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included)

  • Weight: 2.7 oz (with batteries)

  • Beam Distance: Up to 100 meters (high setting)


Yeti Tundra Cooler (35, 45 and 65-quart)



  • Exceptional Insulation: Keeps ice frozen for days, ideal for extended trips.

  • Durability: Virtually indestructible, made to withstand rugged use.

  • Capacity: Can hold a significant amount of food and drinks.

  • Weight: Very heavy, especially when fully loaded.

  • Cost: Premium price tag compared to other coolers.

  • Size: Bulky and may take up significant space in your vehicle.

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Key Specs

  • Capacity: Holds up to 42 cans (using a 2:1 ice-to-can ratio)

  • Weight: 29 lbs (empty)

  • Dimensions: 30.5 x 17.5 x 16 inches (LxWxH)

  • Material: Rotomolded polyethylene with Permafrost insulation


Bonus: Patagonia Black Hole Mini MLC


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Key Specs

  • Capacity: 30 liters

  • Weight: 2 lbs 12 oz (1.25 kg)

  • Dimensions: 19.5 x 12.5 x 8 inches (LxWxH)

  • Material: 100% recycled polyester ripstop with TPU-film laminate and DWR finish


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