Call it what you will – “concrete camping” or just “extremely crazy” – but camping outside stores to get the best Black Friday deals is a popular way for some families to spend their Thanksgiving. For some, it’s even a holiday tradition. Instead of making a big Thanksgiving dinner and gathering around the table, they’re making sandwiches, listening to the game, and waiting in line. Think of it like tailgating, but for retail.
While camping out on Black Friday is fun for a lot of people, it also offers a real advantage. Stores like Best Buy and Target often have lines wrapped around the store and down the street before the doors open. Those who camp out are the first ones to get in, which means they get the mega-deals that are typically sold out by the time later arrivals are let in.
The first people waiting in line may even get something out of it. USA Today reports that some retailers, like Cabela’s, hand out gifts to people waiting in line on Black Friday. At Cabela’s, gifts have previously ranged from gift cards to more expensive retail items like guns, and the first 600 people in line got something.
Of course, most doorbuster deals are available online or during Cyber Monday. However, many Black Friday campers admit they do it because it’s a fun way to spend time with family and friends.
Tales of Black Friday Camping
According to statistics cited by Forbes, in 2018, over 165 million people shopped Black Friday weekend. Only a fraction of these people are die-hard Black Friday campers, but there are plenty of enthusiasts out there.
For example, Best Buy interviewed Mike Franke of Wisconsin, who’s been camping out in front of the retail electronics giant with his family for over 10 years. Franke and his family have Black Friday camping down to an art form. They bring two large tents, a portable generator, zero-degree rated sleeping bags and air mattresses, a 40-inch flat-screen, and even a satellite so they can watch the big game.
Franke has also made lifelong friendships with other Black Friday campers, who come to Best Buy year after year to score great deals. And he says the experience is always fun.
In 2014, The New York Times interviewed Derek De Armond, who has camped outside Best Buy in Fort Myers, Florida, for years. Like Franke, De Armond has learned through experience what works and what doesn’t. He sets up his campsite a full two weeks before Black Friday begins and takes turns with two other friends to hold their spot. They now go all out with a fully decorated Christmas tree, a tiki bar, a hammock, and a flat-screen.
Essential Gear for Black Friday
Many Black Friday campers go through the school of hard knocks on their first night out. They end up cold, hungry, and sore, which is not the ideal way to start a hectic day of shopping. But you can avoid that haggard feeling by packing the right gear.
1. A Tent
A tent is arguably the most critical piece of gear for Black Friday camping. It will shelter you from rain, wind, or snow and give you a cozy and private place to rest. The size you need depends on how many people are camping with you.
You also need a tarp or tent footprint to lay down on the concrete. It keeps sidewalk gunk off your tent and protects your tent floor from damage from rough pavement.
2. A Sleeping Bag
In most parts of the country, it’s downright frigid on Black Friday, so a warm sleeping bag is a must.
Before you leave, check the weather to ensure your sleeping bag is rated for the nighttime temperatures expected in your area. If it isn’t, boost its warmth and insulating ability with a fleece sleeping bag liner.
3. Appropriate Outdoor Clothing
In some climates, it’s OK to head out in shorts and a T-shirt. In others, you need a down coat and winter boots.
Either way, always take more clothes than you think you’ll need. Bring layers you can peel off if it gets warm, and store extras in your trunk in case you spill a drink or it rains unexpectedly. To ensure you stay warm, it’s a good idea to bring the following:
- A warm outdoor coat
- A rain jacket or poncho
- Hats, gloves, and scarves
- Hand warmers
- Lap blankets
- Extra socks
4. A Portable Chair
Sitting in the dark isn’t that fun when you don’t have a campfire. You need lights to play cards, eat dinner, and see your neighbors.
6. A Cooler & Grill
Chances are you have a cooler or two gathering dust in your attic or garage. Bring one for keeping drinks and sandwich meat cold. Some people even cook Thanksgiving dinner early and store it in the cooler for their camping trip.
This is where a portable gas grill or portable gas stove comes in handy. A portable grill or stove lets you reheat leftovers, heat water for coffee or tea, or cook hotdogs and hamburgers at your campsite. Small camp stoves that rely solely on wood, such as the Ohuhu stove, are inexpensive and useful if you have access to firewood or twigs. But if you do plan to bring a stove, call ahead to make sure it’s OK. In some areas, there may even be city ordinances that prohibit it.
Don’t forget to pack items like trash bags, paper plates, paper towels, plastic cups, and plastic utensils. Washing up after a meal is practically impossible on the sidewalk.
If you need some inspiration for meals, look up easy-to-make tailgating recipes or learn to tailgate without cooking. After all, Black Friday camping is much like tailgating in many ways, and some of the gear you need for game day fun also come in handy for Black Friday.
7. A Charging Station
Your cellphone and tablet probably can’t go days without a charge. That means you’ll need a way to charge them while you camp.
8. A Portable Toilet
When nature calls, you need somewhere to go. And if you’re holding your spot alone or it’s the middle of the night, you need a way to go to the bathroom at your campsite.
Portable toilets are small, unobtrusive urinals that allow you to relieve yourself discreetly in your tent. There are also disposable urinals that turn urine into an easy-to-dispose-of spill-proof gel.
9. A Portable Table
A small folding table or roll-up camp table is a necessity if you’re camping out more than a night. A table lets you prepare and eat meals without having to put cups or plates on the ground. It’s also a good place to play games to pass the time.
Take along some games to play with family and fellow campers. There are a lot of games you can play at your campsite.
- Standard card deck games like Texas Hold’Em or Blackjack
- Card games like Sushi Go!, Taco Vs. Burrito, or Uno
- Portable cornhole
- Board games like Scrabble or Monopoly
- Connect 4
If you’re camping with your family, try conversation cards to initiate some thought-provoking and eye-opening conversations and help you get to know your kids better.
If you’re going to be out for more than 12 to 18 hours, bring some personal care products to stay clean and feel like a human being. Some items to bring include:
- Wet wipes or facial wipes
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- First-aid kit and any necessary medications
Bonus: A Team
Almost no one camps out for Black Friday alone. You need people to hold your spot so you can head indoors to warm up, go to the bathroom, or take a shower.
If your family isn’t interested in Black Friday camping, ask friends or co-workers if they’re game to try it this year. You might be able to put together a team if you camp out at a popular location like Best Buy, which seems to be in demand.
Consider RV Camping
If you have an RV (or want to rent an RV through Outdoorsy), why not use that to camp out for Black Friday deals? You’ll be relatively warm and comfortable compared to those roughing it on the concrete, especially if the weather turns nasty.
While RV camping is a great option, there are a few things to keep in mind before you set out.
Decide on a Store
First, think about where you’re going to park. Driving an RV in Black Friday traffic is not for the faint of heart. Save yourself some stress by camping out somewhere you’ll have access to many stores, such as an indoor mall or outlet mall.
Many stores and malls prohibit overnight camping, though some disregard this policy for Black Friday. But you should still ask permission to camp in the parking lot. Ask to speak to the store manager and explain that you’d like to take advantage of Black Friday sales.
While you’re there, be a considerate guest. Don’t leave any waste behind, and try to leave the parking lot cleaner than you found it.
Think About Your Power Needs
Do you have solar panels or a generator to power your refrigerator or lights? If the weather is particularly cold, can you stay warm enough in your camper without a furnace or space heater, which often require more power than solar panels or a generator provide for an extended period?
Stock Up on Provisions
Last, stock up your RV with plenty of food and water so you don’t have to leave to resupply. Look for food that’s simple and easy to cook. For example, Mountain House freeze-dried meals only require boiling water to reconstitute, so you can enjoy hot lasagna or beef stroganoff in minutes.
Camping out to take advantage of Black Friday deals isn’t for everyone. It can be cold, wet, and downright miserable if you’re not prepared. However, if you bring along the right gear, it can be a fun experience for you and your family and friends. You might even inadvertently start a new Thanksgiving tradition.
If you’re on the fence about camping out, it helps to figure out what it costs you per hour. For example, imagine you want to score a flat-screen TV that will be discounted by $300, but you’ll have to camp out 24 hours to guarantee you’ll get one. That essentially means you’re being paid $12.50 per hour. Are you willing to make $12.50 per hour to get the discount? If not, you might be happier staying home and shopping online.
But it’s not just about the money. For many people, the experience of camping out on Black Friday is far more valuable than its monetary worth – especially if you team up with family and friends and treat it like a getaway.
Have you ever camped out for Black Friday? Do you have any insider tips or tricks to share?