Why everyone loves camping? Well, besides getting you out of the city and into the fresh air, it’s an affordable and memorable experience. However, if you don’t hold your horses, journeys in the woods can become extravagant affairs. You don’t want your budget to become double or triple in no time.
So, how to camp for cheap? Luckily, there are ways to keep the cost down. From the camping gear to the food and location you choose, we’ve rounded up 20 budget-friendly ideas. Keep reading to reduce the overall cost of your break, but never compromise your peace of mind.
Table of Contents
- 1 Borrow Camping Equipment
- 2 Rent Camping Materials
- 3 Get A 3-Season Tent
- 4 Check Local Thrift Stores
- 5 Camp Close To Home
- 6 Use Cheap Gas
- 7 Use Free Or State-Run Campgrounds
- 8 Use The Camp’s BBQ
- 9 Cook Simple Meals
- 10 Bring Your Wood
- 11 Avoid Camping In High Season Or During Holidays
- 12 Buy Camping Equipment During Online Sales
- 13 Go With Friends
- 14 Prepare Well Ahead
- 15 Follow REI For Sales
- 16 Use What You Have At Home
- 17 Create A Camping Budget And Fund
- 18 Buy Your Camping Gear Off-Season
- 19 Bring Free Entertainment
- 20 Plan Meals And Drinks In Advance
- 21 Final Words
- 22 FAQ
Borrow Camping Equipment
Those who lack camping equipment will realize that the initial investment is significant. Meaning, considering the tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, stoves, and mess kits, you might need to spend $600. This figure can further increase if your family is of considerable size. Thankfully, there are other options available.
Consider borrowing items from close friends or family to lower the costs to a reasonable level. Most avid campers have old sleeping bags and tents they no longer use. Hence, more generous relatives or friends might be happy to lend you some camping gear. Therefore, don’t hesitate to ask. This way, you can round up enough gear to offset the remaining equipment costs.
Borrowing camping gear is ideal for infrequent campers who are looking forward to a cheap adventure. Once you get into the matter and decide to camp more often, you can always buy second-hand equipment or rent it.
Rent Camping Materials
Is this your first camping trip, or perhaps, you don’t camp often? In this case, getting all the necessary gear can cost you a lot. So, looking into camping rental options through local gear stores or REI might prove a real life-saver. Gear rentals will cost a fraction of the selling price.
Companies like Xscape Pod and Outdoors Geek rent gears and deliver them to your home. For instance, a four-person kit from Outdoors Geek will cost $354 for a week. Or, you can order the Xscape Pod set, which runs about $470 for seven days. You should also try landing a discount by referring your friends.
Last, remember to bring as much stuff from home as suitable. Blankets might replace sleeping bags and save you some valuable cash. Also, bring pots, dishes, and silverware instead of buying specialized utensils that usually bear a high price tag.
Get A 3-Season Tent
Campers can use a 3-season tent during three seasons only. In short, a 3-season backpacking tent gets designed for moderate conditions and performance. So, depending on the environment you’ll be camping in, this may prove an ideal choice.
Unlike a 4-season or winter tent, which can withstand extreme weather, snow loads, and fierce winds, you must adapt to weather. Those interested in spring backpacking trips, summer campouts and fall treks might consider a 3-season tent. Such tents support typical outdoor adventures and will keep your pack light while still offering protection from rain, wind, and bugs. As a result, they get constructed of lighter fabrics and feature more mesh for airflow. Still, this is one of the great ways to save cash as a large family.
Remember that 3-season tents have sub-categories, too. Some models are remarkably light and serve for fast backcountry travel. Other models are bug-proof and warmer, which are perfect for front country camping. Luckily, most tents can resist pounding rain and light dusting snow, but the lightest models shouldn’t get exposed to harsh weather.
Finally, when purchasing a tent, consider the size of your family. Always buy one which is a little bigger than what you believe you may need. Thus, if you are a four-member family, buy a six-person tent to allow yourself more space.
Check Local Thrift Stores
If you wonder how to camp for cheap, you have to be open to several options. For example, sometimes, you won’t be able to borrow nor order a door-delivered package. So, it’s time you scoured the local thrift stores and flea markets. Most of the time, you will find superb deals on camp stoves, sleeping bags, and cooking utensils.
Garage sales are your next stop. Take a look at what local yard sales have to offer. If everything else fails, focus your effort on online garage sales. There, shoppers can find the discounted gear returned by customers and only lightly used. Cargo boxes are remarkably inexpensive when bought second-hand, and the savings are massive.
Camp Close To Home
Though it might not sound appealing, camping in the vicinity brings the overall cost of the trip down. Savings primarily come from gas, whose prices tend to increase in the peak season. Those hauling a motorhome or trailer will inevitably lower the miles per gallon. On top of that, camping closer to home relieves the stress of quick weekend getaways.
Plus, you will probably find campgrounds are less expensive nearby. Try getting referrals from friends and family, as this might land you a discount. Ask them about any free or cheap camping spots to save even more money on your next family camping adventure.
Having a camping trip is not only cost-effective, but it’s also a fun experience. It will also save you money, which you can spend on other adventures.
Use Cheap Gas
Using apps to save on daily expense has never been easier. For instance, GasBuddy is super handy when it comes to finding cheap gas. This platform helps millions of users locate the best gas prices in the given area. The app allows you to check prices as a list or on a map and then guide you to the station with the lowest cost.
Often, a dozen of cents may not seem like a lot, but the savings quickly add up in a gas-intensive vehicle. Pulling a heavy load behind you automatically increases fuel consumption. Economizing on gas is a simple and easy hack to stick to your family camping budget.
Use Free Or State-Run Campgrounds
If you’re getting back to basic or wild camping, you will have to find a convenient spot to locate yourself. Plus, not many people are ready to give up the amenities larger holiday parks can provide. The usual trade-off is that low prices will leave you with a lack of facilities. Yet, not all campsites offer a range of benefits worthwhile the cost.
Of course, if you wish to camp for free, give wild camping a try. But before that, ensure you research the area and check if you need a permit. Or, if adventurous trips are not your type, find a campsite cheap on public land to avoid the campground cost. Dispersed camping spots sometimes offer basic amenities like a fire ring and pit toilets.
Whatever your preference, holiday parks are generally more expensive than any farmers field with minimal facilities. The Dyrt platform can help you find state- and government-run campgrounds nearby. Typically, such campsites run under $25 a night. Even better, you can snap up a $10-per-night-deal, but at that price, you’ll have fewer facilities, like pit toilets and no showers.
Use The Camp’s BBQ
How to camp cheap is a concern of many prospective campers. Bulky items are usually the most expensive. Hence, you should check whether the campsite you’re heading to provides BBQs for visitors. This way, you’ll spare yourself the trouble of dragging full-size appliances. Plus, you may save a lot in case you haven’t procured a barbecue on time.
Also, give up the disposable grills. Besides the environmental impact of throwaway BBQs, three or four one-use grills will cost you about the same as a small portable one. Plus, the latter will last way longer than the two-hour burn time of a disposable.
Cook Simple Meals
Investing in an expensive camp stove and buying propane boosts the final cost. So, why don’t you rely on the good old campfire? Most campground fire pits include a grate for easy cooking, and some even have a charcoal BBQ. Since most of you will have a campfire going, this is a superb two-for-one option. Imagine the fun your family will be having while roasting hot dogs and making tin foil dinners over the coals.
If you’re with friends, you can save quite some money by taking turns cooking big meals for everyone. One big simple meal instead of several costly small meals is the way to go. Plus, everyone will get a night off cooking to enjoy the wilderness and relax under the stars.
Moreover, focus on vegetarian food. No, we don’t suggest giving up barbecued burgers and steaks altogether. But if you cook meat for three meals a day, it can start to add up quickly. So, consider making healthy vegetarian meals for breakfast at least to keep the costs down. Oh, and don’t forget about doing grocery shopping smart as that will keep the costs optimized, as well.
Bring Your Wood
Paying for firewood at the campground can increase the price of your camping trip. Consider Craigslist or local bulletin boards to purchase firewood before setting off. Those who camp often and have multiple trips ahead should invest in a cord of wood. Though a cord may cost you up to $150 depending on where you live, you’ll have enough firewood for the entire year.
Indeed, campsites charge higher rates. You may have to spend up to $10 for only five pieces of wood. If you buy in bundle locally, you can get more wood and with better value. Also, be responsible when sourcing your firewood later.
Avoid Camping In High Season Or During Holidays
Traveling during major holidays or the peak season can drastically increase the cost of your trip. Besides heavy traffic and crowds, site and gas prices tend to increase during the high season. Still, if your only option is to camp on weekends and holidays, prepare to foot a higher bill.
Bear in mind that campsites charge different prices depending on the month. During the peak season, when the demand rockets, it’s natural for the expenses to grow, too. You can keep camping cheap by avoiding the primary season where possible. Last, if you can’t skip camping during peak times, head for a less touristy, inexpensive destination.
Buy Camping Equipment During Online Sales
Not everyone enjoys online shopping, especially if you want to handle an item before buying it. But, sometimes, online sales can offer way better deals than their in-store counterparts. Plus, you don’t want to fight over a bargain with several other eager campers. To avoid the crowds and save time, scavenge online sales and save yourself a bunch of dollars.
Also, don’t wait until the trip is a week away. Join online sales the day they begin to snap up better products. Amazon.com is always the cheapest site to purchase anything you may need for your camping passion. Stock up both on essentials and fun activities.
Go With Friends
The chances you’re considering camping cheap because you have friends who do it are high. These folks regularly camp and even invited you to join in with your kids. So, why would you decline the offer to go with people who’ve been there, done that? There’s no reason why you wouldn’t!
First, you can learn from their experience and mistakes and have proper guidance. Second, seasoned campers have the essential gear you’ll need, so you’ll buy less equipment for your first adventure. Fewer props mean lower expenses on your side.
Also, if you are camping with a bigger group, it’s best to avoid duplicating the camping gear. Think about sharing the cost of soap, aluminum foil, BBQ, and a cool box. Even better, you can even get cozy and share a giant tent for considerable savings.
If you go with friends, you can share some of the costs with them and save even more money. For instance, the gas will cost you two times less if you share it with another person.
Prepare Well Ahead
Plan carefully all the items you’ll need before you set off. This way, the chances that you forget or run out of any essentials that can cost double on the spot are minimal. Indeed, staying at a campsite cheap means, you should refrain from its shop to avoid unforeseen expenses.
Hence, ensure you procure replacement batteries, gas bottles, and logs from home. All these perquisites entail a premium at most campsite shops. Moreover, always ensure you take extra batteries and a spare gas bottle, even if you think you won’t need them.
As for cookware, it’s best to head to the thrift store, and purchase used frying pans and pots. Also, don’t forget to buy tongs for the camp cook set. Pick cheap essentials you won’t mind getting scraped or dirty while you’re out in the woods.
Follow REI For Sales
Once winter releases its icy grip, everyone looks forward to a spring break outdoors. Whether you’re heading to the campsite or retreating to the backyard, you’ll need to provide the right gear. In short, you should take REI’s member-exclusive sale into account. The massive sale lasts ten days in March and is an excellent opportunity to save on outdoor equipment.
Besides many REI sales throughout the year, you should also check clearances. You can find some super-cheap deals at the end caps of Target. Before heading there, check whether and when your local Target is having a sale. On these days, you will find marked items down from 30% off to 50%. Target clearance can be one of the top places to search for an excellent new tent and sleeping bags.
Finally, sign up for mailing lists of big retailers in your area. Following them on social media will let you first find out about seasonal camping gear promotions. Making use of frequent offers and deals is the best way to bag yourself cheap camping stuff.
Use What You Have At Home
Buying new equipment to have a pleasant family camping experience is not mandatory. Take the blankets and sheets from home and use them in the tent. If you don’t want to exploit new bedding, find older blankets forgotten in the back closet. You may also have some used mattresses that can be perfect for staying in the wild.
As for blankets, double-check the weather forecast. If colder days are in stock, consider bringing a few extra layers to keep yourself warm.
Create A Camping Budget And Fund
Before setting money aside, draw up a budget that includes all the items you’ll need for the pending trip. Add 10% for unexpected costs and accidents. Once you have the total amount, you should start planning how to camp cheap and provide the money.
Then, if you’re a keen camper, it’s high time you started a fund for camp gear. Set up a family camping change jar and urge everyone to contribute. Don’t forget to pop quarters and even dollar bills in whenever you get change. Or, you can set aside money from each paycheck to boost the camp fund throughout the year.
Buy Your Camping Gear Off-Season
When the weather improves, and thoughts wander off to camp, it’s challenging not to hit the road. But, then, you’ll likely remember the old tent that failed last year. Or, what about that sleeping bag that left you shivering in the cold nights? With so much camping gear to tempt us, it can be tough to resist splashing out on shiny items.
To avoid overspending in a short period, stock up your supplies as items go on sale throughout the year. Think about canned goods or camping gear like chairs and sleeping bags. If you procure things as they go on sale, the camping costs will decrease, and you won’t even notice the total bill size.
Don’t get tempted from April to August since you’ll be paying a premium. At this time, there will be fewer bargains around, and you won’t be camping cheap as you initially believed.
Bring Free Entertainment
What is time spent with family and friends without having fun in the open air? Below, we list some cheap entertainment ideas on what to do to create valuable memories while camping. Of course, you can adapt our suggestions depending on the weather, your likes, and camp amenities.
Play Campground Games
Staying in a free campsite may not give you much choice to keep the kids occupied. Lack of playgrounds may turn your vacation into a nightmare if you don’t come prepared. To spare yourself the need to deal with bored kids, consider the following games:
- Try bocce ball.
- Enjoy 500.
- Play ring toss.
- Give camping bingo a try.
- Race in sleeping bags.
- Send Morse code messages.
- Catch the flag.
Indeed, there are so many ways for the entire family to enjoy their time at camp. Most outdoor games don’t require props, but only your imagination and will.
Fishing is a fabulous way to kill time and bond with your kids when on a budget. Plus, this activity helps foster discipline and patience. Believe it or not, there’s nothing similar to the kid’s face when their line goes taut.
Besides having loads of fun, a successful catch can feed the family while camping by the lake. All it takes is to cook the fish in tin foil. Don’t forget to put some butter and your favorite seasoning on top.
Hiking is a fantastic leisure family camping activity. Above all, you’ll need some essential hiking gear, snacks, and comfortable shoes. Most campsites have access to trailheads so that you can engage in trekking every day. Also, it’s essential to go with a trail that matches your fitness and ability level. Keep in mind that kids tire out quickly and may become restless if the route is mundane.
Setting a campfire is one of our favorite activities for the entire family. Collecting firewood and materials for kindling, stacking them well, and then attempting several times to get the fire going is super entertaining.
Often, you will need to build two campfires every day. The first is in the morning to cook breakfast and to take the chill out of the air. The second one is in the evening to prepare dinner and relax sitting around it before bed. You can spice up the entire experience by telling ghost stories by the campfire.
Those wondering how to camp cheap should take a deck of cards or another board game along. Ideally, you should stock up on games if stuck inside the tent due to rain. We like playing Yardzee while camping, and monopoly and scrabble are classic fun makers. If you’re with small kids, try out Candyland and Hoot Owl Hoot.
Scavenger hunts are an intelligent way to keep your children busy at the campsite when they’re bored. For larger families, scavenger hunts provide a range of opportunities for active fun.
Of course, most children have the natural urge to explore, and you can satiate it by a scavenger hunt. Additionally, a well set up quest allows parents to teach children a few things about the wild. Coming up with ideas about what to search shouldn’t be too challenging; all you need to do is look around.
Moreover, try teaching kids to notice nature by telling them to spot different animals, trees, and plants. Then, distribute paper bags and urge them to collect the items they find and then do an art project with their findings.
To make the hiking experience more intriguing, opt for geocaching. This outdoor activity involves a set of coordinates that ultimately lead to a treasure. Find a nearby geocache location and set the coordinates in your phone or GPS-enabled device. Bring an item you want to hide, like a toy, and get into the mood of exploring. This game will help kids coordinate better and focus on the objective at hand.
Being in the forest or by the lake far away from the bustling city gives you a wealth of opportunities to have fun. On a clear summer night, what can be more relaxing than stargazing? All you need to do is lay on the ground and stare at the stars. Plus, you can engage in finding a map of constellations or major night sky features.
Most campgrounds get adjusted for cycling, and biking trails can often be perfect for off-road bicycling. In case there’s a lake, cycling around it can mean you’ll enjoy some mesmerizing views. Those of you who are fans of bike riding should also take the transport into account. Consider buying car-attached bike racks that work well on most autos and trailer hitches.
Cook your cheap meals, create a camping budget beforehand, focus on free entertainment and your camping staycation won’t cost you a fortune.
Plan Meals And Drinks In Advance
Eating healthy when camping is surprisingly easy with a bit of planning. If you list your meals and take all the ingredients you’ll need to cook your meals, savings are guaranteed. Dishes like omelets, casseroles, and curries are effortless to prepare.
If you opt for campfire cooking, ensure you prep and plan your meals well ahead. Besides being easy, campfire cooking is also healthy and beneficial for family bonding. We suggest you consider some foil recipes with simple and cheap ingredients. Some of our favorite dishes include nachos, roasted marshmallows, and mac & cheese.
As for meals you can prepare right over the fire, try hotdogs and meatballs. Moreover, camping with a cookstove opens up possibilities for a more extended meal plan. Stick to recipes you know, and the entire family loves. Though dehydrated food can look appealing, rule it out as it can be pretty expensive.
Also, buying food from the campsite shop can be hefty. Rarely, some sites provide local produce at affordable prices. Finally, ensure you bring enough water, soft drinks and beer along. This way, you’ll avoid the expense of having to eat out every day and end up paying a premium at the campsite shop.
When you think of getting away from the city, a cheap camping weekend under canvas can be appealing. Yet, camping isn’t always as affordable as you might believe, and costs can quickly spiral. Camping can be super expensive if you’re a novice in the team.
That’s why our ideas for family camping will help you enjoy nature and create beautiful memories on a budget.
Are you a camping fan? How do you manage to cut the cost while on vacation? Share your insight with our readers and sign up for our newsletter for more frugal living tips.
Is camping the cheapest way to vacation?
Camping is a family activity in the wild that becomes cheaper the more often you do it. You invest in the necessary items and gear at the onset and then can reuse them many times. Yet, if you camp once with new equipment, it may prove the heftiest vacation you may take.
Is camping cheaper?
A typical campsite will cost anything from around $10 up to $80 per night. Though the average stands at $45, more space or hot showers will cost you extra. Overall, camping with more amenities can be an expensive option if you’re a starter and travel in the peak season.
How much should I budget for a camping trip?
Once you have the gear, camping becomes way more affordable as a weekend outing. On average, the first, 4-person trip may cost you about $600. After you buy the bulkier items like shoes, chairs and a tent, you’ll spend about $100 on each subsequent trip, or $25 per person.
What are the four most important things to bring when you go camping?
First, you’ll need a tent with a sleeping mat or camp bed. Second, you will need spare batteries, a portable charger and cables. As for clothes, take waterproof jackets, trousers and extra clean and dry clothes and boots. Last, procure kitchen essential and food, plus a first aid kit and toiletries.