So you want to get outside and go camping, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money? You need cheap camping tips. Maybe you aren’t sure camping is something your family is going to like, so you don’t want to invest in gear just yet. Or maybe you are a penny pincher like me and just want to spend as little as possible on recreation. Either way, I’ve got you covered.
Here are six cheap camping tips.
1. Know what gear you need — and what gear you don’t.
Camping outfitters would have you think that you need all the cool guy gear they carry if you want to spend a night under the stars. The truth, of course, is you don’t. Experts recommend that at the most basic what you really need is:
— A place to camp, like a campground
— Something for shelter, like a tent
— Something to keep you warm, like a sleeping bag or even just a bunch of blankets
— Something to sleep on top of, like a sleeping pad or a cot
— Something to cook with, like a camp stove or a grill at the campground
— Somewhere to sit, unless the campsite has a picnic table, in which case a chair isn’t really necessary.
— Food, plates and utensils.
— Wood/axe/starter for a fire if you want one.
Everything else? Just gravy.
2. Don’t buy the top of the line.
Even to pack this simple list you could easily spend $1,500. Or you could keep it simple and cheap.
For example, if you’re planning to go camping only in the summer, there’s no reason to spend $400 on a goose down sleeping bag. If you are driving your car to your campsite and not hauling your gear there on your back, why would you need a super lightweight tent? Paper plates are cheap and easy — there’s no need to invest in reusable camping ones the first time you head out (although they could save you money and are nicer to the environment over the long run).
Before you head out, figure out what kind of camping, including the season and weather, you’re looking to do, and buy gear to match it.
3. Borrow gear.
If this is your first time camping and you don’t know whether or not it’s something you’re going to want to repeat, don’t buy gear if you can help it. Borrow it from your friends.
4. Go somewhere cheap.
Private campgrounds with wi-fi, a pool and sparkling showers might be fancy, but they are going to cost you a fancy amount, especially when compared to a state or National Park run campground.
For example, rates for tent camping at a private KOA campground on the outskirts of Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee start around $30 per night.
The recreation area run sites in Land Between the Lakes area, on the other hand, are $12 per night for basic sites (without electricity) at “developed” campgrounds with flush toilets, showers and water pumps. Or, for $7 per adult for the entire weekend (or $30 for a year long permit) you can camp at a “primitive” back-country campground with a pit toilet and no showers, water or available electricity.
If you ask me the primitive site is where it’s at — not because I hate flushing toilets (you know I love them) but because I dont have to listen to a near-by motorhome’s air conditioner. Plus I’m saving some big bucks over time.
5. Bring in your food.
You know what is expensive? Buying things you forgot at the campground general store. You can easily avoid this pricey pitfall by making a good packing list, thinking through what food you are going to want and packing it in from home.
6. Hunt for firewood.
While most parks have prohibitions against bringing in outside wood, you do have a few options that will save you from paying $6 at the camp store for a bundle of wood that might be green and hard to light (especially if you are me and somehow incapable of starting a campfire).
You can scour the area around your site for local fallen wood. This might take some work and make you wish you forked over the $6 for the bundle (which is what we end up doing). Your other option could be to bring in a packaged log from the store. These “8 hour” (or similar) logs are conditioned to light easily and burn long. Bring in a few of these for your trip and save yourself the trouble of being fleeced at the store for wood that burns fast — if you can get it going at all.
What are your cheap camping tricks? Share them in the comment section below.