Camping on a Budget: Your A-Z Guide on Affordable Camping

camping cheap

Believe it or not folks; camping is the ultimate budget vacation for the individual or family that wants to save their coins yet still have fun!

Don’t believe me? Just stick around, and I’ll prove you wrong.

There are three basic rules for a wallet-friendly camping experience.

Keeping these three rules in mind will guarantee you the best and most strenuous-free memories from your camping trip.

So if you’re a fan of camping but your tight budget is in the way, you will definitely find these tips and tricks on how to camp for less very useful.

Let’s get to it right away:

1. Camp closer to your area of residence

Camping is an affordable alternative to many other holiday options simply because you have a wider range of options that you can tweak.

There are numerous national and state parks as well as several other national and state forests that allow camping, so you are really spoilt for choice with regards to finding a public recreational area that suits your budget.

The key to an inexpensive camping trip is locating an ideal destination that is situated closer to your area of residence. The closer you are to home the cheaper it will be.

To prevent the pitch fees from spiraling, you also want to choose a campsite that is small and basic. On one-hand, such campsites have fewer facilities but that’s expected!

Of course, if you are here then you are searching for a camping experience that won’t break the bank.

So narrow down to a camping site that is within your budget and go for it!

2. Choose cheaper camping spots over tourist destinations

Anyone can tell you that the biggest budget-friendly camping option is to avoid camping at tourist hot spots! Such campsites are usually costlier than others, especially during peak seasons.

You can expect to spend as low as $12 a night in some campgrounds as compared to the $40 - $50 you would typically spend in more expensive campsites.

Mind you, the prices will change depending on the extra services you may require.

Of course, you can still give such campsites a try, but it is advisable to do so when they are off-peak if you are keen on saving your coins.

Otherwise, try cheaper destinations especially if your kids can only have extended holidays at certain times.

You want to go for state and country parks (usually run by park rangers) as they usually have camping basics such as a fire pit, picnic tables, a charcoal drill as well as enclosed bathroom areas. These campgrounds also provide security in addition to a parking spot and designated tent areas.

At the end of the day, you won’t miss a satisfactory campsite at a reasonable price.

3. Start with the basics when it comes to gear

Now that you have a working idea of how much it will cost you (depending on the period of days you have set out for camping), there are still some factors that you need to put into consideration when it comes to preparation.

The thing that will take up most of your budget is the cost of camping gear. But even then, there are cheaper options that you can hack your way around.

Selecting camping gear can be a bit overbearing especially if you’re just not sure which equipment to bring along. On the other hand, knowing the necessities that every camper should have can save you from overspending on things that you probably won’t use more than once.

Here’s a list of one-time purchases that every camper ought to have:

i) A tent

If you want to have a comfortable camping experience then the right type of tent plays a huge role. In essence, size matters over all else.

The rule of the thumb is to always go up by a person or two when looking for the ideal tent. For instance, if you have a family of four, then you should go for a six-person tent.

You also want a tent that has plenty of room to accommodate all your other ‘home’ equipment such as the sleeping bags, yet still have enough movement area.

Tents that have separate vestibules for backpacks and other gear tend to be the best in terms of organization and overall comfort.

ii) Sleeping bags

When it comes to sleeping, the bag should be weather-appropriate in order to avoid shivering in the cold of the night or drenching in sweat in hot nights.

A three-season bag is ideal especially since you probably won’t be camping in cold weather.

But if your budget does not allow room for expenditure on sleeping bags, then use plenty of sheets and blankets in place of the sleeping bag.

iii) Sleeping pads

Again, just because it’s a wallet-friendly experience doesn’t mean that you have to compromise on comfort.

Yes, you are substituting the comfort that you would usually experience in your bed at home, but the comfort gap should not be too huge.

Sleeping pads bridge the comfort gap by providing an extra layer between the ground and the sleeping bag.

They also give you extra insulation from the cold ground; guaranteeing you a solid night rest. Just be sure to clear the ground of any rocks beforehand in order to get all the comfort you desire.

iv) Camp stove and utensils

If the idea of cooking on open fire doesn’t sound appealing to you then you should invest on a camp stove. The good thing about this gear is that it is usually a one-time expense. Once you get your gear, then the trips will get cheaper and cheaper as you go.

Getting a wood-burning stove instead of a gas stove would save you not only on the cost of purchasing the stove but also on the fuel cost. With wood-burning stoves, you use twigs, pinecones, dry leaves and every other possible thing to cook your food, all of which are freely available in the wild.

Remember to bring your utensils and be sure to lay on the minimalistic side by bringing the ones you use at home rather than making new purchases.

v) First aid kit

Aside from all else, first aid kits always come in handy so be sure to have one with you. You never know what kind of run-ins you can have out in the wild.

4. Make purchases off-season

Here’s a big tip that you probably haven’t heard of before.

Summer and fall are known to be the peak camping seasons during which camping gear prices skyrocket.

Purchasing gear off-season will save your coins as the prices won’t be as hiked as they usually are during peak camping seasons. You want to avoid the rush of purchasing stuff when everyone else is doing the same as this will result in extra expenditure.

5. Borrow gear from friends and family

You can opt to borrow camping gear from your friends and/or family if your budget is tightly fixed. Seasoned campers might have a few extra equipment to share and the only way to find out is if you ask.

Hey, just be sure to take care of borrowed equipment!

If that is not an option for you then you can rent instead of buying the gear as several outdoor stores usually rent camping gear. Find your local store and check for such options.

6. Buy used gear instead of new

Instead of going for the spanking-new camping gear, you can opt to purchase used ones. You may be lucky to find some used gear such as a camping tent that is almost as good as new, at a fraction of the price for the new one. Still, you do not want to over compromise here so make sure that you are getting a good deal before you commit.

7. Plan your meals in advance

As you can see, when it comes to camping on a budget, it all starts right before you set foot at any campground.

The goal is to cook most, if not all, of your meals for yourself rather than visiting that campsite shop. Quick camp-shop purchases are usually done when one is weary, after a few hours of hiking, riding or any other activities you may have indulged in.

Planning your meals in advance will help you avoid quick purchases that you will regret later on. By the time you are back to your tent area, you should already know what you are going to eat and what ingredients are required.

Keep the meals simple and you won’t have to spend as much.

This tip also helps you determine which utensils you will bring along for the whole trip. At the end of the day all you’ll be doing is saving, saving and more saving!

8. Avoid that campsite shop

Here’s a rule that we often apply and that has been resourceful in terms of sticking within the budget.

You want to only spend money on the campsite shop if you have to. Otherwise, carry all the extras you will need as most of these shops are usually more expensive. Those campfire logs and extra batteries will keep your budget in check even if you have to squeeze in a little more storage space in your car.

And as we’ve highlighted above, meal-planning will not only help you avoid extra expenditure at the camp shop but it also gets you to maintain a healthy diet.

9. Find inexpensive activities to partake in

The great thing about camping is that there’s a great number of fun opportunities for you and/or your family. There are so many things you can do and see without straining your pockets.

If you own bikes, bring them along! From hiking to fishing, to swimming and boating - all of these are cheap, and they also provide great opportunities for sight-seeing.

You will also find amenities for a host of inexpensive activities that you would easily partake in at home. These include playground for your young ones where they can swing or play with sand.

Not to mention, because most of these parks are located in remote areas, you can spend time star-gazing or choose to partake in various nature programs.

Just because you are keen on staying on the opposite end of extravagance doesn’t mean that you have to forego the fun aspect of camping. In fact, you will appreciate how much closer together this experience will bring your family.


Listen: it is possible to camp for less.

There’s no need to pay a high price for a trip when you can make more meaningful memories for a much lower price point.

It all boils down to planning.

Make a wise campsite selection, plan your meals in advance, purchase gear during off-season, rent instead of buying, bring only the necessary gear and you’ll be good to go.

With about $1000, a family of four can have a successful camping trip that will live on in their memories. So take advantage of these tips and avoid staying at home during the next holiday.

Happy camping!


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