Camping is a great way to have fun with family and friends, but it can be very costly if you jump into it without planning ahead. Today, we're sharing how you can enjoy the camping experience without a second mortgage for gear.
Get ready to pack your bags and hit the road!
10 Cheap Camping Secrets
Stay close to home and invite friends.
This will save on travel costs along with the ability to co-mingle gear. You can divide and conquer which supplies to bring, who is the cooking wizard, and make tent setup a fun group activity instead of a solo frustration.
Dispersed camping is FREE, with some added responsibilities.
Dispersed camping means you are camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of designated campgrounds. You have to take all your trash home with you, and there are usually no toilets or treated water so you must bring your own. If you like to camp in a more primitive style, this is totally doable! You can read all the rules on this site dedicated to free camping. The biggest things to keep in mind are that you need to leave absolutely no trace and your campfire must be put ALL the way out before you leave. That same site maintains a list of all the known free camping areas in any given location along with user-generated reviews of the conditions at each place.
Keep meals simple.
Things that can be cooked straight on the fire like hot dogs, foil packets and skewer meals can be prepped in advance and made in a flash (just be sure to check the fire ordinances before you take off to check if this is feasible). Scrambled eggs make an easy and inexpensive breakfast that can feed the masses. You can save room by pre-scrambling them and storing them in clean disposable water bottles (yay recycling!). Doing that will also prevent cracked whole eggs on the trip.
Gather your own food for longer trips, or plan to buy it along the way.
Obviously you shouldn't totally rely on nature to provide, but meal planning on-the-road doesn't work the same as at home. It's a precise art to figure out how much to bring, and then storage can be a real issue when you get out to camp. We've managed to significantly cut down on prepared meals in favor of local provisions and it's saved us a ton of money. Planning around the local fare when you're on the go means decreased waste and fresh food every day. If we're camping for weeks and moving from site-to-site, we pack minimal meal supplies along with some jerky to keep our energy up. Then we fish, hunt, and visit local farm stands along the way to cut out the middlemen AND the need for storage. You'll be amazed at how cheap you can get produce for when you buy direct from the grower! We've even picked up prepared meat from butchers and taco stands when we've been in a pinch. Bring the bare minimum and then plan to dine like a local, buying in bulk where they shop and dining on what's cheap in that area. Just don't get sucked into fast food – buying each person's meal individually can add up quickly!
Understand that buying brand new gear adds up quick.
It can also deter you from camping more in the future if you get scared off by the register price during a big spree at REI. Instead, purchase your gear slowly, throughout the year, as the seasons and your needs change. Check yard sales, thrift stores and seasonal sales to get the gear you need. With all of the different ways of camping, there's no way you could create a fully-comprehensive list off the bat, anyway! Small overnights in family-friendly areas are a good way to start small and learn as you go. You can increase your distance and your capabilities as you figure out what's a really good fit for your camping style.
Use items from home when you’re camping on a budget.
If the conditions aren't freezing, you can use a yoga mat or play mats on the floor of the tent and old comforters from home instead of sleeping bags. Bring utensils from your kitchen instead of buying new ones as well. Use pots and pans from the house, or simply stick to items you can cook over the fire so you don't have to bring a whole kitchen setup. There's no need to make things complicated!
Solar lamps mean you don't need to buy as much propane and batteries.
We also use a solar-powered water heater that works pretty dang well! With any solar, just make sure you charge them in the sun during the day (obviously this won't work as well during the winter or in very cloudy areas). Solar lights are also safer for kids to keep in their tents and to take to the bathroom at night. Amazon and Walmart sell them for pretty cheap.
Eliminate the need for bagged ice.
Keep your food cold by filling up empty milk or water jugs and freeze them to put in your ice chest. These will last longer than bagged ice and you won’t have to deal with the water once it melts! We own a battery-operated camper fridge from SnoMaster, but we still use this trick and put frozen jugs inside our fridge to save on energy.
Stock up on spices and camping tools when they’re on clearance.
We also hit up the dollar store to get camping stuff. When you start to get serious about camping on a regular basis, a lot of people begin looking for dedicated cooking setups and complicated storage boxes that can minimize the amount of packing and unpacking. We simply keep cheap extra supplies in a plastic tote so everything's ready to grab-and-go.
Entertainment is important.
The truth is, there's a lot of downtime when you're camping. We shop for games and activities at garage sales and thrift shops. We've been able to find some really fun, durable lawn games and other items to keep everyone busy around the campsite. Otherwise, we've found that our family tends to turn to expensive local activities such as tickets to a movie or other quick entertainment fixes in the nearest town.
The most important thing is to have fun and be safe. Always let someone that is not with you know where you are camping so that you won't be stranded in a true emergency.
Does your family ever go camping to enjoy a cheap vacation together?