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How to Go Camping on a Budget

How to Go Camping on a Budget

By Alex Porter • July 15, 2019

For anyone looking to break out of their daily routine, camping out can be the perfect way to unwind. With proper planning, it can be an economical getaway, and connecting with nature offers a variety of health benefits — both physically and mentally.

Here’s how to make the most of your outdoor adventure.

Do some research

If you intend to “unplug” from technology while camping, do some research ahead of time to plan activities, set arrangements and finalize any details that require the internet. Taking the time to explore your options could also help you find discounts and budget the entire trip.

If you have a desired location or experience in mind, there are several websites that can help you choose a destination. In fact, you may even stumble upon some campsites and adventures you never knew existed. Here is a quick list of informative camping websites:

  • Recreation.gov — a one-stop shop for trip planning, information sharing and reservations by 12 participating federal agencies
  • Forestcamping.com — browse a deep-rooted list of campgrounds in all 157 national forests and grasslands
  • Reserveamerica.com — search a vast campground directory, plan a trip and much more

Borrow gear

Do you have family or friends who love the outdoors? If so, you could eliminate several large expenses by borrowing their camping equipment.

In addition to borrowing, it would be smart to learn how to set up and use the equipment before your trip. Getting familiar could save you time and trouble when you arrive at your campsite.

If no one you know has what you need, before you head to big name retailers, try checking out eBay or craigslist to score lightly-used gear for cheaper prices.

Here’s a basic Camping 101 equipment checklist: o Tent o Tarp o Ground cloth o Sleeping bags o Campfire grill o Lantern o Rain gear

If you’re an REI Member (which costs just $20 for a lifetime membership), you can check out REI Rentals, which is available in 30 states. You can rent tents, backpacking kits, canoes, car racks and a whole lot more on per-day or per-week pricing options.

Bring what you have already

In addition to camping-specific gear, you could also save money by utilizing everyday items from your home. You may be “roughing it” in the great outdoors, but many people still want to enjoy a hot meal and comfortable bedding. Basic hygienic products, sunscreen and insect repellent are also necessities that should be packed depending on the weather elements and location of the camp.

Here’s a checklist of household items that could be repurposed to cut camping costs:

  • Pillows
  • Pot (for boiling and cooking)
  • Frying pan
  • Cooking/eating utensils
  • Bottled water
  • Cooler(s)
  • Flashlights
  • First aid kit
  • Matches
  • Saw and axe
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun protection
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Soap (biodegradable)

If you don’t want to bring some of your nicer items from home, hit up your local Goodwill or Salvation Army for cheap forks, pans, clothes, etc.

Eat like an outdoorsman

When you’re out in the elements, quick and easy meals are the way to go. Oatmeal, fruit, trail mixes and jerky are great snacks that provide on-the-go energy with little to no preparation.

For meals, prepackaged/freeze dried meals are an awesome option. If you buy in bulk, like a big can of Mountain House Chili Mac, you can get costs down to about $3.16 a meal. All you need to do is add some boiling water, let it cook for a bit and you’re ready to eat.

You can also plan out some fun meals for the whole group to enjoy. Check out these 25 camping recipes that only use 5 ingredients or less. Sign me up for the “bacon and cheese pull-aparts.” Yum.

Explore the great outdoors

Free or inexpensive outdoor activities include:

  • Fishing
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Backpacking
  • Swimming
  • Sightseeing

If you’re looking for a relaxing activity to end the night, sky-watching or stargazing could offer some amazing entertainment. Take a gander at space.com to see what astronomical events will be occurring during your trip.

See you by the campfire!

A memorable camping trip doesn’t require a great deal of money. With proper research, preparation and a little improvising, you can enjoy some time in the wilderness without breaking the bank. Happy camping!


*This article has been updated from its original posting on September 2, 2016. Matt Diehl contributed to this article.


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