Tips For Camping On A Budget

Are you thinking about going on a camping excursion but your funds are a little low? Do you want to enjoy all the glory and majesty of the great outdoors without paying an arm and a leg for the experience?

If so, the following article may prove very useful to you. Here we will outline and explain several tips and strategies for camping on a budget—ways to bask in all of the beauty the great outdoors has to offer without having to dig too far into your savings account to enjoy the great camping atmosphere.

Camping is a fun activity. Not only does it present an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, it also makes for a great family vacation, especially if you are on a budget. The average prices for hotels and even motels these days are getting higher and higher, and attractions like amusement parks are simply astronomical in price.

Spending time together is priceless, but memories don’t have to cost a fortune. That’s what makes camping so great. To ensure you enjoy the vacation of your life this summer, here we have assembled several tips and strategies for camping on a budget.

Where To Camp At The Lowest Cost

If you are planning to take a camping trip with your family this year, the first thing you will need to do is decide where you are going to camp. Much like other destinations, the rule of camping is this: the closer you are to home, the less expensive it will be. Fortunately, most cities and towns have great regional parks and outdoor areas that are set up nicely for camping.

If you want to explore a new area, we recommend that you read a lot of reviews before deciding on a final destination. The United States is filled with campgrounds, state parks, national parks, national forests and state forests, all of which offer some type of camping.

But these prime camping spots can often cost between $25 and $50. That is why some of the lesser known campgrounds are probably a better idea. With rates ranging from just $10 to $25, these lesser-known camping areas offer many of the same amenities that larger campgrounds offer, only at a substantially lower cost.

If you are truly adventurous, you might want to try out one of the thousands of “primitive camping areas” in the country. Many state forests and municipalities allow you to camp for free—at no cost at all—off the beaten path, which will give you the look and feel of being a true pioneer.

These primitive camping spots are typically equipped with a tenting space, a fire pit, and an outhouse; and generally most of these sites are located near a water source like a lake or a river.

Other ideas for camping on a shoestring budget include camping at a friend’s or relative’s hunting camp. These areas allow you to enjoy all the adventure and freedom of camping, and because these camps are rarely used for the summer, it’s a great way to leave the hustle and bustle of the city for a little serenity, peace and quiet.

If you are a solo camper or you are planning to go with friends, look into volunteering for a service weekend. Many outdoor clubs will exchange camping (after the assignment is done) for hard labor building trails or planting trees. This allows you to check two things off your bucket list at once: camping and volunteering. It is also a great way to meet new like-minded friends.

In most cases, when you plan to camp at one of the many designated camping spots throughout the country, you can expect to spend between $10 and $25 a night. This is still a great price when you consider that the average motel price is between $70 and $150 a night depending on the region.

The best budget campsites such as these can be found in state and county parks. They are typically run by park rangers or camp hosts, who also provide cleaning and security services at the park at which you intend to camp. Each campsite will usually be equipped with a picnic table and benches, a fire pit, and a charcoal grill.

Some even have concrete tend pads if you are so inclined, and a driveway of sorts which can usually accommodate up to two vehicles.

These low-budget campsites and parks typically have buildings with enclosed pit (or flush) toilets, a sink, and some even have showers—with or without hot water. You’ll also find drinking water available, places to do your dishes, and trash containers.

Yes, there is some labor involved with camping, but when everybody pitches in the work is fairly minimal for the price.

Things To Do To Keep Costs Low

There are plenty of things to do when camping. While a trip to Disneyland will cost you over $100 a person (not including meals), the many activities available at a campground are very low cost—and more often than not, completely free of cost.

Almost all camping areas, for example, will have nearby hiking trails. These well-marked trails allow you to experience all that nature has to offer without the threat of getting lost, and they also provide great exercise for you and the kids.

If you are camping near a lake or other water source, these bodies of water open up a whole new collection of budget activities. From low-cost boating excursions to fishing from the shore to swimming, there is never a lack of things to do.

Many park marinas rent out canoes, kayaks, paddle boards and even water cycles for a low price—vehicles that allow you to explore the lake in relative comfort.

If you are camping with very young children, chances are your campground will have a playground with slides, swings and jungle gyms. Some parks have baseball and softball fields, basketball courts and more, all of which are free to use.

You can also bring along some of your own activities, such as bikes, balls, Frisbees, board games, cards and more. This is perhaps the best part about camping: the time spent together without having to shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Camping Gear on a Budget

If you are not a regular camper, most of the “larger” camping equipment you will need, such as a tent and stove, can be borrowed from a friend, relative or neighbor. However, if you are—or you intend to be—a regular camper, there will definitely be some items that you have to purchase before your trip, but these few items are one-time costs and will quickly pay for themselves after only a few camping adventures.

To get all the camping basics, you may have to spend between $500 and $600 to start. Undoubtedly, with every camping trip you take you will discover other items you want or need, and these can be added piecemeal according to need. Here is what you will need to start.

  • Tent. The exact size of the tent you purchase will depend on the size of your family. For a family of four, your best bet is to get a six-person tent. This will give you added room to move about inside the tent without feeling too cramped. You can also get one tent for the kids and another for yourself if you prefer.
  • Sleeping Bags. Sleeping bags are a crucial camping item if you plan to camp in cool to cold weather. We recommend you go with a three-season sleeping bag for every member of your family. These sleeping bags are rated for night time temperatures between 30-40 degrees, and if they get too warm you can always just unzip them to allow some air to come in. Mom and dad might like the coziness of sleeping bags that zip together. If you want to save money on sleeping bags and you are camping in moderate or warmer weather, bring plenty of sheets and blankets instead of buying a sleeping bag. However, if you choose this route be prepared to do lots of laundry when you get home. Believe us, try though you might it is nearly impossible to keep blankets and linens clean when camping.
  • Sleeping Pad. If you do not mind sleeping on rocky or uneven ground you can skip this item. However, our guess is that once you try sleeping with a sleeping pad you will never go back. You can usually pick up a moderately priced sleeping pad for about $30, one cut to fit the exact size of your tent. If you elect not to go with a sleeping pad, you can save money by bringing extra sleeping bags or blankets to line the floor of your tent. Just remember to sweep your tent space very thoroughly before erecting your tent, ridding the area of any rocks, pine cones and other debris that might make sleeping uncomfortable.
  • Ice Chest. An ice chest or cooler is a necessity when camping. Not only will it keep all your drinks cold, it will also help you preserve any meats or cheeses that need to stay refrigerated.

Finally, although your campsite will have both a fire pit and a charcoal grill (usually), if you do not want all of your good pots and pans to turn black from the coal and dust, you might want to invest in a good camp stove.

We recommend you go with a low-priced propane stove with two burners. You can usually pick one of these stoves up for about $30-$50, and the propane canisters that heat them, which typically last about a week, can be had for less than $5 each.

image: Pexels, CC0

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

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