Camping is on the rise! Many people are taking up camping as a hobby as it is an affordable way to get away and destress. Getting all the right equipment for camping does cost a few bills, however. Here is how to camp on a budget if you’re just getting started.
Camping can be one of the least expensive ways to vacation with your family. For the price of one family vacation on a plane, you can have SO many camping trips all year. The costs of camping in a park or private campground is far more inexpensive and much more rewarding than staying in a hotel.
However, the initial investment can be intimidating to most family budgets. When I first started camping, I soon realized I needed so much more than my camper van to go camping. I needed all the supplies too!
With a little insight and patience, everything you need can be attained even with a very small budget. That way you can spend money on fun activities and great food!
Where to Find Cheap Camping Supplies
Knowing where to source cheap camping equipment is the first step in knowing how to camp on a budget. With a little bit of patience and searching, you can find some great deals at your local camping equipment and sport stores. However, there are a few more places you can look.
You can find some really amazing stuff at your local thrift stores. So many people buy camping gear, go out a couple times, then leave their gear to collect dust in the garage for years. When they inevitably donate it, you can swoop right in.
Beyond the basic camping equipment, thrift stores are also great places to buy extra camping dishes and cooking equipment, rain gear, and other warm clothing just for camping.
Even today, every time I am at the thrift store I am sure to browse as I know there are always gems waiting to be found.
Browse Online Listings
Looking online locally is a gold mine for camping equipment. People are selling everything from car racks to sleeping mats. Usually you can haggle for lower than the listed price, or you may even be lucky enough to source some free gear.
Look at places like Kijiji or Craigslist, but also check out Facebook Marketplace and groups. I am a member of some local free groups and people are always looking to give up some great quality items on there. Always be cautious and make sure the equipment does not have any defects or damage when purchasing secondhand.
Go With Rentals
If you’re just getting started and am not sure whether or not camping is for you, rentals may be a good option. Search for camping rentals and your city name and you’ll find a ton of results. Camping rentals are great for trying things out, but it is better to invest in your own equipment in the long run.
Camping rentals are also helpful if you are flying somewhere and camping. You don’t have to worry about hauling all your gear over and can easily grab and go.
Buy Cheap, Invest Later
Buying a ton of equipment all at once isn’t cheap. Buying good quality equipment will always cost you less in the long run, but I know it isn’t always feasible for someone just getting started.
Instead, buy good quality equipment when you can afford to and add as you go. Dollar stores and Walmart are great places to find a ton of camping equipment in one go to get you started. Once you become more experienced and adventurous, invest in the good stuff!
Finding a Cheap Tent
The most crucial part of your gear, your tent is your home-away-from-home and your protection from the elements. You can forfeit all costs by using a homemade tent, which can consist of a tarp or sheet over a clothesline.
However, be advised, these contraptions will be of little use in keeping nature out. Rain, moisture, insects, and animals can easily penetrate a homemade shelter. To effectively keep your family safe and dry, you will need to purchase a factory-made tent.
Outdoor supercenters and sporting goods stores carry an abundance of expensive top-of-the-line tents, but stores like Walmart and Target sell tents at a fraction of the cost of a retailer. A family tent at Walmart can cost you between a hundred and two hundred and fifty dollars, depending on the size.
A family-sized tent is usually four to ten people. A two-person tent can be bought for as low as forty dollars. If you shop just after the camping season ends or even during the winter months, you can often find lots of sales.
The difference between expensive vs cheap tents is all in manufacturing. The higher quality tents are made with better material, have better poles, and have very tightly woven seals. Cheaper tents will come with leaky seams and cheaper-made poles. Nevertheless, do not dismay, a cheap tent can bring your family many years of enjoyment if treated and taken care of properly.
Sleep is important, especially when you are on a camping trip. Sleeping bags can be a big investment, especially if you have several people in your family. Cheap bags can run from fifteen to twenty dollars and work just fine for most campers who only camp during the warm months, although a good night’s sleep can be obtained with bedding from home.
A nice comforter folded in half can substitute for an air mattress or cot. If you are sleeping on the ground, you will need something beneath you to keep the cold away from your body. If you expect a chilly night, bring warm pajamas and an extra blanket, and don’t forget the pillows.
Lanterns can be purchased between twenty and forty dollars depending on the style. Propane lanterns require propane tanks and fluorescent lanterns require batteries.
It is quite possible to survive without a lantern, provided that everyone has their own flashlight, but you will quickly realize how handy they are to have. If you’re camping at a campsite with electricity, you can bring a lamp from home and an extension cord.
Eating and Cooking
Food, glorious food! Wherever you are, you are going to have to eat. When you are camping, food is far cheaper than if you were staying in a hotel and having to eat out for every meal. You buy everything from the grocery store as you would normally. Hamburgers, hotdogs, and lunchmeat sandwiches are cheap and easy meals that can be taken along.
A camp stove (and even camp ovens) can be purchased for thirty to fifty bucks. Until you’re ready to make that investment, your family can cook on an open fire. You can cook breakfast, whole chickens, and more right in the hot coals. Check out my campfire cooking guide for more info!
Keeping your perishable food cool is a must. Coolers start out at around twenty bucks, and the super cheap Styrofoam ones can be purchased for next to nothing.
Conserve the need to buy ice every day by freezing meats that you will not be eating the first day of your trip. By the time you are ready to prepare them, they will have thawed out while keeping other items in the cooler cold. I also bake treats ahead of time, such as cookies or muffins, and use this same method. It’s a win-win!
No matter how luxurious a campground is, always pack water. Bring water from home in reused milk jugs as water at the campground may not be the best for drinking.
Plus, you will save money not having to buy bottled water from the camp store and mother nature will also give you a high-five. You can also freeze the jugs and place them in your cooler.
Pack From Home
Nearly everything else that you will need can be brought from home. Zip-loc baggies can be used for numerous things like storing leftovers and keeping your toiletries clean and organized.
Dishes, silverware, pots, and skillets can all be brought from home. A dishpan is an indispensable tool when it’s time to wash the dishes. Boil some water over your campfire or camp stove for easy cleaning of soiled pots and pans. Toiletries, towels, and other such items can all be brought from home.
Seating is also important. You want to gather around the campfire after all! Collapsible camp chairs can be bought for fewer than twenty dollars, but in a pinch, lawn chairs and folding chairs will do just fine.
With a little ingenuity, your family can easily camp on a budget. As the years go by, you can add to your gear a piece at a time. Keep an ongoing list of items each time you camp, in order to build the best inventory that suits your family’s needs. Happy camping!