4 Easy Ways You Can Take a Cheap Camping Trip

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couple sitting by a fire outside a tent

Looking to avoid breaking the bank during your vacation this season? Find out where you can camp and enjoy the great outdoors near you.

“We can spend a full week camping in a beautiful destination for a few hundred dollars,” said Jesse Hardie, a former backpacking guide and a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School. “I think the going rate for a week in Disney is about $7,000 now.”

Camping can be one of the best ways to save money while taking a vacation. To be more cost-efficient, consider these four tips from Hardie and other camping experts.

1. Head to the backcountry

Although backcountry camping can help you save big on vacations, you likely will need to carry your food, water, and equipment on your back. But you also will end up paying less than what it would cost for developed campsites that come with parking.

“The most amazing and cheapest camping will usually require a little more effort to get to, either by an extended drive on dirt roads or by backpacking,” said Hardie. “You will spend more money and be farther from the nature that you’re seeking by staying in large ‘front country’ campgrounds like KOA.”

Tiffany Soukup, a travel blogger with Vagabond Way, also recommended searching for free campsites via the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

You also can find the prices of state and national park campsites via websites such as Reserve America and Recreation.gov.

2. Buy (or borrow) the right equipment

“The biggest money saver is found in gear,” said Hardie, who maxed out camping 145 nights in one calendar year. “Many new campers fall in[to] the trap of buying all of their gear brand new to go camping for the first time.”

If you’re a first-timer or don’t plan to camp on a regular basis, it won’t make sense to invest in high-quality equipment. Boost your savings from camping by employing the following strategies:

  • Borrow camping equipment from family and friends.
  • Look for used gear online or in sporting goods stores.
  • Find DIY secondary gear such as lamps or bug spray.
  • Ask experts, such as salespeople at REI, about best buys for your camping level.

Also, buy what you need for the weather you’ll face, said Liz Galloway, an adventure and travel writer who camps and backpacks on a budget.

“If you’ll be in relatively moderate climates, broke campers don’t need to spend $600 on a sleeping bag and $800 [on a] tent,” Galloway said. “You can grab a decent bag on Amazon for $60 to $80 and a one-person tent or bivy for another $80 — and you’ve already got your setup.”

If, on the other hand, you’re a more experienced camper looking to camp and save money over the long haul, Hardie recommends investing in high-quality gear.

“It will last a lifetime — I still use a stove that is older than me,” he said. “And it will work better than the bargain brands you can find a Walmart. I have seen many Walmart-brand tents fail to make it through the night in their first rainstorm.”

In other words, being cheap might cost you later.

3. Plan meals for your camping trip

Like working on meal planning at home, the same effort for your camping trip can go a long way in saving money. If you head out on your trip without planning, you might find yourself shopping at a grocery store near your campground — and spending more than you should.

“Shop in your pantry for food before heading to the grocery store for camping food,” said Bridget Carlson, who runs the Nutty Hiker website and has been camping for nearly 40 years. “You can make so many camp meals out of items that are already inside your pantry.”

Nothing in the pantry? No problem. Take the best practices for grocery shopping into account when buying food to cook over an open fire — or go without hot food entirely.

“One of the reasons I love camping is you can go as cheap as you want, depending on what you are willing to do,” said Galloway. “Are you willing to eat tuna, beans, and granola the whole time? [Then] you’ve already saved.”

4. Pack light

“Don’t get caught up in needing to have everything,” Galloway said. “Trust me, you’ll probably end up wearing the same clothes the entire time.”

Be skeptical of camping packing lists. Your list should contain only what you need for the camping experience you’re planning.

Once your list is set, check off items by grabbing them from around your house instead of buying camping-specific versions.

To avoid overpacking, take a one-per-person approach to items such as plates, bowls, and cups.

Make one exception to that approach: Bring at least two different kinds of supplies to make your fire. If the rocks don’t spark, you’ll be glad you brought along a pack of matches.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.