Camping is a great way to take a family vacation when you’re on a budget and every penny counts. But you’re probably thinking about all that camping gear you’ll need to buy. The tent, the sleeping bags.
And then all the other little things that seem to go with camping. It’s all doable even when you’re watching your pennies!
There’s no reason that you and your family can’t be heading out next weekend to spend time sitting around a campfire and sleeping under the stars. I’ve listed some ideas below to get you out camping without going over your budget.
Finding a Campsite
Where you camp doesn’t have to be a big expense. Make your camping trip all about family time and spending time together outside, and not about where you’re camping.
1 – Camp Close to Home
You don’t need to drive all day and spend money on gas. Find a local campsite that’s just an hour or two from home.
2 – Take Advantage of Campground Amenities
Most park campgrounds will have picnic tables and firepits that you can use. So, you’ll be saving money right there – no need to invest in a camping table or a campfire grill.
Budget-wise Camping Gear
If this is your first camping trip, you probably don’t have all the camping gear you need. Buying new gear can quickly become expensive. And looking for the cheapest equipment you can find and sacrificing good quality isn’t a good idea either. You don’t want that low-quality tent you bought to start leaking on a rainy night.
Consider other options for getting the camping gear you and your family need. Such as borrowing from friends, renting, buying used, and watching for sales.
1 – Borrow What You Need
If you have family or friends who do a lot of camping and have all the gear you don’t have, ask if you can borrow what you need for a weekend. It can be the perfect solution to taking your kids on that camping trip you’ve been promising them for years.
2 – Rent Your Tent
Look for outdoor stores where you live that rent out camping gear such as tents and sleeping bags. And even a canoe if you have room in your budget for that.
Renting is a good way to get the gear you need for a camping weekend now and then. It also lets you rent before you own.
So, if you’re not sure that your family is going to fall in love with camping, you can do a few trial runs before you invest in your own gear.
3 – Buy Used Gear
A lot of people are selling camping gear that’s still in great condition. Maybe they’ve upgraded and bought something new. Or they’ve decided that camping just isn’t for them and now they have this gear they want to get rid of.
Well, their loss is your gain. You can find some great deals if you take the time to look for them.
Some good places to look for used gear include classified ads in the paper, on eBay, at garage sales, or in thrift stores. Just make sure you check on the condition before you buy. And yes, this might mean setting up a tent to make sure there aren’t holes or tears.
4 – Watch for Seasonal Sales
Into the autumn months, after the main camping season is over, many retailers put their camping gear on sale to make room for the next camping season. Take advantage of these sales and pick up a few camping items.
The Camping Gear You Can’t Do Without
1 – The Tent
You’ll of course need a place to sleep, and a tent is your best low-cost option. Make sure the tent you have is the right size for your family. You’ll need room in there for sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and anything else you can’t store in your vehicle.
If you can find room in your budget, there are some extra tent features that are nice to have. A tent with higher ceilings will give you room to stand up in…so you can easily move around and change.
Some higher priced tents come with dividers, so you can make one space into two.
2 – Sleeping Mats
Having a sleeping mat underneath sleeping bags is much better than sleeping directly on the ground. Don’t skimp on comfort when all it takes is a mat to keep you warmer and more comfortable at night. Foam pads are quite inexpensive and provide ample padding between the ground and sleeping bag.
If you have air mattresses, bring them along. Just be sure you have access to electricity if you need an electric pump to blow them up.
3 – Sleeping Bags
Invest in sleeping bags if you can. Unless you’re camping in the colder months, you don’t need to spend a lot on expensive sleeping bags. Look for ones that are designed for weather in the 30 to 40-degree range.
Just have blankets on hand if anyone needs to bundle up a bit more.
4 – Blankets and Pillows
No need to buy any extra blankets or pillows for your trip…just bring what you already use at home.
There are some things you’ll need for your trip that you can accumulate throughout the year when you see items go on sale or that you pick up at a garage sale.
- Coolers/ice packs
- Folding chairs
- Flashlights/head lamps/lanterns/batteries
- Insect repellent and sunscreen
- Fire starters and matches
- Axe and saw for firewood
- Toilet paper
Dining While Camping
You’ll still buy the hot dogs, buns, and marshmallows for your trip, but you can save a lot of money on food by making some ahead of time and packing them into coolers and storage bins.
Since you’ve prepped ahead of time, it’s just a matter of reheating and grabbing on the go like you would with any packaged foods you take along.
Packaged foods may make your life easier by not requiring prep time, but they’ll quickly make a big dent into your camping budget. Avoid buying items such as trail mix, canned chili, and packaged cookies. Making your own will not only save you money, they’ll taste better too!
Here are some of the foods you can make ahead of time that cost significantly less than store bought.
- Trail mix
Stock up on staples such as hot dog condiments, breakfast cereals, and tetra pack juices when they go on sale. Store them unopened in containers with the rest of your camping gear. This way you won’t be spending a lot of money all at once on camping groceries.
For more ideas, check out our post about saving money on food while camping, which goes into more detail.
Pay no attention to all those fancy camping dish sets and cooking novelties that you can buy. You won’t need a lot of supplies for cooking and serving food when you’re camping. You can bring along kitchen supplies that you use every day. Or you can start to build up kitchen supplies that you store away and only use for camping.
Mismatched dishes and cutlery are perfect. If you don’t have any, just head to the thrift store and pick up what you can. The same goes for pots and frying pans.
If you can fit one into your budget, a camping stove will make your camping life much easier than cooking everything over an open fire. Buy one that has two burners if you can.
If not, the one burner will be enough to let you heat up a batch of chili for your crew or quickly boil water in the morning for coffee.
Here’s a list of must-have items you’ll want in your kitchen camping gear:
- Pots/frying pan
- Larger spoons/cutting knives/spatula/tongs
- Cutting board
- Can opener
- Basin for washing dishes
- Biodegradable soap
Take What You Own
Take along those items that you already own. You don’t need to have the latest and the greatest to have a good time.
If you plan on doing some family hiking, don’t go out and spend money on a new backpack. Have everyone in the family take along the one they already use every day.
The same goes for hiking boots. Unless you plan on hiking every weekend and tackling some long hikes, wearing your running shoes or good walking shoes will be perfectly okay.
Camping Activities on a Budget
Once your campsite is all set up, it’s time to have fun. There’s plenty that you can do without spending any money at all:
- Hitch up the family bikes and bring them along. You’ll have fun biking through the campsite or along nearby trails.
- Pack balls, frisbees, and any other outdoor sports items.
- Bring outdoor games, such as horseshoes or bean bag toss.
- Don’t forget the cards and games for playing around the campfire.
- Borrow fishing gear from friends.
Hiking, swimming, and singing around the campfire don’t cost a penny. The possibilities are endless…and you don’t have to spend any money at all to have some great family fun.
Maintain Your Camping Gear
Keep your camping gear and supplies in good condition so you have them for a long time to come. After using the tent, bikes, backpacks, and sleeping mats wash them down to get rid of dirt.
At the same time check for any damage that needs repair. It’s better to repair that small tear in the tent before you store it away. Otherwise you’ll quickly find it on your next camping trip when you’re setting up the tent!
Always store gear away when it’s clean and dry to avoid mildew and mold problems.
Get Out There and Start Camping!
You’re all set for camping on a budget. When you’re starting out on your camping adventures, it’s okay not to have everything that camping experts recommend. So long as you have the basics, you’ll still have a great time with your family.
And just remember – every camping trip you go on will cost you less and less as you start to accumulate all your gear!
Camping is all about family time, relaxing, and having fun. Your camping trip doesn’t need to be complicated and with the tips here, you and your family will be able to pitch your tent and roast those marshmallows no matter what your budget is.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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