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Let’s face it – camping can get pretty spendy. Aside from the cost of all the gear you need to have a comfortable weekend, you also have to consider the price of the campground, the gas to get you there, the opportunity cost of taking off work to have a little more time out in the woods, and so forth. That begs the question…how does one go camping on a budget? With the camping hacks outlined below, you’ll learn how to save money without sacrificing the quality of your camping trip.
Buy Used Gear
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There is no shame in buying used gear, especially if you can find “unicorn” items that are in impeccable condition. You can save a lot of money by buying a used tent, a used camp stove, used camp chairs, and so forth. I have a friend that’s bought used sleeping bags before, which is not something I would do, but, hey, you do you! If you’re new to camping and you aren’t yet to the point of needing your own gear, consider borrowing stuff from friends or family. After all, there’s no sense in buying a tent (even a used one) if you’re not sure you’re ever going to go camping again.
Camping on a Budget: Use Things You Already Have
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You don’t need to buy a special camping pillow when you have a perfectly fine pillow at home. You also don’t need to buy a new jacket for camping when the one in your closet will do the trick. There are all kinds of things you can take from your house to make your camping trip more comfortable. Bring your bedding – no one says you have to sleep in a sleeping bag! Bring the utensils from your kitchen, too. They will work just as well at a campground as they do in your kitchen. From lawn chairs to coffee mugs to firewood, there is no shortage of items that you might already have that you can simply throw in the car and bring with you – no extra money needed! Besides, if you go camping with friends or family, chances are the lot of you can come up with all the gear you need between you. So, Uncle Ted’s s’more roasting sticks will work for the whole crew. Don’t go buy your own!
Speaking of Food…
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Camping gear like tents and stoves and so forth are a long-term expense that will pay for themselves over the years, and much more quickly if you buy used. But food is a sizable expense each time you go camping… A great way to reduce food costs is to bring drinks and snacks with you for the journey to the campsite. It’s tempting to buy that bag of chips and the giant soda when you stop for gas, but those items can really add up in terms of cost, especially if everyone in the group picks something up.
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Another way to reduce food costs is to focus on preparing inexpensive meals beforehand and then heating them up over the fire at the campsite. Pasta dishes are a great example of a cheap meal that will feed a bunch of people on the cheap. But if you’re dying to cook over the campfire, make things like soups and stews that can use a lot of canned ingredients and that can be cooked in a single pot. Not only is it easier to clean up a single pot, but it also means you only need to buy the one pot!
Camping on a Budget: Buy Gear That Lasts
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Have you ever seen those cheap disposable grills that people buy for their camping trips? If not, they’re fairly worthless (along with being completely environmentally unfriendly). If you have some money set aside for gear, buy stuff that will last you a long time – that way the cost of the gear is offset over many, many years of use. For example, if you’re dead-set on buying a tent, don’t buy the cheapest one you can find on Amazon. Instead, invest in a well-reviewed tent that will last you for a decade or so. If you think about it, you’d probably need a couple or three cheap tents to last you the same amount of years as a more expensive one, so you might as well invest in a better tent from the get-go. As another example, buy multi-purpose gear to save money. Let’s say you love to cook on an open flame and that you also want a fire pit for roasting marshmallows (and staying warm, too). In that case, something like the Fireflower Original (shown above) will do the trick! It’s a portable fire pit and grill that folds flat for easy transport. You can set it up anywhere, cook your dinner, enjoy a fire afterwards, and then easily clean it up and store it for the night. https://youtu.be/tTPfBUpFS98 It’s made of 10-gauge 304 stainless steel so it looks awesome, is rust-free, and it will last forever. Plus, no tools are required to assemble it, so it’s quick to set up, too. When you’re camping on a budget, a portable fire pit and grill might seem like an unnecessary expense. But as I noted earlier, when it’s something that pulls double-duty and lasts forever, it’s an item that will pay dividends over and over again!
Put in a Request
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If you really want your own gear and you aren’t too keen on buying used, put camping gear on your birthday and holiday wishlists and let other people get your gear for you! Granted, not everyone is going to get the $600 tent they want for their birthday, but if you have your eye on one at a particular store, ask for gift cards to go towards the purchase. A related idea is this: start saving money for your camping adventures. If you can put a few bucks away here and there, eventually you’ll have a nice pot of money to pay for things like gas, food, and camping fees. Heck, even saving your loose change for a year might give you enough to foot the bill for a weekend camping trip!
Camping on a Budget: Camp in the Off-Season (or Off-Grid)
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Depending on where you decide to camp, you could be looking at $20-$50 or more per night just for the privilege of using the campsite. But those prices can drop significantly if you go in the off-season. Sure, it might be a little colder in May or October as opposed to July, but you’ll save some money and there will be fewer people you have to deal with. It’s a win-win! Speaking of cold-weather camping, a great way to fight off the cold is to built a nice, big fire and reflect its heat out towards you as you gather around it. The ideal item for that is the MC Ranch Overland Original Fire Reflector. This thing is one of my favorite campfire accessories because it gives me more control over the fire while taking advantage of reflected heat to stay warm. Since it encircles the fire, the MC Ranch Overland Original Fire Reflector essentially creates a nest around the fire. The barrier it creates controls the wind, allowing you to get your fire going more quickly (and sustain it more easily as well). It’s great for cooking, too – you can approach the fire from behind the reflector, which acts as a barrier to embers flying out and getting you or your clothing. As an additional bonus, this reflector bounces ambient light into camp. This means you don’t have to rely on headlamps, flashlights, and lanterns to move around camp. This not only saves you money on buying all those lighting devices, but it’ll also save you money on batteries. Again, this is an item that will last for years and years and years. Its per-use cost will be pennies, especially if you get out and camp multiple times a year. I’ve got one, and it has proven to be one of the best camping investments I’ve made!
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Another option is to forego established campgrounds altogether and do some dispersed camping. Just be sure you check the rules and regulations for dispersed camping – some areas permit it and others do not. Furthermore, you might need a permit in some areas. One of the most expensive places to camp are national parks. Not only are the campgrounds often expensive, but you also have to pay entrance fees to get into the park (although, there are several days throughout the year when park fees are waived). If you want to save money, avoid park camping. You might find a cheaper option outside the park and time your visit to coincide with one of the free entrance days to save a little money.
Planning Ahead Will Save You Money
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As with so many things, spending time planning your camping trip will help you minimize your budget. By making lists of the things you need for your trip, you can ensure you’ll leave home with all those items, rather than having to stop and buy something along the way. While needing to buy lighter fluid that you forgot about won’t break the bank, forgotten items can really add up over the course of a summer in terms of costs. So, sit down with your family and friends, get a list going of everything you’ll need, and check the items off your list once they’re packed in the car. Then it’s wheels up and time to have fun camping on a budget!