10 Ways To Save Money Camping

tent camping by the lake

There’s nothing quite like spending time in the great outdoors and sleeping under the stars. Camping is an enjoyable, healthy activity that the entire family can participate in with a wide variety of choices from private camp sites to National Parks. For those that enjoy getting out and communing with nature, the only drawback is that it seems to get more expensive each year. With fuel prices soaring, higher fees for camping permits and the price of gear, we’re all looking for ways to lower the cost of camping trips so that we can afford to do more of it. Here’s a list of suggestions that just might help you enjoy a few more trips next season:

Pool It

If you have family or friends that like to camp, plan a trip together. If you drive an SUV, you can probably haul most of the gear on the luggage rack or in a trailer and have room to bring along a couple more people. Split the cost of gas and supplies and everyone has a good time for less money. As a bonus, you may learn some new tricks or campfire recipes and you’ll have some extra hands for gathering firewood, pitching tents, etc.

Use the Equipment You Already Have

It’s a pretty good bet that you have some pots and pans that can be used over the campfire or portable stove. If you’re worried about soot, wipe the outside of the pans with plain soap before you cook and it will wash off easily later. The same basket you use on your gas grill at home will work over the campfire, too. Blankets can keep you almost as warm as a sleeping bag, especially if combined with a mylar “space blanket” you can pick up for a few dollars. Pot holders, towels, salt and pepper shakers, and lots more items around the house can do double duty. Look around before you buy equipment.

Sometimes “Used” Means “Broken In”

Be a fan of garage sales. Fellow campers will often put good, used equipment up for sale after an “upgrade”. Don’t forget to check out your local Craig’s List and the newspaper classifieds. A smart shopper can easily gear up for 50% to 80% below retail prices. That portable stove with the little ding in the lid will cook just as well as any.

Raid the Refrigerator

Look in the fridge and the pantry before you go shopping for the next outing. Those eggs will cook up nicely in the morning. Look, there’s the catsup, mustard, pickles, and probably most of the condiments you’ll need. And remember that package of hot dogs left over after the last trip? They’re still in the freezer!

Make Sure You Have Enough Supplies

While this may, at first, seem counterproductive in terms of saving money, it’s important to take enough food, water, camping fuel and other supplies to last the entire trip. Remember, fuel for your vehicle is one of the most expensive things you’re buying. You’ve just burned up a lot of it getting out of town. Going back into town because you ran out of something costs money as well as taking you away from the fun.

Go High-Tech

It’s easy to go through a lot of funds just investing in batteries for your camping equipment. Flashlights, radios and other electrically powered devices drain even the best alkaline batteries under constant use. Fortunately, modern technology has provided us with amazing replacements for those power hogs. Crank-style flashlights and radios, solar charged devices and even kinetic batteries are now easily to find and inexpensive. Check out the electronics category on ebay, or try a few Google searches to find some fun new stuff that’s free to run.

Big Ice Lasts Longer than Small Ice

This tip may sound like an obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. When you’re packing food in ice chests, block ice will last much longer. Bags of cubed ice will melt quickly. If that’s all you’ve got, you risk having food go bad or at least get waterlogged, or having to make another trip into town to by more ice. Fit in as many blocks of ice as you can. Also, if you’re going to be out for a while, freeze anything you can before packing, like hot dogs or hamburger. Frozen food will serve as extra ice and thaw quickly when you take it out.

Stock up on Firewood

Many camping areas don’t have a lot of available wood, for instance, beaches may not offer even a stick. Also, many forest campgrounds no longer allow firewood gathering, for conservation purposes. So, if you want a campfire (And who doesn’t?), you’ll need to bring your wood. Instead of buying expensive bundled firewood, stock up between trips by saving lumber scraps, old fencing material and such. Avoid painted materials, though, as these can give off toxic fumes as well as acrid smoke.

Group Camping

If you have a large family or a large group of friends, consider a group campsite. Many parks offer large sites designed for multiple vehicles and large numbers of people. When split between the parties, fees can be much more reasonable than standard campsites.

Outdoor and RV Clubs

If you camp in an RV or trailer, consider joining club like Good Sam’s. You’ll find discounts available at popular sporting goods and RV stores as well as campsites. Tent campers can join, too, of course.

Great experiences in the outdoors don’t have to be expensive. Remember, you’re out there to rough it. Enjoy!

(Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

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9 Responses to 10 Ways To Save Money Camping

  1. Holly says:

    I just went camping with family this weekend. Not only does block ice last longer, but you can fill containers with water and freeze them, and then as it thaws you have some nice, cold drinking water too!

  2. BillsBeloved says:

    In our area (Minnesota and Wisconsin) we are not allowed to bring firewood across state lines. Due to the beetle that is killing Ash trees, you are not supposed to bring your own firewood into a campground. We are told to buy firewood where we are going to burn it.
    We do like to make our own fire starters that we can take with us.
    Just put some sawdust in egg cartons (cardboard ones, not the styrofoam ones). Then add melted wax (use old candle stubs and crayons). Cool until hard. Cut into 12 fire starters ( each one egg section makes one fire starter. )

  3. Mark says:

    Great money saving tips. I use a dual fuel stove so I can fill up at the gas pumps. Group camping is a great idea too.

  4. Gail says:

    While we weren’t camping, we might as well have been since we were out in the boonies and the power went out. I had my 6 month old with me and didn’t want to have to cope witht he usual cloth diapers so I took disposable ones. Of course we ran out so had to drive close to 50 miles to a store that had them at astronomical prices. Before the week was out, we ran out again and had to make the same trip for more diapers. Since I generally used cloth diapers that I washed when I ran low, I never kept track of how many I went through. So the advice is, if you go camping or on vacation, be sure to take an abundant supply of diapers that you bought on sale at your local store or at least get them at a regular store near the area where you are vacationing. Diaper prices go up just like everything else at tourist traps.

  5. Dana says:

    Thanks for bringing up an important point to be considered on bringing in your own wood! Obviously, there’s a very good reason not to do so in some areas.

    I also love your tip for fire starters. What a great way to recycle several items and a big help at the campsite too!

  6. Polly says:

    Great tips, but as a previous reply was stated we cannot bring firewood into MN campsites. Firewood needs to be purchased in the area of where you are camping. Our state parks sell bundles of wood. Nice convenience, but can be expensive every night you have a campfire.

    Our family does the ” pool it” and split the cost of gas and food. Ever night we do have a family campfire, but rotate campsites as not to bother others at the same campsite nightly.

    Another tip for your coolers; one for drink and one for food. The drink cooler is opened more often. Also, freezing some foods until you need it can keep your cooler colder longer.

  7. Gwen says:

    Please, please, please do not bring firewood. As BillsBeloved commented, many of our trees in Ontario, Canada have been killed by bugs in firewood brought into our province.

    You can also save on camping by avoiding long weekends and high season rates. Google the city to find our *things to do for free in (city)*.

  8. Carson Bennet says:

    Great tips, especially about borrowing the camping gear. Ten years ago we decided to go camping, spent money to buy the tent, pads, etc. only to discover that we really don’t like camping. Speaking of which, I should really sell that stuff and clear up some space.

  9. Sarah says:

    Great article! Camping gear can cost a lot of money, but if you take advantage of the equipment you buy and use it multiple times, your money will go far.


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